sweet SUMMER PLAYGROUND
Nelson’s bohemian mountain culture beckons big-city folks
NELSON, B.C. — Almost every mountain town has its charm, but it’s hard to find one that beats Nelson’s combo of gritty history, groovy laid-back main-street vibe and adrenalin-rush adventures right out the back door.
The twisty road trip on Highway 3 from Alberta through the southeast of British Columbia is worth racking up those extra klicks on your car because you gain an extra hour of Nelson time.
Though Nelson is a treat in any season, the longer summer days are a favourite. The days seem to shimmer and shine a light on why people pine to move, holiday or retire to this town of around 10,000 — a seemingly just-right number that hasn’t budged much in 100 years.
This idyllic West Kootenays playground offers looking-glass lakes, glaciers in the Selkirk Mountain range, an entrepreneurial artsy community with shops to match, cool restaurants and cafes — even a beach on its front doorstep.
head to Bak e r Street
When I roll into town, the first thing I do after checking in at my favourite hotel, The Hume, is head for Nelson’s main drag, Baker Street, to scope out the unique, locally owned shops.
A slight side trip to Oso Negro on Ward Street provides a hearty cuppa caffeine for the day ahead. Then I like to check out some my favourite local shops, Mountain Baby (cool outdoor gear for friends’ kids and grandkids), Cartolina for vintage-y papers, cards, old maps and canisters — pretty things you might not need but just want to have.
Heritage-that’s-hip seems to be the trend with other like-minded shops, such as Sanderella’s (which has another store in nearby New Denver) and Maison. You’re also bound to come upon several sundappled patios, such as Cantina del Centro, while you explore.
Most of the shopping pleasure comes from stumbling upon surprise downtown finds. This year you can bring your dog, the first year Baker Street has been canine-friendly, a decision by the new municipal council, says Dianna Ducs, of the Nelson Kootenay Lake Tourism office.
Nelson has more restaurants per capita than San Francisco or Manhattan, most locally owned and operated. Our favourites include Bebo for its patio; All Season Cafe for great service, a romantic patio and fresh seafood; and Rel-ish for great burgers and cocktails.
In all, there are currently 72 restaurants between Nelson and Kaslo, B.C. — another cool mountain town 45 minutes north on the western shore of Kootenay Lake.
“The restaurant scene is constantly changing,” unusual for a town of this size, says Ducs. People are pretty excited about Empire — a new cafe opening in July at the Adventure Hotel on Vernon Street with a spectacular glass-atrium-style patio area, she says.
New and notable
Hall Street is undergoing major changes through a beautification project, which will widen the sidewalks, add more trees and decrease the hill incline to make it more pedestrian-friendly. Nelson Commons is a new development also happening on Vernon Street, says Ducs.
The multi-use building will have residential units as well as a Kootenay Co-op, set to open this summer. Another tenant is BC Wine Guys, which sells a selection of wines from around the province.
Few mountain towns can boast a beach within walking distance of its main street. After an afternoon of shopping, head to Rotary Lakeside Park to relax or swim in the shadow of Nelson’s orange bridge.
Ducs says this year people will be able to rent standup paddleboards and kayaks from the newly-opened Nelson Paddleboard and Kayak Company, located at the waterfront Prestige Hotel.
Adventures on the edge of town
Two attractions, one new and another just a few years old, will appeal to thrill-seekers or families looking for outdoor adventures while in Nelson. A local family that has built zip line parks around the world will open Kokanee Mountain Zipline on July 1 at Kokanee Creek Provincial Park. The park also has 140 campsites. It will offer a variety of tours over six kilometres of ziplines, ranging in length from 100 metres to 650 metres. They zigzag over rocks, creeks and forest. Children weighing more than 22 kilograms (50 pounds) are welcome.
Nearby, Cody Caves reopened about three years ago.
“People love going there,” says Ducs, adding it’s popular among families for special occasions. There are a variety of easy to hard core spelunking experiences.
“If you’re scared, you can just go for an hour on a guided tour and learn about the stalagmites, stalactites and the natural history of the area,” says Ducs.