Sometimes, if you’re lucky, the practice of travel reveals something about a place that you thought you knew and blows your preconceptions out of the water. That’s the beauty of discovery. As a frequent traveller, getting my mind blown by a destination doesn’t happen to me as often as I’d like. But it did happen recently, and in the most unlikely place, Abbotsford, British Columbia. The city has always been a drive-through kind of place that I thought had little to interest me. I didn’t think there were many things to do in Abbotsford.
How wrong I was.
People are doing amazing and creative things in Abbotsford. Some are millennials relocating here from the city or coming back to their childhood homes, but there’s no age limit to creativity. Just a realization about opportunity coupled with a vibrancy (major baby boom in effect) of place. The result is cool boutiques, nummy bakeries, hidden gems, flower festivals, and restaurants and cafés serving up farm to table goodness from farms that are less than 10 Mile Diet-distance away. This growing ‘city in the country‘ maintains strong ties to its rural and agrarian past, and sits about an hour east of Vancouver in the Fraser Valley. Let’s take a trip down the road to sample the delights of Abbotsford, BC.
Things to Do in Abbotsford
The mild and varied climate of Abbotsford’s ‘Heart of the Valley’, along with its position on the BC Bird Trail and the natural migration flyway make it ideal for birding. It’s really a must-do for beginner and seasoned birders, as typically over 230 different species are recorded annually. A great spot to spot birds is at Willband Creek Park. This an urban wetland park featuring easy going trails, marshes, ponds and water features that attract a wide range of bird species. We spotted herons, hawks, eagles and all manner of small birds on our walk through the park.
Tiptoe Through the Tulips at Bloom
Bloom, Abbotsford’s Tulip Festival has been a phenomenal success, and responsible for quite a few highway traffic jams on busy weekends. People loved the opportunity to wander through the gorgeous and colorful tulip fields of Peter Warmerdam’s family farm. However, as of January 2021, and after four years of blooming success, the Warmerdams will be relocating out of the Fraser Valley, with plans to bloom again in the Northern Okanagan valley.
Swing at the Driving Range
The wide swath of Abbotsford’s hills and dales are home to quite a few driving ranges that suit golfers of any age. The younger set will enjoy swinging at little white balls at the driving range at Castle Fun Park, while the range and 18-hole course at Fraserglen may appeal to more experienced duffers.
The HABIT Project was founded in 2016 by two families, the Millers (Danielle + Steve and Nash) and the Vermeers (Mariah + Chris). Passionate about life balance and improving wellness, they started juicing every day and witnessed incredible things, thanks to the healing power of food. The healthy habit of nourishing bodies by juicing daily is a practice that has been embraced by people around the world. The store features cold-pressed juices, hydrating liquids, nut ‘mylks’, and cleansing juices to promote healthier living. Bonus: the juices are delicious.
Feast on burgers
If you follow me on Instagram, you may remember me gushing about Little Brother and its amazing brunch menu. Sadly, Little Brother has closed but it’s been replaced by the new and exciting BRGR BRGR restaurant. Its menu includes meat and plant-based burgers, salads, frys, onion rings and a selection of local brews.
Get Stuffed at Duft
The line ups don’t lie. Food is love at Duft and Co Bakehouse, which was created with the desire to bring high quality, fresh, and handmade baked goods to the community. And it has responded by eating up all the artisanal pastries and sandwiches in the window, to the point that Duft often closes early due to selling out of everything on the menu. Owners Tyler and Cassandra strive to make a difference in the way people experience food by creating inspired dishes using the best seasonal, and locally sourced ingredients. Go early in the day to buy and linger over lemon sugar buns (swoon), fruit danishes, bread pudding, and on Saturdays, doughnuts. I’m gaining weight just thinking about it.
Kit out the Kitchen
Cobblestone Kitchenware started in Abbotsford in July of 2011, and over time, customers, family and friends simply started to call the store Cobblestone. Owners wanted customers to know exactly what their specialty was so they added kitchenware below the name. The images of a clever, rolling pin, dutch oven, and spoon allow customers to easily identify that this store has it all. Cobblestone recently rebranded and is now Yes Chef, a cooking cornucopia of useful, beautiful and culinary items for the beginner to pro cook. Yes Chef has an impressive display of all kinds of cookware, dishware, tableware, supplies, and lines. It also offers cooking workshops on kitchen essentials like knife skills or making choux pastry.
Dress up for dinner
Abbotsford’s farm to table restaurant of choice is Restaurant62. Built on the simple notions that good food is hard work, and that the ingredients should change with the seasonal availability of the local producers, Chefs Matthew Nichols and Jeff Massey craft memorable and delicious plates where the food speaks for itself. Chow down, delicately, on sustainably caught BC halibut, or pork chops, roast chicken or lamb from farms well within 100 miles of your table.
Curate Your Home
I could have shopped all day. Two independent houseware stores stood out for us during our time in Abbotsford. Spruce Collective is located downtown, and is operated by a team of five ladies, all with different backgrounds sharing years of experience in styling, design, and art. The result of five sets of meticulous eyes searching for the most perfect treasures is a gorgeous store curated with the most crave-worthy housewares, gifts, cards, stationary and seasonal wares.
Bureaux Modern Mercantile is another beautiful houseware emporium. Find a curated selection of apothecary, apparel, accessories, homewares, gourmet pantry goods and a selection of items for baby + child. Guard your wallets!
Get Your Art On
The Reach Gallery is a public art gallery and museum located in the heart of Abbotsford. The gallery exhibits artwork from across Canada and around the world. Its Voices of the Valley permanent exhibition showcases an archival collection of photos and historical objects that tells the story of the community and the region.
Shop Farm Fresh
Located in the Rail District, Valley Food Farm (VFF) wants to use food to transform the local community. Its mission is to position the Fraser Valley as a global food destination. That’s a pretty ambitious goal. It is a call-to-action by local food producers and restaurants to establish a more meaningful food culture. One where local farmers, artisans, and chefs are the change-makers. It’s very much back to the future, where customers knew where their food, produce, and meat came from.
VFF hosts an evening market every Thursday between 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm. There are expansion plans, including a commissary kitchen, communal brewhouse, local food café, community rental space, and a music venue.
Caffeine Fun with Friends
Old Hand Coffee is run and owned by Kristina and Johannes van Bommel van Vloten. It’s the perfect Scandic] Chic spot to enjoy a specialty coffee and baking at this family-owned cafe. The Polly Fox is a bakery and bistro in the heart of the downtown. Specializing in 100% gluten and allergen-free baked goods, look for sweet and savoury decadent treats, snacks and small meals. All made with fresh, locally sourced ingredients.
Splurge on Seafood
Specializing in seafood, the family-owned Bow and Stern harbours a sense of character. Tucked away in Historic Downtown, guests arrive to photos of boats lining the walls. Distressed pieces look like treasures retrieved from the bottom of the sea. Rustic wood tables and chairs on stone flooring with large barrels make for a comfortable room. Try the oysters on the half-shell, seafood platters, honey and thyme fried chicken, or fish tacos, my favourite.
Curate your Wardrobe
In need of a little shopping therapy? Step into Montrose and George General Store in downtown Abby to get your fix. Here, you’ll find an intriguing mix of curated clothing for men and women, housewares, accessories and beauty products.
Hunt for Treasure
From antiques, to garage sale specials and upcycled jewellery, treasure seekers will rejoice in finding one-of-a-kind items (but no fleas) at the Abbotsford Flea Market. Operating year-round, the flea market is located at the Abbotsford Exhibition Park. Admission is just a dollar, and kids under ten are free. Importantly, there’s even a snack bar, as we all know treasure hunting is hungry work.
Get Your Game On
With over 300 games to choose from, Boardwalk Café and Games is one of the premier locations for experiential entertainment and social gatherings in Abbotsford and the Fraser Valley. Featuring the best table-top games alongside handcrafted sandwiches, specialty coffees, local food and treats; our space offers something for everyone.
Meet Bees, Taste Mead
How sweet it is. Family-owned Campbell’s Gold Honey Farm is a licensed meadery (aka. honey winery), producing a variety of honey wines, or mead. They produce ancient mead (the kind you read about in middle age lore), melomels (honey/fruit wines), and pyment (honey/grape wine). Much of the honey used is produced by their very own bees. You can even take a tour of the hives and see the industrious bees at work. DYK? One gram of honey is the life’s work of one honeybee, so your 500 gram tub is 500 bees. So lick that honey spoon please, and don’t waste a drop of their hard work.
The grapes and most of the fruit and berries used in the honey wines are produced right on the farm. They also have a country store that sells all flavours of honey, and products from the beehive, like beeswax soaps, candles, and polishes. You will want to take some home.
Do Wine Tastings
So you’re thinking, wine in the Fraser Valley, huh? This isn’t the Okanagan lady! Well, surprise, at Singletree Winery you can enjoy some pretty swish, award-winning wine. And it’s grown from grapes found in the rolling hills of Abbostford. The Etsell family grows grapes on 14 acres of their 67-acre heritage farm. You can sample quality BC VQA wines in their tasting room. It’s open year-round and showcases cool climate varietals like Siegerrebe and Grüner Veltliner. Don’t worry, I was as shocked as you are, and yes, I bought some to bring home.
Be a Little Bit Country
Farming for four decades, the Maan Family began by growing premium strawberries and selling them at a simple fruit stand. From that fruit stand, Maan Farms has grown to include an entire country experience of farm market, petting zoo, goat yoga (!), food purveyor, scary corn mazes, flower festivals, u-dig fields, and an Estate Winery specializing in fruit wines. This is a very family-friendly destination where kids can play, get dirty and enjoy some delicious Indian-inspired food or ice cream as a treat. Adults can do goat yoga (yes, it’s a thing), followed up by tastings of the Means’ award-winning fruit wines, including a Strawberry/Raspberry blend, Blueberry and Blackberry. This place is a country wonderland.
Like in any good BC town, craft breweries are a thing in Abbotsford too. A very good thing if you’re into beer, and East Abby’s Fieldhouse Brewing offers a full craft beer experience. The team brews beer that they love and want to share with the community. “We’re trying to be the best representatives of our East Abby community. Treating our people like a family as we grow together.”
In addition to producing some neat brews like sour wheat gose, tropical white ale with lemongrass, hazy IPAs and salted black porter, Fieldhouse has created a gathering and foodie place for friends and soon-to-be-friends. Talented chef Bonnie Friesen leads a team that grows their own vegetables and sources hyper-locally, presenting beautiful farm to plate meals. There’s not a ton of indoor seating options, (we were lucky to score near the fireplace). But the outdoor patio and grassy knoll make it feel like you’re chilling in your neighbor’s backyard. Take off the heels and prepare to embrace all the field house feels.
Take a Hike and a Selfie
Work off the incredible food and drink options in Abbotsford by hitting the city’s many scenic hiking trails. The Discovery Trail crosses the city and has many entry/exit points. It’s is a great place to lace up your shoes for a walk, jog, cycle or hike along this extensive trail system.
Connecting east and west Abbotsford, this trail (the west section is 32 kilometres and the east section is 30 kilometres) winds through natural habitats like forests and ponds, while the paved interpretive trails allow for exercise, learning, and observing. There are some scenic spots for selfies, as well as off-leash dog areas.
The Mill Lake Loop is a 2.1 kilometer moderately busy loop trail that features a lake and is good for all skill levels. If you’re interested in fishing in the city, Mill Lake is stocked with rainbow trout. Note: You must have a valid British Columbia freshwater fishing license.
If you’re feeling adventurous, tackle the hike up to Sumas Mountain just north of the border with the United States. It’ll take about 6+ hours to hike this 13.5 km loop trail, but the views of the Fraser Valley will be worth it.
Where to Stay in Abbotsford
I’d be remiss to not include a recommendation on accommodation in Abbotsford for your reference. And luckily, it happens to be one of Canada’s top-rated boutique hotels.
Brookside Inn is an award-winning (#1 Small Hotel in Canada), three-story Tudor style hotel featuring suites with high ceilings and wonderful views of Mt Baker and Pepin Brook Vineyard. Each luxury suite is themed after a movie, including Midnight in Paris (our suite!), Under the Tuscan Sun, The Secret Garden, The Thomas Crown Affair, Roman Holiday, and A Good Year. There’s a little free library and common area to read or watch DVDs, and patio seating areas showcase the variety of birdlife active in the vineyard next to the inn.
A stay includes a delicious gourmet breakfast served in the Breakfast at Tiffany’s Dining Lounge. Each breakfast is thoughtfully prepared with locally-sourced products. Owners Chris and Sandi treat guests like family and make each stay special. Bonus: Brookside Inn is close to the Abbotsford International Airport.
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Photo Credits: Claudia Laroye unless noted
Disclosure: The Travelling Mom thanks Tourism Abbotsford and the Brookside Inn for hosting her visit in Abbotsford. As always, her opinions about blooms, brunch and boutiques are honest and her own.