A Day of Dining in Nelson, BC

40: According to some sources, that’s the number of dining options here in Nelson, British Columbia. We’ve only got 10,000 people who call this place home, which means for every 250 people, there’s a place to grab something to eat. Compare that to New York City’s 24,000 restaurants serving its 8.4 million citizens; that stacks up to one restaurant for every 365 people. You know what that means?

Nelson is better at food than New York City. Bold claim for this small Kootenay town situated on the West Arm of Kootenay Lake and in the heart of the Selkirk Mountains? Well, let’s at least agree that per capita, Nelson sure does provide options. If you’re visiting, you might appreciate a little guidance in getting great grub. Good thing you stopped by — I like to eat and I’m about to write about it.

Let’s get to it: where to get breakfast, lunch, and dinner in Nelson. Feel free to partake in a full day of dining or spread these out over your stay.

Breakfast 

The Bent Fork: Open 7:00 am – 3:00 pm (most of the time). Cash or debit only. 318 Anderson Street

The entrance of The Bent Fork in Nelson, BC with its big sign hanging over the front steps which people are walking up to go into the red restaurant.

Entrance to The Bent Fork in Nelson, BC.

If you’re looking for Nelson in a nutshell, it’s served up at Bent Fork. This tiny place is kitschy, the staff doesn’t put on pretensions and the food is real. I guarantee you’ll have to wait for a table on weekends — the seating area fits within what used to be the front room of a converted house — and once you sit down, you’ll have to wait again for your food. The staff will tell you up front this isn’t a “fast food” joint. This place is about the experience, both for your eyes and your mouth.

There are variations on eggs benedict for whatever mood you’re in (unless you’re not in the mood for eggs), homemade jam and their home fries are enough to fill you up alone — big, generous hunks of sizzling potatoes seasoned and sauteed in what you imagine must be a cast iron skillet from your grandmother’s day.

A table at The Bent Fork in Nelson, BC filled with two plates (one piled with toast and homemade jam and the other with eggs benedict, home fries and bacon).

Breakfast is worth the wait at The Bent Fork in Nelson, BC.

While you’re waiting for that food to be served up, cast your eyes about. You can’t resist doing it, anyway; the place is littered with memorabilia from any decade but this one. A two-piece killer whale salt and pepper shaker hugged up to a ceramic kitten, a classic diner-style sugar dispenser and a $20 culture magazine from Dubai at our table and conversations just as eclectic as the interior, and indeed, Nelson itself. Play a round of cards until your food comes, eat up, then lean back and declare that it was worth the wait — because it is.

In a hurry alternative: Oso Cafe, a block uphill from Baker Street, is just as busy (and eclectic, at least as people watching goes), but you take your order at the counter and much of the food is already prepared so you can be in and out in ten minutes or less. Bonus: this place is regionally famous for its coffee.

Lunch

Smokehouse BBQ: 11:00 am – 8:00 pm, closed Sunday. 301 Victoria Street.

Smokewood BBQ's Entrance Menu posted on a wall.

Smokewood BBQ’s Entrance Menu.

Though I’m French Canadian by heritage, I’m a United States southerner by birth, which means I’m pretty proud of our BBQ. In fact, I think barbeque sauce runs through any southerner’s veins (though mine is laced with maple syrup from my Quebecois family).

It didn’t take long before I found Smokehouse BBQ. The smell permeates the air; anyone walking in the downtown area inevitably comes in contact with its smoky sweetness. So, in the most patriotic thing I could think to do, I walked in those doors on July 4th and gave way to my southern patriotic side.

Smokewood’s walls are plastered with plywood and corrugated steel and photos of the owner barbecuing in the south. A giant menu covers the entry as you walk in. After you’ve made your selection from things like pulled pork sandwiches or the BBQ box, you order from the window and take your pick of checkered cloth-covered tables. Condiments, like extra sauce, are in squeeze bottles and wet towelettes take the place of paper napkins. I was thrilled. It’s exactly how we do it in the south.

A real southern BBQ box full of mac and cheese and meat on top of a checkered tablecloth at Smokewood BBQ.

Real Southern BBQ in this jam-packed box from Smokewood BBQ.

My delight was bursting when my order came up (the BBQ box) and I opened the lid — baked mac and cheese (they allowed me to sub out the baked beans), coleslaw, corn bread and mounds of different types of meat, some slathered in the restaurant’s house sauce, some hickory smoked and everything looking just like home. It was enough for two, but there was no way I was sharing, even if it meant taking it home for later. 

The southern-style generosity spilled over from the portions to the owners, who took time to talk with us and share my enthusiasm for southern food. My box was only a third empty by the time I left, but my smile was as full as my stomach.

Dinner

Rel-ish Bistro:  11:00 am – 10:00 pm. 301 Baker Street.

A toy chef holding a "Welcome" chalkboard on top of the bar at the entrance of Rel-ish Bistro in Nelson, BC.

A warm welcome at the entrance of Rel-ish Bistro in Nelson, BC.

We’ve gone casual all day, now it’s time to step it up a notch. In Nelson, that means getting out of your muddy bike shorts and putting on a pair of clean shoes and jeans. If you can handle that, you’ll be rewarded for all the hard playing you’ve done all day (in between all this eating, of course).

Rel-ish has a coziness with its modern edges. For example, while the open kitchen is decked in stainless steel and the restaurant is laid out linearly, wooden and brick elements warm up the interior and large curved leather seats soften some the lines.

The interior wood tables set against windows at the dimly lit Rel-ish Bistro in Nelson, BC.

Interior dining at Rel-ish. In the summer, diners can also make use of the patio.

The food plays on its own juxtapositions, taking classics and twisting them with creativity. The Aunt May burger shows off Rel-ish’s talent for this; the burger itself is hearty but with the addition of brie and apple butter, it rises above the everyday. Thin fries, in their golden crispness, are piled to the side of the main course. If you don’t hurry, your dinner date will steal a few from your plate — they’re too good to let sit idly.

Some of the flavours here are uniquely Kootenay. Rel-ish strives to use as many locally-grown ingredients as possible and it’s noticeable when you bite into the freshness of the fare. And while this might be on the slightly upscale end of the town’s scale, don’t think you’ll get miniature dishes. Rel-ish’s portions will appease any hard-charging mountain biker, which is good, because Nelson claims a lot of ‘em.

There are many great places to add to this list — what’s one of your Nelson dining favourites? 

Related links: 
Dining in Nelson, British Columbia

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Your top places to experience the ocean in BC

Where is your favourite place to experience the ocean in BC?

BC is blessed with 25,725 kilometres (15,984 miles) of stunning coastline, from soft sandy beaches to dramatic, rainforest-draped cliffs descending straight into the ocean. Our oceans offer outstanding opportunities for wildlife viewing, with whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions and otters in abundance. The fishing off the coast of BC is the stuff anglers’ dreams are made of, and our waters are a mecca for cold-water divers. Kayaking and boating in remote areas full of waterfalls and coastal hot springs makes for an unforgettable experience. We recently asked our Facebook fans for their favourite place to experience the magic of BC’s oceans, and here are their top five:

5. Victoria

Ocean waves hitting the rocky shore at Dallas Road in Victoria with the Olympic Mountains in the background.

Dallas Road, Victoria. Photo: Stewart Butterfield via Flickr

In the number five spot are the many local beaches in and around BC’s capital city. Victoria beaches run the gamut from sandy coves to rocky bluffs, and all offer a scenic escape from the city. In addition to its many beaches, this gorgeous oceanfront city offers many ways to get out on the water: join a whale watching tour right from the bustling Inner Harbour, take a stroll along iconic Dallas Road, kayak in Victoria’s calm, sheltered waters, or take a guided sightseeing trip on a harbour ferry for a unique tour of the city.

4. Vancouver

A close up view of runners, bikers and walkers enjoying the Stanley Park Seawall along Vancouver's coast on a sunny, blue skied day.

Stanley Park Seawall, Vancouver. Photo: InSapphoWeTrust via Flickr

Next on the list: Vancouver. Like Victoria, Vancouver offers a ton of ways to take advantage of the city’s stunning coastal location, from whale watching excursions to kayaking to harbour tours. Vancouver’s kilometres of sandy beaches become a way of life in the summer, and it is not uncommon to see people commuting to work via harbour ferry. One popular Vancouver spot to enjoy the ocean mentioned in our Facebook poll is from the magnificent Stanley Park Seawall.

3. Johnstone Strait

Two kayakers in a double kayak experiencing a very close encounter with a whale on the surface of the water.

Kayakers having a close encounter with a whale in Johnstone Strait. Photo: Winky via Flickr

Our fans’ number three choice, this well known spot off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island is renowned as one of the top places on the planet to view Orcas. Commercial whale watching tours leaving from Telegraph Cove, Port McNeill and Alert Bay take you straight to the action, and many have on-board naturalists to enhance your trip. Our fans mentioned the incredible experience of kayaking with the Orcas as one of the area’s major draws.

 2. Haida Gwaii

A person standing on a rock looking out into the vast ocean at Haida Gwaii with a cloudy sky above.

Haida Gwaii. Photo by Destination BC

In at number two is Haida Gwaii, an archipelago off the coast of Northern BC known for its pristine natural environment and the ancient culture of the Haida First Nation. The waters surrounding these revered islands are teeming with marine life. Visitors to the islands experience incredible fishing, unforgettable kayaking along a coastline covered in lush rainforest, and strolling along beautiful beaches that go on forever.

1. Tofino/Ucluelet

A person's silhouette standing on the smooth beach in Tofino with the ocean waves crashing in the foreground and sunshine reflecting off of the wet sand.

Tofino. Photo by Bernard McManus via Flickr.

Our fans’ number one choice is the always popular Tofino and its close neighbour Ucluelet, located on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The area comes alive in the summer with people enjoying the ocean in a variety of ways: surfing, whale watching (this is a great place to see thousands of grey whales migrating), kayaking, fishing and beach combing. Long Beach, located between the two communities, was noted by Facebook fans as a place not to be missed. In the winter, these same picturesque beaches are a popular storm-watching destination.

Did we miss one of your favourites? Share in the comments below!

Related links:
Water Activities in British Columbia

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Places to Bird Watch in Osoyoos

After a winter of skiing, snowshoeing and enjoying fresh mountain air, springtime in British Columbia’s South Okanagan is a refreshing change. The smell of fruit blossoms and sounds of birds make walking around the picturesque town of Osoyoos so enjoyable, and the valley bottom offers a plethora of wildlife to view.  Many endangered bird species are found in eco-sensitive areas, and Osyoos is fortunate to have several protected areas for bird viewing. Here are five places for great bird watching, courtesy of the staff at the British Columbia Visitor Centre @ Osoyoos.

Osoyoos Desert Centre

Humingbird at Osoyoos Desert Centre

Hummingbird at Osoyoos Desert Centre. Photo: Kevin Lam via Flickr

The Osyoos Desert Centre has 27 ha (67 ac) dedicated to maintaining the desert in its natural state, including a 1.5-km (1-mi) boardwalk where visitors can read about or take a guided tour to learn about the creatures of the desert. This boardwalk can be accessed by a 4-km (2.5-mi) trail that starts from the British Columbia Visitor Centre @ Osoyoos. This trail follows the old irrigation canal that, decades ago, was used to supply water to the orchards in the area. When visiting the centre, keep an eye out for hummingbirds, Western and Mountain bluebirds, quail, Golden eagles, and Red-tailed hawks. It’s best to visit in the morning, as it gets very hot in the afternoon and most creatures are savvy enough to hide from the scorching sun and heat during the day.

Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre

The outside walls of the Nk'Mip Desert Cultural Centre with the desert hills in the background and blue skies above.

Nk`Mip Desert Cultural Centre. Photo: Amber Strocel via Flickr

The Nk’mip Desert Cultural Centre offers another guided or self-guided walk that focuses on the history of how First Nations people once used the desert land. The natural grasslands of the desert offer several birds species to watch for including White-throated swift, Brewer’s sparrow, Lark sparrow and Say’s phoebe. There is even a chance to see a black-throated sparrow, though they are rare in this area. This walk is unique in that it’s one of the few areas where you can see the terrain in its natural state. The trail is constructed in such a manner that no buildings are visible as you enjoy the serenity of the desert.

Haynes Point Provincial Park

Haynes Point Provincial Park, where you can see and hear the common loon, is located 2 km (1.25 mi) south of Osoyoos.  White-throated swifts, canyon wrens, great-horned owls and yellow-headed and red-winged blackbirds can be viewed from look-out towers and viewing benches located along the trail.  The trail is gravel, but in places there are footbridges & raised boardwalk sections over the lower lying areas.  Haynes Point Provincial Park is dog-friendly; however, they ask that you keep your four-legged friend out of the wetland trail area.  An information kiosk is located at the beginning of the trail and provides excellent information and much appreciated shade.  If you decide to walk the length of Haynes Point (approximately a 45-minute walk), you can stop at a designated “dog swimming area”, where everyone can cool off and likely spot a wood duck paddling by.

Osoyoos Oxbows

The Osoyoos Oxbows at Road 22 is a Riparian area. The wetlands are adjacent to a marsh and meadow and there are many birds in the area. An information kiosk and parking area is found at the Okanagan River Bridge. If you hike north, you’ll follow the river channel for 18 km (11 mi) to McAlpine Bridge north of Oliver. Walking south, you can access the Oxbows and see many birds, including Cinnamon teal, Willow flycatcher, Yellow-breasted chat and Grosbeak. You may be fortunate enough to see a nesting Osprey on the bridge, just above your head.  Various species of owls can be found in the Oxbow area, and it’s adjacent to the South Okanagan Rehabilitation Centre for Owls (SORCO) and within walking distance from Burrowing Owl Estate Winery, where wine tastings are by donation to SORCO.

Vaseaux Lake Wildlife Centre

Vaseaux Lake in Oliver with grasslands on either side of the lake, rolling hills in the background and blue skies with white wispy clouds above.

Vaseaux Lake in Oliver. Photo: Tim Buss via Flickr

Vaseaux Lake Wildlife Centre is located on Highway 97 between Oliver and Okanagan Falls.  Birds can be viewed from a 400-m (1,300-ft) boardwalk along the lakeshore to an observation tower and blind.  Cliff birds can be viewed across the highway from McIntyre Creek Road.  This is probably one of the most popular birder trails in the area.  In the spring, you have the chance to see Western meadowlark, Red-naped sapsucker, swallows, bluebirds, woodpeckers and more.  Driving past the area on the highway, Trumpeter swans are sometimes seen near the lily-pads, just a stones-throw away from the highway and parking lot! Vaseaux Lake has such an abundance of birds that they have a banding station there. Keep an eye out for California Bighorn Sheep which frequent the bluffs nearby. The birding trails are host to so many other wetland creatures, including the painted turtles. They can be seen sunning themselves on a log, and it’s such a treat to see so many all at the same time. 

Meadowlark Nature Festival

The Meadowlark Nature Festival held annually in mid-May is a birder’s dream.  Visitors “flock” to the area for this popular five-day, multi-disciplenary event, featuring more than 70 guided tours, including many bird tours, that take participants from Canada’s unique desert in the South Okanagan to the alpine meadows high above the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys. Be sure to bring sturdy hiking boots, check the difficulty level of the hikes in advance, and for everyone’s enjoyment, please leave your dog at home.

Related links:
Bird watching in Osoyoos, British Columbia

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People of the Wild: Mike Willie

People of the Wild is a blog series profiling residents of British Columbia who have one thing in common: their love for exploring the BC wild. This week we’re featuring Mike Willie, a member of the Musgamakw Dzawada’enuxw First Nation who resides in Kingcome Inlet, in the Great Bear Rainforest. Mike works in cultural tourism and is a passionate speaker and educator involved in aboriginal language and cultural revitalization.

Where do you live in BC?

My name is Mike Willie and my First Nations name is T’ɬalis. My Mom is First Nations and I grew up with her in Kingcome Inlet, in the Great Bear Rainforest. Kingcome is a really remote place. It’s about sixty-five nautical miles from the nearest town by water and the population is about eighty people. It was an awesome place to grow up and call home. As kids we were allowed to play outside in the forest or down by the beach. We did a lot of hunting and fishing for sustenance, which you can still do there to this day. We had a school that went up until grade seven and then you had to move out for high school.

I have my own aboriginal tourism and water taxi business called Sea Wolf Adventures. It is based on reconnecting to our land and language through the work of culture revitalization. The foundation of who we are is the territory and land that we come from. Our language comes from the land and is only a reflection of our surroundings, so the inspiration for my company was to get out there into the natural surroundings.

Photo: Mike Willie

Why do you call BC home?

That’s a funny question. I’ve been here my whole life and my ancestors have been here forever, or for thousands of years at least. The number keeps creeping back as archaeology keeps discovering or uncovering new findings. And our origin stories bring us back to the Kingcome Glacier.

I call BC home because of my First Nations ancestry and also because I love the nature. We have supernatural things within our own First Nations culture, but I believe BC is supernatural in itself. We have the life and energies of the forest and water. My culture and my love of nature are two aspects that are blended for me because First Nations culture is really based on all of that. When we have our ceremonies, it’s all linked and tied in to the energies from the forest and land.

Our culture is entrenched in nature and is a reflection of our surroundings. I recently had my first potlatch, so I’m now a hereditary chief from my nation. We dramatized all of our stories and we sang a lot of our songs. The best way to explain it is that all of our songs are a record of past events that happened thousands of years ago. The beauty of oral tradition is to be able to remember that way and to pass on knowledge through stories, songs, and dances.

Potlatch Ceremony. Photo: John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail via Mike Willie

The potlatch went really well. Greenpeace International and Greenpeace Canada were there as well and we rekindled a relationship that was started in the 70s with them between our hereditary chiefs of the Kwakwaka’wakw. It kind of died out for a while so we just wanted to re-spark it and have that relationship.

How does being out in nature make you feel?

It touches on all aspects. There’s an essence of cleansing and of being cleansed when you’re out in the forest and the fresh air. After a nice rainy day in the Great Bear Rainforest, once the rain stops everything becomes crystal clear to me. You see clearly and very plainly. We actually have a native word for that – we call it “awal”.

We also have a practice of going into the forest if you want to find direction in your life, or if you’re having a hard time or you need some kind of answer. We go out into the forest and fast for four days without food and very minimal water. That’s where you collect your thoughts because you’re by yourself and you are free from distractions. The animal life around, the birds and wolves and sometimes bears, becomes a challenge and becomes part of it. But you come out of the forest knowing a direction and knowing there’s an answer for your questions. That was developed over thousands of years with our people and it worked for me – I’ve been three times now.

Grizzly Bears. Photo: Mike Willie

On your typical day out, in the BC wild, what do you normally bring with you?

When I’m in the forest I bring some rope, a fold up hacksaw, and a headlamp. I like my Icebreaker merino wool, so I pack a spare shirt. I also have my Canon G16 camera and if we’re going for a long walk then I bring a CamelBak and hydration bags. It’s pretty much the same thing if I’m out on the boat. It’s always safety first so I bring lots of food and water as well as life gear, safety gear, and floaters.

Describe your perfect day in BC.

My answer to this is intertwined with my answer for how nature makes me feel. A perfect day for me has those moments after it rains and it clears. That’s one part. Another example is if I’m on the water in my boat and I come across some humpback whales. It’s hard for me to explain but the only words that come to mind to describe that experience are family, closeness, and connection. My name that I gave you, T’ɬalis, is actually a whale name. We have a story that goes back thousands of years about our encounter with the whales.

Another aspect of a perfect day is being in the forest. The air is different once you’re in the forest among the greenery. I’m an educator now, and from a research point they say that it’s actually great for development to get out there in the forest. I believe that’s why people find that serenity and the pulling and calling from the forest. We all seem to have that response to nature in common.

Photo: Mike Willie

The ability to reconnect by getting back to nature is a simple concept if you think about it. Our people developed these systems and processes for our people to really clear their minds and become stronger. Bathing in ice-cold water was another strengthening and revitalizing technique. It’s interesting to see sports teams do that now when we’ve done that for thousands of years and it’s reflected in our stories. It’s pretty amazing how things are starting to come up through science and research but they’re simply from nature and we’ve had them all along.

What are three things that you would suggest that a new traveller to BC not miss this year?

I would definitely recommend they check out Kingcome Inlet where I grew up. The way of living up there blows people away. When you are there you experience a unique solitude and it almost seems like you are going back in time. Last year was the first year of bringing travellers there. To get there you head up on a bigger boat like a water taxi, but then you’ve got to get in a little boat and head about seven miles (11km) up the Kingcome River to get to our village. When I was younger, that little boat was a dugout canoe with a outboard motor on it. When you get to our village it is surrounded by towering mountains, so it’s quite the breathtaking site.

Secondly, I would say go visit Gilford Island. It’s our sister village and there’s lots of history there. They have the oldest standing ceremonial longhouse in Canada. It was put up in 1887, and it’s quite significant and still in use. My Uncle Don just renovated it and reinforced the structure last year. So if people want history, there is a lot of history in the Great Bear Rainforest.

Lastly, I would definitely get out on the water. Anywhere works, but an accessible example might be from the northern tip of Vancouver Island. It’s amazing and easy to connect with the marine life. You can also go to Port McNeill or Telegraph Cove, or Alert Bay to head out on day trips.

What would you consider to be BC’s best-kept secret?

Kingcome Inlet! In Kingcome we have the second oldest longhouse. It is almost a hundred years old.

Any last words of advice to someone thinking about travelling to BC?

Be prepared. Be prepared for supernatural British Columbia. And don’t forget to look up. That’s what I tell all my family and friends. If you’re in and around mountainous areas, don’t forget to look up. In our ways the mountains are protectors, so pay tribute just by looking up. And don’t forget to put your feet in our rivers. I’m all about washing away negativity and our rivers are the way to do it.

People of the Wild: Mike Willie

Follow along with Mike’s adventures here.

Discover more of BC’s People of the Wild here and here.

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