604 Neighbourhoods is a new weekly series appearing on the Inside Vancouver blog that will feature photos, history, and information about some of the city’s most distinct communities. Today’s feature is South Main (or SoMa) which spans along Main Street from East 2nd Avenue to East 33rd Avenue.
To quote Sean Horlor in Inside Vancouver’s “Inside Vancouver Neighbourhoods” video feature: “Everyone has a cool and trendy friend who knows all the best places to eat and shop before anyone else has heard of them. In terms of Vancouver’s neighbourhoods, South Main is that friend.”
South Main crosses through historic Mount Pleasant, is flanked by cafes and craft beer purveyors, buzzes at its arterial intersection with Broadway, and drops its pace as you head south across East 16th Avenue.
In addition to its historical buildings and large artist presence, Mount Pleasant resists a homogenous nature through its unique composition of industrial buildings (NW sector), apartments (NE sector), high value homes on larger lots (SW) and smaller home lots of a more affordable nature (SE) (1). Though affordability is quickly eroding in the area, this difference in composition is what makes Mount Pleasant a diverse, culturally infused, unique and desirable place. [Residents Association of Mount Pleasant]
From there to East 33rd Avenue, South Main is an eclectic family-friendly mix of retailers, parks, and coffee shops. Heritage houses and tree-lined streets branch off of the thoroughfare while restaurants (from award-winning Sun Sui Wah to Burgoo and Rocky Mountain Flatbread) are peppered between antique stores, neighbourhood toy shops, record stores, corner convenience stores, dry cleaners, and barbershops.
The north end of Main Street connects with Main Street SkyTrain station and the Village on False Creek to the west which will lead you over to the Canada Line at Olympic Village Station. The #19 Metrotown bus heads south on Main Street from downtown Vancouver until it splits at Broadway (the #19 then turns onto Kingsway) and the #3 Main bus is your ticket to the street from end to end. Street parking is available along Main with meters running from 9:00am to 10:00pm daily.
Cycling is a very popular way to get from A to B especially from the South Main area and riders can consult the City of Vancouver Cycling Map for routes and bike path information. While Main Street itself has shared-use bike lanes, just to the west on Ontario Street there is a fully separated bikeway that runs from False Creek in the north all the way down to Marine Drive.
Main Street is formerly known at Westminster Avenue, the change being made in 1910 although prior to that it was known as False Creek Road. At one point the road from New Westminster (Kingsway) joined up with Main Street (at Mount Pleasant) and a bridge took you across a soggy False Creek over to the Budding city of Vancouver. The watery False Creek area was filled in after the first World War and Main Street became a permanent road.
The history of South Main can be pieced together through Mount Pleasant‘s diversity and heritage structures, like the century-old Lee Building at Main and Broadway or Heritage Hall at East 16th Avenue (which first opened as a postal station in 1916), and through the actions of current business owners who are reviving terms like Brewery Creek (the site of Henry Reifel’s first brewery in 1888).
While South Main isn’t considered one of Vancouver’s shopping neighbourhoods I think that might be because locals have made it one of their best-kept secrets. Each resident of the area that I asked said that they love living in the area because everything they could ever need can be found within walking distance. Organic markets, clothing stores, coffee shops, and even trend-setting outlets like The Soap Dispensary who will refill your premium soaps, household cleaners, and personal care products with DIY ingredients (reducing waste and re-using containers). If you’re looking for a vinyl record, a locally-owned toy shop, or consignment clothing and accessories, you’ll find it on Main.
Vancouver loves its coffee shops and Main Street seems to have the widest variety of cafes. Some feature live music, poetry reading, events, or specialty donuts but all have a place to put your laptop and enjoy a hot (or iced) cup of java.
Main Street is also quickly becoming the craft beer capital of the city with the Vancouver Sun proclaiming a “Craft Beer Building Boom“:
At least three new craft microbreweries — Brassneck, Main Street and 33 Acres Brewery — and Mark James’ new mid-sized Red Truck Brewery will open this year within a few blocks of each other in Vancouver’s historic Brewery Creek neighbourhood, in lower Mount Pleasant. All the new Brewery Creek operations are planning to pour beer on-site, which should make the neighbourhood something of a Mecca for craft beer enthusiasts.
To fill your belly with more than coffee and beer, you can find full service restaurants serving up everything from trucker-style breakfasts to Dim Sum. The area’s nightlife consists of late-night lounges, pubs, and establishments that host appy hours, trivia nights, and pairing dinners.
Just west of Main Street you’ll find one of the best playgrounds in the city around Little Mountain. Home to the Hillcrest Community Centre, Riley Park, Queen Elizabeth Park (for beautiful garden walks and pitch n’ putt), the Bloedel Conservatory, and Nat Bailey Stadium which is also home to the Vancouver Farmers Market in the winter.
While walking around South Main you’re bound to find hipsters, students, parents with strollers, dog-walkers, cyclists, and pockets of communities within communities than span no more than a five block radius. Mom and pop stores thriving, local artisans are flocking, and tasty treats are being served up each day in this liveable neighbourhood.