It’s no secret that family vacations are going to look different for the next while. Canadians are avoiding non-essential travel between provinces, the Canada-US border is closed for the foreseeable future, and international flights are right out. So this year we’re staying close to home, avoiding vulnerable communities, and focused on safely exploring our own backyard right here in beautiful British Columbia.
One of our favourite family-friendly destinations is the city of Kelowna on Okanagan Lake in the southern interior of BC. Kelowna is BC’s third largest metropolitan area (after Vancouver and Victoria) and about four hours from Vancouver, which makes this a manageable drive with kids. So pack your masks and hand sanitizer, respect social distancing guidelines, and discover our beautiful province!
Where to Stay in Kelowna
Like any city, Kelowna has a plethora of hotels, motels, Airbnbs, rentals, and bed and breakfasts to choose from. But we chose Hotel Zed Kelowna because of its central location in downtown Kelowna just across the street from City Park and Hot Sands Beach, all the unique amenities you won’t find anywhere else, and its bright, colourful, funky, retro appeal.
Hotel Zed is nothing like those other boring hotels! What makes this place unique is all the fun extras for kids and for those of us who are kids at heart. They’ve got complimentary comic books and yo-yos, a board game library, a ping pong lounge, Wii-U and Mini NES game systems, and a mini disco. Hotel Zed even lends out free bicycles and roller skates to guests wanting to explore the city (unfortunately, these aren’t currently available due to COVID-19).
Hotel Zed Kelowna has an assortment of room types, but if you’ve got kids, go for one of the Queen of Bunks or King of Bunks suites that include a small kids’ room with twin bunk beds.
We stayed in a Queen of Bunks suite which comes with a queen bed, sofa bed, and two bunk beds. My kids couldn’t contain their excitement when they saw their own bunk beds in their own separate sleeping area!
Our room was clean, comfortable, and filled with fun and funky touches like the iconic VW van on the bath curtain, colourful steel drawers, old school rotary phone, and vintage alarm clock. I have to admit I felt kinda old when the kids were pressing on the finger holes trying to figure out how to use the rotary phone.
There’s plenty of outdoor social spaces at the motel too. They’ve got three outdoor decks – the Lido lounge, fireside lounge, and rooftop patio with a fantastic view of City Park and the lake – though of course capacity is now limited due to COVID-19. Hotel Zed has set up a reservation system to allow guests to still use the pool and hot tub with cleaning in between time slots.
Parking for Hotel Zed guests is free, and since the motel is perfectly located just steps to the beach and walking distance to lots of restaurants and two ice cream parlours (more on this later), you might not even have to move the car. The parking lot is on the smaller side and a bit cramped to maneuver in, but there is additional parking behind the hotel if you can’t get a spot in front of your room.
Where to Play in Kelowna
The Okanagan Valley is known for its beautiful lakes, fruit orchards, and hot, dry summers. There are more than enough activities in Kelowna to fill up a family vacation, but given the current COVID situation we decided to stick mainly to outdoor activities where it was easiest to maintain physical distancing.
When you hear about beaches in British Columbia, most people think of our beautiful coastline along the Pacific Ocean. But did you know that we have over 20,000 lakes in this province?
Okanagan Lake is the largest and best known lake in the area, but it’s certainly not the only one. Wood Lake and Kalamalka Lake are also nearby (about 30 minutes away from downtown Kelowna), and both have sandy beaches and swimming areas as well. Be aware that local beaches are very popular in the summer. On this trip we limited our beach visits to weekdays so we could find a spot with plenty of distance between us and other beach goers.
Area lakes all have boat launches and are perfect for kayaking and paddle boarding. And if you don’t have your own gear, there are several lakeside shops that rent out kayaks, stand up paddle boards, and pedal boats by the hour.
Speaking of water fun, it’s a bit of a drive, but if you have an afternoon to spend relaxing on the water, don’t miss floating down the Pentiction Channel that connects the south end of Okanagan lake with Skaha Lake. If you don’t happen to have enough inner tubes for the whole family, Coyote Cruises rents out individual or double inner tubes and family-size rafts and provides shuttle service back to your starting point. Don’t forget the sunscreen!
Oyama Zipline Adventure Park
Another really cool place to spend the day is at Oyama Zipline Adventure Park, about 30 minutes north of the city. Don’t let the name fool you, there’s so much more to do here than just ziplining. Oyama Ziplines offers outdoor adventure activities for the whole family!
The Forest Monkey Play Park is an aerial ropes course for the younger set. Because everything is completely netted in, kids can safely race around this circular course without a harness or fear of falling. Parents can join in for free or relax in one of the lounge chairs beneath. The play park is advertised for kids aged 3-11, but older kids at the upper age range probably won’t find this challenging after the first 20 minutes or so.
For thrill-seeking older kids and adults, the Forest Ninja Warrior Aerial Park is a dream come true. My 10-year-old loved this challenge! The course consists of three separate aerial courses – colour coded Green, Blue, and Black – that increase in difficulty as you go along. The Black course ends with a spectacular Freefall QuickJump where you will challenge yourself to step off a platform 70 feet up a tree and freefall to a soft landing.
Participants must be tall enough to reach 5’11” handholds to do the aerial course solo. At 4’7″, Tee was tall enough to reach most of the lines, but she did need adult help on a few spots.
Yours truly tried to keep up with my adventurous girl, but halfway through the second course, I couldn’t make it from the zipline to the top of the cargo net. Fortunately there are always staff close at hand to help, even when you’re hanging in midair like an awkward pinata. Shout out to Beth who helped me get back to the ground and then completed the course with Tee so she didn’t miss a moment of the fun!
But the biggest thrill of all at Oyama Adventure Park is the Forest Adventure Ziplines. We’re talking seven ziplines soaring across 70 acres of forest with stunning views of nearby Kalamalka Lake. The course combines almost 2 kilometres of ziplines including half-pipe slack lines and tandem side-by-side lines that let you race a friend to the other side, along with suspension bridges, a Burma bridge, and swaying treetop platforms. The final zipline takes you flying at speeds of up to 85 km an hour!
The whole ziplining tour takes about two and a half hours and is suitable for everyone in the family between 50-270 pounds. The harnesses do all the work for you, so no athleticism or previous zip lining experience is required. Our guides were Liam and Chelsea who made sure everyone had an amazing time and that safety was always first priority. Our day at Oyama Adventure was definitely the highlight of our trip!
While in Kelowna we had a chance to try out an activity brand new to us: axe throwing. Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like!
Axe Monkeys is a local, family-owned business that lets everyone in the family aged 7 and up learn how to throw an axe at a wooden target. The fenced-in lanes are located in a large open warehouse so there’s lots of room for distancing. We started with a lesson covering safety and throwing techniques, then spent an hour hurling axes at the target. They have smaller, lighter axes that allow even the youngest throwers to hit the target so everyone will have a great time.
The thrill of getting the axe into that bullseye was intense! I honestly did not expect how much fun it would turn out to be and how quickly our hour of axe throwing would fly by. Everybody needs to try this. We would definitely go back, and maybe next time we’ll try spear throwing or knife throwing!
Myra Canyon Trestles
Up for a walk through some of Kelowna’s prettiest scenery? The decommissioned Kettle Valley Railway line runs through scenic Myra Canyon in Myra-Bellevue Park and boasts 18 picturesque train trestles and two tunnels. This route has been designated a National Historic Site of Canada and is a tremendously popular location for hiking and biking, for good reason.
We had planned a family hike along the Myra Canyon train trestles, but unfortunately we had to skip it this time as Tee started feeling carsick on the way and we had to turn back. It’s a siginificant drive (about 45 minutes from downtown Kelowna each way) so we weren’t able to try again on a different day, but if you have the chance to visit Myra Canyon, it’s totally worth it!
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High in the hills above Kelowna, the Myra Canyon Trestles trail is a great place to enjoy the outdoors. When is the last time you explored this scenic trail? #exploreKelowna 📸: @okanaganview * BC is now in Phase 3 of its Restart Plan, which means people can take part in safe, responsible travel. Click the link in our bio for helpful tips and reminders to keep everyone safe while travelling in BC this summer.
Besides its lakes, the Okanagan is world-renowned for its orchards, and many of those local farms and orchards offer U-pick. Fruit picking is a fun activity for the whole family! Depending on the time of year you visit, you can pick strawberries, cherries, blueberries, apricots, peaches, pears, plums, apples, and more.
We spent a couple of hours picking fruit at a local orchard on our last day before the drive back so we had a bushel of sun ripened peaches to remember our trip once we got home.
Where to Eat in Kelowna
Kelowna has a ton of great places to eat. Everywhere we went enforced strict capacity limits and took our info for contact tracing, but the weather was so nice that we often grabbed our food to go and just ate outside at a nearby park. Here are some of our favourite kid-friendly restaurants.
If you’re planning a visit to Oyama Adventure Park (highly recommended!), do yourself a favour and stop at the Jammery (8038 BC-97, Lake Country) along the way. It’s only open until 3:00 pm, but it’s the place to have family brunch and all you can eat waffles topped with local, handmade jam. The Jammery was featured a while ago on You Gotta Eat Here! and it’s always busy, so I highly recommend making a reservation before you make the drive.
Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria has a location in Kelowna (Unit 105 – 3030 Pandosy Street) and they have a decent kids menu with pizza or pasta and a drink and gelato for $8.95. There’s also plenty of gluten-free options and some plant-based dishes as well. I recommend the meatballs!
If you’re eating in, EK’s Grill (401 Glenmore Road) has a huge round fish tank in the middle of the dining room that will keep the kids occupied while you’re waiting. The food is typical American fare like burgers and wraps, but they also have a great breakfast menu, a sizable plant-based menu, and a kids menu that includes a drink and dessert for $7.50. Unfortunately the hours are pretty limited in this year so check ahead.
Thai Terrace (210 Lawrence Avenue) was only a couple of blocks from our hotel which made it very convenient for us. They have vegan and gluten-free options, and they also have a small kids menu with generously-sized, non-spicy Thai dishes for $9.95. The dishes are so big that my kids were able to share the sweet and sour chicken with rice noodles between the two of them. The green curry was pretty good too.
If you’re a noodle-lover, you need to visit Basil Leaf (two locations in Kelowna – 123-1940 Kane Road and #4-1612 Powick Road). We all loved their wonton soup and pho so much that we went back the next day for more!
But our favourite place was the MOO-LIX ice cream parlour (239 Bernard Avenue) down by the beach. There was a line-up most nights, but it moved pretty quickly and it was worth it! My kids loved the extra creamy, homemade cookies and cream ice cream, but my favourite was their amazing lavender lemonade sorbet. MOO-LIX also has dairy-free sorbet and gluten-free waffle cones which made hubby happy.
A note about sizing: the mini cone sounds small but was the perfect two-scoop amount for each of us. If you want more, dare to try a MEGAMOO ice cream cone with 10 scoops!
Travelling in BC
We are currently in Phase 3 of British Columbia’s Restart Plan. As per the BC government, if you decide to travel, you must take the same health and safety precautions as you do at home:
- Wash your hands often.
- Practice safe distancing – 2 metres.
- Spend time in small groups and open spaces.
- Clean spaces often.
- If you are feeling sick, stay home. No exceptions.
- If symptoms develop while travelling, self-isolate immediately and contact 8-1-1 for guidance and testing.
Disclosure: I was provided with a complimentary stay at Hotel Zed and admission to Kelowna attractions to facilitate this post. Nevertheless, all opinions expressed are completely honest and my own, based on my personal experience. Your experience may differ.