British Columbia’s largest city outside the Lower Mainland and Victoria, Kelowna lies on the shores of 170-kilometer (106-mile) long Okanagan Lake, approximately halfway between Penticton in the south and Vernon in the north.
The city combines a scenic location among semiarid mountains with an unbeatable climate of long, sunny summers and short, mild winters. The low rolling hills around the city hold lush terraced orchards, and the numerous local vineyards produce some excellent wines.
Visitors flock here in summer to enjoy the area’s sparkling lakes, sandy beaches, numerous provincial parks, and golfing; in winter they come for great skiing and boarding at nearby Big White Ski Resort.
Kelowna Visitor Centre (544 Harvey Ave., 250/861-1515 or 800/663-4345, www.tourismkelowna.com, daily 9 a.m.–7 p.m. in summer, daily 9 a.m.–5 p.m. the rest of the year) is beside Highway 97 as it passes through the center of the city—watch for the signs. Coming into town from the south on Highway 97, turn left on Richter Street at the traffic light and go back one block. A good map for immediate orientation is posted outside the center; it also incorporates a legend of motels and attractions.
For thousands of years before the arrival of the first Europeans, the nomadic Salish peoples inhabited the Okanagan Valley, hunting (kelowna is a Salish word for grizzly bear), gathering, and fishing. Since Father Pandosy planted the first apple trees at his mission in 1859, Kelowna has thrived as the center of the Okanagan fruit, vegetable, and vineyard industry (the valley is Canada’s largest fruit-growing region).
In 1960, Kelowna’s population stood at 24,000, but as local services improved, the region has become more attractive to older, retired people. In the few years since the millennium, the population has really boomed, and now stands at 115,000, with the number of wineries doubling since the mid-1980s, luxurious resorts being built along the lake, new golf courses opening every year, and exclusive subdivisions carving away land formerly given over to agriculture.
Getting to Kelowna
Modern Kelowna Airport, the province’s third busiest, is 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) north of downtown along Highway 97. It’s served by Air Canada (250/542-3302) and WestJet (800/538-5696), both of which offer daily flights to and from Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton. At the airport you’ll find car rental outlets, a lounge bar, and a casual café.
Greyhound (2366 Leckie Rd., 250/860-3835 or 800/661-8747) provides bus service throughout the Okanagan and beyond. Local buses are run by Kelowna Regional Transit System; $2 per sector. Get schedule and route information from the downtown terminal (Bernard Ave. at Ellis St., 250/860-8121).
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition