My love for the Okanagan runs deep. When I moved to Kelowna for college, I knew little about the summer hotspot. I quickly fell in love with the rolling vineyards, juicy fresh fruit, wide downtown sidewalks and sandy beaches along the perfect-temperature lake.
Last weekend, I returned to Kelowna with seven international girls in tow. We dined at a winery, dived in the lake and hiked a nearby hill. Whether you’ve been to Kelowna before or this is your first time in the Okanagan, here’s our budget-friendly travel itinerary for (in my eyes) the ultimate girl’s trip weekend away.
Hit the road! It’s about a four-hour drive from Vancouver to Kelowna.
Once you arrive, check in to your accommodation (or if your room isn’t ready, drop your car). I always stay at the Samesun for its prime location next to the beach and walking distance to downtown, the affordable price of a dorm room and the communal vibe of backpackers—plus the hammocks in the chilled-out backyard.
We parked, checked in, got changed and embarked on our first adventure.
The wineries in the Okanagan are to die for. They offer incredible views, delicious wine and are relatively accessible from town. However, I didn’t want to drive, so we split into cabs. Our first stop was Mission Hill. The tasting room was a zoo, so we decided to buy a bottle of the Reserve Riesling to sip on the hill and watch the sun reflect off the cobalt-blue lake.
Next, we walked twenty minutes down the road to Quail’s Gate and tasted four wines for $10. I bought a bottle of my all-time favourite: Merlot. We taxied back to the hostel to refresh. From there, we hoped in another cab to Summerhill. I’d made a reservation for dinner at 8 p.m., so we could catch sunset over the lake from the patio. It did not disappoint.
After our expensive dinner, we hit up the OK Corral for some two-stepping. Two of us were wearing our cowboy boots from the Calgary stampede. Four of us taxied home around midnight, while the rest stayed out to party.
I showered bright and early and devoured free pancakes from the hostel breakfast. Then, we drove just north of downtown to the base of Knox Mountain. While it is possible to drive halfway up, we started from the bottom (and sweat out the wine from the night before). Knox is likely the most popular climb in Kelowna, and the views are well worth it. We avoided the Upper Apex Lookout and veered down to Paul’s Tomb.
Feeling accomplished post-hike, we spread out on the sand at Gyro Beach. The hostel gave us inadequate free floaties, but we didn’t need them. Although the lake felt cold at first touch, the clear water was soothing against the 30-degree summer weather. The beach is walking distance to Okanagan College where I went to school and the old apartment I lived in while studying there, so visiting brought back fond memories.
After a long day of lazing, we headed back downtown. I indulged in a saucy bacon burger and a couple of glasses of delicious dark red sangria at KRAFTY for dinner.
BNA is one of the more “hip” and classy bars in Kelowna, so we walked the quick jaunt there to play bocce, sip craft beer and cocktails, and gather together in the living room-esc upstairs. When we were ready to dance, we moved on to Doc Willoughbys. Docs might be a quiet pub during the day, but at night, various DJs create an upbeat atmosphere. Around 2.am., it was an easy 10-minute walk back to our hostel.
Kelowna is beautiful, and so are the surrounding communities. Since we had to head west to Vancouver, we drove over the bridge and made a detour down to Swim Bay in Peachland.
We splashed and swam along the wooden playground in the translucent water. Then, we stopped for some much-needed Okanagan fruit: cherries, peaches and plums. We piled back in the Buick Envision (thanks for the rental, GM!) to make the four-hour trek back to the big city, feeling sunburnt, fruit-stained and happy.
Disclaimer: GM kindly lent me a complimentary Buick Envision to drive for this long weekend girls’ road trip. It was a fantastic vehicle to drive on the highway, featuring heads-up display, adaptive cruise control and the biggest sunroof I’ve ever seen. No other part of this trip was comped.