Kelowna has made a name for itself as the place where wine country and downtown life meet. Located in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, it’s the third-largest metropolitan area in British Columbia. Kelowna is conveniently located close to some of Canada’s best vineyards and wineries - over 80% of all BC wine comes from the Okanagan Valley and it’s Canada’s second-largest wine-producing region. While wine has put the city on the map, there are so many other things to do in Kelowna whether you’re a connoisseur or just looking for the perfect vacation destination.
European missionaries first settled in Kelowna in 1859, but the area has been inhabited by the Okanagan or Syilx people for much longer than that. Kelowna is known for its rich biodiversity and fertile lands, which have been supporting Canada’s First Nations people for thousands of years. The deep indigenous roots that run in Kelowna are still present today. The name Kelowna is actually derived from the Okanagan word for grizzly bear! Every year, people come to Kelowna to experience all the land has to offer.
1. Explore Lake Okanagan
The waters of Kelowna are legendary — literally! It’s said that there is a lake monster living in Lake Okanagan called the Ogopogo. Locals have grown to love the legend so much that you’ll find plenty of lake-side Ogopogo themed things to do in Kelowna. Many visitors particularly love Ogopogo Parasail. They offer parasailing adventures on a sea monster shaped boat for the whole family.
If you’ve ever thought about scuba diving, Kelowna is a great place to start. Head to Paul’s Tomb, about a 10 minute drive out of Kelowna, and go on an expedition to find the mythical creature. It’s a beginner level site, and your guide will help you discover the 8 foot tall sea serpent statue that lives at the bottom of the lake. There are plenty of other great places to go in Kelowna for scuba diving. Head to Fintry Park to explore a sunken Canadian Pacific Railway Barge. If you’re an advanced scuba diver, try Squally Point and explore an underwater cave entrance.
2. Relax in the Kelowna Beaches
Back in the city, there are actually two downtown beaches. Hot Sands Beach is located in City Park. This wide-stretching beach offers a Wibit aqua park, concession stands and all the usual beachside amenities. The second is found at Waterfront park and often referred to as Tugboat Bay. Waterfront Park is a little further north, located in the cultural district of Kelowna. Tugboat Bay is great for swimming, but it’s also one of the best places in Downtown Kelowna to rent a kayak, canoe or paddleboat and spend your day on the lake.
If you’re venturing a little further from downtown, there are actually 30 beaches around Kelowna. Some other popular ones are Sarsons Beach and Strathcona Park. Rotary Beach, Gyro beach and a few other waterfront locations in the city also offer flyboarding to add a little kick to your beach visit. You can easily learn how to dive in and out of the water like a dolphin and do gravity-defying flips. Visit an Okanagan Flyboard location for this exhilarating experience.
3. Enjoy the park scenery
The Okanagan waters are certainly a draw, but don’t forget to check out some of the great things to do in Kelowna just a bit further inland from the beaches! There are quite a few parks in the downtown area. City Park is right in downtown Kelowna, and it offers running trails, a skateboard park, concession stands and a splash pad for the little ones. City Park actually connects to many other parks and scenic viewpoints along the water by way of the boardwalk.
You can walk or bike down the boardwalk, and it’s a nice spot to bring your dog if you have one. As you explore the waterfront, you’ll spot some of Kelowna’s iconic sculptures and public artworks. Keep an eye out for Ogopogo, Bear, and Spirit of Sail.
The trail also connects to Waterfront Park, and if you keep going a little further you’ll get to the Rotary Marshes wildlife park and bird sanctuary. Keep an eye out for herons, beavers and eagles flying over your head when you visit!
If you head in the other direction from City Park, you’ll wind up at the Downtown Marina. This is the main gateway to start exploring the lake, as locals and tourists alike moor their boats here. But it’s also become an iconic destination for boat watching and sight-seeing, inviting pedestrians to explore.
Local tip: Summer screams ice cream! If you’re looking for the best ice cream in Kelowna, head over to Parlour in downtown Kelowna, right across from the sails sculptures in front of City Park. Everything they offer is handmade and you’ll find some unique flavours like strawberry rhubarb and lavender.
Since Kelowna is surrounded by provincial parks, lush forests and tall mountains, you’re sure to find some opportunities for outdoor exploration. Kelowna has some boast-worthy trails just minutes outside of its downtown area. For mountain bike enthusiasts, you’ll find some great paths all over the Okanagan Valley’s hilly terrain. Perhaps the most famous is the Gillard trail system. This one is for serious mountain bikers, and a full-face helmet and body gear are mandatory.
For a more laid back ride, try horseback riding in the Myra Canyon. Kelowna Stables Horse Riding & Bike Rental will set you up with the perfect horse for your size. You’ll find something exciting here whether you’re a beginner or an experienced equestrian, and it’s one of the best things to do in Kelowna for kids.
If you prefer to ascend on your own two feet, you’ll find no shortage of hiking trails around Kelowna. The Apex Trail at Knox Mountain or the Angel Springs Trail near KLO Creek are some of the local favourites.
4. Visit the summer markets
Because the Okanagan valley is so rich and fertile, there are orchards and fruit and vegetable farms all around it. The summer season means that many of these farms are bursting with berries and produce. They’re ripe for the picking, and touring the farms is one of the most popular things to do in Kelowna after wine tasting. You can visit the Kelowna Farmers and Crafters Market or the BC Tree Fruit Market on weekends to enjoy some local and seasonal treats.
If you want to try your hand at harvesting, you can visit a U-pick farm in the Kelowna area. It’s a great way to bond with family and friends in the beauty of the Okanagan Valley. During different times throughout the summer, you’ll find peaches, apricots, cherries, pears, plums and apples. Visit Arndt Orchard for some famous BC cherries, Duggan’s farm for fruits and veggies or Paynter’s Fruit Market for a variety of fresh fruits.
5. Check out the festivals
Kelowna has many summer festivals that are great for hanging out with friends and family. If you’re looking for family-friendly things to do in Kelowna, the Parks Alive program offers different family-friendly entertainment events with performers ranging from locals to international professionals on a rotating schedule throughout several parks. You’ll also find great performances and entertainment at the Downtown block party. Do some shopping or just enjoy some food truck snacks while you watch the bands play.
If you happen to be in Kelowna for Canada Day, you’re in for a treat. Over 60,000 people visit the Kelowna waterfront to enjoy all-day festivities and watch a grand finale firework show on Lake Okanagan.
For rock n’ roll fans, Kelowna hosts Rock The Lake. This outdoor music fest has had some big names in the past like Tom Cochrane, The Romantics, and Quiet Riot. You can get single or three day passes for this event, so be sure to check it out if you love classic rock.
For almost 40 years, the Fall Okanagan Wine Festival has drawn visitors from all over to celebrate everything that the harvest has to offer. This event usually lasts 10 days and has a calendar filled with events. From foodies to music lovers, to families, there’s something for everyone. It’s been voted one of the Top Festivals in Canada by WestJet Airlines passengers and was named in the Top 100 Events in North America by the American Bus Association. We’ve also placed it on our list of the Best Wine Festivals in Canada. There are so many wine-related things to do in Kelowna during this festival, so plan accordingly!
There are also a few Holiday-themed festivals in Kelowna. In early December, you’ll find the Winter Street Market and a Tree Lighting ceremony. The Kelowna Farmers and Crafters Market also holds an indoor winter market. You’ll find artisanal offerings ranging from toys and unique household ornaments to handmade foods and preserves.
If you happen to be in Kelowna for New Year's Eve, there’s a big family-friendly outdoor party. This New York-style event has a Kids Zone, food trucks, live entertainment and of course a firework display!
6. Explore wine country
Kelowna is the biggest city in the Okanagan Valley, which is renowned for being one of Canada’s best wine countries. British Columbia, alongside Ontario, regularly dominate Canadian wine competitions and many BC wines have won international awards as well. Kelowna even has a Wine Museaum where you can learn about the history of the land. There are over 40 licensed wineries in the Kelowna region, and over 120 in the greater Okanagan Valley. With an additional 200 vineyards, you’ll have no shortage of things to do in Kelowna if you want to tour some wineries and witness the journey from vine to glass.
The wine region around Kelowna is so big that it’s actually divided into five wine trails: Lake Country’s Scenic Sip, the Westside Wine Trail, the Lakeshore Wine Route, the Kelowna Fab Five and the Downtown Grapes and Grains. You can use these trails as a guide or travel between them as you please and get a taste of as many Kelowna wineries as you like.
Go on a wine tour
The best way to explore Kelowna wine country is to embark on a wine tour. It’s important to note that there is zero tolerance for drinking and driving in Kelowna, so if you’re planning to enjoy more than a few tasters, your best bet will be to embark on a tour.
Most companies have several tours, catering to different tastes and the trails, ranging from food tours to family-friendly activities. Many also offer intimate or personalized tours if you have your own ideas. One of our favourite wine tour companies is Wicked Wine Tours. They’re the winner of the 2019 Kelowna Gold: Wine Tour Service award. Another good choice is Uncorked Okanagan, where bridal showers and birthday parties are their forté. If you feel like taking a step outside the box of regular things to do in Kelowna, step into a helicopter and fly to each stop on your tour with Valhalla Helicopters.
The best wineries
There are so many amazing wineries to choose from in Kelowna, you’ll probably be wondering where to start. While we definitely believe in taking some chances and discovering hidden gems, we do have a few recommendations to get your wine journey started.
The Mission Hill Family Estate is definitely one of the ritziest wineries in the Okanagan Valley. They have a huge property, a vineyard, an underground cellar and a terrace restaurant that you’ll want to make a reservation for. Not to mention, they’re the winner of the 2019 Winery of the Year award from the National Wine Awards of Canada.
For a similarly large vineyard and winery, go to Kitsch. The Kitsch family’s roots in the Okanagan Valley reach back to 1910, but they’ve adopted a chic, colourful and trendy vibe.
The Summerhill Pyramid Winery has some unique offerings, as well. They specialize in organic and biodynamic wine. They also have a specially built Pyramid in which they age their wine, and they host New Moon gatherings, drum circles and meditation centred around it. It’s one of the more unique places to visit in Kelowna.
For something offbeat and intimate, visit The Hatch. This winery is less commercial than most and offers craft wines with really interesting artworks and names. Their sparkling rose is a must-try. Octobubble, anyone? Because they are smaller, they encourage visitors to bring a picnic and enjoy a bottle in the grass if the tasting room wait times are too long.
Local tip: Indigenous World Winery merges the Kelowna’s wine scene with its Indigenous heritage, and owners Robert and Bernice are descendants of the Syilx people. Stop by to try some amazing wine and an ever-changing menu inspired by Indigenous cuisine at the onsite Red Fox Club restaurant.
7. Visit the breweries
Still thirsty for something special after the wine tasting? Kelowna has some great breweries. If coffee is your thing, head to the groovy and retro Pulp Fiction café for a latte or cappuccino while you browse through their collection of rare books and antiques. For the serious espresso drinker, try Bean Scene Coffee Works. They pioneered the third wave coffee scene in Kelowna and are the place to go for an expertly hand-roasted brew.
Kelowna also has a lot to offer in regards to craft beer. There are so many good places to check out, like Kettle Brewing Co., Barn Owl Brewing, and Red Bird. In fact, the best way to taste all the brews in Kelowna is to embark on a brewery tour. Canadian Craft Tours is a great company for a classic brewery tour. Alternatively, Smile Cycle Tours is a good option if you’re interested in trying something a little more eclectic – try 15 people on one Dutch-made community bike!
8. Go for the winter sports
Once the cold season hits, the mountains around Kelowna get nice and snowy. BC is a hotspot for skiing and snowboarding, and you’ll find some exciting winter things to do in Kelowna. The biggest draw for winter sports is the Big White Ski Resort an hour outside of Kelowna. You’ll find this resort on our list of the Best Skiing Locations in Canada. In addition to skiing and snowboarding, they also offer a variety of exciting activities like snowmobiling, tubing, dog sledding, fat biking and even escape rooms. It’s the hot spot for Kelowna winter activities.
For winter hiking, cross country and snowshoeing, there are a few places around Kelowna that have perfect conditions during the winter. Myra Canyon in the Myra-Bellevue Provincial Park is particularly good for snowshoeing, as are Telemark Nordic Club and the Kelowna Nordic Ski and Snowshoe Club. If you have the boots for it, go for a hike at Knox Mountain Park or Bear Creek Provincial Park. . The latter will have some beautiful frozen waterfalls. Be careful though, winter hiking can be icy!
Local Tip: Little kids and kids at heart can enjoy the best hot chocolate in Kelowna over at Blenz Coffee. They use real Belgian chocolate and melt it into a creamy blend that’ll warm you up. If you’re vegan or avoiding dairy, Naked Café has a coconut or soy milk hot chocolate that definitely gives Blenz a run for their money.
9. Try the Winter Wine
Although some vineyards and wineries are closed for the winter, many wine bars, restaurants and showing rooms stay open for tastings. Ricco Bambino offers a trendy atmosphere and a great rosé, while Buvez offers a quaint environment and biodynamic wines and organic farm to table bites.
Be sure to try some local ice wine. Ice wine is a special kind of dessert wine made from grapes that have frozen on the vine. Because ice wine depends so highly on the weather cooperating, it can fetch a high price and many consider it a treat. You can get it right at the source at Kelowna institutions like Volcanic Hills Estate Winery or Kalala Organic Estate Winery.
10. Go an a flower hunt
The warming weather means that all the fields and flowers around Kelowna go into bloom. It’s a beautiful site to see, and many visitors take the opportunity to picnic among the fragrant blossoms and do some Kelowna sightseeing. Many wineries are happy to let you bring a basket and enjoy an outdoor meal on their property if you pick up a bottle of wine from them.
Stop by the Kasugai Gardens to see a celebration of traditional Japanese garden elements and Canadian plant life. The garden was completed in 1987 to commemorate the union of Kelowna and its sister city Kasugai, Japan. The garden is located behind the Okanagan Heritage Museum, which has exhibits on all things Kelowna. It’s also home to the Kelowna Public Archives and the Ursula Surtees Regional Conservation Laboratory, which offer the occasional workshop.
When your sweet tooth starts acting up, head to Arlo’s Honey Farm. Their shop offers all sorts of artisanal honey products, a tasting bar and fresh, local produce. You can also book a tour by appointment to learn about the honey bee’s life, sustainable agriculture, and a personal visit with a working hive. It’s a great educational activity for the whole family.
Another fun farm tour can be found at theOkanagan Lavender Farm. They offer guided tours of their herb farm and each visitor will have the opportunity to create a take-home herbal blend. They also offer garden wander tours where you can explore at your own pace.
When to visit Kelowna
If you’re heading to Kelowna for the summer, you’re in for a trip full of fun on the water. Kelowna is located on Okanagan Lake, and the city comes alive with watersports and boating activities. Kelowna attractions in the summer pair well with a glass of wine.
While you can enjoy Kelowna wine any time of year, fall is without a doubt the time to go if you’re interested in wine-related activities. The grapes are harvested and turned into wine, so it’s the right time to experience the wine-making process. The cooler weather also makes it a great time for hiking.
There are fun Kelowna winter activities and many find the Kelowna weather during winter to be light and mild. Wine activities in the area are little sleepier in the winter, as many of the vineyards close for the season. However, quite a few stay open to offer visitors a special experience - ice wine!
As the weather warms up again, Kelowna springs to life. The grapes start to grow and all of the orchards go into bloom. It’s a very scenic time of year to go and see the beauty of the land.
How to get there
If you’re coming from far away, the best option is to fly into Kelowna International Airport. Getting there takes about 8 hours by plane from Eastern Canada or 2.5 hours from the Prairie Provinces.
If you’re coming from close by, like Vancouver or Edmonton, get to Highway 1 East to Hope. Follow Highway 5 to Kelowna. Via Highway 5, the Coquihalla Highway connects to Highway 97C - the Okanagan Connector - and then on to Highway 97 North to Kelowna. It’s actually quite a scenic drive from Vancouver to Kelowna!
Where to stay
Whether you’re visiting Kelowna to hit the winter slopes or to explore the summer lake scene, you’ll be happy to end each day in comfort. A condo or apartment in downtown Kelowna is a good option if you want to be close to all the restaurants and wine bars. If your focus is on scenery and nature, a cabin just outside the city would make a great home-base.