Reconnecting With Friends In The Okanagan

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Alfresco dining at The Modest Butcher at Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery | @banhmiigirl
Priscilla Banh and Emma Choo reunite for a getaway to Kelowna and Vernon.

This content has been developed with spring 2022 travel conditions in mind. Stay up to date on local health orders and recommendations, spring driving, and more at: hellobc.com/know-before-you-go

What happens when a Calgarian and a Vancouverite meet in the middle?  This spring, friends Emma Choo (aka @vancouverfoodie) and Calgary-based Priscilla Banh (aka @banhmiigirl), reunited in the Okanagan—the perfect meeting point between their two homes. Follow their journey as they explore sun-dappled wineries, indulge in delicious food, and experience unforgettable activities together in and around Kelowna and Vernon.

There’s something truly special about travelling with your buddies, Priscilla explains:

“I believe when you travel with friends, the relationship grows deeper. You experience moments together that connect you. … Also, you get on a more introspective level. The conversations become less superficial and intuitive. “

Kelowna: Adventure, Wine, and Foodie Stops

After meeting at Kelowna International Airport, Emma and Priscilla made their way to downtown Kelowna as the spring sunshine peeked through the clouds, signaling the change of seasons and an exciting adventure ahead.

Emma: “I love that there’s this mix of city, farmland, and wineries all within a short drive from each other. I felt very relaxed—a released tension from the usual hustle and bustle of metropolitan life.”

Priscilla: “I loved being so close to the lake, especially coming from Calgary, where we have one river. But in Kelowna, I felt like we were always so close to water. There’s something about being near water that keeps me at peace.”

Where to Stay:

Emma: Hotel Eldorado Resort is the perfect rustic hotel experience. Soft yellow walls, Juliet porch/doors that open up to a view of the marina, where the light glistens off the water, which ebbs and flows ever so slightly with the wind. The highlight for me was their bathtub, located right in the bedroom itself. Its not your usual bathtub, my friend! It’s one of those old-fashioned-style jacuzzi tubs. They even provide foaming bath salts to equip you for the most relaxing bubble baths. I used it every single night before going to bed.”

Where to Dine:

Emma and Priscilla’s Favourites

  • Frankie We Salute You! is a fully vegan restaurant and bar with chic Boho vibes. For a super umami experience, try their Caesar featuring crunchy homemade nori bacon. Their Cauliflower Vindaloo and Thai Banana Curry are also a highlight.
  • RauDZ, a fine dining restaurant and Kelowna institution, supports local producers by featuring organic, sustainable and naturally raised ingredients. Explore their fresh sheet menu as it changes with the seasons.
  • Sprout Bread/Slow Side Coffee bakes up fresh and fluffy sourdough bread and focuses on the art of the espresso.
  • The Jammery offers a small town, southern atmosphere that will make you feel right at home. Try their all-you-can-eat waffles or the breakfast paella.

More Local Recommendations 

  • Food: El Taqueria, Waterfront Wines, ExNihilo, Carmelis Goat Farm, Zabb, Gather, Soy Fusion, Momo Sushi, Nari Sushi, and The Hatching Post
  • Wine and Spirits: Frequency, Cedar Creek Estate Winery, and Wiseacre Farm Distillery  
  • Desserts: 360 Bakehouse, The Specialty Bakery, and Sandrine
  • Drinks: Bright Jenny Coffee, Farming Karma, or Jacks Kelowna
What To Do:

Decadent food and drink aside, there are plenty of activities in and around the British Columbia’s third largest city, including hiking in Knox Mountain Park, visiting a kangaroo farm, bowling, and strolling through town and along the waterfront. And then, there are some activities that simply take your breathe away….

Getting a bird's eye view of the region with an Okanagan Mountain Helicopters tour | @vancouverfoodie

AN UNFORGETTABLE HELICOPTER TOUR

Imagine the thrill of reaching new heights in a helicopter as the Okanagan’s ever-changing landscapes unfold below.

Priscilla: “I was beyond excited for the heli tour, even before the date arrived. I felt like a celebrity that day. The private helicopter ride was an experience I won’t forget. I was in pure bliss when we lifted off, staring out the window with the joy of a little girl.”

Emma: This aerial tour is the experience that took my understanding of Okanagan Valley geography to a whole new level. It is WAY bigger than I thought, which made me realize how much more there is to see, do, and experience there. To be able to see Kalamalka Lake, with its turquoise blue and green linings, Layer Cake Mountain (one of three striations in the world), and the trestles left me in awe. Fun Fact: Okanagan Mountain Helicopters hosts heli wine tours, where they land at a few wineries for tastings.” 

 

A private tour of the wine cellar at Mission Hill Estate Winery | @banhmiigirl

BUCKET-LIST WINE TASTING EXPERIENCES

There is an abundance of Okanagan wineries within a short distance of Kelowna and Vernon, each offering a unique experience to share.

Emma and Priscilla visited Mission Hill Family Estate for a Behind Closed Doors experience in one of their private rooms, adorned with precious findings and treasures from all around the world. 

Emma: It’s one of those spaces that looks like a James Bond or Mission Impossible action movie. What was most unique about the space was this one little gated nook in the walls. It the houses the owner’s personal collection of speciality wines with a wall of ancient wine glasses dating centuries.”

Priscilla: “We got a tour of the estate and we were able to see their underground cellar, made out of volcanic rock, where they were aging a large number of barrels of wine. It was mind blowing!”

The ladies also explored Indigenous-owned Indigenous World Winery, which offers spirits and wine sampling, as well as a fascinating introduction to Syilx culture.

Emma: “The sweeping views from their tasting room, with its floor-to-ceiling windows, instantly took my breath away. … I love how our host mentioned that ‘wine is a snapshot of a time and place,’ which stayed with me throughout the whole trip. They also operate a distillery, creating spirits like gin, vodka and whiskey. My personal favourite is their gin. It’s super herbaceous with a bright spiciness that is very refreshing.”

One of their highlights was an al fresco meal with wine pairings on the sun-drenched patio of  The Modest Butcher at Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery, which boasts sweeping views of the lush countryside and Okanagan Lake. Priscilla explains:

“We had a picture perfect, outstanding spread. They have the most beautiful scenery to enjoy while having lunch and sipping your wine or cocktail. Does that not sound like paradise? We also had one of the BEST tomahawks I’ve ever had (sourced from Prince Edward Island). And, this is coming from an Albertan girl—we are known for our beef.”

 

VERNON: Spa, Lake Time, and Bike Rides

Continuing on their journey, Emma and Priscilla headed to Vernon (a 45-minute drive north of Kelowna) to relax, explore the lakeshore, and enjoy more wineries.

Pricilla: “It was a short, beautiful, calming drive. … We made a pit stop to enjoy the lake and Oyama. And, we stopped at the perfect time because on Fridays at 3pm, there is a van called Fritz the Baker, that only locals know about, where you can get different types of baked bread.”

Where to Stay:

Emma: “I honestly don’t know where to begin with Sparkling Hill Resort, because the stay from beginning to end was a ‘pinch-me’ experience. The moment you drive up the hill, the grand architecture of the entrance captivates you. And when you walk through the sliding glass doors, you are met with these grand crystal chandeliers that glimmer with every step you take. Remember to look up and all around. Fun Fact: It was one person’s job to place 3.5 million Swarvoski crystals around the resort.”

Where to Dine:

BLOCK ONE Restaurant at 50th Parallel Estate was a highlight foodie stop for the ladies:

Emma: There are high ceilings, barrels, and a variety of table setups in front of glass windows that showcase the vineyard and display the sunset. I absolutely loved their Peace Country rack of lamb that was grilled to a nice charcoal crisp and flavoured with fresh herbs and spices for a drool-worthy bite. Start your meal with their grass-fed beef tartare served with shimeji mushrooms, marrow aioli, and yolk gel (served on a wood block board).”

Other foodie finds in Vernon include Ratio Coffee & Pastry and The Lobster Pot food truck.

 

Exploring Upside Cider near Vernon | @banhmiigirl

GETTING INTO THE SPIRIT (AND CIDER)

As difficult as it was to pry themselves away from the tranquility of the spa, the pair enjoyed more craft tastings in the area, visiting Upside Cider and Okanagan Spirits.

Priscilla: I liked each one of the ciders we tried at Upside. There are so many choices, but my favorite was definitely the apple and hops, which resembled a white wine. Their winter banana cider has won awards. The wood fired pizzas were also delicious. The oven is made of cherry and apple wood, which is heated to between 260 and 315 Celsius (500-600 Fahrenheit). We really enjoyed the apple and prosciutto pizza.”

Emma: “Okanagan Spirits was the most surprisingly delightful spot for me! They use apples from local orchards as the foundation for all their products, and they are a craft distillery which means everything they use is grown in BC. They have a stunning copper still in their space (apparently one of two stills like this in the world with the other in Sonoma). What’s unique about consuming their spirits is that they go for the ‘no-burn’ approach, unlike the experiences you often have often with brands in your local liquor store. As a gin drinker, I love the piney flavour of the juniper in their gin. But, even more, I was pleasantly surprised by their bourbon and couldn’t resist bringing a bottle back to my family to try themselves.”

Soaking up the views from Pebble Beach | @vancouverfoodie
What to Do:

The small town of Vernon is perched on Kalamalka Lake, which is dubbed “Lake of a Thousand Colours” for its many shades. Rent electric bikes from Kalavida Surf Shop and explore the lakeside trail.

Emma: “Being able to e-bike along the Okanagan Rail Trail is one of those experiences you enjoy every minute of—especially if you love being out in nature. With the assistance of e-bikes, we were able to bike a significant distance along  Kalamalka Lake and see the turquoise waters up close. We stopped at Kekuli Bay Provincial Park to sit by the docks and take the lake view in. It can be quite windy on the way out there, so pack a windbreaker.”

If you have a hankering for more wine tasting, Emma recommends a day trip to Lake Country  (a 25-minute drive south) for sampling at Ex Nihilo Vineyards, Arrowleaf Cellars, and Gray Monk Estate Winery, with a stop at Pebble Beach along Okanagan Lake.

Travel Tips

Emma and Priscilla met at Kelowna International Airport after their respective one-hour direct flights from Vancouver and Calgary, then rented a car to continue their adventure.

Prefer to make a road trip out of it? Drive east from Calgary along the Trans Canada Highway. Note: A section of Highway 1 east of Golden will be partially closed this spring, due to highway construction. Detours are available via Highway 93 and Radium Hot Springs (an excellent stop along the way). Find up-to-date info on the Trans Canada Highway Construction.

From Vancouver, drive northeast along Highway 1, then following Highway 5 and Highway 97c. Visit drivebc.ca for up to date information on BC highways.

Hotels

Eldorado Resort - Hotel Eldorado

Eldorado Resort is located Kelowna, British Columbia in the Okanagan Valley Canadas award-winning wine region. Eldorado Resort is Kelownas #1...

Phone: (250) 763-7500

View Listing

Wineries & Wine Tours, Accessibility

Mission Hill Family Estate Winery

Located in the heart of British Columbia's Okanagan Valley, Mission Hill Family Estate is world renowned for its award winning wines, stunning...

Phone: (250) 768-7611

View Listing

Indigenous Culture, Wineries & Wine Tours, Accessibility

Indigenous World Winery

Indigenous World Winery opened in 2016 as the second Indigenous owned winery in BC. The wine shop is conveniently located in Westbank, just off...

Phone: (250) 769-2824

View Listing

Wineries & Wine Tours

Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery

Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery proudly stands facing its namesake, a former volcano that created unique soil conditions for grape growing. Our...

Phone: (250) 769-8803

View Listing

Sightseeing

Okanagan Mountain Helicopters

Okanagan Mountain Helicopters now offers three fabulous flight-seeing tours of the Okanagan valley from Kelowna. We also offer the best heli-wine...

View Listing

Spas & Wellness, Resorts & Wilderness Lodges, Accessibility

Sparkling Hill Resort & Spa

With the desire to bring the European health and wellness experience to the rest of the world and a love for the natural beauty of the Okanagan,...

Phone: (250) 275-1556

View Listing

Wineries & Wine Tours

BLOCK ONE Restaurant

Truly one of Canadas exemplary destination wineries set in the heart of Okanagan Wine Country. 50th Parallel Estate is a majestic 61 acre site...

Phone: (250) 766-3408

View Listing

Shopping, Paddling, Accessibility

Kalavida Surf Shop

BC's Original Paddleboard Shop - Across from Kalamalka Beach and at the head of the Okanagan Rail Trail. Kalavida is BC's first...

Phone: (778) 475-5808

View Listing

Breweries, Distilleries & Cideries

Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery

Okanagan Spirits is Western Canadas original craft distillery spanning almost two decades in the production of authentic, internationally...

Phone: (250) 549-3120

View Listing

Hotels

Eldorado Resort - Hotel Eldorado

Eldorado Resort is located Kelowna, British Columbia in the Okanagan Valley Canadas award-winning wine region. Eldorado Resort is Kelownas #1...

Phone: (250) 763-7500

View Listing

Wineries & Wine Tours, Accessibility

Mission Hill Family Estate Winery

Located in the heart of British Columbia's Okanagan Valley, Mission Hill Family Estate is world renowned for its award winning wines, stunning...

Phone: (250) 768-7611

View Listing

Indigenous Culture, Wineries & Wine Tours, Accessibility

Indigenous World Winery

Indigenous World Winery opened in 2016 as the second Indigenous owned winery in BC. The wine shop is conveniently located in Westbank, just off...

Phone: (250) 769-2824

View Listing

Wineries & Wine Tours

Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery

Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery proudly stands facing its namesake, a former volcano that created unique soil conditions for grape growing. Our...

Phone: (250) 769-8803

View Listing

Sightseeing

Okanagan Mountain Helicopters

Okanagan Mountain Helicopters now offers three fabulous flight-seeing tours of the Okanagan valley from Kelowna. We also offer the best heli-wine...

View Listing

Spas & Wellness, Resorts & Wilderness Lodges, Accessibility

Sparkling Hill Resort & Spa

With the desire to bring the European health and wellness experience to the rest of the world and a love for the natural beauty of the Okanagan,...

Phone: (250) 275-1556

View Listing

Wineries & Wine Tours

BLOCK ONE Restaurant

Truly one of Canadas exemplary destination wineries set in the heart of Okanagan Wine Country. 50th Parallel Estate is a majestic 61 acre site...

Phone: (250) 766-3408

View Listing

Shopping, Paddling, Accessibility

Kalavida Surf Shop

BC's Original Paddleboard Shop - Across from Kalamalka Beach and at the head of the Okanagan Rail Trail. Kalavida is BC's first...

Phone: (778) 475-5808

View Listing

Breweries, Distilleries & Cideries

Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery

Okanagan Spirits is Western Canadas original craft distillery spanning almost two decades in the production of authentic, internationally...

Phone: (250) 549-3120

View Listing

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