Downtown Kelowna is crammed with culture

Museums, dinner theatre and just plain walking make this Okanagan Valley city a visitor's delight

by Sandra Albers
Spirit of Sail by local sculptor Robert Dow Reid graces the foot of Bernard Avenue on Kelowna's waterfront. Locals just call it The Sails.
Spirit of Sail by local sculptor Robert Dow Reid graces the foot of Bernard Avenue on Kelowna's waterfront. Locals just call it The Sails. — Sandra Albers photo

They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away. Well, in Kelowna, B.C. (where there is no shortage of apples), a museum a day will keep you going for the better part of a week.

And, best of all, the majority of them are located within easy walking distance of one another in Kelowna's downtown cultural district (centred around Ellis Street and Queensway Avenue).

The museums include the Okanagan Heritage Museum, Okanagan Military Museum, B.C. Orchard Industry Museum, B.C. Wine Museum and Laurel Packinghouse, all operating under the umbrella of the Kelowna Museums Society, and all clustered in the cultural district within a two-block radius. As well, there is a satellite exhibit, the Central Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame Museum, found in the Capri Centre Mall. Finally, there is the Father Pandosy Mission & Museum Site on Benvoulin Road.

But the city's cultural district isn't just about museums. The Kelowna Actors Studio is located in the same area, and offers dinner theatre year round, often featuring some of the best-loved Broadway musicals along with a gourmet meal. (When I visited last summer, I attended a production of Spamalot, the delightful Monty Python-esque romp loosely, very loosely, based on the tales of King Arthur.)

Dinner and a musical

Upcoming productions at the Actors Studio include Les Miserables (October 23 to November 10, 2013), and Shrek: The Musical (December 4 to 22, 2013).

Offering sustenance for the stomach as well as the spirit, the Actors Studio gives patrons a choice of experiences: you can attend the show only, or you can enjoy a matinee/dessert combo, or you can take in dinner or brunch along with the theatrical event.

Dinners include an appetizer, starter, main course and gourmet dessert. Vegetarian options are always available, and special dietary concerns can usually be accommodated with advance notice.

Located in the cultural district as well are the Okanagan Regional Library, the Rotary Centre for the Arts, the Kelowna Art Gallery and Kelowna Community Theatre; the latter is home to the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra and Ballet Kelowna.

On my July/August visit to Kelowna, I also enjoyed just chilling out in the downtown, enjoying the cafe culture and taking in a movie or two at the Paramount Theatre, one of those old-fashioned cinemas that takes you back in time and often shows an independent film or two along with the usual mainstream Hollywood fare.

Art in the outdoors

The numerous outdoor sculptures in the downtown core create a nice ambience, whether they are water-themed (sails, dolphins), inspired by the area's flora and fauna (trees and birds, bears) or depict human beings just enjoying life (dancers, sunbathers).

Two of the best known sculptures are by Robert Dow Reid. Originally from Scotland and inspired by the sea, he has made Kelowna his home since the mid-1960s. His fibreglass sculpture, Spirit of Sail (the locals often just call it The Sails) is found at the foot of Bernard Avenue on the lakefront, while Rhapsody, which depicts dolphins at play in a large fountain, has been placed outside the Grand Okanagan Hotel.

Enjoy the neighbourhood

A number of heritage walking tours are well worth the effort. I especially like Marshall Street; tucked away along Mill Creek, just south of the downtown. This small neighbourhood reflects the history and character of Old Kelowna (I may be prejudiced, because I once lived in a house with four roommates on Marshall Street back in the day).

Abbott Street is another delightful walk. It follows Okanagan Lake's lakehore and is steeped in local history with a representative selection of housing styles popular at different times over the past 100 years, from Tudor Revival to Arts & Crafts, Colonial to Moderne. I've heard part of Abbott Street referred to as "millionaire's row" because of the value of some of the houses, but there are modest bungalows along this street too. Best of all, there are a number of tiny "pocket parks" along Abbott Street that allow public access to the beach. These parks, often with a single park bench in a grassy area above the beach, are lovely, secluded bits of beach paradise (at least, at certain times of the day) right in the middle of town.

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