The Insider's Guide to Kelowna
Sandy beaches, 50 million-year-old volcanoes, kangaroo farms and mythic lake creatures. Are we talking about Tahiti? Sydney? Scotland? No. All of this is in our own backyard — Kelowna, a city seemingly built for the enjoyment of its own beauty.
Just a four-hour drive (or 60-minute flight) from Vancouver, this Interior gem is an easy venture back into the pleasure of travel. We've put together our best recommendations for what to do and where to stay to help you map out your next vacation.
For casual hikers or families: The relatively flat Waterfront Trail in Kalamoir Regional Park does not skimp on style. Treat yourself to lake views with each turn, touch blackened volcanic rocks and dangle your feet off the swimming dock.
For hikers with a geological bent: The whole Mission Creek Greenway — which follows the eponymous creek for 17.75 kilometres from Okanagan Lake — is gorgeous, but we especially love the more intermediate section that starts on the eastern end, at Field Road, within Scenic Canyon Regional Park. The trailhead is for Saskatoon Trail, which later meets up with the greenway. On an out-and-back hike of about 6 kilometres total, you see dacite columns, Layer Cake Mountain and rock ovens where Chinese miners once took shelter while panning the area for gold.
For hikers seeking a challenge: The 4.34-kilometre Exterior Loop climb on Carrot Mountain rewards mountaineers with a surprise waterfall and wow-worthy views of Mount Boucherie’s volcanic slope rising before the water. Snap a photo with the Canadian flag at the summit. Only hike this trail with proper gear from spring to fall; there is loose gravel that is harder to navigate, especially in the winter.
B.C.’s first winery opened in Kelowna nearly 90 years ago, and now oenophiles can swirl samples at about 40 vineyards within a 20-minute drive of the city. Make the most of your time by driving (responsibly), biking or walking one of the area’s wine trails. (There are tons of guided tour options, too.)
We’re partial to the Westside Wine Trail. Its 15 wineries, many within walking distance of each other, offer a world of variety in one route. Hit up Ciao Bella for Italian-style vintages, Kalala for organic wines and Quails’ Gate for varietals from one of the most established vineyards in the area. And don’t miss the hatch, a feisty wine incubator that takes chances on new grapes that larger operations can’t risk.
Travelzoo Tip: Go wine-tasting in the fall to savour the season's reds, be a part of the harvest and get more time to chat with the winemakers about what went into each batch.
In the 1910s, Canadian Pacific Railway built a track that curved around the canyon rim, knitting together 18 trestle bridges and two tunnels. Now you can glide across the crevass by bike (or on foot), tracing the same path trains once took.
Travelzoo Tip: Park at the Myra Station entrance for the largest parking lot and easy on-site rentals. Plus, you’ll hit six bridges in the first 2 kilometres from this side, in case you’re feeling a shorter ride.
Beaches & Lake Activities
It’s hard to pick favourites out of Kelowna’s 30+ beaches, but we’ve given it our best shot.
For families: Boyce-Gyro has it all. Shade-giving trees, picnic tables, a playground, volleyball courts, kayak/paddleboard rentals, clean washrooms and the perfect vantage points to watch the setting sun paint the lake a fiery gold.
For quiet: Sarsons Beach Park (which just got a facelift last year) offers a playground, picnic tables and washrooms without the hubbub of more popular beaches. Don't bring your pup, though — this beach is one of few that aren’t dog-friendly.
Water activities: Activity vendors are everywhere, so out-of-towners can easily kayak or canoe from spring to fall. Plus, you can fly, swim or snorkel into September, when Okanagan Lake averages a warm 19-23 degrees.On our to-do list: seeking out the lake creature Ogopogo — first sighted in 1855 — while scuba diving at Squally Point, and taking on the 27-kilometre Kelowna Paddle Trail, which winds kayakers and SUPers past parks, luxe resorts and twittering bird sanctuaries.
Travelzoo Tip: Did you know you can have a barbecue on the water? Change into your swimsuit, pack some burgers and hop into an easy-to-maneuver Maeg’s BBQ Boat for some grilling and cruising.
Kelowna’s 19 courses take golfing to a completely different level. Where else can you tee off while backdropped by green-draped hills, select an iron near a fragrant orchard and sink a birdie putt in view of a cobalt-blue lake?
For avid golfers: Tower Ranch Golf Club practically has its own spot carved out on SCOREGolf’s list of Canada’s top 100 courses, and Travel + Leisure called it one of the best new courses in the world in 2008.
For a classic Kelowna vibe: The Harvest Golf Club course weaves through 800 fruit trees and vineyards ringed by mountains and water. Pick an apple on the back nine as a snack before you hit up the on-site Masa’s Grill.
Sweet peaches, plump plums and juicy pears – Kelowna has it all, and no visit to the valley is complete without wandering through an orchard’s aromatic rows.
We love Paynter’s Market in West Kelowna. From July into October, the orchards are ideal for romantic walk, photo ops and filling a u-pick basket. Depending on the month, you can pick your own peaches, pears and apples right off the tree.
Travelzoo Tip: Fly home with fresh Okanagan fruit with the Kelowna airport’s Farm-to-Flight program.
Kelowna’s 35 different properties offer something for every traveller. Here are our top choices:
When you sit in a cushioned chair on Hotel Eldorado's patio, watching the afternoon sun glimmer off your wine glass, it’s not hard to imagine the aristocratic social scene that once lit up this resort. An English countess founded the hotel in 1926, and a touch of glamour permeates the property.
Now the resort boasts two hotels that share a private beach, swimming pools, hot tubs and an on-site marina. Dine on tasty fare at either of the hotel’s lakeside restaurants after a day out on the water.
For staycationers: All the suite-style rooms at The Cove Lakeside Resort in West Kelowna have plenty of space to spread out. They’re at least 700 square feet and boast full kitchens with a wine fridge, in-room laundry, private patios and soaker tubs.
For the youngest (or furriest) family members: Fairfield by Marriott, Kelowna offers free parking, free breakfast, free Wi-Fi, a low pet fee ($15) and a four-story waterslide. Need we say more?
Travelzoo Tip: After checking out our own Kelowna deals, there’s one more place we like to go to sift through the city’s hotels — this online tool (scroll down to find it). It allows you to filter for hotels according to your needs, like a specific location, free breakfast, a pool or direct beach access.
Secret garden: A serene Japanese garden — complete with stone lanterns, a bamboo fountain and dappled koi swimming in a lily pad pond — lies tucked beside Kelowna’s city park.
It was built in 1987 to celebrate Kelowna's sister-city relationship with Kasugai, Japan. And a piece of Kelowna made it to Kasugai, too.
Meet a snow-white wallaby named Irwin: Really.
At Kangaroo Creek Farm, just a two-minute drive from the Kelowna airport, animal lovers can gently pet a joey, watch peacocks strut, hold chatty parrots and feed a big-eyed sugar glider, all under the guidance of on-site staff. Kids ages 4 and under enter for free.
Travelling with Dogs
Is there a more dog-friendly city in Canada? We’re not sure, but with 18 off-leash parks, tons of pet-friendly hotels and hundreds of on-leash trails, Kelowna must be up there. Your furriest family member can even go vineyard and brewery-hopping with you, with many spots welcoming pups (just call ahead to make sure no special events are happening when you visit).
Plus, Kelowna makes it easy for your pup to play in Okanagan Lake. Bring a picnic to Gellatly Bay Park and have lunch at the dog beach while your slobbery best friend splashes around, or go out on the water together in a boat rental; select companies like Okanagan Boat Rentals and Maeg’s BBQ Boats allow pets on board, depending on rental location.
Kelowna’s foodie scene delights with farm-to-table flavours served with a side of mountain and lake views.
While there are tons of upscale options to indulge in for a true vacation feel, our top must-try is the casual Little Hobo Soup & Sandwich Shop downtown. This local favourite has been cooking up homemade mulligatawnies, chowders and borschts alongside burgers and bennies since 1975.
After a tasty breakfast or lunch, walk two blocks northeast and grab artisan chocolates crafted like perfect jewels at KARAT. The French-trained pastry chef creates unique treats like cheesecake croissants, painted truffles and passion fruit chantilly creampuffs.
Travelzoo Tip: If you’re in Kelowna over a weekend, don’t miss Krafty Kitchen for Hip Hop Brunch. You can eat a “Lil Kimchi” or “Pop Lox and Drop It” brunch bowl while grooving to a soundtrack of ‘90s hip-hop hits.