As someone recently new to British Columbia, I had no idea where Penticton was, nor what it had to offer. When I was invited to go there for a visit with some friends, I was unsure of the attraction. I mean a place that’s 420 km from the coast (or any major city for that matter), with an estimated population of 40,000 people, and an area of only 42 km? It sounded to me like I would be going to “Anytown, Canada.”
We drove from Vancouver and opted to take the lower route from Hope along the Crowsnest Highway. This scenic route offered majestic-mountain and river views as it wound through Manning Park, following the Similkameen River. The vast swaths of trees and fresh water are trademark British Columbia. The road follows along through Princeton, Keremoeos, and then Osoyoos, before turning north towards Penticton along route 3A. It’s along this drive when you realize that the Southern Interior of British Columbia, or the Okanagan Valley as it’s called, is not your average rural Canadian area. There are gorgeous lakes along the highways, wineries are everywhere, and you can see lush vineyards and orchards all along the highway.
The Okanagan Valley, as it turns out, is known for its dry, sunny microclimate, amazing lifestyle, epic landscapes and family-friendly lakeshore communities. As a recent transplant from Toronto, I had NO IDEA.
Upon arrival in Penticton, we passed Skaha Lake which includes, long, clean sandy beaches, campgrounds right on the water, and tons of trails for hiking and biking. You are immediately drawn in by the unique hills that surround the lake as the foliage is relatively dry, and completely different from anything you would see elsewhere in Canada. This is thanks to Penticton’s mild climate and semi-arid weather.
Driving along Main Street, there’s a slew of cool restaurants like La Casa Ouzeria Restaurant, Theo’s Restaurant, Brodo Kitchen, and The Cellar Wine Bar, plus the usual array of stores and services of a bustling small town downtown.
As you continue North, you come across the Gyro Park and Bandshell (a giant concrete stage) and then the Penticton Lakeside Resort and Casino sitting on the shores of Lake Okanagan (yet another amazing lake that bookends the other side of Penticton). Lake Okanagan features ANOTHER long sandy beach, and several great restaurants, cafes, and rental shops along the seawall.
That’s when, to paraphrase Dorothy, “you realize you aren’t in Anytown anymore.” I was surprised to discover the abundance of amazing outdoor activities mixed with so many great amenities. The city slicker in me was fooled into thinking “if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all,” but truly, you do not know Penticton until you experience it first hand. As a tourist it was great, but as a local this could be your everyday after work.