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. It’s time to get to know one of Canada’s fastest growing cities, and our list of 10 surprising things to do in Surrey is a great place to start.
10 surprising 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 and most diverse in Metro Vancouver. 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: it’s got one of the largest Punjabi Sikh communities outside of India.
1. Find the Great Pumpkin at Rondriso Farms
Rondriso Farms is a family-owned, small-scale working farm and general store. It’s also the perfect place to find the perfect pumpkin in the autumn. The Tamis family has farmed here for two generations, and current owners Ron and Pam run this sustainable farm. They also run the Localicious Produce Box program throughout the summer, fall, and winter.
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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 squeals of delight over the interactive dinosaur exhibit. I mean kids and dinos, it’s a match made in heaven.
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. Owner Paul Banghoo has created a café environment that’s filled with great energy and relaxing seating.
The Café connects to the community with locally sourced ingredients when possible: 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 in south Surrey; 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. Follow the Spice Trail
Surrey is a multicultural city, with one of the largest Punjabi Sikh populations outside of India. In addition to vibrant cultural celebrations like the annual Vaisakhi Parade, Indo-Canadian chefs provide outstanding go-to spots for Indian food. So much so that there’s now a Spice Trail.
The self-guided Surrey Spice Trail includes more than 40 restaurants, cafes and retail stores in the city. Sip the finest chai tea and savor sizzling hot kebabs at Tasty Indian Bistro. Munch on chickpea-battered cod pakoras and paneer at Vikram Vij’s jewel box, My Shanti. Share tapas-style bites, kebabs and twists on Indian comfort food at Showshaa. On the spice trail, you can travel around the world via Surrey’s exciting array of culinary traditions.
Featured businesses include Kerala Kitchen (Southern India), Di Reggae Café (Caribbean), Obanhmi Factory Shop (Vietnamese) and Taste of Africa (African), among others. There’s also a “chaat trail” that identifies the best spots to sample the savoury East Indian snack. Chaat consists of fried dough served with chickpeas, boiled potatoes, yogurt sauce, tamarind and coriander chutneys. And it’s delicious.
9. Drink ales and gin at Central City Brewers & Distillers
Since 2003, Central City Brewers has been busy brewing fine and tasty craft beers. Their award-winning Red Racer beer is particularly popular. 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.
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.
10. Go Play at the Park
Surrey is rich in public park spaces, outdoor activities, 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 visit in Surrey, 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, hiking trails, 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.
Ride the Rails
Located in Cloverdale, Fraser Valley Heritage Railway is Surrey’s own heritage railway. Take a guided tour of the community’s railway and ride on a bit of interurban history. The 1225 runs from Cloverdale Station to Sullivan Station every weekend throughout the summer.
The ride goes through the farm lands to Sullivan Station, where people wave to passengers on the train as it goes by. The train ride takes approximately 55 mins round trip. The passenger attendant on each train gives a commentary on the journey.
Historic Stewart Farm is located in south Surrey, in Elgin Heritage Park along the Nikomekl River. History comes alive as costumed guides tell the story of a hardworking Surrey family from the early 1900s. Note about accessibility: There is a ramp on the west side of the farmhouse leading to the verandah.
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. 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.
Kids can join the fun. Family Hour (a tamer version of the scary haunted houses) 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.
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. My pick for where to stay in Surrey is its chic 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, 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.
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. This high ceilinged space 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