A recent visit to Nelson BC, brought many smiles to our faces as we explored its streets and back alleys. Nelson might just be Canada’s most bohemian community.
It started right from the “get-go” when we checked in at the Adventure Hotel and were dazzled by the psychedelic carpet staircase - inspired by an “acid dream I am sure.”
After a day of driving (with stops to check out downtown Fernie and thrift stores in Creston), we were anxious to do some flaneuring. We immediately found the two-storey Touchstones Nelson Museum of Art and History located in a former Post Office building built in 1902. Once inside, we were quickly immersed in a fantasy world of strange goblins and creatures from the imagination of artist Jude Griebel; this was a good start.
Then after checking out Touchstones’ museum, we headed to Nelson’s Main Street (aka Baker Street) for some window licking fun as most of the stores had closed by then. We stumbled upon Relish - what a fun name for a restaurant! The place had a good buzz, we were thirsty and hungry so in we went.
A cold glass each of Harvest Moon Organic Hemp Ale from the Nelson Brewery Company (NBC) quenched our thirst. I think NBC should win some type of award for the best beer names – Paddywack, Faceplant, AfterDark and Full Nelson! My amazing burger with brie and apple still has me salivating.
After a little more street and alley wandering, we called it a day.
Day 2: I thought I was going to die!
Up early, we decided to check out the Oso Negro Café, which research told is the best place in town for breakfast. Expecting a small bohemian café, we were stunned by the amazing urban café atmosphere mixed with an enchanting garden setting. Service was friendly and efficient so the long line up moved quickly. The place was full of people of all ages - adults chatting, kids playing and nobody on their phone or computer. How quirky is that?
It was a beautiful day so I had to check out the local Granite Pointe golf course. Being a single golfer, it was easy to walk on. What wasn’t so was to walk the golf course (even for a seasoned walker like me). I had a quick debate with the Pro Shop attendant if the course was walkable and we agreed I could probably do it. He showed me the hill at hole #10 and said that is the biggest climb. It was a gradual climb so didn’t look too intimidating.
So off I went, clubs on my back, to enjoy what looked like a walk in the park. The front nine wasn’t bad - the views of the city, lake and mountains were spectacular. I climbed the 10th but it was harder than I had imagined - going down 11 seemed just as hard as going up. By the 14th I knew I was in trouble. I was dragging my butt and wondering if I could finish; this had never happened to me before. “Am I really getting that old?” I had to ask myself. I finished - but just barely - as 18 was another climb up a hill to a green guarded by a huge granite rock. If I hit the rock who knows where the ball would go and I certainly wasn’t going to go looking for it. Fortunately, I hit the green, parred the hole, got into my car and headed straight to the Adventure Hotel for a couple of those NBC beers.
Dinner was at Itza Pizza across the street from the Adventure Hotel as I didn’t have the energy to wander too far. The sign said best pizza in town and we also learned that back in 2011, Rick Nelson, Itza’s owner and pizza maker was one of four chefs across Canada to compete in Canadian Pizza Magazine’s (who knew there was a pizza magazine, let alone a Canadian one) best Canadian pizza contest. While Nelson didn’t win, he still makes a great pizza. We had front row seats to Nelson’s street ballet on Itza’s street patio located on the parking spot in front of the restaurant – very urban. We enjoyed our Harvest Pizza with pesto, sundried tomato, apples, smoked gruyere, roasted red peppers and pickled capers.
Unfortunately I had no energy left to check out the blues band playing across the street that night at Finley’s Bar and Grill across the street.
Day 3: Caffeine Heaven
Rested, it was back to Oso Negro Café for a repeat breakfast. By this time we were thinking this must be the best café in the world.
On the way, we noticed a sleazy looking mannequin standing in the back alley. We had to check it out. It was in front of a funky looking hair salon, which we didn’t think was open at 8 am, but when I peaked in there were people inside and we were invited in to the “Chop Shop.” Turns out this 50s themed salon/museum was featured on Slice Network’s “Chop Shop” Show.
When we arrived at Oso Negro, we were again in caffeine heaven. It is the perfect place to start the morning as the garden was bathed in early morning sunshine. We lingered for over an hour, people watching and enjoying our muffins and Oso Negro coffee, which we found out is roasted just a few blocks away.
While Brenda went off to do more thrifting, I went to take photos of the buildings, streets, alleys and shops. As I was wandering, I discovered the west end of Baker Street was closed for a flower street market. The street was full of characters from the lady trying to sell worm farms to another lady giving her little dog a drink of water out of a baby bottle. I did say Nelson was fun, funky and quirky, didn’t I?
Then it was off to check out Cottonwood Falls and adjacent Railtown district at the west end of Baker Street. The falls, a hidden gem, though small it packs a big punch -as the water crashing over the black rocks creates a mist that, combined with the sunlight, is ethereal.
We next met up with Alex, who toured us through the Nelson Brewery Company building, with all its shiny hardware and hoses creating what looks like a madman’s laboratory – there is even a door that says, “laboratory!” NBC is brewed in funky- looking old building that has been a brewery for over 100 years, so this isn’t some new kid on the craft brewery block, rather something that has evolved over the past century.
As all NBC beers are organic, you have to drink them reasonably quickly (they have a best before date), which I see as a bonus. If you want a tour, fill out the form on the website and they will get back to you quickly.
Dinner was the Smokehouse BBQ, which is as authentic as you can get thousands of kilometers from southern USA with its plywood and corrugated steel interior. Order from the kitchen window and your meal is brought to you in a cardboard take-away box even if you are eating in. We grabbed a window seat and chowed down on a finger licking good meal of ribs and pulled pork that was as good as anything we had in Austin Texas (unfortunately, it’s not licensed to serve alcohol).
While there, we were treated to a steady stream of people picking up their Smokehouse BBQ orders as well as people heading to El Taco restaurant across the street. As we left, we asked a young Nelsonian enjoying his pizza from Thor’s Pizzeria next to the Smokehouse what he knew about El Taco and he said it is very good and very popular with the locals. He also added Thor’s has the best pizza in town.
Then it was off for an evening walk along the waterfront pathway. While the pathway along the West Arm of Kootenay Lake is lovely, the place was surprisingly deserted, even on a warm mid-May evening.
We had a great time in Nelson; our only regrets are we didn’t have enough time to check out all of the great dining spots and that we didn’t do the Pulpit Rock trail which locals highly recommended for its great views.
A big surprise was that while Nelson has a reputation of being a great art town, there aren’t many art galleries and lots of the art (galleries, public art and street art) we saw was not as professional and contemporary as we expected.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was that given Nelson’s reputation as the marijuana growing capital of Canada, we didn’t see or smell any evidence of it wherever we travelled in the city.