You always remember your first time. Your first time visiting Edmonton, that is. I was 14 and a third stringer on the senior girls’ basketball team during my first senior’s tourney. I remember the huge blue skies, biting cold and the world’s biggest mall. We came in third at the tournament, rode the Galaxyland roller coaster and I recorded my first single on a cassette tape (Paula Abdul’s Straight Up, naturally) at the mall. It was a super fun trip that barely even kissed the surface of Alberta’s capital.
Fast forward decade or two and I’m living in Edmonton. It’s not a place I’ve ever considered until meeting my partner. Oh love and it’s convincing ways of taking you on crazy adventures. We left Vancouver on a wet fall day October 2014 and landed in Edmonton on a cool, dry day two days after.
When we first moved people would ask, “Why would you leave Vancouver to move here?” I found it almost insulting, probing and strange question to ask. But then slowly, I started meeting people who said the opposite. “Welcome to Edmonton, how are you finding it so far? Have you tried…..”
Edmontonians are some of the proudest residents and are generally, always eager to share their version of the city with you. So in keeping with the tradition of my new tribe, I thought I’d share some of my favourite Edmonton spots with you dear readers. Herewith are 25 things that I’ve grown to love about Edmonton. So next time a friend from Calgary/Montreal/Vancouver/Victoria asks why they should come visit, I’ll just save my breath and email them this post. So there. I’ve settled in and learned to love where I am, so read below and then book a trip here, you won’t regret it.
The sunsets and sunsets – fuchsia, tangerine, violet and deep aqua. These is just a teeny tiny smidgeon of the sunrise and sunset palette in Edmonton. Get up early, look west later – you won’t be disappointed.
Canada Day celebrations – Edmonton knows how to do Canada Day. The leg grounds are transformed into a writhing mass of happy families, stages crammed with CBC personalities, kids entertainers, local indie rockers. The legislature wading pool and fountains are literally crammed with 1000 ecstatic children and the odd worried looking parent. PURE JULY BLISS, people.
Elk Island National Park – If you love buffalo, relatively easy hikes, awesome picnic spots and birds then this is the park for you. My partner bought me a National Park pass for my birthday and it’s one of my most prized possessions.
124th Street is hands down one of Edmonton’s best hoods besides the one I live in. It has it all: Wayne Gretzky’s wedding cake maker, an eco-boutiue, a fantastic baking supplies store, boozy and local food-focused restos and a string of galleries that give Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver a run for their moola. And some pretty great indie boutiques like Plum Home and Salgado & Fenwick.
The French Quarter – If you love light, french fair, the sound of french and French baking techniques then make sure you visit Cafe Bicyclette. There’s also some French galleries and even a french Farmer’s Market on Sundays.
Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market – if I could get air miles for the amount of money we’ve spent there going practically every week that we’ve lived in Edmonton (about 48/52 weeks) then we could fly all of our best friends out here. Edmonton has it’s locally farmed/grown/processed/made food on fleek.
If you’re young and you want to start a business Edmonton is the place to be. Just ask the folks at: Poppy Barley, The Royal Bison Craft Fair, Oliver Apt, Meadow Sweet Honey, and Edmonton’s indie coffee shops. To borrow a quote from Pip’s Army in Toronto: it’s all Community over Competition in herrr.
The River Valley – It’s 48 kilometres long and is made up of 20 urban parks with 22 ravines. It’s the winding green artery of the city that separates downton from Strathcona. My fave river valley spots so far: Rundle Park, Millcreek Ravine, Louise McKinney Park, Forest Heights Park and Whitemud Ravine.
Access to camping – within a 45 min drive there are multiple camping options. Provincial Parks like Wabmaun Lake and Miquelon Lake plus Elk Island National Park and a handful of other private campgrounds make weekend warrioring so easy.
Riverdale is one of the few communities in Edmonton without a strip mall. Small town feels with a skate park, canopied river-side paths and a great mix of families, oldies, richies and workers in the community.
Little Brick is the place I try to take most of my out-of-town visitors. It’s a cafe/general store/event space located in Riverdale in a…you guessed it smarty pants: a little brick house.
The Black Dog is the Cheers of my social group. My partner has socialized there since he was legal. Everyone knows your name and it’s dark walls, historic photos, well-used dart boards and sweet little roof top patio make it the place I can go to in my Betsey Johnson and Poppy Barleys or my Lulu’s and new balance and no one gives a flying turd. The definition of C-H-I-L-L.
Moose – I’ve seen more of Bullwinkle’s cousins in Edmonton and surrounds than I have in my whole life.
West Edmonton Mall – I’m a girl what can I say, I love a good shop. With stores like DKNY, Anthropology, Designer Shoe Warehouse, Escents (BC represent!) and my biggest Canuck crush: Simon’s, the WEM is a sweet place to spend a -35C day off (or half of my maternity leave, doing laps).
The Beards – at least 25 per cent of the men in Edmonton could audition for a role as an extra in a Game of Thrones Dothraki scene or Lord of the Rings remake. Serious beards, trimmed beards, big beards, little beards. So many beards. Sometimes when I’m cold, I want to ask if I can clip some off and us as a hand muff. But then I reconsider.
Great eats – Edmonton offers almost any cuisine from any corner of the earth. My fave night time restos include: North 53, &27, RGE Rd, Famoso, Tres Carnales, Branches at Greenland Gardens and Dadeo. For brunch: we love the buffets at Yellowhead Brewery (hello beermosas!) and the Fairmont Hotel MacDonald for fancy times like birthdays and anniversaries (I love you bottomless mimosas, crab legs and desserts).
YEG humour. There’s a company that sells shirts that say: Still in Edmonton. I’m not sure what it means – face value vs. double entendre? I’ve seen many a bearded man and swarthy gorgeous woman wearing them. And then there’s the fairly hard-to-find magnets that a guy sells at the Black Dog: Edmonton: If you don’t like it, go fuck yourself.
The Calgary/Edmonton rivalry – peas and carrots, apples and oranges, blue collar/white collar, mountains/river valley. Just stahp it already. We get it, you’re rival siblings. Now play nice.
F*#king awesome festivals. Folkfest takes places on a series of tiny ski hills – it defies gravity, attracts world class acts and has a beer garden you can take your kids into (not that we did, honest). Taste of Edmonton is a cacophony of delicious bite sized treats that’s like a speed date for the local restaurant scene. Bloom is an unpretentious Wanderlust – so many quality speakers, classes and local/international folks selling their cosmic, prophetic and athletic wares – ohm baby ohm.
The Edmonton blog-twitter-instagram-o-sphere. When I first moved here, a friend said, ‘Find some good folks to follow on twitter, Edmonton’s all about the twitter.’ Sure enough, two months later I was going for coffee with someone I met on Twitter. People are as friendly on social media as they are in real life – nice one YEG. Some of the best YEG blogs:
Girls & Bicycles (written by Sarah Chan, Edmonton’s first lady)
From the Local Lens by Edmonton Tourism
Poppy Barley’s online magazine
Andrew and Krista Ference. The co-captain of the Edmonton Oilers and his wife are all-star community members. They are champions of Edmonton Pride and teach their kiddos it’s totes fine to love whoever you want. Mr. Ference also helped start the November project, free fitness classes every Mon/Weds/Fri aimed at getting people together to get their sweat on. (*Note – the Canucks are still my team, because I need to keep the household rivalry going).
National Geographic likes Edmonton – of course.
It’s easy to get to here – you can take the train here from Toronto or Vancouver and points in between, fly here multiple times a day (from places like Iceland or Cancun) or drive the most beautiful Rocky Mountain-filled and/or prairie gold drive.
Have you been to Edmonton? What was your memorable/favourite/best part of the city? Share in the comments below?
Coming to town and looking for recommendations from someone a year into the #YEG game? Send me a note here.