It's hard to beat Penticton's location. With Okanagan Lake lapping at the northern edge of town, Lake Skaha's beaches forming the town's southern boundary, and the Okanagan River cutting between the two, Penticton has the feel of a real oasis. Hemmed in by lakes and desert valley walls, Penticton is pleasantly compact and in summer fairly hums with activity. As elsewhere in the Okanagan Valley, watersports are the main preoccupation, but Penticton also has an air of gentility that suggests there's a little more going on than just jet-skiing.
The old commercial center is along Main Street toward the north end of town; there's also a lot of activity along Lakeshore Drive, the boulevard that parallels the beachfront of Okanagan Lake. Lined with hotels and restaurants on one side, clogged with sun worshipers on the other, Lakeshore Drive is a very busy place in summer.
Right on the lakefront is the SS Sicamous, a stern-wheeler that plied the waters of Okanagan Lake from 1914 to 1935. Now preserved as a museum, it's beached in the sand, and currently houses a scale model of the historic Kettle Valley Railway. It's open in summer daily from 9am to 9pm, the rest of the year Monday through Friday from 9am to 4pm.
Even if you're not into sunbathing, a saunter along the beachfront promenade is called for. Beach volleyball, sand castles, and a drinks kiosk in the shape of a giant peach are just the beginning of what you'll encounter along this long, broad strand: It's prime people-watching territory.
At the eastern end of the beachfront is the Art Gallery of the South Okanagan, 199 Front St. (tel. 250/493-2928), a showcase for local artists. The gift shop is a good spot to pick up a souvenir. Just beyond the gallery is the Marina on Lake Okanagan (tel. 250/770-2000), where you can rent all manner of watercraft.
The beach along Skaha Lake is usually more laid-back than the Okanagan lakefront. The relatively more secluded nature of this beach, plus a large water park for the kids, makes it a good destination for families. Skaha Lake Marina (tel. 250/492-7368) is at the east edge of the beach.
Touring The Wineries
The two main wine-producing areas near Penticton are along the west lake slopes near Summerland, and north along the east slopes of Okanagan Lake near the community of Naramata, one of the first winegrowing regions in British Columbia.
To begin your explorations, follow Upper Bench Road from Penticton, which turns into Naramata Road and leads to Naramata, 14km (8 3/4 miles) north. La Frenz Winery, 740 Naramata Rd. (tel. 250/492-6690; www.lafrenzwinery.com), makes excellent small-lot bottlings of semillon, viognier, and merlot.
Poplar Grove Winery, 1060 Poplar Grove Rd. (tel. 250/493-9463; www.poplargrove.ca), produces a top-notch claret-style wine; try the cabernet franc if it's available -- it's a wonderful wine that sells out every year. Poplar Grove is building a new winery and tasting room on the Naramata Bench; call ahead for hours and opening dates.
Hillside Estate, 1350 Naramata Rd. (tel. 250/493-6274; www.hillsideestate.com), is open daily (call ahead in midwinter). From Easter weekend until the Okanagan Wine Festival in October, it operates the Barrel Room Bistro, a patio restaurant at the winery, open for lunch daily. It opens for dinner on weekends starting May 1, and opens nightly for dinners in mid-June.
Lake Breeze Vineyards, 930 Sammet Rd. (tel. 250/496-5659; www.lakebreeze.ca), opens its tasting room weekends in April and daily from May 1 through October from 10am to 5pm. Its restaurant, The Patio, is open for lunch from May 1 to early October.
North of Penticton along Hwy. 97 near Summerville is the other wine-producing area. Sumac Ridge Estate Winery, 17403 Hwy. 97 (tel. 250/494-0451; www.sumacridge.com), offers tastings daily; the Burgundy-style wines are excellent. Be sure to also try to their sparkling wines, which include both traditional and red (Shiraz-based) bubblies. Besides operating a shop and tasting room open daily year-round, the winery runs the fine Cellar Door Bistro.
Located 43km (27 miles) north of Penticton, the Hainle Vineyards Estate Winery, 5355 Trepanier Bench Rd. (tel. 250/767-2525; www.hainle.com), was the first Okanagan winery to produce ice wine. The wine shop is open mid-April through October, and weekdays only the rest of the year, for tasting.
The Kettle Valley Steam Railway
The Kettle Valley Railway, which was completed in 1914 to link coastal communities to the burgeoning mining camps in Kettle River valley, became one of the Okanagan Valley's top draws after much of it was converted into a rails-to-trails pathway for hikers and mountain bikers called the Kettle Valley Rail Trail. Unfortunately, the massive forest fires of 2003 burned a number of the historic wooden trestles that bridged the route through steep Myra Canyon, closing it for 4 years. The trestles have been rebuilt, and in 2008 this part of the route reopened to hikers and bikers.
One section of the Kettle Valley Railway, however, is in use by original steam trains. The Kettle Valley Railway Society, 18404 Bathville Rd., Summerland (tel. 877/494-8424 in B.C., or 250/494-8422; www.kettlevalleyrail.org), offers a 2-hour journey on a 10km (6 1/4-mile) section of the original track west of Summerland, 16km (10 miles) north of Penticton. The first Thursday in July to Labour Day, the train runs Thursday through Monday at 10:30am and 1:30pm, departing from the Prairie Valley Station off Bathville Road; from mid-May to late June and from Labour Day to mid-October, the train runs at the same times Saturday through Monday only. In addition, on most Saturdays there's an afternoon train that involves a "train robbery" and barbecue. Check the website for other additional runs throughout the year. Fares are C$21 for adults, C$20 for seniors, C$17 for teenagers, and C$13 for children 3 to 12.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.