(This article was originally published on 02/18/09) Photos by Wilson Calvert
Edmonton is the capital city of the state of Alberta and offers the traveler a multitude of things to do in the city year-round. Edmonton reminded me very much of our own beloved Austin, as the populations are roughly 750,000 people and the landscape has a nice roll to it. Edmonton is called the festival city because there is always at least one festival going on any day of the year. I was in Edmonton at the end of July, and in town that weekend was the Rexall Edmonton Indy, the “Taste of Edmonton,” where approximately 100 local restaurants sell samples of their cuisine and the Capital EX Festival (think Texas State Fair) which attracts more than 800,000 entertainment seekers during its 10-day run. Edmonton even maintains a Web site, FestivalCity.CA, to track all of the festivals during the course of the year.
As I mentioned, I traveled to Edmonton at the end of July, a notoriously hot and humid time of the year for us in southeast Texas, and to my delight it was about 78 degrees in Edmonton. The locals were saying that it was hot even for them, and that low 70s were the norm. I could definitely get used to that. The pendulum does swing the other way as the average high is 19 degrees in January. Edmonton is roughly 150 miles from the Rocky Mountains, so if you are looking for a winter ski destination, then you would want to choose somewhere that is closer to the action.
The downtown Edmonton area is very charming and offers a variety of restaurants and shops to compliment the very reasonably priced hotels. I stayed at the modern Matrix Hotel, that was a block off of the subway and in the thick of downtown, and my beautiful two bedroom is roughly $150 a night U.S. dollars. Amenities included satellite TV with a large LCD television, views of the downtown area, one of the best shower heads I've used in recent memory and an extremely courteous and helpful hotel staff. The hotel offered not only wonderful service, but there was a Starbucks built into the corner of the property. Being close to the subway and bus stops made getting to the Indy race and other local attractions a snap.
Into shopping? Well, Edmonton has North America's largest mall. The West Edmonton mall offers more than 800 shops and restaurants and even has 20,000 parking spots. It was the world's largest mall until 2004 and even has a casino inside. It is a little ways out of the downtown area (think the Galleria compared to downtown Houston) but the city offers a bus route specifically for the mall that was only a few dollars for a round trip fare. Edmonton City Centre is right in the middle of downtown and offers more than 150 shops and provides loads of great shopping as well.
The main attraction in all of North America that weekend was the Rexall Edmonton Indy Race where fan favorite Danica Patrick battled Helio Castroneves and eventual winner Scott Dixon. The race actually takes place at their older airport and features beautiful views of the city as well as great views of the race. With large car racing tracks, you typically only get to see a corner of the action, but most seats see more than 50 percent of the course. More than 200,000 people attended the race over three days and the 15 minute bus ride to the venue was only a $2 fare from downtown. Tickets to the Indy can be pricey, especially once you add in the cost of a paddock-access or pit-access ticket, but there's something magical about seeing an Indy Car race in person. You can look for info on next year's event at edmontonindy.com
Edmonton, much like Houston, loves various sporting events, and offers a Canadian Football League team, the Eskimos, an NHL team, the Oilers; and even a minor league baseball team, the Cracker-Cats. The name Cracker-Cats is derived from an oil industry term for a part to turn oil into gasoline. I was able to attend one of their games and found a refreshingly simple atmosphere where you could get a great seat for cheap. I only paid about $7 for a beer and a hotdog, and there were families all over the place. Only about 1,000 fans were at the park that night, but the Cracker-Cats led a late-inning 7-run comeback to claim a win 8-7 over the Chico Outlaws. Going to a Cracker-Cats game or other sporting event would be a great way to get the father and son away from the great shopping the women in your family will be wanting to enjoy most everyday.
Edmonton provides a wonderful family experience that won't hurt the pocket book and is only four hours or so away be plane. The plethora of festivals will almost guarantee you that something fun and unique is happening in the city every week, or head to Edmonton at the end of July to take a peek at their busiest week of the year. American dollars are welcome at most every shop and the people are very courteous and helpful. The beautiful weather between May and September is nothing but an extra incentive to explore this almost Texas-like capital city in beautiful Canada.