Travels with Dave: Wine, cheese and beaches in the Okanagan Valley
BREAKING NEWS: I have now seen some of British Columbia! I got in a car, drove east (not south), and spent four days exploring the sunshine and sights of the Okanagan Valley. And it was awesome! The drive was beautiful, we could take the dog with us, and there was no lining up at a border for 4 hours to pay $6 for a piece of green cardstock. Three nights in Penticton was the perfect introduction to the Okanagan, with just the right amount of sunshine, sand, patios, wine and cheese. I saw and did a lot of things, but also discovered a lot more things to see and do next time. It was also our first proper trip with Dave, so was just long enough to really see what having a puppy on vacation would really be like. I could write about this for hours, but luckily this trip has also revitalized my commitment to TripAdvisor and I’ve already gotten most of it out of my system in the rapidly increasing number of reviews I’ve written. This post will (hopefully) be a high-level, vaguely succinct overview of the trip.
The 4.5 hour drive to Penticton was much more interesting than I thought it would be. Once we left the dreaded Highway 1 and joined the Coquihalla Highway the scenery started getting greener and more mountainous, and then suddenly we were in the desert. On the way there we stopped for lunch in Merritt, a small town right in the Nicola Valley. We Urbanspooned our way to Bramble’s Bakery & Cafe for lunch and enjoyed some delicious sandwiches and coffees at the only outdoor table – perfect for Dave! Merritt is the only main town between Hope and most places in the Interior, so it seemed to be full of people who were just passing through. We also ended up checking out a local dog show while we were there…very embarrassing turning up with an over-excited puppy who was practically walking us, not the other way round. He was definitely not headhunted for any medals. When we got to Kelowna and turned south down the west side of the Okanagan Lake, I felt like I was in California! Granted, the lake wasn’t as vast as the ocean, but it was pretty blue (as was the sky) and the road ran right along the edge of the water. On the way back we drove the same way, but stopped very early on in Summerland for a coffee at the beautiful Good Omens Coffee House. We sat in the bank garden under a cherry tree, soaking up the sun and really feeling like we were relaxing in someone’s garden! After that we pushed right through until Hope, where we had a late lunch at the Hope Drive Inn & Restaurant. It was very much a traditional diner, and one with a take-out window so we could eat outside with Dave. Being a diner, I had to order a chocolate milkshake to go…..delicious!
Penticton itself was much smaller than I expected. It’s sandwiched between two lakes, the Okanagan Lake to the north and Skaha Lake to the south. There’s a narrow channel that runs between the two, and Penticton is famous for people floating down this channel in all kinds of inflatable devices. We couldn’t try it on this occasion as Dave would have punctured a floatie in less than 6 seconds, but it looked like fun. The northern waterfront area (Okanagan Lake) was the most developed, with a large resort hotel, public parks, beaches (including a dog beach!) and lots of nice restaurants and bars within walking distance. The southern waterfront area (Skaha Lake) was pretty basic, with only one motel (Lakeside Villa Motel – which we stayed at), a campsite with one restaurant and a handful of beachside stores. I was surprised to find that everything in between the beaches was very, very American. Strip malls, billboards, fast food restaurants and gas stations seemed to make up the entire of Penticton proper. It had a pretty redneck feel to it, and I often felt like I could have been driving down the business route of any American highway town. Unfortunately, everywhere serving anything other than pizza (literally) closed at 9pm. Even over a long weekend. Good job we like Panago. I’m so glad we stayed in Penticton because of its central location, but if you’re looking for the vibrant community so beautifully described on Destination BC, stick to the north side of town.
We decided to spend our first day in the Okanagan driving down to the bottom of Skaha Lake and exploring the wineries around the very small town of Okanagan Falls. This included the dog-friendly Blue Mountain Winery where we purchased a bottle of sparkling brut, and the dog-themed (and very dog-friendly!) See Ya Later Ranch, where we had the most amazing lunch served by the chef himself in their beautiful garden. After lunch we stopped at the famous Tickleberry’s ice-cream store to purchase their ‘single’ cone, which is actually three scoops! Dave joined in on the action and enjoyed a K9 cone topped with a dog treat. The Okanagan Falls area was very laid back and most of the wineries were pretty small. We drove back to Penticton via the hamlet of Willowbrook and the White Lake Grasslands Protected Area, which was a beautiful and very green detour.
On day two, we headed north east to explore the Naramata Bench, a wine route that runs from Pencticton up the eastern side of the Okanagan Lake to a little village called Naramata. On the way we stopped at Munson Mountain to enjoy some phenomenal views of the Okanagan Valley from above the famous ‘Penticton’ sign (like Hollywood, but…Penticton). We continued on to Lake Breeze Vineyards, which we’d heard was pet friendly, and walked around the beautiful garden and courtyard. Dave was able to join us in the tasting room, and we purchased a bottle of their Riesling. We were surprised to see that dogs were allowed to accompany their humans eating on the outdoor patio, so we enjoyed some delicious sandwiches for lunch. Of course I wanted something sweet afterwards, so we continued along the road to Naramata where I managed to find a general store with an ice cream freezer. Naramata itself was very small but had a gorgeous wharf area that we spent some time exploring in the sunshine. The final stop for the day was Poplar Grove cheese shop (which is about 10 mins down the road from Poplar Grove Winery) where we tasted and purchased an amazing salted Camembert and a smooth blue cheese. I really enjoyed our day exploring the Naramata Bench, and this is clearly the most popular area for wine lovers. The vineyards reminded me much more of the stunning properties in Sonoma and Napa, with way more to the venues than just the tasting room. Much more luxury than laid back!
As you can see, we found plenty to do with Dave on our trip! Every morning we went to a different dog beach so he could have a run about, and we made sure he had lots of opportunity for little walks here and there during the day. His need for a walk, and our need to find bars/restaurants with outdoor patios, meant that we saw way more of all of the places we visited than if we’d been by ourselves and just headed straight to the restaurant with the highest rating on Urbanspoon. We’re also lucky he’s so great at travelling, and he just slept on our laps 90% of the time the car was moving. I hadn’t found much online before our trip about pet friendly wineries, and the reactions from the staff at the Penticton Visitor Centre suggested that it’s not the norm to bring your dog to the Okanagan, but if you’re thinking about know that it’s totally doable. And in some ways more fun!