There’s something about Whistler. No really. No matter how many times you’ve visited before, you can’t help but be overwhelmed by the scenery as the Sea to Sky Highway climbs in altitude, and the Whistler and Blackcomb mountains loom large.
Arrive during the winter months, and you’ll find Whistler in the icy grip of winter. A perfect winter wonderland for snow worshippers and the Christmas card scene perhaps most associated with this mountain resort. On the other hand, show up in the summer and you’ll find a playground designed by mother nature herself. A lush landscape waiting to be explored, brimming with wildlife and offering some of the most spectacular views you’ll find anywhere in the world.
There’s no doubt about it. Whistler is a world-renowned ski resort. However, with so much to offer at any time of year, non-skiers and summer visitors are more than well catered for. Here, we take a look at Whistler for all occasions and highlight why there really is a Whistler for everyone.
On A Budget – HI Whistler
STAY: For a comfortable night’s sleep that won’t break the bank, look no further than the HI Whistler. This hostel was originally part of the athlete’s village for the 2010 Winter Olympics and has quickly become one of the best budget options in town. Thanks to its proximity to the lifts, it’s a great choice for skiers and boarders, but with hiking trails, brewery tours and a wealth of fun on the doorstep. It’s also an ideal summer choice for those looking to immerse themselves in the great outdoors. You’re also treated to an impressive view of the mountains no matter where your room is located.
PLAY: Cross the Sea to Sky Highway and you’ll find yourself in the heart of Function Junction. Once dismissed as an industrial and rather mechanical space of Whistler, Function Junction is now a flourishing neighbourhood buzzing with a number of new businesses and a thriving social scene. Head to the Re-Use It Centre to indulge in a little antique treasure hunting before stopping by the new Olives Community Market where you’ll find local produce aplenty. Further along Millar Creek Road, you’ll find a couple of galleries showcasing the work of many local artists before stopping for tea at the Wild Wood Cafe. Often overlooked in the Whistler travel guides, Function is well worth a visit.
It goes without saying that the great outdoors is always free. It also goes without saying that Whistler has an overabundance of free outdoor activities that suit any ability level. From a quiet loop around Lost Lake to undertaking a multi-day excursion into Garibaldi Park, there’s something for everyone. Floating down the River of Golden Dreams in summer is highly advised whether inner tube or canoe. Alto Creek, to give the river its official name, is a refreshing way to pass a warm afternoon. With epic views around every bend, the shadows of the imposing Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains offer welcome relief from the summer heat. Keep your eyes open as you pass through the lush forests and flower-lined banks, and you might just catch a glimpse of the wildlife that call this place home, such as otters, deer, beavers and even bears. Don’t forget to take water, snacks and a life jacket, and always put safety first.
DINE: For healthy yet delicious food, head for The Wildwood. From power breakfasts to bountiful lunches, The Wildwood promises well-priced and portioned meals whatever your taste. For those maintaining a rigorous gluten-free diet, run far away from the delicious and delectable Purebread Bakery. The glutinous snacks they serve will be calling your name from blocks away. Start the day with a bacon and egg brioche or take a lemon blueberry basil scone for an early afternoon treat. The raspberry riot topped with hot pink raspberry lemon drizzle is a legendary treat among locals but you’ll need to arrive early — they don’t last long!
Photos courtesy of Destination BC / BC Ale Trail
As one of the ‘new kids on the block’, Coast Mountain Brewery is certainly making waves among the local beer scene. Although their tap room is small, their hearts are big, and you’ll be welcomed with open arms and a large variety of hop-forward beers. As they tend to release a number of their most interesting concoctions solely on site, taking the time to stop by and taste their interesting creations is highly advisable. With notes of tropical and citrus, the Day Dreamer Hazy is suited to those who like their beer fruity and refreshing, while the signature Surveyor is a massive hop-forward ale, showcasing the hops that shine in the Pacific Northwest. For something a little more quirky, try the Juice Box Sour, an explosion of orange and coriander that is something of a treat for the senses.
Going All Out – Four Seasons Resort
STAY: From the minute you walk through the doors of the Four Seasons Resort, it’s hard not to be impressed. While the hotel is an absolute must for anyone wanting to live the high life during their stay, a warm and friendly Whistler welcome is assured. In fact, the Four Seasons Resort is the only hotel in Whistler awarded the Forbes five-star service award. For those who find it impossible to travel light, you’ll love the walk-in closet which easily fits in enough outfits for every conceivable occasion during your stay (and way beyond). Then, end your day with a toasted marshmallows on the decking area during winter, and refreshing cocktails in summer.
PLAY: For adventure, heli-skiing promises adrenaline filled fun from start to finish, as you ski untouched terrain with snow up to your knees (yes, I know this involves skiing, but it simply couldn’t be left out). It’s not enough to be in a helicopter but to be dropped off with a few people at the top of the most pristine skiing you’ll ever do. This experience is world class and something very sacred to BC.
If you’re into something a little more relaxing, you might want to try the unique European experience at the Scandinave Spa in Whistler. It costs $70 to get bath access, and you can also take in a massage treatment. Massages start at $175 and are well worth it.
DINE: If you’re wanting to go all out with your dining choices too, Bearfoot Bistro has to be one of the best dining options in Whistler. The restaurant has been established in Whistler for many years and is a favourite among locals. Sit back and relax while the executive chef creates a five-course tasting menu, providing individual attention to you and our guests. It’s a truly VIP experience (if money isn’t an object). Bearfoot also has the Ketel One Ice Room next door, a special aperitif after you enjoy your meal. It’s the coldest vodka tasting room in the world and boasts over 50 vodkas.
Romantic Getaway – Nita Lake Lodge
STAY: Whistler lends itself perfectly to any romantic occasion whether it be a honeymoon, engagement, or just a romantic weekend away. Nita Lake Lodge knows a thing or two about romance. This intimate lake-side haven is a well-established wedding venue and it’s not hard to see why. Comfy king-size beds, cozy décor, a double soaker tub and dreamy views across the mountainous landscape all come as standard. All you need is love. Nita Lake Lodge will take care of the rest.
PLAY: Of course, you could always snowmobile up to 6,000 feet and enjoy a candlelight dinner at the rustic Crystal Hut with Canadian Wilderness Adventures, or take the Peak Chair on Whistler Mountain for a cuddly selfie and glass of champagne.
If you’re here in winter, head for a romantic dog sled ride through the Whistler wilderness. Blackcomb Dog Sled is the quintessential romantic Whistler experience. After all, a sled perfectly fits two people.
DINE: What better way to round off a romantic day in Whistler than with fresh oysters at the renowned Araxi Restaurant + Oyster Bar? This long-established restaurant has seasonally-focused menus that celebrate the excellence of locally-sourced ingredients, all in a setting made for a romantic dinner. If oysters aren’t your thing, Bar Oso (“oso” meaning “bear” in Spanish) is another for the shortlist. Open daily, this cozy eatery offers Spanish-influenced small plates, tapas, and home-made charcuterie. Local pork jowl, slow cooked with romesco and salsa verde comes highly recommended, and the matane shrimp and avocado is a fresh, healthy choice. The long, convivial bar is a great place to enjoy one of the hand-crafted cocktails such as the grapefruit-infused Sea to Sky Spritz. For a refreshingly modern take on an espresso Martini, try the Shaft cocktail too.
Best for Groups – Aava Whistler Hotel
STAY: Whether it’s a weekend with the girls or a bachelor party with the guys, Whistler is the ideal destination for group travel. When it comes to finding a place to stay, the Aava is a crowd pleaser. Situated just a stone’s throw from Whistler Village, yet still enjoying peace and quiet, the hotel boasts comfortable rooms, a heated outdoor pool, dry sauna and on-site fitness centre. They even offer free GoPro hire, just in case you want those laughable moments to be immortalized forever.
PLAY: Quintessentially Canadian, there’s no better way to bond with friends than by hurling axes at a bullseye in a friendly axe throwing competition. Head to Forged Axe Throwing in Function Junction, Whistler’s only indoor axe throwing venue, to unleash your inner lumberjack. The friendly Forged team will introduce you to the art of axe throwing, as well as providing a safety talk and tips. Bring the axe back over your head, similar to the motion of throwing a soccer ball over your head, and always ensure the blade isn’t rotated to the left or right for the very best chance of hitting your first bullseye.
Photo courtesy of Forged Axe Throwing
Spend the day outside climbing through trees, flying through the air, or racing down rapids. If you can think of an outdoor activity, The Adventure Group has at once beat you to it and bundled them all into a day-long excursion. It’s advisable to spend at least one day on Cougar Mountain; they offer bungee jumping, whitewater rafting, zip lining, heli-sightseeing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, just to name a few.
Photo courtesy of Tag Whistler
DINE: Round off a day of adventure and axe throwing with dinner at La Cantina – a place where you’ll find the authentic Mexican tacos. Everything is done to order and can be customized with dietary restrictions in mind. Craft beer can also be found in abundance, and the Whistler Brewing Company always has a range of refreshing, unique and seasonal brews on offer.
Book a fully guided brewery tour at 2.30pm or 4.30pm Tuesdays through Sundays, to see how the authentic craft beers are made and to try a wide selection of the many award-winning ales and lagers for yourself. It costs just $15.95 per person and is a really fun way to pass an afternoon. Tap tours must be booked online or by phone, and it’s advisable to book all group visits in advance as the brewery gets extremely busy, particularly in late afternoons and early evenings.
The Bar Hop is the place for bachelor and bachelorette parties, and can even come in handy to help loosen up the most uptight members on your corporate board. The tour offers a guided introduction to the Whistler party scene, catered by Gibbens, and is particularly useful if you haven’t been to Whistler before or haven’t visited in a while.
Contemporary Design – Summit Lodge
STAY & DINE: Walk a few steps off Main Street and you’ll arrive at Whistler’s iconic boutique hotel, Summit Lodge. This quirky hotel has won numerous awards and it’s not hard to see why. The colourful rooms are warm and inviting, and there’s a number of dining options on site — ideal if you’re too tired to venture far after a day of adventure.
The Eighty One café is a great place to stop for a smoothie or enjoy an expertly-made espresso hit, while the Elements Urban Tapas Parlour and Sachi Sushi restaurant serves up a host of highly recommended tasty specials.
PLAY: With festivals in Whistler taking place throughout the year, it’s always worth checking what’s on while you’re visiting. During September, check out the Hear and Now Festival, showcasing some of the local musical talents Whistler has to offer. It’s totally free and takes place in the main Village Square. In August, the Crankworx festival showcases a spectacle of adrenaline-fuelled, gravity-defying stunts on two wheels.
Photos courtesy of Destination BC, left: Blake Jorgenson, right: Toshi Kawano
If yoga’s your thing, head to the Whistler Wanderlust Festival during August to surround yourself with insightful and skilled yogis in impressive mountain surroundings. The festival has a whole host of yoga classes, musical events, workshops, delicious food, and most importantly, the meditative opportunity to help you connect with your best self. Of course, there are plenty of places to practice yoga in Whistler at any time of year, if you happen to miss the Wanderlust Festival.
Don’t forget to visit the Squamish and Lil’wat Cultural Centre too. Try on some traditional regalia, play a drum, and discover the interactive exhibits of the Squamish and Lil’wat nations.
Feature photo courtesy of Tag Whistler