Since 1990, the commuter town of Okotoks has experienced exponential population growth, and become home to more young, affluent professionals than anywhere else in Alberta. For the visitor, there are one-of-a-kind restaurants, character cafés, The Big Rock, and a mix of cosmopolitan and small town charm.
You’d be forgiven for driving past Divine, a locavore restaurant on Okotoks’ main drag. This understated gem specializes in locally sourced, “slow” cuisine. You can try dishes like oven-roasted chicken with red wine jus, braised bison shoulder, AAA Alberta beef strip loin, or veggie options such as homemade butternut squash & sage ravioli. The desserts are also worth a taste, especially their chocolate pecan pie.
Okotoks’ historic main drag—Elizabeth Street—is home to a collection of cafés, each with a distinct character. Home Ground Coffee & Roasting House is located in a former home, and feels like Grandma opened a café in her living room (94 Elizabeth St). A fixture on the Calgary café scene, Heartland Cafe recently opened a new location in Okotoks; this is the place to go if you want a homemade snack (46 McRae St). Tribal Connection Market is a café and fair trade store, where you sip your coffee surrounded by jewellery, musical instruments, statues, crystals and exotic home décor (41 McRae St).
Chinook Honey Company is well known in Calgary as the source for local honey products. Their apiary is just outside Okotoks, and sells plain or flavoured honey, beeswax candles, honey pots, honey soap, honey tea, body products, apitherapy and mead, an ancient alcoholic beverage made from honey. You can also book a group tour or drop by for an “informative visit” with the owners (off Hwy 7, southwest of Okotoks).
Bistro Provence is a cozy, 20-seat restaurant in the old post office, serving casual French cuisine. Chef Nicolas Desinai hails from Brittany, and cooks up classics such as Magret duck, escargot in garlic butter and frog legs on brioche. There are also Canadian classics, including grilled Alberta rib eye. Stop by at midday and take advantage of their lunch special: a baguette sandwich, soup and coffee for $9.50.
THE BIG ROCK
Okotoks takes its name from this 9-m (30-ft.) high, 16,500-ton boulder: in Blackfoot—a local Aboriginal language—“okatoks” means “rock”. The Big Rock came from Jasper, but hitched a ride on a glacier 10,000 years ago and today is the world’s largest glacial erratic. You can visit this imposing rock on the outskirts of town, sitting on picturesque stretch of prairie (off Hwy 7, 10 km southwest of Okotoks).
Elizabeth Street is home to a handful of home décor stores, which faithfully reflect Okotoks’ mix of rural and urban. Fresh Country would be right at home in Calgary’s Design District, offering solid wood furniture, leather upholstery and artwork (22 Elizabeth St). Finishing Touches has more of a small town country charm (15 McRae St), while Celadonna specializes in high-end and specialty kitchenware (22 North Railway St).
Okotoks is located about 45 km from downtown Calgary. Take Deerfoot Tr (Hwy 2) south and turn off at the exit to Hwy 2A.