I’m a food-focused traveller. Over the past twelve months, trips to Melbourne, Stockholm and Copenhagen were planned after reading about the amazing local cuisine. I loved all of these cities—each with unique neighbourhoods, a progressive food scene, friendly locals and best of all, the ability to do everything on foot. These are the things I look for when vacationing and things I was pleasantly surprised to find in a town of only ten thousand in my home province of British Columbia.
The town I’m about to gush about is Nelson, BC, located in the hauntingly beautiful, Selkirk mountains in the West Kootenays, just an eight hour drive from Vancouver.
I’d been wanting to visit this cozy mountain town, known for its food and coffee, for years. I’m kicking myself for not visiting sooner and am already planning a return trip. Visiting in the Fall made Nelson feel especially magically. We found ourselves wishing we had more time to explore the town…possibly because Nelson has one of the highest restaurant to resident ratios in the world. And, the vast majority of them within walking distance.
In between delicious bites, there’s so much to do in Nelson. The area is surrounded by natural wonders: waterfalls, epic hikes, lakes, hot springs, wild life etc. Below is my itinerary including the restaurants and bites I loved and my favourite outdoor activities. Hope you get a chance to visit Nelson and love it as much as I did. Message me anytime on Instagram or email if you have any travel questions!
Day 1: Vancouver to Osoyoos (Wednesday)
This is a travel day. Depart for the Okanagan. From Vancouver, the full trip to Nelson is about an eight hour drive, so break it up with an overnighter in Osoyoos (a must have for us and our 11-month old). We most often stay at Watermark Beach Resort which overlooks Osoyoos Lake. The hotel restaurant, run by Chef Adair, is accommodating to those with dietary preferences and can prepare off-menu vegan entrees if requested in advance. Below is the amazing view of the mountainous Osoyoos desert from our room! I love these tan colour hills. One of our favourite features of the hotel, however, is that rooms have a washer and dryer – perfect if you are traveling with a baby! (And said baby throws up in the car…)
Day 2: Osoyoos to Nelson (Thursday)
Coffee / breakfast – Get up early and grab a coffee and breakfast from the town’s favourite coffee shop, Jojo’s, which is a half a block from Watermark. I had a soy latte and the veggie sandwich with a side of their lemony potato salad (order a large – it’s so good!).
Road trip / pit-stops – Hit the road early because there is so much to explore along the way, like this coffee stop at Rock Creek Trading Post in Rock Creek, BC. It was such a thrill to find something so cute in such a tiny tiny town! (Population <100.) You’ll also pass through the small town of Greenwood, BC, which is said to have ‘the best drinking water in the world’. It’s also where the movie, ‘Snow Falling on Cedars,’ was shot in 1997. For more coffee and some vegan banana bread, get to Deadwood Junction located just before the main drag. You’re now just two hours away from Nelson!!
Arrival / dinner – Arrive in Nelson and prepare to fall in love with the giant mountain backdrops and the interesting duality between a quaint small town and a bustling city vibe full of friendly, smiling people. For accommodation we stayed at the independently-owned Hume Hotel & Spa and loved its coziness—it’s116-year-old history (and fully carpeted interior) definitely had something to do with this! The staff was so friendly and personable and our room (more like an apartment) was spacious and comfortable (the bed and its sheets were pure luxury). For dinner, head to Yum Son for a cool vibe and delicious modern Vietnamese food. Try the sesame roasted vegetable salad rolls, the peaceful noodle bowl and the plant-based pho. We enjoyed the food so much we ate here twice in four days.
Day 3: Nelson (Friday)
Coffee / breakfast – Wake up early to see the fog lingering on the mountaintops, then head to Oso Negro for a delicious coffee made with beans roasted in Nelson. This place felt like the town’s meeting place – it was lined up out the door every morning. But there were no impatient customers (Vancouverites take note). No one was rushing to get anywhere. That’s the laid-back vibe of Nelson. Baked goods and light breakfast options are in abundance here. There are probably 25 items to choose from! Try a soy latte and one of their many vegan breakfast treats. If it’s a nice day, bundle up and sit on their peaceful patio to enjoy a view of the mountains.
Explore the town – After breakfast, hit the town on foot. There is so much to discover! If you’re into cool grocery stores, get to Kootenay Co-op where you’ll find lots of zero waste options (hummus, tofu, vegenaise), as well as an extensive selection of dairy-free yogurt, nut-milks and delicious ready-made meal/snack options. A must try item is Silverking tofu. This is a beloved locally made product that’s been around for years and I can attest it is truly fabulous tofu! Bring a cooler and load ‘er up if you can. In warm months, Kootenay Co-op is known to offer ‘communal sandals’ at the entrance because so many locals go barefoot. I love this place!!!
Hike – Get to the nearby mountains for a hike. Take the Pulpit Trail up to several breathtaking viewpoints of the entire region. Along the path you’ll see a few forks in the road — one path leads to an easier, longer hike, the other, more difficult but shorter. We took the steeper trail and almost regretted it with our 11-month-old strapped on in the carrier. There were some steep, scrambly areas but it was a great work-out and the path is dog-friendly. We weren’t hustling to get anywhere, so the round-trip took us about three hours…bring a snack!
Post-hike cold drink – Time for a cold drink! We were hungry too, so went back to Yum Son for more veggie salad rolls and Okanagan-made Left Field Ciders.
Dinner – Baby Roen was ready for bed at 7pm so we got Cantina del Centro tacos to-go and enjoyed a cozy night in our Hume Hotel room. This newer Mexican fusion restaurant was recommended to us by just about everybody. It was clearly a town favourite with its bumpin’ vibe, extensive mezcal selection and casual street food menu. Even as fall set in the street patio was packed.
Day 4 – Nelson (Saturday)
Coffee – Since Oso Negro was so good, you’ll probably want to go back…but Nelson is full of good coffee shops to try! Cute ones, too. This morning, mix it up and get to John Ward Fine Coffee to enjoy a latte (made with Origins espresso) and their stylish cafe decor.
Farmers market / snack – It’s Saturday, so time for the Cottonwood Farmers Market which runs every Saturday from May 20th to October 28th, 9:30-3:30. Here you’ll truly experience the Nelson vibe. Over 40 local vendors convene to sell their homegrown/homemade products that are well worth checking out. You must find Rawsa, a plant-based foods company, run by Linda, a 50-year vegan and raw chef extraordinaire. Her pizza, raw burgers, carrot cake, macaroons and so much more are absolutely to die for! We loved them so much we returned to the market twice in one day to buy more. Also worth a try is the “taco-dilla”, a tortilla shell filled to the brim with subji, from Jagannatha Express, and the apple cider from a stand whose tenant told me his company had no business name. No need for a business name in a town this small and friendly!
Progressive dinner – Get back to Nelson for a mini-progressive dinner to end your day. Start at Red Light Ramen for some incredible, hearty and healthier-than-average miso-butternut squash “ramen” (ramen in quotes because it’s very different from traditional ramen). The bowl is served with big chunks of Silver King Tofu cubes dusted with nutritional yeast. Brown rice noodles are an option…cabbage noodles are, too! The space itself, located in an alley, is funky with communal picnic tables on the patio. Next, get to Loka, a Middle Eastern restaurant that makes everything in-house, including their zataar-covered pita bread. Hot from the oven, this was amazing! Try the hummus, a fattoush salad and, the highlight of the mean, the pan-fried cauliflower with tahini sauce – so good! Two restaurants that were closed during the week we visited: The Yellow Deli and The Enlightened Coconut. Try these for me if you can!
Day 5: Nelson (Sunday)
Coffee – Today you have yet another cool coffee shop to discover! Empire Coffee is set inside one of the coolest spaces in town, with high ceilings, glass walls (to give a greenhouse feel), live plants as wall art and cool hand-carved wooden tables. These guys are open nice and early (6am weekdays, 7am weekends) and serve Stumptown Coffee.
Breakfast – For breakfast, get to the locals’ favourite Full Circle Cafe for a big plate of tofu chickpea scramble (add guacamole) or veggie hash – both really good options, the latter served with miso gravy and beetroot pesto. Loved the casual, messy brunch dishes here!
Visit Kaslo / lunch – Visit the lakeside village of Kaslo – population 1,000. This tiny town is about an hour’s drive from Nelson. For such a small community, we were amazed to discover such food! Get to Taqueria El Corazon for some Mexican street food (veg tacos were delicious!) on a festive patio overlooking the lake. If you’re craving something on the healthier side, Sunnyside Naturals (a vegetarian grocery store and cafe) offers smoothies, juices and snacks. Bluebelle Bistro is another town fav, but we were too full to try. For a taste of history get to the Langham Cultural Center to browse the powerful collection of momentos immortalized within the Japanese Canadian Museum.
Waterfall / Hot springs – On the drive back to Nelson, a quick pit-stop at Fletcher Falls is worth it. Bring a camera! The falls are loud and beautiful and surrounded by cavernous rock, which is as beautiful as the waterfall itself. This is an easy stop too as the falls are just a fifteen minute walk from where you park (note parking is not well marked). Also, go for a dip in the Ainsworth Hot Springs. Try to avoid the weekend crowds if you can. This intimate hot spring looks out over the lake and has caves you can visit. Post-bath,
Dinner / drinks – Back in Nelson, it’s time to explore more restaurants. For an epic view of Kootenay Lake and the mountainside, get to Sage Tapas & Wine Bar for a drink (they were closed for a function so we didn’t get to go, but it came highly recommended). We ended up at Pitchfork, a two-month old restaurant that offers its own great view of the town and mountains. Set against a grassy hill, this dog-friendly patio was the perfect spot to chill with Effie and the fam…and they serve one of my favourite ciders, Lonetree Ginger. For dinner, we took it easy and got take-out vegan burritos from El Taco, a very casual Mexican restaurant, also beloved by locals.
Day 6 – Nelson to Osoyoos (Monday)
Coffee x2 – By this point (day four), you might feel like you’ve uncovered every delicious gem in Nelson…but no! There’s more. Start your day with another coffee from Oso Negro (you can’t go to Nelson and visit Oso just once) and then get to Dominion Cafe for a some ah-mazing onion bread and nut cheese. You wouldn’t know it’s such a stand-out item by looking at it in the case, but trust me, this was one of my favourite bites of the trip. Great road trip snack, too, so stock up.
Smoothie stop – Time for something nutrient-dense. Get to Farm Fresh Cafe for a superfood smoothie, like the ‘sun warrior’ with orange, carrot, goji, ginger, tumeric, black pepper, chia or the smurf blue ‘greena colada’ with coconut mylk, pineapple, lime and Blue Majik. Babies love the play area here at this large, communal-table filled eatery.
Bakery visit – Last morning stop: Au Soleil Levant. This French Canadian artisan bakery operates out of a little blue house, hidden in a back alley. Buy the largest loaf of focaccia that you possibly can. I bet you’ll eat it all before you get to your next spot (we did). Perfectly salted, olive oily and sprinkled with rosemary, this bread made me feel like I was in Europe (or maybe Quebec?).
Road trip / pit-stops – Depart for Osoyoos! On the way, there are a few scenic stops and detours to make. Nancy Greene Provincial Park is a peaceful place for a 5km (flat) walking loop of the lake. It’s a great place to stretch your legs and walk your dog. Depending on the season, bring your bear spray.
Visit Rossland – Next, if you have time, on the drive back make a 25-minute detour to Rossland, a small city of under 4000 residents that’s been called one of the world’s top ski towns. Drink-wise, the must-visit is Rossland Beer Company. Here I discovered my new favourite cider, Wards, which had been fermented with cherry skins. Delicious! The beer here is also top-notch. Food-wise, we didn’t get to explore much as baby Roen got sick but wish we’d been able to try Mook Thai and The Flying Steamshovel (please try them for me!). Before you hit the road again, grab a latte at Alpine Grind, the town’s favourite coffee shop.
Enjoy Osoyoos / dinner – Back in Osoyoos, your best dining options include Watermark’s above average hotel restaurant (I love that they use so many locally grown veggies) and winery restaurants. I’ve always loved Burrowing Owl’s Sonora Room Restaurant (though haven’t been in years)…and their view! It’s a bit of a drive from Osoyoos but 100% worth it. Miradoro Restaurant at Tinhorn Creek is another winner (and epic view) – it’s a 17 minute drive away from Watermark.
Day 7: Osoyoos to Vancouver (Wednesday)
Cry a bit over the fact the trip is coming to an end! On the way home, enjoy the beautiful scenery and definitely stop in Keremeos for whatever produce is available.
For more BC getaway inspiration visit explorebc.ca. And thank you to Destination BC for sponsoring this incredible trip! All opinions are my own.