Unearth Calgary’s lesser-known treasures in three action-packed days.
By Janine Eva Trotta
Whether you are here for the first time on vacation, or are a third-generation Calgarian, this three-day weekend itinerary will open your eyes to a city that hosts more than rodeos and sports tournaments.
You will not find a steakhouse on this tour and you will not be instructed to visit a major city attraction. These are fun, off-the-beaten-path activities that will stimulate your senses and provide great photo ops.
Day 1, Friday
Meal: Caribbean Chow
AAA Donair & Jamaican Cuisine (5315 – 17 Ave SE) operates on Caribbean time, meaning they open sometime between 9 and 10 am. The atmosphere is fun, filled with Bob Marley memorabilia, and rhythmic island music to get your day groovin’. Try the green banana and mackerel or fried dumplings and plantain.
Activity: Global Fashions and Classic Five-Pin
Shop for flashy dresses or silky scarves at the African Canadian Products store (4010A, 17 Ave SE) or Arabic accessories at Apni Hatti – Sari Store (13, 5315 – 17 Ave SE), two of the many diverse shops that line International Avenue.
Then bowl a game or two at Paradise Lanes (3411 – 17 Ave SE). This is one of the oldest alleys in the city, home to 18 five-pin lanes on original wood floors and offering a computerized bingo bowling game.
Head west on International Avenue to the bright and colourful La Casa Latina (3503 – 17 Ave SE) for authentic Central American music and eats. Try the pork and cheese papusas, a popular El Salvadorian dish, topped with a mildly spicy take on coleslaw.
Activity: Get Salsa-fied
Your mouth is on fire, now for your feet. Experience live Cuban music, zesty tapas and a large contingent of Calgary’s Latino community at Don Quijote Restaurante & Tapas Bar (309 – 2 Ave SW). This is a fantastic spot to split a pitcher of sangria and a plate of paella, and kick off a few merengues. Bands start playing on Fri and Sat nights at 10 pm.
Day 2, Saturday
Activity: Chinatown Stroll
Browse the Dragon City Mall (Centre St and 4 Ave SE) for leg warmers and cat clocks or Hong Kong DVDs. For a light breakfast stop at ABC Bakery & Cafe (112 – 3 Ave SE) and select from sweet and savoury steamed buns and egg tarts. Head down to 2 Ave SW to check out the colourful ceiling of the Chinese Multicultural Centre, modelled after the Temple of Heaven in Beijing with 561 hand-painted dragons. Go down the stairs to the Chinese Artifacts Museum (197 – 1 St SW, open 9 am – 5 pm, adults $4) where a sculpture made of bird feathers and life-size terracotta soldiers reside.
Meal: Ginger “Beef”
Albertans like to crow that ginger beef was invented in this province, and though Veggie House’s (109, 303 Centre St S) doesn’t contain a speck of Alberta beef you might find it to be the best in town anyway. Situated in a no-frills food court in a strip mall, the friendly staff and interesting people-watching opportunity make Veggie House a great spot for lunch.
Activity: Euro-Style Epicurean Shopping
Cross over the Bow River on the Langevin Bridge via Edmonton Trail to Rocky’s Sausage Haus (37 – 4 St NE) where all sausages are made in-house. Pick up a package of “haus” bratwurst, not your standard brat, though they carry that too, along with coils of award-winning kielbasa. Take a scenic walk or motor west along the Bow River and Memorial Drive. Cross over the Bow on the 9 Street Bridge to make your way into the southwest uptown area of the city.
Whether it’s injera from Ethiopia, Afghani flatbread, Polish pickles or cookies from France you’re after, Kalamata Grocery (1421 – 11 St SW) is the best bet. It specializes in Greek and Eastern imports and a variety of olives and feta cheeses. Grab some chocolate-covered plums for an alternate sweet.
Now you are not far from the Swiss-German Rustic Sourdough Bakery (1305 – 17 Ave SW). You may get distracted by the shelves of interesting tapenades and jellies, but keep yourself on track. You came in here for bread and cheese. Try the huge, crusty sourdough-rye stick and a block of the camembert, and don’t leave without a schnitzel. The owner is a second-generation baker and has his recipes nailed down to an umlaut.
Meal: Picnic Riverside
You have just collected everything you will need for a lazy-day dinner in the park. Calgary has many to choose from, buttoday go to Sandy Beach, located east of North Glenmore in the Elbow River Valley. Though there isn’t really a beach, more of a pebbly shore, the scenery is lovely. There are both open-air picnic areas with fire pits and covered areas with barbecues, in case the weather is not cooperative. Toast up your sausages and enjoy the fact that food never tastes better than when outdoors.
Activity: Blues and Cues
A sordid reputation precedes the Shamrock Hotel (2101 – 11 St SE), but don’t let the cover deceive you as to what lies inside this dim-lit billiard lounge andlive music venue. Saturday nights host dancy blues, jazz, funk and old school rock bands that make one feel as though they’ve stumbled into a West Hollywood hole-in-the-wall.
Day 3, Sunday
Meal: Royal Canadian Brunch
Start the day off right with the banana buttermilk pancakes served at the Wildernest Dream Café (1309 – 9 Ave SE). Accompanied by B.C.’s Summerland blueberry syrup, these thick, fritter-like cakes won’t disappoint. Wash it down with French pressed coffee, that is roasted locally.
Activity: Digging for Gold
Peruse Inglewood’s many specialty boutiques and design stores for collectibles and furniture made out of recycled goods. Enjoy the dazzling display window of Susie Q’s Beads, Buttons and Bijoux (1401 – 9 Ave SE) and their large selection of upscale and one-of-a-kind designer charms, find distinctive, authentic souvenirs and Aboriginal art pieces at the Moonstone Creation Gallery and Gift Shop (1416 – 9 Ave SE), or spoil yourself with a beautiful, vintage glass vase at Circa Vintage Art Glass (1224 – 9 Ave SE).
Gander over the MacDonald Bridge to visit what remains of the Rundle Ruins of Victoria Park. These blocks mark the site of Calgary’s earliest general hospital and one of the first major projects to be undertaken by the city in sandstone.
Activity: Rummage and Stock
A weekend in Calgary is never complete without a trip to Ramsay’s Crossroads Market
(1235 – 26 Ave SE). Isles are lined with vendors toting everything from hand-knit winter wear to maple syrup and sugar cones du Quebec. Load up on Ukrainian cake, Turkish fry bread, local jerky or Hungarian salami sliced fresh.
Meal: India meets Italy
This is your last night in Calgary, and you’ve had a long three days and perhaps a taste for curry? Instead of dipping naan bread in butter chicken, eat it together baked with cheese in a pizza. Prime Tandoori House’s (808 Edmonton Tr NE) innovation is a rich, gooey indulgence that miraculously stays crisp and crunchy, and is a perfect conclusion to one week’s end and another’s beginning. Have it delivered to your hotel.