It’s the size of the place you notice first. The city of Surrey, British Columbia, is really, really big. The downtown is growing out and up to the skies, and the landmass just seems to go on forever. Then it’s the transitions, from city to country, from urbanity to vast farm fields with neat rows of vegetables and fruit vines.
There’s an evolution of place happening, from a rural past to urban future. A tension about not wanting to grow too fast too quickly, despite the reality that Surrey is growing. There’s room to move and things to do in Surrey, British Columbia, so much so that we’ve compiled these 10 cool things to check out and do in one of Canada’s fastest growing cities. And yes, they may indeed surprise you.
10 Cool Things to do in Surrey
First things first. Surrey is a big place, we’re talking Vancouver, Burnaby and Richmond put together big. So a car is pretty much a must to get around. The public transit SkyTrain system shuttles between Surrey’s Central City downtown and a couple other city stops, and connects it to Vancouver and rest of the Lower Mainland. It’s fine to get between places, but if you really want to explore, you’ll need wheels.
Surrey is the second largest city in the province, and one of the liveliest, most diverse, and fastest-growing cities in Metro Vancouver. A third of the population is under the age of nineteen, so it’s a family-friendly place where kids can be seen just about everywhere you look. New immigrants have been moving to Surrey for decades, and it’s got one of the largest Punjabi Sikh communities outside of India.
With vast natural beauty, a flourishing culinary scene and cutting-edge recreational facilities, it’s a city waiting to be rediscovered. Surrey is a diverse community rich in arts, culture, history, and home to some of the largest and most vibrant festivals in Canada. The city combines a unique fusion of urban and rural, embracing both the growing urban centres and beautiful pastoral landscapes.
1. Find the Great Pumpkin at Rondriso Farms
We were strolling past the large display of orange-hued fall squash, some perfectly round, others gnarled and misshapen. My eyes scanned the mix of classic orange and ghostly white gourds, in search of the perfect pumpkin. One that would lend itself to artful carving and smash the others in competition for Halloween supremacy. Our discovery tour of Surrey had taken us to Rondriso Farms and General Store, a working farm and site of a popular pumpkin patch. We were in the perfect place, now to find the perfect specimen.
“That’s the one, that’s the winning pumpkin!” I said, pointing to a massive orange gourd with long, curly stem. Owner Pam Tamis smiled as we struggled to get it into the car trunk, where it just barely fit.
Rondriso Farms is a family-owned, small-scale working farm, general store, and in the fall, pumpkin patch. The Tamis family has farmed here for two generations, and current owners Ron and Pam and sons are proud to run this sustainable farm.
They grow a wide range of crops that allows them to maintain the integrity of their land and the food we grow. The farm sells its produce at its General Store and at local Farmers Markets. They also run the Localicious Produce Box program throughout the summer, fall, and winter.
Fall is a special time at Rondriso. Visit starting October 1st for its annual Pumpkin Patch and wagon tours. If you’re lucky you’ll find a winning pumpkin, just like we did.
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2. Explore the Museum of Surrey
The super kid-friendly Museum of Surrey is a vibrant, interactive and best of all, FREE museum. Providing wonder and fun for the whole family, the Museum hosts travelling exhibits, as well as a fascinating permanent display about the history of Surrey. During my visit, I was surrounded by littles squealing in delight over the interactive dinosaur exhibit. I mean kids and dinos, it’s a match made in heaven, right?
The Museum is home to the Lelem’ Café, operated by the Kwantlen Nation. With a menu incorporating some of the traditional flavours of Coast Salish diet, visitors can choose from fresh baked goods, sandwiches or charcuterie – all made to order from scratch with many ingredients sourced locally.
3. Get Jiggy with it at the Fusion Festival
Surrey Fusion Festival is British Columbia’s largest multicultural event. Held over a July weekend, Fusion is an ultimate celebration of food, music and culture. This award-winning “World’s Best Festival in 2019” offers cuisine pavilions from around the world, as well as music and entertainment across seven stages. One of the best community events in the city, the Festival takes place in Holland Park, and did I mention that it’s FREE? No tickets required.
4. Savour Lunch at West Village Café
Ignore the strip-mall scene around it. As soon as you enter the West Village Café, you’ll feel as if you’ve dropped into urban Vancouver or New York. This white-washed, naturally lighted spot was created to bring people together through delicious, natural and nourishing food in an environment that’s warm, casual and communally stated. Just like a village. Owner Paul Banghoo has created a café environment that’s filled with great energy and relaxing seating. Wall to wall windows on the eastside have shutters to keep the room warm and welcoming.
The Café connects to the community with ingredients from their menu that are sourced locally when possible, and create dishes that are full of flavour. I loved my Moroccan-inspired glazed salmon and couscous, and demolished a delicious pie for dessert. Comfort food with a fusion twist, this is a must-dine spot in Surrey.
5. Honeybee Centre & Fry’s Corner Beestro
It seems that wherever I go, I find bees, or they find me. Surrey’s Honeybee Centre is a one-stop-shop for all things bees, honey and honey-related. You can watch the bees going about their buzzy business in their hives, taste various honey products, and shop for housewares in the Country Store. Take a break to enjoy tea and baked goodies on the honey-inspired menu in the Centre’s Fry’s Corner Beestro. DYK: The Centre provides bees and pollination services to several local farms, field trips and seminars provide a wonderful educational experience. They even host a bee beard contest in summer. No, I did not partake in that.
6. Stroll Oceanside at Crescent Beach
Did you know that Surrey has a beach? And as the name suggests, it’s shaped like a crescent. The small community of Crescent Beach is tucked away by the seaside, and you can still spot old cottages and shacks built in the last century. The dikes that were built 100 years ago serve as a waterfront pathway that makes for great family and dog-friendly strolls. This is a very popular summer destination for families, so go early in the day, pick up some decadent baked treats and sammies at Fieldstone Artisan Breads, and enjoy a glorious day out at the beach.
7. Quaff Ales and Gin at Central City Brewers & Distillers
Since 2003, Central City Brewers has been busy brewing some rather fine and tasty craft beers. Their award-winning Red Racer beer is particularly popular, but personally, I was drawn to the Japanese cherry-blossom inspired sakura gin in their Distillery Tasting Room. They are constantly experimenting with tastes and flavors of their beers and spirits, so frequent visits are probably wise to stay on top of all the new creations. You can take a tour of the brewery and browse the tap room, or just enjoy a fresh cold craft beer and dinner at one of their brewpubs.
8. Enjoy Family Fun at Port Kells Nursery
Okay, yes, Port Kells Nurseries is a year-round, full-service nursery and garden centre. BUT, it’s also a playground for kids, especially during holiday times. In the fall, that means themed hay wagon ride to the Pumpkin Patch, a kid-friendly haunted house, hay and cedar mazes, Kids love animals? There’s a Goat Palace and Chicken Coop that will keep them enthralled for hours. At Christmas, the nursery is dressed to the nines in seasonal reds and golds, and Santa and Mrs Claus visit and pose for pics with the kids. It’s a holiday wonderland, and you can shop for all your holiday decor, from gifts to wreaths to trees, flocked or unflocked.
9. Eat Indian Food
I mentioned that Surrey has one of the largest Punjabi Sikh populations outside of India. In addition to vibrant cultural celebrations like the annual Vaisakhi Parade, the community represents with quite a few excellent go-to spots for Indian food.
Savour home-cooked sizzling hot kebabs at Tasty Indian Bistro, step up your dinner game with chickpea battered cod pakoras and paneer at Vikram Vij’s jewelbox My Shanti, share tapas-style bites, kebabs and twists on Indian comfort food at Showshaa, or cross the border (so to speak) for vegan kachaloo or meaty lamb dishes at Afghan Kitchen.
10. Go Play at the Park
Surrey is rich in public park spaces, golf courses and natural areas. From the giant second growth forest at Green Timbers Urban Forest, to the shoreline views at Blackie Spit Park, there is something for everyone to see, do and experience in every season at Surrey’s 200 parks.
Popular Bear Creek Park has a running track, nature trails, Arts Centre, outdoor swimming pool, and gardens, while Holland Park, the city’s “Central Park” of Surrey City Centre is 10 hectares (25 acres) of sports fields, basketball courts, a playground and lots of picnicking areas. The park is also home to the Holland Gardens, which include a large central amphitheater and water fountain.
Halloween Bonus: Potter’s House of Horrors
For those keen on getting scared out of their wits during the month of October, Potter’s House of Horrors is the premium haunted house mecca. Potter’s has two ultra-scary houses (for adults and older teens only), Death Valley Motor Inn and Devil’s Descent.
More than a haunted house, Death Valley Motor Inn is the sort of dusty old desert motel that nightmares are made of. Shadowy figures roam the hallways, searching for their next victim, while the old man behind the counter seems oddly unconcerned. It’s said that guests check in, but rarely do they check out.
Devil’s Descent is a terrifying vortex of rotted wood, rickety mine shafts, punishing industrial machines, monsters and zombies. For extra laughs, Potter’s has a “chicken counter” that racks up the “bok-boks” when people run screaming out of the exits. That would be me.
If you’re wondering, yes, kids can join the fun too. Family Hour (a tamer version of the scary haunted houses, for younger guests or the faint of heart) — is offered earlier during daylight hours. And a special “Li’l Haunters” attraction (for children 12 and under) ensures everyone can be part of the fun. This is one of the top fall things to do in Surrey, British Columbia during Halloween.
Note: These haunted houses are indeed ultra-scary and are geared to adults. The “scare crew” at Potter’s spends months planning this annual maze of terror — complete with the latest high-tech animatronics and digital sounds. Purchase your tickets online in advance. Potter’s House of Horrors is very popular, especially on weekends. Dates: October 4th through November 2nd.
Where to Stay in Surrey
For such a large place, Surrey is surprisingly lacking in good hotel choices. That’s changing as the city grows. Eight hotels are currently in construction, with another 22 planned. My pick is Surrey’s newest and most chic hotel, the Autograph Collection Civic Hotel.
Located in the heart of Surrey, the Civic Hotel is a design-forward hotel with an urban vibe and beautiful facade. It’s located right next to Surrey City Centre Skytrain light rail station, a distance of about 30-40 minutes from YVR Airport or downtown Vancouver. The hotel offers 144 uniquely designed guest rooms with themes that represent the culture and natural beauty of British Columbia. I stayed on the south of the Fraser (River) floor in the Delta room. The views of the north shore and Lower Mainland were stunning, particularly at sunset.
The hotel has two in-house food options. Prado Cafe is located next to the hotel lobby. Serving up excellent espresso drinks and delicious breakfast items, it’s a perfect spot for a quick latte or lingering drip coffee and avo toast with friends. The in-house restaurant is the Dominion Bar + Kitchen, a high ceilinged space that serves a wide variety of fusion cuisine. Think mac and cheese, Chinese dim sum, vegan dishes, pizza, coconut curry and steaks.
The weekdays cater to the business crowd, but the weekends are perfect for family stays. There’s a gym, fitness centre and rooftop outdoor pool, and kids can run their hearts out on the civic plaza outside the front doors of the hotel.
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Disclosure: The Travelling Mom thanks Discover Surrey for its generous hospitality. As always, my opinions on spicy Indian food and the joys of finding the great pumpkins are honest and my own.
Photo Credit: Claudia Laroye, Shutterstock