I was born in Vancouver, BC but all my childhood memories are from growing up in Kelowna. Kelowna has been my hometown for the vast majority of my life and I will always consider it home. If you’ve never been to Kelowna, you simply have to visit. Kelowna the third largest city in British Columbia with a population of 120,000 (estimate from 2015). Located in the heart of the Okanagan Valley, the city is surrounded by big, beautiful mountains and a huge deep blue lake. Kelowna is a semi-arid desert so the air is dry, summers are super hot and winters can get quite cold. Due to this, Kelowna, BC, is simply gorgeous all year round and visitors can experience all four seasons in full bloom. This truly is the only Kelowna all season guide you need!
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The word ‘Kelowna’ comes means grizzly bear and comes from the Okanagan language. The first people to live in Kelowna are part of the Syilx/Okanagan Nation. If you look on their website, you will see that the Syilx/Okanagan Nation is made up of seven different communities including the Okanagan Indian Band, Osoyoos Indian Band, Penticton Indian Band, Upper Nicola Band, Upper and Lower Similkameen Indian Bands, and Westbank First Nation along with the Colville Confederated Tribes in Northern Washington. If you want to learn more about the Syilx/Okanagan Nation please visit the timeline of history on their website and take some time to listen to their songs. To support the Syilx/Okanagan community directly, visit this shop on their website where you can buy a variety of books.
To learn more about Kelowna’s history you can check out this article.
I lived in Kelowna from age 3 to age 24 and having family and friends visit from out of town I had the opportunity to check out a ton of hotels in Kelowna. Without a doubt I can say that the four nicest hotels to stay at in Kelowna are Manteo Resort, the Eldorado Hotel, The Cove Lakeside Resort, and The Delta Grand Hotel. All four of these hotels sit right on Okanagan Lake, have beautiful rooms, gorgeous views and more. If I absolutely had to pick favorites I would say Manteo Resort and The Cove.
My grandparents often stay at Manteo Resort when they come visit my family in Kelowna. It’s right on the lake, has a lovely swimming pool, and the colors of the buildings are all very inviting. I once went to a birthday party at Manteo and found out that they even have a private theatre that you can rent out!
My husband and I also visited The Cove together and had the best time. My parents booked the room for us since we had just gotten married and we were totally blown away. We thought we would be opening the door to see your standard hotel bed, maybe a mini fridge, and a bathroom. Instead we opened the door to a hotel suite complete with a kitchen, living room and upstairs loft! The food at the restaurant there the next morning was also incredible. The Cove is in West Kelowna and a bit quieter than the other hotels due to their proximity to downtown.
One last hotel I would recommend, especially for young adults, is Hotel Zed. I haven’t stayed there yet myself but I have eaten at the restaurant at their Victoria location and heard great things about staying there. It’s a super colorful (perfect for getting some Instagram shots) and they have a pool, waterslide, hot tub, ping pong lounge and more! They are also pet and motorcycle friendly.
If hotels aren’t your thing and you want to save some money, don’t worry. I’ll be covering some good campgrounds in Kelowna as well down below. You can also skip ahead to the section on camping by going to the table of contents above.
Kelowna is constantly expanding and so is it’s food scene. There really is something for everyone in Kelowna, especially downtown. It seems like new restaurants are popping up constantly! I’m vegetarian and I have still found there to be tons of choices for me as well.
Some of my favorite restaurants include Social 242, The Curious Cafe, Naked Cafe, La Lupita, Soy Fusion and Zabb. These are honestly just a few of my favorites off the top of my head. I wrote a post a little while ago about the best vegetarian and vegan food hot spots in Kelowna, so you can check that article out here.
I also love how many cute cafes there are in Kelowna. Some of my favorites include The Naked Cafe Express, Bean Scene, Bliss Bakery, and The Marmalade Cat Cafe. Plus I heard there’s a new vegan cafe that just opened called The Salty Caramel Kitchen and I can’t wait to try it out as well. There’s so much more to choose from than just those, but they’re a great place to start. Also don’t forget to check out the Kelowna Farm to Table Guide. There’s tons of restaurants, cafes, and wineries in there that source everything locally which is amazing.
If you’re like me, you also view hiking as a year round activity. With all the beautiful mountains surrounding Kelowna, there’s really no end to the amount of beautiful hikes you can enjoy. Rain, shine or snow, some of the most popular hikes in Kelowna include Knox Mountain, Canyon Falls, Kelowna Mountain and the Myra Canyon Trestles. If you’re willing to go for a bit of a drive or want more options, then check out this article I wrote for Explore Magazine on 10 of the Best Hikes Near Kelowna. By the way, one hike that didn’t make the list on Explore is called Scenic Canyon and you should definitely consider hiking there too. I honestly think it’s Kelowna’s most underrated hike and there’s rarely any big crowds.
While I’m not much of a partier myself, there are lots of places downtown to grab a drink with your friends. My personal favorite is BNA Brewing. Since I’m not too into the party scene I don’t want to give out too many of my own recommendations because I just don’t have that many. However you can check out this page on Kelowna’s Tourism website to find out more about clubs, bars and other nightlife events on the calendar.
Spring in Kelowna is full of bright skies, warming temperatures and blossoming flowers. There’s lots to do and see and many wineries will be reopening. Snow in Kelowna usually melts around March or April and the season often changes quite quickly. I’m still amazed every year how it can go from being snowy one week to almost tee shirt weather the next. It rains a bit in spring but usually not much since Kelowna is a semi-arid desert.
To skip ahead to information on Kelowna’s wineries, scroll down to the summer section. Or to find the information more easily scroll up to the Table of Contents and click on Wineries.
There are so many beautiful gardens to visit in the spring. My absolute favorite is the Okanagan Herb and Lavender Farm. They have a beautiful self guided walking tour that you can go on to explore the lavender fields. When you start the tour a staff member gives you a card and on it you can write a wish to be hung on their wishing tree. There’s also a gift shop full of lavender soaps, essential oils, hyrdrosols and herb mixtures.
Another really popular garden in Kelowna is Kasugai gardens. The park is a symbol of the friendship between Kelowna and Kelowna’s sister city in Kasugai, Japan. Due to this friendship, Kasugai gardens has a very Japanese style and is home to plenty of koi fish.
If you want to visit a larger garden I would highly recommend going for a bit of a drive and checking out Summerland Ornamental Gardens. This is probably the biggest of all the gardens I’ve mentioned so far and is absolutely breathtaking. There are so many beautiful flowers to see and gorgeous views of the mountains, valley and lake. They also put on a variety of events throughout the year.
Some of the spring festivals and events you can attend include Peak Pride, the Spring Okanagan Wine Festival, and the Great Okanagan Beer Festival. Peak Pride happens at Big White Ski Resort during the month of April and is a super fun event for LGBTQ+ people and allies. The Spring Okanagan Wine Festival is a must for your Kelowna bucket list as Kelowna is home to some of the best wine in the world. The Great Okanagan Beer Festival is a must do as well as you can enjoy a growing range of local craft beers right on the lake!
Kelowna is famous for it’s hot summers. In fact the city has been nicknamed ‘Kelownafornia’ as it has earned a reputation for becoming ‘Canada’s California’. I have experienced many summer days with temperatures rising above 40 degrees Celsius. So many people I meet abroad ask me if Canada is always cold and being from Kelowna, that answer is always ‘no’.
Please keep in mind that every summer parts of Kelowna’s forests go up in flames. The forest fires can be pretty bad and often cause a very smokey atmosphere particularly during August so keep that in mind while planning if you have asthma or other respiratory issues. Luckily there are plenty of ways to cool off.
There are so many incredible beaches to choose from in Kelowna. Gyro beach is probably the most popular. It has a huge playground for kids with two zip lines. One zip line stays on the shore while the other starts on shore but ends in Okanagan Lake. Another popular beach is the nearby Rotary Beach Park which is considerably less busy than Gyro. If you really want to beat the crowds, continue on Lakeshore Road until you reach Bertram Creek Park. There are also plenty of gorgeous beaches to choose from in West Kelowna. For people wanting to experience beaches a little outside of Kelowna, there are some nice beaches in Penticton and others at Kalamalka Lake near Vernon. Kalamalka Lake is my personal favorite as the water is often a bright turquoise-green color.
My two favorite ice cream shops in Kelowna are very close to each other and are located downtown. One has been around for ages and is called Moolix and the other is newer and called Parlour Ice Cream. Both places have a couple of vegan options and at Parlour you can even order a pint of ice cream in a mason jar. If you bring the mason jar back another day I’m pretty sure you get a discount on refills too! Keep in mind that line ups during the heat of summer are always so long the trail outside the shop doors of both shops.
If you end up road tripping to nearby Penticton then definitely don’t miss out on Tickleberry’s either. They’re probably one of the most popular and largest ice cream shops in the Okanagan Valley.
There are so many gorgeous campgrounds to choose from when visiting Kelowna. I personally love Bear Creek Campground because of its proximity to so many great hikes. However, there are tons of campgrounds to choose from. I’ve heard really good things about Postill Lake from my dad, although I personally haven’t been. Christina Lake is also wildly popular for Kelowna locals to escape to for a weekend of camping. I’ve been there and absolutely loved it but keep in mind this one is about 3 hours away from Kelowna. For more Kelowna camping information and campgrounds to choose from you can check out this list of the ten best campgrounds near Kelowna on TripAdvisor. Also keep in mind that if you’re camping in the hotter parts of the summer there may be a campfire ban put in place to help protect British Columbia’s forests.
One of my absolute favorite things to do in Kelowna is go winery hopping. There are hundreds of wineries in and around Kelowna to choose from and to be honest they’re all amazing. My favorite winery is Meadow Vista Honey Wines. I’m a little biased because I used to work there but it’s a smaller winery that actually makes wine from honey. It’s originally known as mead but Meadow Vista prides itself on having light meads that taste similar to wine.
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Most mead traditionally is a bit heavier and tastes more similar to beer. Meadow Vista has a wide variety of meads mixed with various fruits to try plus you can buy honey and beeswax candles too! Their wines have also won tons of awards for their outstanding taste and uniqueness. They also have an incredible Bee Tour where visitors can see flowers, the garden where the food for the bistro is grown, and even the hives (at a safe distance of course).
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My other favorite winery in Kelowna is the Vibrant Vine which is right on the way to Meadow Vista in South East Kelowna as well. The Vibrant Vine is unique because when you first walk in, you are told to grab a pair of 3D glasses sitting atop a wine barrel and pop them on. All the art on the bottles and throughout the entire shop is psychedelic and pops out at you! Plus, during your wine tasting you can also ask to taste their desert wine, which they serve in a chocolate shot glass that you get to eat. Their wines are so delicious and have won many awards as well.
There are many other wineries in Kelowna that I absolutely love visiting. I’ll throw a little list of some of my other favorites here. Alternatively you can also check out the Kelowna Farm to Table Guide as there are many wineries in there that use only fresh Okanagan ingredients.
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I’m not a huge golfer myself but if you are then Kelowna is the place for you. There are tons of beautiful golf courses to visit. My personal favorite is Gallagher’s Canyon. Again, I’m a little biased since I used to work there as a groundskeeper, but it’s easily one of the most beautiful places in Kelowna. The course is nestled deep into South East Kelowna, away from the busyness of downtown. It’s a gorgeous, green, quiet area with stunning views of Layer Cake Mountain and Scenic Canyon.
Other popular golf courses worth checking out are listed below.
There is always something to do during the summer in Kelowna. One thing I absolutely love about Kelowna summers is being able to visit the Farmer’s Market every Wednesday and Saturday morning. Plus there’s so many festivals and celebrations in the summer.
I grew up going to the Fat Cat Children’s Festival every year and loved it. There’s also National Indigenous People’s Day which is a celebration of Indigenous culture and heritage put on by the Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society. Summer visitors to Kelowna can also enjoy Canada Day celebrations on July 1st. There’s also a music festival called Centre of Gravity which is very popular and happens annually. Other fun events include the Across the Lake Swim, the Kelowna Dragon Boat Festival, Okanagan Feast of Fields and Pride Week. For more summer events happening in Kelowna check out this city calendar.
Fall in Kelowna is absolutely spectacular but doesn’t last super long. The longest seasons in Kelowna are summer and winter. The city tends to have extreme temperatures and doesn’t stay at it’s in-between stages for long. Temperatures will start to fall in October and guests can enjoy the oranges, yellows and reds of Kelowna’s forests and hiking trails. Many wineries stay open in the fall and will serve delicious mulled wine (I’m looking at you Meadow Vista). There is still tons to do during the fall even though the lake is too cold to swim.
The most popular pumpkin patch is hands down McMillan Farms. They have a corn maze on site along with plenty of pumpkins to pick out for carving jack-o-lanterns or making pumpkin pie. There are also plenty of animals to see and pet at the farm as well. Visitors can also enjoy hay rides around the entire farm as well as snacks and warm drinks. The other corn maze worth mentioning is the huge Kelowna corn maze. Both the Kelowna Corn Maze and McMillan Farms hold spooky events closer to Halloween.
Three other corn mazes in and near Kelowna include the following:
There is so much to do during Halloween in Kelowna. Aside from visiting the haunted corn mazes there are also plenty of other spooky activities to take part in. There is a haunted house you can visit that’s especially creepy. I visited last year with my husband and had a really good time. Be sure to get there early as there’s always a big line up. If you’re really into spooky stuff you can also check out this article on three different spots in Kelowna that may actually be haunted. You can also check out this list of halloween parties happening in Kelowna as well.
Some of the fall events you can look forward to in Kelowna include the HopScotch Whiskey, Beer and Spirits Festival and the Fall Okanagan Wine Festival. It’s the perfect time of year to put on that alcohol jacket of yours so these festivals only make sense to attend!
Other fall events include the BMO Okanagan Marathon, Break Out West (Western Canadian Music Awards) and the Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery Mixoff. To see a full list of all the fall festivals and events happening in Kelowna click here.
I honestly might be saving the best for last here. Winter in Kelowna is absolutely spectacular. That is, as long as you’re a snow lover. Usually it starts snowing in November and stays around until March or sometimes even April. My favorite seasons in Kelowna are summer and winter because there’s just so much to do! While the snow is amazing I will say that during winter clouds often get trapped in the valley making for a lot of grey skies. If you’re willing to put up with that though, or hike above the cloud line, it really is a winter wonderland.
I started skiing in Kelowna when I was four years old. There’s tons of gorgeous mountains to choose from but the two most popular are Silver Star and Big White. Let me break down the differences between the two mountains for you as they both have pros and cons when it comes to choosing one to ski at.
Silver Star is slightly smaller than Big White and often a little less busy. It also tends to have much more sunny skies and bluebird days than Biggie. Big White, on the other hand, often gets more snow than Silver Star, is bigger and has more difficult runs. Another thing to consider is that Big White is quite a bit closer to the main area of Kelowna than Silver Star is. They’re both great mountains and both very family friendly as well. If you’re planning on staying at either mountain you can find a list of accommodations for Big White here, or for Silver Star here.
I don’t know about you but I grew up figure skating and absolutely love the sport. Whether you want to race, play hockey, or just learn, you can do it all in Kelowna. My favorite place to go ice skating is at Stuart Park in downtown Kelowna. This outdoor rink overlooks Okanagan Lake and at night is filled with twinkling lights and a campfire. You can bring your own skates or rent them at the rink. Alternatively there is also a huge outdoor skating rink at Big White and one at Silver Star Mountain as well.
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If you’re just looking to go sledding with your own toboggan or magic carpet there’s a pretty good hill at Summerside Park in South East Kelowna. It’s not super steep and really great for kids as there is a playground there as well. Another good spot to visit is Curlew Park.
My favorite way to hit the slopes without skis, however, is to go tubing. Both Big White and Silver Star have tube parks. If you’ve never been tubing then you should really try it. The hills are up in the mountains so they’re really steep and you go much faster. It’s just as enjoyable for adults as it is for kids. Plus you don’t have to hike up the mountain every time you’ve gone down either. A rope attaches to your tube and pulls it all the way back up for you.
There is one spot in Kelowna to go ice climbing and that is at Big White. Once you get all geared up with ice picks and a harness, you essentially get strapped to a huge rock climbing wall made of ice. Did I mention it’s 60 feet tall? I haven’t personally done it yet but I have friends who have and they’ve all had a great time.
Kelowna really is a winter wonderland. There are craft markets you can visit, the Bottega Charity Christmas Market and so much more. Aside from shopping there is also the annual Downtown Winter Light Up, New Years Celebrations, the Okanagan Bridal Expo and the Canadian Culinary Championships.
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One thing that I absolutely love doing during the winter is attending the Nutcracker Ballet. If you’ve never been to a Nutcracker Ballet showing then you should really go. The one in Kelowna is put on by Ballet Kelowna and the Canadian School of Ballet. I was actually in the Nutcracker one year in Kelowna as a soldier and had so much fun. It’s definitely a must see and fun for all ages.
April is the founder and main author for Just Leaving Footprints. She has written for numerous blogs and publications such as Explore Magazine and Snow Pak. April loves writing about sustainable tourism, and promoting other sustainable travelers on her Facebook Group and Instagram Community, Ladies Leaving Footprints. Currently, April is living and teaching English in Mexico City with her husband Arturo and they don’t plan on stopping their travels anytime soon.
Kelowna, BC is surrounded by mountains and lakes, so it’s no wonder there…May 14, 2018