Penticton, a town that’s perfect for outdoor adventure enthusiasts, beer aficionados and wine lovers alike, is located in the south Okanagan Valley. Home to about 35,000 full-time residents, it has plenty to offer both locals and visitors on a year-round basis. Even though winter is a quieter time to visit, there are still lots of things to do in Penticton, as you’ll see below.
Bike a section of the Kettle Valley Railway, visit wineries, go skiing and dine like royalty. There’s a new energy to the town with more young people moving in, starting up small businesses and bringing a positive can-do vibe to the place.
Ski and play at Apex Mountain Resort
In winter, loads of dry snow ensures a long season of downhill skiing at nearby Apex Mountain Resort. In fact on my early February visit, 140 centimetres of snow fell over just four days. To say the skiing was superb is an understatement!
The mountain is accessed via a 40 minute drive heading west out of Penticton. Smaller than some of the other Okanagan ski resorts, it delivers where it counts. It boasts a great layout for a ski hill, a variety of terrain for all levels of skiers/boarders, 80 runs, a 610 metre vertical drop and some of the friendliest people running the place you’ll find anywhere. Cue James Shalman – the GM and one of the nicest humans I have met.
If you’re really not that into downhill skiing or snowboarding, there are plenty of other activities to keep family members happy.
A tubing park – with a Magic Carpet is great fun for all ages. Expect to scream. I always do.
Normally it would be a treat to glide on the one kilometre skating loop through the forest but when you get one massive dump of snow after another and there’s a hockey game on (for kids to raise money for a children’s hospital) that commandeers the Zamboni, then what can you do? Next time.
Snowshoe trails running through the forest round out the other adventuresome offerings.
Nickel Plate Nordic Centre
If it’s cross-country skiing you’re after you’ll have to drive another 7 kilometres past Apex Mountain Resort to reach the Nickel Plate Nordic Centre. It’s that much higher again than Apex and so receives even more snow. Look for 56 kilometres of groomed trails for both classic and skate skiing along with 16 kilometres of signed snowshoe trails.
Meander along the Okanagan Lake Promenade
If you’d rather walk than drive anywhere, you can’t go wrong with a stroll along the Okanagan Lake Promenade. In winter, it’s a quiet place, but the views are no less stunning. At one end you can walk through the Ikeda Japanese Garden (which shows better in the spring) and at the other, check out the pier, the view below and the S. S. Sicamous.
Check out the craft beer scene
My beer drinking days came to an end after I graduated from Queen’s University – as a geologist no less – and moved onto wine. But I have to say that after much beer tasting in Penticton – and attendance at the annual Brewski Festival up at Apex, I could now be persuaded to drink the occasional beer on a hot day.
There are a lot of craft breweries in Penticton – a very high per capita rate if you ask me. I wouldn’t trust my word on whether it’s a good beer or an indifferent one since I like beer with names like Peanut Butter & Chocolate Porter (Bad Tattoo), Blackberry Beer (Bad Tattoo) and Under the Weather Chocolate Milk Stout (Kettle River Brewing).
So what I suggest if you like beer is that you check out The Penticton Ale Trail and decide where you want to go. I heard great things about Slackwater Brewing and I know Bad Tattoo is well worth a visit (see below re: their pizza). I also understand yet another microbrewery is due to open in Penticton near Wayne and Freda in summer 2020.
The Great Estates Wine Experience – one of the fun and tasty things to do in Penticton
I basically stepped off a plane in Penticton and started drinking wine. And that’s not a bad thing, especially on a Friday afternoon.
Do you see those five samples of wine plus the cheese and chocolate in the photo below? Well I ate 95% of the food and drank about 75% of the wine. It pains me to pour out great wine, but I didn’t want to be half-baked by dinner.
If you want to start your holiday with a bang I highly recommend, sipping, swirling and tasting some of the wines in the Great Estates portfolio. They include names like Nk’Mip Cellars, Black Sage, Stellar’s Jay, See Ya Later Ranch and Sumac Ridge. In other-wards – some big names and great wines.
You are led through the tasting by someone who knows what they’re doing and can give you insight on why one wine pairs well with certain food. In summer the tastings book up quickly but in winter you might even be able to walk in and enjoy a tasting. (Tastings start at 4 PM.) Reserve ahead on their website – and then plan on walking over so you can enjoy the full experience without getting behind a wheel.
I walked out of there with three bottles of wine including a 10 year old port made by Black Sage. And the weekend had just begun.
Visit Penticton area wineries
The Penticton area is home to an astounding 80 plus wineries across four distinct areas – Penticton itself, Naramata Bench, Summerland and Okanagan Falls. Fortunately, if you visit Penticton in winter, many of the wineries are open but confirm hours of operation before you visit. You may even want to make an appointment. As a rule of thumb, three to five wineries are the maximum you’ll probably want to do in a day.
I visited three wineries – TIME Winery in downtown Penticton along with Red Rooster Winery and Little Engine Wines on the Naramata Bench. Each wine tasting experience is completely different – depending on the host.
TIME Winery is easy to visit as it’s right downtown in Penticton. It was a treat to meet a woman who is president of a winery and commands respect from her fellow wine growers and vintners. A must visit if you’re in town.
Red Rooster – with it’s wonderful sculptural pieces outside is a fun winery to visit. Our knowledgeable host, Burke, had most of us chuckling for the better part of an hour.
Little Engine enjoys a gorgeous location with beautiful views overlooking the lake. This winery is geared more to the wine connoisseur who is looking for perfection in a glass.
Kettle Valley Railway
The Kettle Valley Railway (KVR) is an abandoned railway bed that runs for about 650 kilometres between Hope and Castlegar. One of the loveliest and accessible sections to bike or walk lies just outside of Penticton along the Naramata Bench. In summer I’d recommend the bike ride from Myra Canyon all the way down to Penticton – a distance of 80 kilometres.
In winter, much of the KVR would be hard to cycle. Unless the snow is packed down, it’s tough going. But if you start in Penticton – where there are lots of people walking and biking it regularly, the snow is mostly hard. So the cycling is way easier. It’s especially easy if you use an e-bike and it comes with a high fun factor too. The only thing is you’ll barely break a sweat.
You can rent ebikes in Penticton from The Bike Barn and the Freedom Bike Shop.
I managed to eat at a lot of different restaurants over a weekend – and not one was in any way a disappointment.
For breakfast the newish kid on the block – Wayne & Freda – is a great place. Their coffee is perfection in a cup and the house-made granola delicious.
What I also love is their story. The couple who run Wayne & Freda – Ryan and Jen – were dating when they learned that their respective grandparents were in the same care home in the Okanagan. In the latter years of their lives, Wayne and Freda were moved to the same table in the care home and were able to look out for each other. I think the name of the restaurant is a lovely tribute to their grandparents.
The Bench Market in Penticton recently celebrated its 15th anniversary. I had been here about a decade before and loved it then. I love it now for its fresh baked goods, first rate coffee and laid-back ambiance. It’s also a great place to stock up on artisan grocery items – things you might need for an impromptu picnic.
Bad Tattoo Brewing may be known for their beers but they pump out a lot of great pizza too – up to 500 pizzas a day. Their Black & Blue pizza with local blue cheese, blackberry compote, roasted local apples and toasted malt is a little slice of heaven. Be prepared for line-ups in high season.
Another recent addition to the Penticton restaurant scene is Pizzeria Tratto. It opened in October 2019 and word of mouth must have traveled quickly as its one hopping spot. Serving pizzas (obviously), it’s known for its warm welcome, superb service and as someone said on Facebook, it’s a great addition to the neighbourhood.
Another new restaurant – Elma – located across from the beach on Lakeshore Drive, serves Turkish inspired food in a clean modern space – filled with items sourced in Turkey. If you have never been to Turkey and haven’t a clue what Turkish food is like, I say live on the edge and get down here. The food is completely divine – with a mix of Turkish and Okanagan influences – and the staff friendly and helpful. Their humus, roasted eggplant and charred red pepper starters had me swooning. It just went up from there.
Leave room for dessert.
I wish there was an Elma in Calgary.
Look for wild horses on the way up to Apex
I had horseshoes on the way up to Apex. Not once, but twice we had to stop to let the wild horses cross the road – right in front of us. Reportedly they are mostly found in the south Okanagan. Perhaps the locals think of them as a pest but I thought it was magical seeing them.
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Accommodations in Penticton
One of the top places to stay in Penticton is the Penticton Lakeside Resort. You can’t go wrong with its waterfront setting, well-appointed rooms (cue the heated floors in the bathroom) and decks with a view. To top it off, it’s home to the Hooded Merganser, a restaurant that is directly on the water.
Getting to Penticton
You can fly to Penticton on WestJet from Calgary or on Air Canada from Vancouver. Both flights are under an hour. Another option is to fly into the Kelowna airport, about an hour’s drive away.
You can drive to Penticton from Vancouver in about 4.5 hours, Calgary in 8 hours and Seattle in 6.5 hours.
For more information on Penticton visit their website.
Further reading on things to do in British Columbia
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Thank you to Visit Penticton for hosting my visit. As always all thoughts and opinions are my own.