Ah, Kelowna! Nestled in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, this slice of Canadian paradise is more than just a holiday destination. But what’s it like to actually live here?
As Kelowna residents for nearly a decade, we’ve called Kelowna home for a while now. While it seems we’re still discovering new things all the time, we’ve had the chance to experience both the highs and the lows that this city has to offer.
From gorgeous sunny days checking out vineyards in the morning and paddle boarding on the lake in the afternoon to preparing a last minute go bag as the nearby wildfires got a bit too close to our home, we’ve experienced it all.
While living in the Okanagan Valley has tons of positives, like any place in the world it also has a few negatives. So, whether you’re one of the few true locals who was born here or one of the many nomads from around the world now calling Kelowna home like us, let’s dive in and explore the pros and cons of living in Kelowna as we give you a local’s guide to the city.
Pros of Living in Kelowna
Thinking of moving to Kelowna?
Kelowna has plenty of positives. From some of the nicest weather in Canada to some of the nicest lakes and mountains found anywhere in the world. With nature literally on most people’s doorsteps, it’s easy to get outside and enjoy the area’s natural beauty.
Kelowna also has a vibrant arts scene plus hundreds of wineries, cideries and orchards that to us beat any of its Canadian equivalents. If you’re looking to move here or just thinking about taking an extended work vacation to the valley, there are plenty of work opportunities plus tons of friendly locals to help you get situated.
Not yet convinced? Here are some of Kelowna’s biggest positives to help make you consider making Kelowna your forever home.
Natural Beauty of the Okanagan
With its stunning vistas of Okanagan Lake and the surrounding mountains, Kelowna is a nature lover’s dream. From summer days on the beach to winter ski trips at nearby Big White (a 30 minute drive), there’s no shortage of outdoor activities here.
Whether you’re staying on one the many hills in town overlooking Okanagan Lake or staying in the valley with gorgeous views of the nearby hills, nature is a big draw for anyone living in this city. Truth be told, there’s not too many areas in the 140K populated metro that you can’t be away from people after a few minutes drive. If you’re sick of the crowds, there are tons of parks and local Kelowna hikes found throughout this city where you can at least feel like you’re getting away from it all.
Kelowna’s Wine Country
Known for its award-winning vineyards, Kelowna is the perfect spot for wine aficionados. The climate and soil combine to produce top-notch grapes. Spend your weekends touring local wineries, and don’t forget the wine festivals!
With over 300 wineries calling the Okanagan Valley home plus dozens of cideries, micro breweries and even small distilleries, you could go to a different place every day for a year and never hit the same place twice. That said, we have our own local favorites and always enjoy the chance to take visiting friends and family to a new place when the opportunity knocks. We’ve learnt that in Kelowna, your favorite place might just be down the street.
Kelowna’s Vibrant Arts and Musical Scene
Kelowna is a hub for culture, offering art galleries, theaters, and even a symphony. Whether you’re into visual arts or live performances, there’s always something happening in the cultural district.
Throughout the year, there are also dozens of festivals happening around town and it’s rare to have a weekend go by in summer without something major happening in the city. Between Kelowna and nearby Penticton, most large musical acts that hit Vancouver will also stop in town to perform as they head east. If an act or show doesn’t make it to the valley, Vancouver is only a 3 hour drive away with plenty of hotels to make your micro trip a fun one.
Moving to Kelowna? The Growing Job Market
With its booming tech industry and tourism sector, employment opportunities are on the rise in Kelowna. From startups to established companies, there’s a wide range of options for those looking to relocate here. While it didn’t make the list of best places for expats, it definitely isn’t a bad place to become an expat in Canada.
Nicknamed the little Silicon Valley of the North, Kelowna is well known for both its small startups as well as big tech companies who’ve chosen to call Kelowna home. While seasonal work brings in people from around the world, Kelowna also grew its fame as a nice retirement center for those in Canada who opted to stick around rather than head south in the winters. That original collection of young hospitality workers who helped put Kelowna on the map taking care of the retirees have now grown up and the city is booming on all fronts.
Friendly Communities in Kelowna
One thing you’ll notice is the warm and welcoming atmosphere in Kelowna. Community events, farmer’s markets, and neighborhood gatherings make it easy to meet people and feel part of the community. It seems there’s always something to do in Kelowna.
Since the vast majority of people now living in Kelowna have moved here from other locations in Canada and abroad, there is a welcoming feeling to the growing city. With a huge tourism industry, plenty of nature to explore and great weather, it’s easy to get out and meet new people.
Kelowna’s Mild Climate
Compared to other parts of Canada, Kelowna has a relatively mild climate and some of the nicest overall weather in Canada. If you hate wind, it’s also one of the least windy major cities in Canada. Though it experiences all four seasons, you definitely won’t have to deal with the harsh winters seen in other regions of Canada.
Long hot summers, mild winters (in comparison to most other Canadian Cities) and plenty of nice days in between means more opportunities to get out and explore the region. The best part is that with the mountains so close, there are tons of small micro climates you can experience depending on your location and elevation. It means that in spring you can ski in the morning and golf in the afternoon. Or, if you prefer, you can hike in the cool mornings and then bake on the beach in the afternoon all summer long.
Cons of Living in Kelowna
While it always hurts to gripe about things your city is lacking, the truth is that no city in the world is perfect on all fronts. High living costs, excessive tourism and Kelowna’s semi remote location (3.5 hours from Vancouver and 6 hours from Calgary) means that while things are relatively close in Canadian standards, the average traveler will find that Kelowna can be cut off from some of the larger centers. While that can be a huge plus for some people, others might not love it.
On that note, since we’ve already looked into some of Kelowna’s pros, let’s now dive into some of Kelowna’s cons.
Cost of Living in Kelowna
The truth of the matter is that Kelowna isn’t cheap to live in. Housing prices have soared in recent years, and day-to-day expenses like groceries and gas can also be high. Be prepared for a bit of sticker shock.
While this can be said for most places around the world these days, it’s more pronounced in Kelowna. Considered by many to be one of the most expensive cities to live in Canada, it means you can’t survive in this city if you’re only making minimum wage unless you are a large group all chipping in for the monthly rent.
Tourist Crowds in Kelowna
While tourism boosts the economy, it also means crowds, especially in the summer. This can lead to congestion, making it hard to enjoy some of the very attractions that drew you to Kelowna in the first place.
This can be easily seen when looking at traffic patterns over the course of the year. In summer, by far the busiest tourist season in Kelowna, any trip around town can easily be doubled and parking downtown or by one of the many beaches can be hard to come by. Bonus to Kelowna is that parking downtown is only around $1 an hour any time of the year with plenty of free parking outside of Monday 9 to 5 so there is that bright side.
Kelowna’s Limited Public Transport
Public transport options are limited in Kelowna, especially compared to larger cities in the country. Owning a car is almost a necessity if you plan on getting around without hassle. While plenty of University of BC students as well as Okanagan College students get to school daily via public transport buses, getting from one area of the city to another can be tough if you’re not planning on going through downtown first.
Though Uber and Uride are now available in the city, both ride sharing platforms have been slow to arrive in the city and are still lacking so you’ll often need to order a cab during the busiest times of the day if you can’t find a bus. You can also find both ebike and scooter rentals throughout the city however those aren’t ideal in the cooler winter months.
Seasonal Employment in Kelowna
While there are plenty of job opportunities, some industries in Kelowna are highly seasonal. This means job security can be a concern if you’re working in sectors like tourism. While late spring, summer and early fall can be busy, unless you’re heading to Big White for winter work, it might be harder to find something that pays the bills. That said, anyone working in the trades or for minimum wage should have zero problems finding something as jobs in those areas are always in demand here.
Kelowna’s Distance from Major Cities
Though it has plenty to offer including an international airport, a decent collection of large stores, a large shopping mall, a well ranked hockey team in the WHL, plus a thriving art scene, Kelowna is somewhat isolated from major cities like Vancouver or Calgary.
The drive to Vancouver takes around 3.5 hours and Calgary is pushing 6.5 hours provided the highways are open and clear. That’s something that isn’t always the case in the winter as both directions take you over some of Canada’s highest routes that are prone to crazy amounts of snow and even in the warmer months there are occasional rockslides to contend with. Either can severely hamper your ability to get to your farther destination easily or quickly.
Wildfires in Kelowna
In the last decade, the dry, hot summers come with a higher risk of wildfires, which can be a real concern. Smoke from nearby fires can also affect air quality during the summer months and ruin an otherwise perfect summer day in the city.
While July and August have always been Kelowna’s best months in terms of weather (with the highs in the lower 30’s every single day and not a cloud in sight), the changing climate landscape has made what were once idyllic summer days into an unknown quantity these last few years. We’ve gotten to a point where we now travel away more often in August just because there’s a good chance it will be smoky in the city.
Living in Kelowna offers a unique blend of natural beauty, a growing job market, and a vibrant community. However, it does come with its own set of challenges, like the high cost of living and seasonal crowds. Whether or not Kelowna is right for you will depend on what you’re looking for in a home base.
That said, we’ve loved our time in the city and both ourselves and our children have made friends here that will last our entire lives. There’s no denying that this Canadian gem has plenty to offer and if you can get past it’ negatives, it’s still a great place to live and work.