Summer 2016 is finally here, and if I could stop and pause time for awhile I would definitely do it in July. It’s my favorite month of the year, and I wish I held more than 31 days! I love the hot weather, the thunderstorms, the lazy days, summer camps and get togethers with friends and family. Summer vacation goes by much too fast, so I try and pack as much fun into it as I can. Of course, we’re fortunate that fall on the prairies holds beautiful weather so we enjoy these next few months as much as possible (can you tell I detest winter?)
Having lived in a few different communities in Saskatchewan, we simply judge how long it will take us to get to Calgary each summer based on our current location. When we lived on the West side of the province, it was a 6-hour drive with two small preschoolers. Now that we’re back in Regina, the drive itself is about 8 hours, albeit with a tween and two school age girls now! A flight is also a possibility, depending on if you can catch a great seat-sale but the majority of Saskatchewanians (it’s a word here!) simply pack up the car and head West in the summer months.
I love Calgary. I love the beautiful landscape, the busy city, the bustling restaurants and malls, and the variety of activities for families. We typically take advantage of at least one family destination on each visit, and recently took a trip to Calgary to pack in some family visiting and fun in a long weekend. If you can plan out your stops ahead of time, it’s possible to pack a bunch of family fun into just three days in beautiful Calgary, Alberta.
Here’s what we managed to fit into three days and nights in the city!
Where To Stay:
The beauty of Calgary is that while it’s undoubtedly a huge city, if you understand the basic arteries that carry traffic through the city, it’s not hard to get to your destination if you plan around rush hour. We stayed at a hotel close to some of our family destinations, making it super-easy to get to where we needed to go in minutes! Consider Four Points by Sheraton Calgary West on your next visit!
The Four Points provides the perfect accommodation for anyone experiencing the thrill of major Calgary attractions including the Winsport campus, which includes the Bobsleigh, Zipline, Skyline Luge, and Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. Sitting on the western edge of Calgary, this hotel offers the perfect basecamp to see the best of Calgary, the Bow Valley, and Banff National Park. We loved the suites to fit larger families. Our suite had a separate room with a sofa, table, fridge and TV that my tween claimed as his own.
We had ample room for ourselves and our 2 girls in the bedroom area with two large beds and another TV. With a restaurant on site and McDonald’s across the street (I saw a Starbucks a block over as well), you have everything you need once the day is done and you’re back in your room. If you still have some energy, the pool area is fabulous! Comfortable patio furniture invites mom to relax while dad and the kids swim in the pool and hot tub. The pool itself doesn’t have a shallow area for little ones, so pack a life-jacket for small children; the waterslide is a ton of fun and creates huge splashes at the bottom too!
Where To Eat:
While it’s tempting to check out the chain-restaurants those of us in Saskatchewan don’t have in our province (Olive Garden, anyone?) I love getting recommendations from locals on where the best eats are (kind of like our own personal “You Gotta Eat Here!” tour). On our recent trip, we checked out three restaurants that even some of my local friends hadn’t visited yet themselves. One in particular is a new favorite and we’ll be returning again and again!
Gaucho Brazillian BBQ – If you like meat, I mean really really really like meat, you’ve found your Utopia. With locations in both Canmore and Calgary, this restaurant is known among locals and a must-visit if you have elastic waist pants!
Gaucho is Calgary’s only authentic Churrascaria- Brazilian Barbecue and easy to find as it’s across from Chinook Centre Mall. Gaucho is inspired by the dynamic and rich cultural heritage of the Brazilian cowboy, the time honoured tradition of Churrasco (barbecue) and Rodizio (round-about) service.
Rodizio Style dining is an hours-long experience where your family can visit the bountiful buffet over and over, adding salads and sides to their plates while back at the table your barbecue chef of the evening will come around with massive churrasco-style skewers, each with a tender cut-of-the-day. Meat will be sliced straight to your plate, and it won’t stop till your table turns its card over to display the red side.
We sampled everything from parmesan beef to chicken hearts – yes chicken hearts! While I didn’t sample, I was super-impressed that my 12 year old son and 8 year old daughter followed their dad’s lead and tried them (and liked them!)
Don’t forget about dessert! We loved the churros as part of the Tres Amigos dessert (three delicious desserts on one plate, yum!) and – this is a pretty high honor – my kids declared the churros at Gaucho “the best churros outside Disneyland!”
RE:GRUB is the best burger place in Calgary you’ve never heard of. Our family loves a good burger, this mom loves her french fries, and milkshakes are the life-blood of summer. Combining amazing tastes in all three means we’ve found our new favorite Calgary burger spot.
The restaurant describes their philosophy here: “Mass production and chemicals belong in factories, not in your food. Every element of RE:GRUB is built from scratch, assembled with fresh ingredients, sourced ethically always, and locally whenever possible.” And you know what? It shows. The restaurant, opened last summer at 11th Ave SW in downtown Calgary, had a line-up the entire time we were there.
The Smokey Caesar Salad was delicious, and the perfect appetizer before the big show (the burgers and fries!) Oh, the fries! My son picked Dante’s Peak Fries (with a sunny side egg on top!) and I am craving RE:GRUB Asiago Truffle Fries in the worst way since I’ve returned back home to SK! They were SO GOOD. Like, good enough to pass up a burger and milkshake, wave away the family, and sit in the corner with bowls of them for the afternoon kind of good.
I had the Smoke ‘n Fire Burger seen in the photo higher up, and took the advice of RE:GRUB founder Jose and put the pickled habanero on the side. Holy smoke ‘n fire was that a good plan – it was crazy spicy! If you love heat, you’ve found your burger.
Now about those milkshakes. If you follow @regrub_love on Instgaram, you’ll see a lot of milkshake photos – that’s because customers love taking photos of the delicious and very instagram-worthy creations!
If you don’t have enough room left after the delicious salad, burgers and fries, you can always make a special trip to RE:GRUB just for a milkshake. It’s certainly almost a meal itself!
If you love the view in Calgary and want a restaurant with a great one, consider brunch at Sky 360 at the top of the Calgary Tower. Again, it’s one of those hidden gems that locals themselves may not have visited. With the purchase of an entrée, Sky 360 Restaurant takes care of your elevation fee and entitles you access to the Calgary Tower Observation Deck one floor above the restaurant.
Here’s the fun part – the entire floor of Sky 360 rotates while you dine. But don’t worry, it’s a slow movement and not likely to disrupt your dining or make anyone feel dizzy (unless you’re afraid of heights in which case, don’t sit closest to the window!) For those who love a great view, you’ll enjoy a wonderful view of Calgary and the mountains while you dine on delicious food and drinks.
The SKY 360 menu takes culinary inspiration from international cultures while maintaining a fresh & local ingredient base. Prepared through contemporary French techniques, this menu takes international cuisine to the next level.
While the entree purchase is what gets you the refund on your elevation fee and access to the observation deck, the appetizers were my favorite on our visit. Who wouldn’t be happy with a Doughnut Platter as an appetizer (yes, dessert before your meal!) or an incredible Bruschetta Three Ways – tomato / Kalamata olive tapenade / red pepper with fried polenta chips.
Where To Play:
Calaway Park has been a family-favorite for visitors to the Calgary area for decades. In fact, they’re celebrating 35 years this year! If you’ve never been, now is the time to visit!
Calaway’s one ticket gate admission includes all park attractions, making this an affordable full day of fun for families visiting Calgary.
Calaway is a safe environment where the family can spend their entire day together creating memories. You can have a worry-free adventure with your entire family, enjoying a variety of attractions from thrill rides to 3D theatres, live performances, games, and great food.
There are new rides and attractions including of course, Timber Falls – promising to make you scream, laugh, and yes probably a little splashed too! If you’re lucky, you’ll even capture a photo like this on the ride. Can my 5 year old BE any cuter? Don’t worry, she thoroughly enjoyed herself and asked to go again!
My advice, go in the morning as soon as they open and enjoy little to no lines, then stop for lunch when you’ve exhausted yourself (almost) completely. After lunch, you’ll notice the crowds pick-up a bit but it’s still manageable, especially if the kids have experienced their favorites earlier in the morning.
Something I’ve noticed and appreciate as a parent with kids each 3.5 years apart, the layout of Calaway Park keeps families together. The larger rides are not on one side, with the smaller rides on the other. As you walk, eat, and play games you can also stop for a ride for the 5 year old, while the older two kids visit a ride directly across from it! I love this, not only is it efficient but it helps avoid any complaints when one child has to wait for the other, and no one feels left out.
Skyline Luge Calgary is probably the city’s best-kept secret for family fun. While many from Saskatchewan visit Calgary to take in the Calgary Zoo or Calaway Park and both have been well known for decades, if you mention Skyline Luge to a friend chances are they haven’t heard of it just yet. That’s changing though, thanks to social media and people sharing their visits on Facebook and Twitter! After seeing the huge smiles in family photos on the Skyline Luge track, people are asking how to get there in the comments.
With more than 50 twist and turns and covering a distance of over 1800 metres on a continuous downhill trajectory, the Skyline Luge in Calgary is the longest in the world!
Invented in New Zealand in 1985, Skyline Luge is a unique wheeled gravity ride that provides the rider full control over their descent on a purpose built track. The unique braking and steering system control speed and direction – it’s easy to learn and is suitable for people of all ages and abilities. But most of all – it’s fun, great fun! The simple enjoyment of hurtling down the track in the specially constructed Luge kart as you navigate the twists, turns and bumps never fails to make adults giggle like children. And the children will beam with excitement, before hopping back on the chairlift to the top so they can do it all again. Those under 6 years old (or less than 110cm tall) can even share a ride with Mom or Dad (like our daughter in the photo above), so no-one misses out and the whole family gets to have some safe fun. A note, when I rode with my 5 year old she informed me that I don’t go fast like dad does, apparently.
Skyline Luge Calgary prices are posted on the website, and their slogan is appropriate – once is never enough! So, I would suggest the Family Eight Luge Rides ($64) to make a full morning or afternoon of fun! I also love that Skyline Luge understands not all families are 2 parents, 2 kids. The Family Luge Passes are for 2 adults and unlimited children (or, alternatively to qualify for family pricing you must have at least 1 adult with the kids).
We also checked out the Calgary Tower in downtown Calgary (also featured on The Amazing Race Canada this month!) The Calgary Tower is one of the city’s icons and a great spot to see the city and surrounding countryside. The observation deck is perfect for families and the glass floor provides a truly unique experience for those brave enough to check out the view directly under their shoes.
Amazing, isn’t it? I could only stand there for a moment or two to get some photos, it’s very unsettling yet super cool all at once! Remember that when dining at Sky 360 – your elevation ticket is refunded and applied to your dining cheque with the purchase of an entrée, making the pairing of the restaurant and observation deck a great combination for a family.
Can you believe we packed all that into a long weekend in Calgary? In fact, we also visited family in Okotoks and stopped at my favorite mall – CrossIron Mills – before heading to the airport on Sunday night! I love the city, and we’ll be returning again and again. If you’re interested in planning a visit to Calgary and need more information, tips and ideas, check out visitcalgary.com and follow @TourismCalgary on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram!