North America

Kelowna might just have it all

Kelowna | Photo credit: Courtesy of www.tourismkelowna.com

Not if, but when you are planning to visit British Columbia, be sure to include Kelowna in your travel plans. And it really does not matter which season of the year you plan to be here.

Kelowna is the heart of the Okanagan Valley, and a town that will impress. Quite simply, after being here 24 hours, you may say to your significant other: “We should move here!”

One cannot easily describe Kelowna. It’s that kind of town. Certainly picturesque (As in postcard), certainly quaint (As in a charming downtown), certainly manageable (as in learning the area quickly) and certainly visitor friendly (As in ask anyone anything and you will get an answer) and certainly culinary sociable (As in diverse and impressive!). In Kelowna, cuisine and drink are grown locally and delivered fresh. You can pluck ripe cherries or juicy peaches from trees, order a gourmet meal, or quench your thirst with fresh pressed apple juice or internationally acclaimed wines.

As they say though, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. And that’s probably why the town swells in population during the Spring and Summer months. And the weather … It’s rare that one can travel anywhere and find ideal seasonal weather …

Situated midway between Vancouver and Calgary, and nestled between the Cascade and Coastal mountain ranges, Kelowna is the largest city in British Columbia’s well-known Okanagan Valley.

With a population just over 115,000, Kelowna and the surrounding area border beautiful Okanagan Lake, a 110 kilometre (68 miles) long waterway that joins Kelowna with Vernon to the north and with Penticton to the south. Surrounded by ponderosa pine forested mountains that merge with fruit orchards and vineyards overlooking the lake, the region combines scenic beauty with excellent weather.

The region is a haven for year-round recreational activities, including world class golf and downhill skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, orchard tours, art walks and winery excursions. Dry air and bright skies characterize Kelowna’s unique climate in summer, while winters are much milder than areas north and east of the Okanagan Valley. Kelowna can boast of 2000 hours of sunshine annually with an average temperature of 27 Celsius (86 F) in summer and 0 degrees Celsius (40 F) in the winter. This four-season climate translates into warm, sunny days April through September and crisp bright skies that are ideal for skiing in the winter months, November through March.

The Kelowna area is brimming with activities – be it for families or couples. Okanagan Lake plays host to every type of water sport imaginable. Clean and accessible beaches line the shores of the lake and water sport companies offer all of the necessary equipment and services such as parasailing, boat rentals, paddleboats, windsurfing, and beach equipment to make a vacation activity-rich and memorable.

Kids especially like to search for Ogopogo, a 35-odd-feet-long, serpent-like creature said to be living in the depths of Okanagan Lake. Described as having a dark-coloured body, several large humps on its back and a reptilian shaped head, Ogopogo is a cousin to the Loch Ness Monster of Scotland. The area’s First Nations people called Ogopogo N’ha-a-itk, or Lake Demon; however, rumour has it that Ogopogo is a very friendly creature!

Big White Ski Resort| Photo credit: Courtesy of www.tourismkelowna.com

In the winter months, mid-November through March, you will find no greater ski experience than at Big White Ski Resort, one of the region’s four major ski resorts. Big White Ski Resort is a 50-minute drive from Kelowna and was recently multi-awarded “Best in Canada” for Best Variety of Terrain, Best Glade Skiing and Best Grooming by Ski Canada Magazine. The Kids Centre has been acknowledged as one of the top 5 in the world and Best in Canada. In addition to downhill skiing, Big White has Canada’s largest resort tube park called the Mega Snow Coaster.

Resort lodges are open throughout the winter and facilitate snow-shoeing, cross country skiing, snowmobiling, ice fishing and ice-skating. The mountains surrounding Kelowna are very much representative of a vibrant Canadian winter experience that is becoming more and more populat, and activity-packed, with each passing year.

While you are here, you can plan to see / do …

Whether you have a green thumb or have a desire to turn green with envy, you will appreciate the efforts of Kelowna to beautify the city. Gardening is somewhat of a cultural phenomenon in this community. It has iconic status and the international accolades to prove it.

For several years, Kelowna has consistently garnered international acclaim for its outdoor beauty, having won a multitude of awards. There are several magnificent public gardens to see and customized private garden tours are gaining popularity. Every year in June the city’s most spectacular private gardens become the focus of attention during the Annual Garden Tour. Curious gardeners and those in search of horticultural inspiration make their trek around the city to selected homes, announcing their arrival by the awed sounds of “ooohh!” and “aaahh!”

All summer long, visitors can learn about the produce and flora of this fertile region at a variety of public gardens and orchards.

Napa? Nope. Kelowna? Yes, Canada’s Okanagan Valley is gaining the respect and admiration of oenophiles around the world. Local area wineries are winning International Awards and wines are being snapped up by savvy high-end restaurants.

The area, the lake and wineries are pretty as a picture and wine tours are a most popular “Must Do” while here.

There are some 20-plus wineries, 5 distinct wine trails (Scenic Sip, East Kelowna Wine Trail, Heritage Downtown Visit, Lakeshore Wine Route and Westside Wine Trail), two microbreweries, two cideries and one distillery all within 25 minutes of downtown Kelowna.

Many people don’t realize that the thriving wine industry in the Okanagan Valley had its beginnings in Kelowna. This area of the Okanagan offers visitors a chance to visit some of the Okanagan’s first winery pioneers and taste award-winning products. The region has attracted the attention of international wine connoisseurs, as the wineries compete successfully at levels once reserved for old-world establishments.

British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley spans 300 kilometres (200 miles) and lush vineyards thrive on 9100 acres of this spectacular landscape. The region’s climate is characterized by hot, dry summers and moderate winters and boasts more hours of sunshine than California during the peak-growing season.

Two major wine festivals take place annually in Kelowna, one in early May, the other in early October. Events range from specialty winery tastings and seminars, to vineyard dinners, outdoor brunches, and a wide selection of restaurant promotions where a particular vintner’s wine is featured on the menu.

Visiting Kelowna is a special treat for those with a passion for food. The Okanagan is one of Canada’s largest fruit growing regions, with dozens of roadside fruit stands greeting visitors, Spring through fall. This abundance of produce has also bolstered the local restaurant landscape, which prides itself on its reliance on local producers for ingredients.

A number of Kelowna’s wineries have introduced dining facilities in recent years, all of which provide fanciful views of the vineyards and Okanagan Lake.

You will want to tee it up in and around Kelowna. Whether you are an avid golfer or wannabe, playing any number of area golf courses is a treat.

Kelowna is fast becoming Canada’s quintessential Canadian golf destination – especially during the Spring season. New for 2011; sixteen of Kelowna’s 18 golf courses have come together to form Canada’s newest golf experience tidal wave, giving golfers access to an unparalleled critical mass of diverse and quality golf courses in any single city in Canada. Next season, there will be another course to play; a Greg Norman Signature Course which is set to open in 2012.

And for the kids …

Myra Canyon, Kelowna | Photo credit: Courtesy of www.tourismkelowna.com

Sandcastle aficionados will tell you that carefree Kelowna has always been a family vacation stronghold. The long and sunny days of summer lend themselves well to all sorts of kid-friendly activities. Even Kelowna’s award-winning wineries welcome kids. While mom and dad taste the region’s Pinots, kids can savour juice tastings at wineries like Summerhill Pyramid Winery or Mission Hill Family Estate. It’s a great opportunity to teach kids about the beauty and farming of vineyards and the culture around wine.

In 2003 many Canadians learned the news of the Okanagan Mountain Park Fire, and watched in horror as 12 of the historic trestle bridges in the Myra Canyon – a portion of the Kettle Valley Railway – burned. The Kettle Valley Railway was built at the turn of the 20th century to transport silver, nickel and other ores from the Interior of BC to the Coast. Later, this railway became part of the Trans Canada Trail and the rail lines were taken out. The most scenic portion of the railway is the Myra Canyon, a steep-walled, high elevation canyon overlooking the Okanagan Valley, Okanagan Lake, and Kelowna. Since 2008, the Myra Canyon has been open again with all 12 trestles rebuilt. With history in North America so closely tied to the railway, this is most certainly a story of true continental pride and breathtaking scenery.

There’s a reason why Kelowna’s Cultural District has been named the “Best in Canada” by the Canadian Heritage Cultural Spaces Program. A 6-block area of downtown is jammed with museums, galleries, artist studios, performance venues, public art displays and colourful performers of all disciplines. This area seems to vibrate with creativity. If you love theatre, live music, multi-cultural events, and festivals, you will feel at home in this culturally abundant city.

There is a variety of galleries in Kelowna, from the Kelowna Art Gallery to unique privately-operated venues like Turtle Island Gallery and the Alternator Gallery, all located downtown in the Cultural District. The Roger D. Arndt Studio Gallery is situated in the midst of apple and cherry orchards, perched above the city in a beautifully restored and expanded historic family farm home. Known as “The Painter of the Canadian West”, visitors will often see Arndt at work since his studio is set within the gallery. You may also catch a glimpse of another local artist at work at the Geert Maas Sculpture Garden. His sculptures are displayed year-round in an outdoor display garden that surrounds his home and studio.

Several major festivals take place in Kelowna each year, including Fat Cat Children’s Festival, Centre of Gravity Festival; the International Dragon Boat Festival; and the Okanagan Spring and Fall Wine Festivals.

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