Hello hello! Here’s a quick round-up of our favorite Calgary spots to kick off coverage of our travels to Alberta and British Columbia, Canada. We went to Calgary primarily to visit friends but were delighted by our adventures there. Given that our hosts are epic chefs, we didn’t eat out a ton. Yet somehow over the course of a few days we managed to sample nearly all of their favorite restaurants. Maybe because they’re epic hosts, too. Or maybe because Calgary is a cattle-ranching town at heart, and most of us don’t really eat beef. Win-win. (One win for us, one for the cows, let’s say.)
Here’s a peek at where we ate and where we played. Browse through the photos and details or head straight to the basics in the recommendations section.
The Coup Vegetarian Restaurant
Man, I loved this place. Great food, great decor, friendly service, full bar. (Beautiful light for iPhone photos, even.) I really think it should go without saying in 2016 that a vegetarian restaurant should understand both how to be a good restaurant and how to be a good vegetarian. And yet. It doesn’t always. The Coup gets it, and that made me happy, as did the giant, salty, briny caper berries in my Queen of Green bowl. Here’s what you’re looking at, with descriptions straight from the menu:
queen of green $17 CDN
zucchini spirals, pan seared portabello mushroom, bbq roasted camelina chickpeas, smoked paprika rolled caper berries on a bed of kale & romaine lettuce tossed in a camelina oil citrus sel de provence dressing, topped with asiago cheese
bun-me, vietnamese inspired sub $17 CDN
hazelnut & spice crusted eggplant, natural pastures cheese, shredded carrot & spiced kimchi loaded on ciabatta with a chimichurri aioli & spicy ginger hot sauce (check your teeth)
Without Papers Pizza
One night delicious pizza takeout magically appeared at the dinner table from Without Papers pizzeria. I hear the vibe in the restaurant is nice, but since we ate at home I can only confirm that the pizza is nice (as they say in London). It’s not cheap — nothing in Calgary seems to be — but it’s good. I recommend trying and failing to split the bill with your hosts if you’re on a tight budget.
Village Ice Cream
If you’ve ever had anything to do with Umami Girl’s travel section (or with children or with life itself), you already know there is always ice cream. In Calgary there is Village Ice Cream where, as you can see, we are all villagers. This is rich, thoughtfully prepared small-batch ice cream in just a few seasonal flavors. (Flavours!) We liked the waffle cones they were shaping right before our eyes, and they also make ice cream sandwiches while you wait. Because clearly they understand what summer is for, as well as — to bring it full circle — life itself.
Telus Spark Science Museum
We’ve been to a truly nerdy number of science museums around the world, and Calgary’s ranks up there with the best of them. Fully interactive, good IMAX theater, fantastic outdoor play space, and I even really liked the lentil and spinach soup I decided to eat at the cafe rather than passing out on the spot. Here are our big kids lighting up a neighborhood with circuits (one of them, apparently, science-ing with her eyes closed like it ain’t no thing).
Here we are walking to the play area. That’s a three-story slide in the background where kids climb rope nets to get to the top.
Bragg Creek and Elbow Falls
I’ll post separately about all the hiking we did in Banff and the surrounding areas, but while in Calgary we went to Elbow Falls to walk around and get our first taste of the beautiful glacial waters to come. (Taste is figurative here, but in some nearby places the water is clean enough that it doesn’t have to be.) The Calgary area experienced major flooding in 2013 that wreaked havoc on the area surrounding Elbow Falls, making it virtually unrecognizable to our friend who hadn’t been back in a few years. But it’s still beautiful and definitely worth the short drive from Calgary.
Where to Eat and Play in Calgary
The Coup: Seasonally inspired vegetarian restaurant that doesn’t skimp on flavor. Full bar with creative cocktails. This place gets how to be a really good restaurant and how to be a vegetarian restaurant, which should go without saying in the modern world but doesn’t.
Without Papers: Good artisan pizzas with creative toppings. Two insider tips: (1) If you enjoy ordering off-menu, try The Flood, a no-sauce pie with cheese, cherry tomatoes and basil. (2) Even though the Shrooom seems like it would clearly pack the biggest vegetarian umami punch on the menu, try the Primavera if that’s what your’e after. (Shrooom is great, too.)
Village Ice Cream: Rich, responsibly sourced, small batch ice cream in interesting seasonal flavors. Three locations in Calgary.
Telus Spark Science Museum: Great place for kids and adults alike to spend a rainy day (though they have an awesome outdoor playground, too — a huge bonus for burning off steam). Every exhibit is hands-on. The little ones did stop-motion animation and built with toothpicks and hot glue guns, impressively negotiating for glue gun time with a clueless dad who was hogging all the toys. The older ones lit a village by completing circuits.
Elbow River Walk: Southwest Calgary is full of parks and great spots to walk. (Probably the rest of the city is, too.) There’s a long trail along the Elbow River that winds through parks and beautiful neighborhoods. Here’s a link to Calgary’s official pathways and bikeways page.
Bragg Creek and Elbow Falls: A 45-minute drive outside of Calgary, this is a beautiful spot for gawking and walking. Hiking is tricky, especially now that the massive flooding in Calgary during 2013 destroyed lots of the surroundings. But it’s definitely still worth a visit.