Okanagan communities fall into three loosely defined geographic regions. The Central Okanagan has emerged as the commercial and transportation hub. Kelowna has a sophisticated urban appeal while Peachland, Lake Country and West Kelowna retain more of a small-town feel. Extending into the rolling farmlands beyond Vernon at the head of Okanagan Lake, the North Okanagan is different from its southern neighbours. Life reflects the region’s cattle ranching and agricultural foundations. The South Okanagan is unique in Canada with rare eosystems and a relaxed lifestyle. Communities include Summerland, Naramata, Penticton, Oliver and Osoyoos. Beyond the Valley to the north, the Shuswap region blends agriculture, homegrown arts and a zest for outdoor recreation.
High-power, high-tech, high-rise…Kelowna is all grown up with a population over 121,000 and the urban amenities you’d expect in a community this size. If you want to be in the thick of the action, this is the place. As the regional shopping hub, Kelowna offers malls, big box stores, quaint shops, funky boutiques, many clustered around downtown Bernard Avenue and Pandosy Village in the Mission district, and a lively farmers’ market. An array of hi-tech companies has chosen to locate in Kelowna while opportunities for higher education include UBC Okanagan and Okanagan College.
Kelowna hosts many events and activities focused in its vibrant downtown Cultural District. Notable venues include the Rotary Centre for the Arts, a multi-purpose facility for artistic and cultural experiences; the Kelowna Community Theatre, which hosts the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra, concerts and the performing arts; and Prospera Place, 6,000-seat home of the Kelowna Rockets hockey team and site of performances by major touring entertainers.
Also scattered throughout the Cultural District are museums, art galleries, unique restaurants, the ornamental Kasugai Gardens and intriguing sculptures on permanent display. Further afield, early European settlement is remembered at the Father Pandosy Mission and Guisachan House.
The city’s fast developing culinary culture has attracted a cohort of top chefs whose restaurants are dedicated to preparing locally sourced foods and spotlighting Valley vintages.
Downtown, wine lovers head for The Rotten Grape and nibble tapas with a boggling selection of wines by the glass. Stop by the Bohemian Cafe & Catering Co. It’s popular with everybody from artists to lawyers and hosts a great Sunday brunch. Bouchons Bistro presents a wine list rated by Wine Spectator as one of the most outstanding in the world to complement regional French cuisine. Select the daily chef’s table or dine à la carte. At RauDZ the look is sleek and a little flip. The menu celebrates local bounty and offers some surprises and you’ll still find chef Rod Butters signature dishes. Stop by the Yellow House Restaurant for lunch or dinner in a 1906 heritage home. If your taste runs more to the exotic, sample authentic East Indian at Dawett Fine Indian Cuisine, Japanese at Ginza and Momo or Thai at Bai Tong.
In the Pandosy/Lakeshore Road area, Hector’s Casa serves Mexican. Celebrity chef Ned Bell presides over the open kitchen at city chic Cabana Bar and Grille. Try a hand mulled Mangohito in the lounge. Wine Spectator magazine gave an award of excellence to the Hotel Eldorado and locals say it has the best patio in the city. Check out the appies and lively music scene at the Minstrel Café & Bar.
For excellent noshing with your shopping, stop by the Kelowna Farmers’ and Crafters’ Market Saturday mornings. For a comprehensive list of the Valley’s Best Restaurants, as selected by the readers of Okanagan Life magazine, log in to www.okanaganlife.com.
Wine lovers find plenty of scope for touring and tasting. Drop by the visitors centre or download a copy of the Kelowna Wine Trails brochure for maps and listings of the area’s five distinct wine trails. Start with the roots of the Okanagan wine industry on the Downtown Heritage Trail with a visit to Calona Vineyards Winery, established in 1932 as BC’s first commercial winery.
Head north for a drive in the country through Lake Country’s Scenic Sip wine route. More spectacular views and excellent wine tasting will attract your attention on the Lakeshore Wine Route, while the wineries of the East Kelowna Wine Trail display a distinctly artistic flair. Finally, cross the lake and taste the difference volcanic soil produces at wineries on the Westside Wine Trail.
The largest city in the Okanagan also offers plenty of great outdoor escapes. One of the beauties of Kelowna is the ability to go from a busy city street corner to a mountaintop experience in a matter of minutes.
One such spot is Knox Mountain Park, located at the north end of Ellis Avenue on the shores of Okanagan Lake. Covering 580 acres of environmentally sensitive ponderosa pine forest and grassland, its well-maintained trails attract hikers, joggers and mountain bike riders. Two parking lots offer easy access to the trails.
You can also enter the park through points in the Magic Estates subdivision or by boat at the cove below the historic site of Paul’s Tomb, built by early pioneer Rambler Paul in 1910. This area is also home to an underwater dive park, where a seven-metre model of Ogopogo lies submerged.
The Mission Creek Greenway is a popular walk/bike linear park in the heart of the city with a wide, flat and mostly shady seven-kilometre trail accessible to all and a nine-kilometre tougher climb through canyons and over bridges as you ascend into the hills.
Kelowna’s downtown waterfront area offers a more level stroll. Parking is plentiful near Prospera Place, putting you right at the entrance to Waterfront Park, an amazing collection of lagoons, knolls and pathways jutting into Okanagan Lake. Walk north to a walkway through the rehabilitated Brandt’s Creek wetlands where you can watch the water birds and nesting ospreys from the viewing platform. Head south past the marina and you’ll come to City Park with its children’s water park, playgrounds and gardens. Many concerts are held in the park each year.
Just outside of the city core, the Myra Canyon section of the KVR Trail/Trans Canada Trail is a very popular hiking and biking venue with its 18 tressles and two tunnels.
A short drive in any direction presents orchards and farm markets to explore, mountain trails to hike and bike, and golf courses to conquer. Swimmers, boaters, water sports enthusiasts and anglers head for the sunny beaches of Okanagan Lake and for winter fun, three major ski hills beckon within a one-hour drive of downtown.
At Big White Ski Resort, the powder is deep and dry and you’ll find the full cold weather experience with downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and ice skating.
Ride and glide forest glades and gentle slopes or attack deep powder and moguls. With 118 marked downhill trails and 16 lifts—line-ups are reasonable and the slopes feel uncrowded even at peak times. Precision riders check out the Telus Park.
The nearby Nordic Cross-Country Ski Club challenges every level of free-heeler with 68 kilometres of groomed trails. The club is located near the KVR Trail/Trans-Canada Trail. The parking area is adjacent to the heated main cabin where you’ll find an overall trail map.
Add all these amenities to the fantastic scenery and mild climate and it’s easy to see why many consider Kelowna the central attraction of the Okanagan Valley.
Vineyards and high-country lakes, housing tracts and burgeoning commercial space—there seems to be room for it all in this fast-changing area. Rich in culture and history, from the Westbank First Nation (WFN) to the early pioneers, today West Kelowna is home to over 28,000 people with another 8,000 native and non-native residents on band land.
New residential neighbourhoods are popping up everywhere—at golf courses, on the lakeshore and in the woods. Commercial complexes along Hwy 97 provide big box shopping and places to meet for coffee or gather for dinner without crossing the bridge to Kelowna. Meanwhile, traditional orchards still dot the landscape and offer fresh fruit in season at roadside stands. And the community hosts the Westside Wine Trail where long established names like Quail’s Gate, home of the renowned Old Vines Restaurant, and Mission Hill, with its iconic 12-storey bell tower, carillon and celebrated Terrace Restaurant, are joined by newcomers such as Kalala, Rollingdale, Little Straw and Beaumont Estate.
West Kelowna and the west side of Okanagan Lake provide a wide range of activities for outdoor enthusiasts. Hikers can take their pick from a leisurely stroll along the waterfront to a mountain trek. Recommended trails include Rose Valley, Glen Canyon, McDougall Rim, Kalamoir and the flanks of Mount Boucherie, the remnant of a dormant volcano. At Bear Creek Provincial Park, the attractions include waterfalls, loop trails, fabulous views and spawning kokanee salmon spotting. For downhillers, boarders and snowshoers, Crystal Mountain Resort is only 15 minutes from town. Nearby, the Telemark club offers extensive cross-country ski and snowshoe trails, also used by mountain bikers and hikers in summer.
Gellatly Nut Farm is a unique heritage park. Over a century old, it was the homestead of one of the area’s earliest pioneer families. In the fall visitors can buy nuts by the pound or harvest them from the ground. Nearby, the Gellatly Heritage Regional Park features historic buildings, an interpretive walking trail, family cemetery, picnic area and a very close view of the aftermath of the 2009 Glenrosa wildfire.
Country meets city in West Kelowna.
Strongly connected to its deep historic roots, this city maintains a sense of time and place that anchors a vibrant and growing community. Vernon nestles between Swan, Kalamalka and Okanagan lakes on Hwy 97 in the North Okanagan. Incorporated on Dec. 31, 1892, Vernon was settled by gold miners and cattle ranchers during the 1860s and ’70s. With the benefit of irrigation water from nearby rivers and streams, the area prospered as a major ranching and orchard centre by the turn of the century. The agricultural tradition continues and evolves, with popular attractions like Davison Orchards and Planet Bee providing a fun way to connect with food production.
The city of about 38,000 celebrates its past with preserved heritage buildings, a comprehensive museum, the popular O’Keefe Ranch historic site, a collection of outdoor murals depicting various aspects of Vernon’s past and an array of heritage homes in the East Hill area. Vernon also embraces the future with destination golf courses, lakeview subdivisions and the expansion of the Vernon hospital. Big box shopping on the north edge of town and continuing revitalization of the downtown core are further indicators of forward momentum.
Vernon hosts a variety of annual events ranging from the Funtastic slo-pitch tournament and Creative Chaos arts and crafts show to the family-centred Vernon Winter Carnival.
The city supports an active cultural community with concerts by the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra at the excellent Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre; shows by touring performers at the Wesbild Centre, a multi-purpose facility that also hosts the Vernon Vipers hockey team; and shows at the artist-run Gallery Vertigo.
The dining scene encompasses a broad range of styles and cuisines with perky Tex-Mex, traditional steakhouse fare and a choice of Mediterranean eateries.
Vernon also offers outstanding parks, sandy beaches and extensive hiking trails. The surrounding lakes invite all forms of water sports from swimming and wakeboarding to kayaking and scuba diving. Silver Star Mountain Resort, northeast of the city centre, is known for superb skiing, boarding and snowshoeing in winter plus mountain biking and hiking to wildflower-carpeted alpine meadows in summer. The adjacent Sovereign Lake Nordic Club adds still more winter trails.
Past and future connect in Vernon.
Bountiful orchards, reflective lakes and hikeable hillsides—so much inspiration, you may just find your inner artist. Lake Country, a municipality of just over 11,000 people formed by the amalgamation of the formerly independent communities of Carr’s Landing, Okanagan Centre, Oyama and Winfield, is forging a new identity of its own.
Orchards and vineyards fill the Valley floor and climb the lower slopes of the ridges between the area’s three defining lakes: Okanagan, Wood and Kalamalka. Continuing its long agricultural tradition, fresh produce is sold at roadside stands and a farmers’ market that runs Friday evenings from June to September in Swalwell Park.
There’s no need to travel far for the finer things in life. The region boasts award-winning wineries such as Gray Monk, Ex Nihilo and Arrowleaf Cellars on the Lake Country Scenic Sip trail. You’ll also find notable eateries and a flourishing arts community.
Lake Country hosts Art Walk each September. Many artists call the community home and invite visitors to their studios. Parks display public art and the performing arts take centre stage at the Creekside Theatre. Golf, hiking, birdwatching and water sports round out life in Lake Country.
Life’s a beach…and with one of the best waterfronts in the Valley, this town has the life. But it was actually a peach that gave developer John Moore Robinson the idea to buy ranchland, develop it into orchards and sell it to easterners. The municipal district was incorporated in 1909. Today it counts more than 5,000 permanent residents and thousands more in the summer.
Being sandwiched between Okanagan Lake and the mountains, many homes come with a view—the winery comes with a view—even the golf course (currently under development) has a panorama from its plateau a mile from the lakeshore.
The Beach Avenue waterfront attracts sun worshippers, swimmers, boaters, picnicers, shoppers and diners who want to watch the show from sidewalk tables or patios. History stands still at the eight-sided Baptist Church, built in 1910, that now houses the Peachland Museum, while Hardy Falls, at the south end of town, is an easy-access, stroller-friendly park with spawning kokanee salmon and waterfalls.
Peachland hosts the annual World of Wheels classic and antique car show and the seven-kilometre Rattlesnake Island Swim. During the growing season, buy fresh produce at the Peachland Farmers’ and Crafters’ Market on Sundays at Heritage Park.
Tucked between Okanagan and Skaha lakes and framed by dramatic bluffs and scenic slopes, Penticton is the economic and cultural hub of the South Okanagan. A city with aboriginal beginnings, it was once a large Okanagan Nation settlement on the east side of the Okanagan River, called Snpinkten, which translates as “a place to stay forever.” Early European settlement was based on beef production, but the cattle ranches eventually gave way to fruit orchards and today Penticton is known as the Peach City.
Although mountains on both sides and lakes north and south confine the municipality to a relatively compact area, Penticton is still a growing concern that maintains its small town feel. At some 33,000 residents, this community is big enough to provide loads of amenities, but avoids the breakneck pace of large metropolitan centres.
The waterfront on Okanagan Lake is known for its wide sandy beach, walking paths, Ikeda Japanese Garden, public art gallery, casino, varied restaurants and the historic S.S. Sicamous sternwheeler. Skaha Beach is home to muscle and bikini contests, sandcastle building competitions, water parks and playgrounds. Penticton also hosts a diverse array of events like the Okanagan Fest-Of-Ale in April, Peach City Beach Cruise and Elvis Festival in June, Penticton Peach Festival in August and the Pentastic Hot Jazz Festival in September while ultra-athletes from near and far converge on the city every year for the popular Subaru Ironman Canada Triathlon.
Shoppers can tune up their skills at the mall or take a break from the chains with a stroll downtown and among the trendy shops of Colourful Front Street. This vibrant section of town takes full advantage of the brick exteriors and distinctive architecture of the city’s early 19th century architecture. Today the brightly painted facades, banners, murals, trees and flowers decorate popular cafés and restaurants, galleries, bookstores, clothing boutiques and gift shops. Around the corner, the foot of Main Street shuts down for the Penticton Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings from May to mid-October.
Diversity is the key to this appealing town. With cultural events and international hockey schools, orchards, vineyards and manufacturing plants, great beaches and renowned Apex Mountain Resort plus housing options ranging from heritage bungalows and view condos to retirement communities next to family apartments, Penticton is a place to come for a visit and quite possibly stay forever.
This town earns its name with summertime abundance and sleepy ambience. Known for its orchards and vineyards, beaches and Tudor style, Summerland’s agricultural roots date to the late 1800s. Fresh fruits and vegetables are as close as the nearest stand. And the latest evolution of the fruit industry is turning this quiet burg into a happening wine region known as the Bottleneck Drive.
Summerland is home to the Pacific Agri-Food Research Station where the first orchard and ornamental gardens were planted in 1916. You’re welcome to wander through the gardens and museum. Other heritage attractions include the Kettle Valley Steam Railway and Trout Creek Trestle Bridge.
The district claims over 11,000 residents who enjoy the lake, hiking trails and golf courses. Summerland boasts one of the best beaches in the Valley at Sun-Oka (for Sunny Okanagan) Beach Provincial Park. Downtown, chic restaurants take their place next to art gallery and museum while specialty boutiques surprise savvy shoppers.
Take in all the sights from the summit of Giant’s Head Mountain, an extinct volcano with a 360-degree panorama, a great place to feel the spirit of Summerland.
In many ways time stands still in Naramata and locals like it that way. More than a century after the settlement began, this place retains the quiet charisma that earned it certification by the international Cittaslow movement (think Slow Food on a community level). The village first bloomed as a cultural centre when lake steamers brought visitors. The opening of the Kettle Valley Railway along the ridgeline above the village in 1914 forged an even stronger link. Ironically, the age of the automobile left Naramata an isolated enclave—and that’s not a bad thing.
To get home, village residents (some 1,800 of them) must drive the scenic route among orchards and vineyards above Okanagan Lake, resisting the temptation to stop at too many of the Naramata Bench wineries.
The village centre is the quietest in the Valley with just a few shops and eateries. Stroll the elm-lined avenues and explore the Naramata Heritage Museum. Manitou Park hosts May Day and Naramata August Faire festivals, and Wharf Park hosts the farmers’ market on summer Wednesday afternoons. The labyrinth at the Naramata Centre is perfect for meditation, while the Trans Canada Trail on the abandoned Kettle Valley Railway (KVR) provides an easy route to signature views. Now that’s the slow life.
Extending “Canada’s warmest welcome,” this desert gem boasts the warmest lake, about the lowest rainfall and highest temperatures in the country. This arid zone is part of the huge Sonoran Life Zone, which stretches all the way to Mexico. The climate makes Osoyoos a warm weather playground and a winter nesting spot for snowbirds.
The main drag of the relaxed community of about 5,200 takes you through the commercial section of town. Cross over to the east side of Osoyoos Lake, the warmest fresh water lake in Canada, and you’re in holidayland where the beaches are lined with campgrounds and hotels.
Local residents also have close ties with the Osoyoos Indian Band, one of Canada’s most financially independent and business savvy aboriginal communities. The band’s Nk’Mip complex includes a winery and the renowned Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre where you can learn about the Okanagan People and the flora and fauna of the desert. For a different take on the local environment, stroll the boardwalk at the Osoyoos Desert Centre, the wetlands of Haynes Point Provincial Park or the Osoyoos Oxbows.
Agriculture is big in this area with many roadside fruit stands and award-winning wineries offering local wine tours and tastings.
Oliver calls itself the Wine Capital of Canada. A significant proportion of Canada’s grape-growing acreage surrounds this town and two of the Okanagan’s best known wine routes, Black Sage Road and the Golden Mile, run south between Oliver and Osoyoos.
And there’s plenty of other action for the seriously sports minded. The hot summers and mild winters make this an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. The area has two 18-hole golf courses, nearby lakes to drop a fishing line, and kilometres of hiking, biking and walking trails. The multi-use International Bicycling and Hiking Trail runs for 18 kilometres alongside the Okanagan River Channel. Forbes Marsh and nearby Vaseux Lake are great places to bird watch.
Located in the arid region known as Canada’s only desert, the area is home to many unique species. Beyond the orchards and vineyards look among the sagebrush and cactus for lizards, snakes, bats, toads, deer, coyotes, bighorn sheep and rare birds like the burrowing owl.
Oliver is a small town with a population around 4,500, but there’s lots going on. Throughout the year events includes concerts, holiday celebrations, festivals, art shows and dances, many hosted at area wineries.
Summer in the Shuswap is practically a cliché. Shuswap Lake and its smaller cousins, Mara Lake and Little Shuswap provide more than a thousand kilometres of shoreline with beaches, parks and great communities including Sorrento, Salmon Arm and Sicamous strung along the Trans-Canada Highway, and an array of small arts-friendly communities on the north shore.
The lakes anchor the family fun with beaches, city piers and vast areas of wilderness seclusion. Golfers beware, Shuswap courses present an exciting challenge and with all that natural beauty, keeping your eye on the ball can be a real trial.
Food is a central theme in the Shuswap where the agricultural roots grow deep. Throughout the season, Salmon Arm and Sorento host weekly farmers’ and crafters’ markets, private farm markets are open daily and Shuswap wineries welcome visitors for a sip.
There’s still more action in the white months. Hundreds of kilometres of trails are ideal for snowshoeing and skiing. The Shuswap is also famous for sledding, from groomed alpine trails to deep powder bowls. ~Laurie Carter
Photo by Laurie Carter