We drove to Kelowna, BC for a long weekend recently and explored the town and its surroundings by hiking and visiting wineries. About a 5 hr. drive from Vancouver (longer if you take the more scenic route), the town is part of the Okanagan Valley, which is British Columbia’s wine country, a region encompassing several towns that partake in local winemaking. The landscape is lakeside mountainous desert, with patches of greenery in the hills. Surprisingly, Kelowna is densely suburban; full of strip malls, big box stores and fast food joints, which contrasts with the romantic nature of the local vineyards. There are big commercial ventures as well as small-batch, even organic wineries, and they typically have tasting rooms. The best wines are predominantly white and fruity; perfect summer drinks. Popular varietals include Gewurztraminer and Ehrenfelser.
The most well-known local winery is Mission Hill in neighboring West Kelowna, an artfully constructed property best described as monastery-chic with a Napa Valley vibe. We had dinner one night at the house restaurant overlooking the vineyard. The panoramic view turned out to impress more than the so-so food.
Among the most charming wineries are the “FabFive”, a cluster of vineyards in the more romantic part of town in terms of landscape: verdant hills and wide open sky, with no hint of suburbia nearby. The Vibrant Vine is particularly funky, with trippy-hippie decor and a lovely yard out back of the tasting room with lounge chairs and a stage for live music.
I also really liked Off the Grid, an organic winery atop a hill in Westbank. We parked in front of the goats’ play pen and cooled off in the tasting room insulated naturally with straw. The wines were crisp and refreshing, and the lady at the counter was chatty and friendly.
For hiking, the Myra Canyon trestle trail is an excellent choice. It’s a short drive, right outside town, and rewards you with spectacular views of Kelowna, Okanagan Lake and the steep-walled canyon where a railway used to run. The trail is flat and goes for 12 km one way. Bike rentals are on site. We hiked for about 6 km, stopped for a picnic lunch overlooking the canyon, then doubled back, always enjoying the view.