Today’s Edmonton, Alberta City Guide comes to us from Amy Wowk, an intern architect who calls this prairie city, home. Amy was born and raised in Edmonton’s metropolitan area, and after leaving the city to study fine arts and then architecture in Calgary, Alberta and Barcelona, Spain, she has moved back home to fall in love with Edmonton all over again. She is a lover of all things creative and explorer of architecture, design and fine craft, and today, she takes us on a guide tour of her hometown’s best in dining, shopping and more. Thanks, Amy, for such a wonderful guide! —Stephanie
Read the full guide after the jump…
Photos by Tom Young
The city of Edmonton is Canada’s most northerly major city and the capital of the province of Alberta. It is a prairie city that offers an expansive river valley, top-notch educational institutions, a vibrant arts scene and friendly, hardworking folks with a do-it-yourself mentality.
There are larger, established institutions in Edmonton such as the Art Gallery of Alberta, Fort Edmonton Park, Winspear Centre of Music, and West Edmonton Mall (North America’s biggest shopping mall), but I’m going to leave those for the guidebooks. The spirit of Edmonton is evident in the smaller, grassroots organizations and urban interventions. Here, festivals are born to celebrate the dark winter sky with lighting installations in an underused pocket park. It is in Edmonton that a Railway Society teams up with a local brewery to offer a freshly brewed pint while riding the historic streetcar over the High Level Bridge. Edmontonians are creative, industrious, and yield a strong sense of community. It is Edmonton’s character that is on display at the farmers markets, art walks, music festivals, biking tours and burlesque shows.
Be sure to check out this Google Map with all of the below listings!
Edmonton’s Downtown Core is the heart of the city and overlooks the North Saskatchewan River. This area is bookended by the provincial legislature buildings and river valley in the south, and MacEwan University and Chinatown in the north. It is home to the Art Gallery of Alberta, Citadel Theatre, Francis Winspear Centre for Music, City Hall, and City Centre Shopping Mall. These premier destinations are linked by Churchill Square – a pedestrian plaza that hosts a variety of festivals (my favourite is Taste of Edmonton) and events like outdoor movie screenings, zumba at lunchtime, and weekend chess tournaments.
Downtown 104th Street (between Jasper Avenue and 102nd Ave) has become a destination street packed with fantastic eateries, interesting boutiques and it is also the summer location for Edmonton’s year-round City Market Downtown on Saturdays. When the colder weather hits, the market moves indoors to City Hall.
What makes Edmonton unique are the local gems that are in and amongst the large institutions, warehouses and office towers in the downtown core. Here’s the list.
Corso 32 was recognized as one of Canada’s top 50 restaurants in MacLean’s Magazine and is one of Edmonton’s hot spots to go for amazing Italian food and impeccable service. The small space gives a modern yet cozy vibe and reservations are a must. Seriously, make a reservation right now. Mastermind chef and owner, Daniel Costa is also opening up two more restaurants to watch out for in the future.
Tres Carnales Taqueria is a casual and relaxed taqueria where you can taste authentic flavours of Mexican street food. MacLean’s Magazine also list it in the top 50 restaurants in Canada! It’s hard to find authentic Mexican flavours this far north, but these guys have done it with gusto.
Cavern is an adorable café/bar and retail specialty cheese shop that is open long hours for early morning coffees to evening wine and cheese. The friendly owner is passionate about wine, cheese, chocolate and coffee and it is evident in the atmosphere, service and quality craft products that she carries. Cinq a Sept, (five to seven), is equivalent to the French happy hour and at Cavern, it is the happiest of hours as they offer a rotating selection of wine by the glass and cheeseboard specials.
The Common balances between a gastropub by day and shifts into a dance pub with a DJ, by night. The lunch and dinner menu offer pub and comfort foods with an unexpected twist. My favourite dessert on the menu is the Lavender Crème Brulee. The creamy custard has just a hint of lavender and then to take you by surprise, it is garnished with pop rocks, a flashback to my childhood!
has journeyed to Edmonton from our southern friends in Calgary and I have to say, it’s a great addition to the craft beer scene. The impressive selection of beer is displayed and updated electronically showing what is on tap and in bottles, alcohol content, freshness, stock and price. Their tasty pizza is the perfect match for a cold beer!
Cask & Barrel is a fantastic little watering hole full of character and charm. The split level space has many DIY-type fixtures and finishes that contribute to a cozy, creative interior. They offer specials depending on the day, like Wine Wednesday and Scotch Tastings and have a little strip of patio outside on the sidewalk to enjoy during nice weather.
Credo might just have the best coffee in the city! They serve the tastiest of coffees using Intelligentsia beans – a company that focuses on quality products and growers that are committed to sustainable environmental and social practices.
Characters Fine Diningis one of Edmonton’s high-end eateries that expertly serves tempting dishes in the style of Canadian continental, Asian and French cooking. The restaurant is elegant and full of, well, character, with details such as a converted elevator shaft providing space for a secluded table.
Yellowhead Brewery is one of Edmonton’s microbreweries that features its Yellowhead Premium Lager and classic German dishes on location. A hot spot to hold wedding receptions, they also offer tours and tastings by appointment only.
Mercer Tavern is a trendy and bustling pub that I would recommend for evening drinks and maybe some light snacks. It is located in one of Edmonton’s oldest buildings in the Warehouse district downtown (1911) and was originally used to store booze, cigars and wine. It’s come full circle and now is a trendy destination with a warm industrial atmosphere.
Roast is located right next door to the Mercer Tavern and is a coffee house and wine bar. The brightly lit space and people working on laptops or reading books definitely creates more of a coffee bar vibe, but nonetheless, they serve many tasty options for beverages, such as the maple bacon latte.
Hardware Grill is a high-end establishment in the city of Edmonton and known for its award-winning contemporary regional cuisine and impeccable service. Located in the historic Goodridge Block that was constructed in 1911, the restaurant’s name was inspired by previous hardware store tenants dating back to the 1930s. The elegant and comfortable atmosphere paired with delectable food and wine pairings allows patrons to enjoy every detail of fine dining.
The Marc The Marc serves up traditional offerings of classic French bistro fare in a tasteful black and white interior. Food is well-prepared and well-presented, and combined with friendly and knowledgeable service, this restaurant is a lovely spot for a romantic dinner or special celebration.
Tzin Wine & Tapas is located on the 104th Street Promenade and has perfected the art of small, shareable plates and wine pairing recommendations. With a handful of tables down one half of the space and an open kitchen down the other, this space is small and intimate. The flavours are divine and the service is impeccable, but don’t expect to linger for long as they often need to keep things moving as people wait for your table. Reservations are recommended and I would suggest only going in small numbers.
Wildflower Grill at the Matrix Hotel is open for lunch, dinner and brunch on Sundays, offering a fine dining experience serving what they call ‘new Canadian cuisine’. My interpretation of that is tasty local ingredients meets rustic wood-fired grilling with a contemporary twist. They have a good range of lighter fare to contrast larger meal sizes so there is something for everyone.
Dauphine is a French-inspired bakery and bistro providing freshly baked pastries, fancy breads, tart varieties and savoury snacks to the fine folks in Edmonton. Formerly known as Queen of Tarts, the business began at the 104th Street Farmers Market and now occupies a permanent location on the same street. Their lemon curd tart is a must try and has a smooth texture, with the optimum sweet/tart balance.
Pangaea Market is an organic food market and delicatessen that is convenient to swing into and pick up a soup and sandwich. Check out their 100km salad made with barley, peppers, parsley and other fresh ingredients sourced within 100km.
Viphalay is a local Laos/Thai jewel of a restaurant located downtown. Family-owned and operated, they take pride in their food, culture and traditions. Served as dishes to share among friends, the aroma of curry and coconut rice will make your mouth water.
Remedy Café serves reimagined Indian and Pakistani dishes in addition to their famous Chai teas. It’s a casual place to run in and grab a quick flavour-filled samosa, or hunker down with your laptop over a cup of Chai tea.
Kelly’s Pub is a typical sports pub smack dab in the middle of 104th street between Jasper Ave and 102 Ave. They have a pretty decent drink menu and the tasty pizza is just the thing to order while watching a hockey game.
29 Armstrong is Edmonton’s premier shop for clean, crisp modern furniture and some of the most design-forward home accessories. Located in Manulife Place, the selection and service at 29 Armstrong is delightful and will make any design-lovers heart melt.
Evoolution is a shop like no other! It is an olive oil and balsamic vinegar boutique with integrated tasting bar. Bread is provided to sample a variety of premium olive oils and vinegars and recommended pairings are labeled above each shiny metal spigot. The beautiful shop is a fascinating example of variety in quality ingredients. All foodies must stop here!
Artworks is a thoughtfully curated shop that hosts a collection of one-of-a-kind found objects, modern design pieces, beautiful jewelry and flowers. Additionally, they offer design services. It is a must-see to peruse the letter-pressed greeting cards, find a perfect gift or a special treat for yourself.
Alberta Craft Council is a nonprofit organization supporting and showcasing fine craft mediums (clay, glass fibre, metals, wood and stone). Their space is divided into a shop and two galleries and includes contemporary and heritage fine craft made by artists in Alberta. It never ceases to amaze me to see the talent that this province has to offer!
is the go-to boutique for men to shop for high quality business attire and weekend wear. They carry only the finest clothing that is fashioned and tailored to each man that walks through their door. Their collections appeal to many age groups. My smartly dressed dad shops here and so have boyfriends of years past.
Audreys Books is an institution for the literary community located in the historic MacLean Block on Jasper Ave. It’s roots are traced back to 1956, and over the years it has continued to provide the quintessential bookstore experience complete with in-store readings and literary events.
Carbon Environmental Boutique carries an incredibly well-researched inventory ranging from home building materials such as eco-paint and flooring to beauty and body care, and everything in between. This shop makes you think twice about your surroundings and encourages appreciation of nature and mindful living.
Kunitz Shoes has been around since 1981, opening as a children’s shoe store, expanding to include adult footwear and in 2011, opening a second location on Jasper Avenue. The new and spacious 3600 square foot location carries an impressive selection and pairs it with top-notch customer service.
Latitude 53 is a leading contemporary art centre that is forward thinking and pushing boundaries in experimental art practices, collaboration, and critical engagement. They host patio parties during the summer months that create the perfect event trifecta of drinks, music and contemporary art!
Harcourt House is an artist run centre that is the home of a public gallery exhibiting contemporary visual art in addition to providing art education and resources to artists and the larger community. To view a collection of talent that this city has to offer, try to catch my favourite event, the annual Member’s Show and BBQ!
STRATHCONA / UNIVERSITY
The Old Strathcona and University area is just south of the Saskatchewan River and the home to Whyte Avenue, a bustling street for events and shopping during the day and evening shenanigans at bars and pubs. There is a vibrant theatre arts scene in this area and festivals take to the streets and surrounding parks throughout the year. In addition to the lively nightlife, a year round farmers market on Saturdays is a popular outing,¬ as are visiting the many locally-owned restaurants and shops along the stretch of Whyte Ave.
Culina is one of my top choices for restaurants in Edmonton. Luckily there are two locations, one located in the Muttart Conservatory ( Edmonton’s botanical gardens housed in glass pyramids in the river valley) and one in Strathcona. Casual, yet elegant, both locations never cease to amaze my taste buds. Brunch is especially delicious.
BiBO is the eccentric and enchanting wine bar sibling in the Culina family. The title of ‘Canada’s smallest wine bar’ goes to this alley-like space located off of 99th Street. The moody atmosphere, small menu of tasty snacks and expert recommendations for the perfect wine contribute to BiBo’s charming and intimate wine experience.
The Next Act Pub is located just off Whyte Ave, and is always bustling with locals grabbing a pint, or a tasty burger in a casual pub atmosphere. They offer a reasonable beer selection of local beers and host cask nights every so often. A patio on the front street provides a good spot for people watching. The Next Act also operates a food truck that visits summer festivals and activities around the city.
Accent European Lounge is a cozy and intimate restaurant with a traditional interior of dark wood paneling and warm lighting. The staff is incredibly friendly and the menu features traditional European specialties including Steak Tartar, Weiner Schnitzel and Beef Goulash. They have a great bar menu with rotating craft beers on tap and live music on Thursdays.
Crave Cupcakes was cofounded by two sisters in Calgary with a passion for baking. Luckily for Edmonton, Crave Bakery headed north to expand and share their fresh baked sweet treats with the fine folks in this city. Their menu consists of seasonal selections, Gluten Free options and while they are known for their cupcakes, they also bake cookies and cakes.
Leva Cafe is a little gem tucked away in a residential area by the University that promotes itself as offering an Italian style coffee experience with a menu using local and/or organic ingredients. The building was previously a laundromat and has now been redesigned with a modern, refined atmosphere inside and out. They have a cute patio that is equally perfect for a morning coffee or a pizza for dinner.
The Sugar Bowl originally started in the 1940s as a burger joint, reopened during the 1980s as a coffee shop, and is going strong today as a modern and casual food and drink destination. Warm brick walls, rotating displays of local art on the walls, and garage style roll-up windows contribute to the trendy atmosphere of this restaurant that offers breakfast, lunch, dinner and weekend brunch. The cinnamon buns are a favourite, and reputed as one of the city’s best. Tucked just off the University of Alberta campus and just south of the High Level Bridge, the Sugarbowl also offers a decent beer selection, a few rotating taps and scheduled cask nights.
High Level Diner is a cozy diner located on the south end of the High Level Bridge with shabby-chic décor and a menu that is appealing to both the health conscious and the not-so-health conscious! Menus include Fish and Chip Mondays, and Ukrainian Thursdays in addition to a Celiac Friendly Menu. Supporting local artists work on the walls, and local produce used in their menu items, the High Level Diner has been a neighbourhood institution for over 30 years.
Gravitypope began in Edmonton in 1990 and has since been spreading their love of carefully curated footwear to Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto. There is a cult following for the unique brands and trend-setting selection of men’s, women’s and kid’s footwear. This shop is a must visit when you are in the market for beautiful footwear or to peruse the vast selection in the Whyte Ave shop that started it all.
Gravitypope Tailored Goods is a fashion boutique that carries beautiful goods for men and women. The Gravitypope store has carried clothing collections since 1992, but it wasn’t until 2007 that the clothing selection expanded into a thoughtfully designed space in the historical Crawford Block building just off of Whyte Ave. The level of detail in the fixtures and furnishings provide a complimentary backdrop for clothing collections, accessories and one-of-a-kind notions.
Wee Book Inn offers previously-loved books, magazines, movies, music, comics and collectable antique literature. There are four locations in Edmonton, with the original shop on Whyte Avenue established in 1971. Each location has resident cats that have all been named after Montreal Canadien hockey players, and provide the perfect company while perusing through the beauty of the printed word.
The Plaid Giraffe is an independent jewelry and accessories shop that carries a wide selection of Canadian-designed, vegan MATT & NAT bags. The shop also carries scarves, novelty items, and fashion jewelry and is geared towards younger females.
Vivid Print is a super fun print shop that offers art prints, custom printing and framing, lomography cameras and stationery in a bright and cheery atmosphere. A selection of Edmonton and Alberta’s historical archives are available in map, photo and blueprint format here, as are contemporary works from local artists and illustrators that portray regional landmarks. If you are looking for a creative piece of Edmonton’s history, or a hilarious greeting card, this print shop is the place to visit.
Oak + Fort originally born in Vancouver, has now come to Edmonton! This beautiful, minimal boutique sells women clothing and accessories and a small selection of men’s clothing. The general vibe is clean lines, muted colours and a minimalist aesthetic.
Loft 82is Oak + Fort’s sister store that offers women’s clothing and accessories with a slightly more romantic aesthetic inspired by nature, antiques and travel. They combine international designed collections in addition to their own in-store designed pieces.
Bamboo Ballroom is an independent boutique owned by two best friends that showcase local labels of women’s clothing and jewelry, a line of selected vintage apparel named Heirloom life and other trendy brands. The store is bright and airy and combined with their great customer service, it’s a lovely shopping experience.
Planet Organic is a certified organic grocery and health store originally established in Edmonton. It has since grown to two locations in Edmonton and six more stores spread across Canada. If you’re devoted to eating organic, stop by to pick up some snacks or for a grocery shop of fresh and tasty edibles.
Blush Lane Organic Market initially started at a farmers market and then opened a retail location in Calgary and has now come to Edmonton to provide a quality organic grocery experience. The store is bright and well organized and the prices are on par with the same items (and same vendors) at farmers markets. The benefit is that customers are not constrained to farmer’s market hours and this makes supporting your local farmers a piece of cake. Or should I say, kale.
Blues on Whyte is Edmonton’s quintessential blues bar. It may look a little rough around the edges, but it has a laid-back, unpretentious vibe that welcomes all sorts of people from all walks of life. People go for the music, plain and simple. Over the last forty years it has developed it’s reputation as “The beat in the heart of old Strathcona” and like the music is hosts, the bar is gritty, raw and real.
Garneau Theatre is an early modernist style movie theatre from 1940. Now it is a heritage landmark and the home of Metro Cinema, a community-based non-profit society that is devoted to the exhibition of Canadian, International and independent productions. Sometimes you just need less of current Hollywood and this is the place to go.
Every August, the Edmonton International Fringe Festival is hosted on the streets and in venues around Whyte Avenue. It is the largest and oldest Fringe Theatre event in North America. If you are looking for live theatre outside of the month of August, there are numerous theatre companies operating in the area.
124th STREET / HIGH STREET
The area of 124th Street and the offshoot of High Street, (formally 102 Avenue), is Edmonton’s destination for contemporary art. There are numerous commercial and artist-run galleries sprinkled in between boutique shopping and locally-owned cafes, restaurants and bakeries. This neighbourhood hosts a semi-annual Gallery Walk and the 124th Street Grand Market – a farmers market on Thursday evenings from the end of May until beginning of October.
Canteen is one of the newer restaurants on 124th Street that has taken Edmontonians by storm.
I recommend making reservations for a spot at the sleek and minimal fifty-seat restaurant. I also recommend the corn fritters with smoky maple syrup!
Sommerville Wine Room & Bistrois an intimate and cozy space open for dinner and drinks. They offer a revolving list of wines by the glass and both old and new world wines so there is something for everyone. The chili prawns are to die for!
has two locations in Edmonton and both are great, but I prefer eating on the back patio under the elm trees at their original location on High Street. Great selection of diner food, friendly service and I recommend to try the iced tea! It’s a spicy blend sweetened with maple syrup!
Duchess Bakery is a pretty French bakery providing only the best sweet and savoury treats to its loyal patrons. Its popularity is evident by the bustling energy of full tables, line-ups, and empty shelves if you arrive too late in the day. The almond croissant is one of my favs, but you can’t go wrong with any of their beautifully baked goods.
Steeps Urban Tea House is an eclectic tea house showcasing over 100 varieties of premium loose leaf tea from all over the world. Pick up a new blend to try or settle in with a book and cup of hot chai!
is a gourmet bake shop featuring mouth-watering cakes, pastries and made-in-house Belgium chocolates. Perfect for when you need to satisfy that sweet tooth! They are also the makers of Wayne Gretzky’s wedding cake back in 1988.
Dwell Modern and Lightform have joined forces to produce a mega-showroom that showcases contemporary furniture, lighting and home décor in an expansive glass-front store. The high-end retailer is an urbanite’s dream come true carrying brands such as Kartell, Ligne Roset, Blu Dot and more.
Provisions is the sister-store to Duchess Bakery and specializes in a selection of high quality dry goods, extracts, preserves, kitchen tools and cookbooks. It’s a fun place for the home and professional pastry chef to be inspired.
has been providing fine stationery, writing instruments, greeting cards, journals and gift wrap to Edmontonians since 1986. A hand-written note has never looked so good.
Call the Kettle Black is stocked full of culinary tools and toys to delight the most passionate of kitchen enthusiasts. The selection of items is inspiring and you feel as though you could be king or queen of the kitchen if only you had that fancy spatula, cast iron skillet or pyrogy maker!
Food Dish Wishes
is a gourmet pet bakery where you can pick up a little treat for your favourite four legged friend. In addition to providing an extensive selection of pet accessories and toys, they make homemade pastries, ice creams and made to order specialty cakes for your pets.
Paddy’s Cheese Market (12509 102 Ave, 780-413-0367) is for all the cheese lovers out there! They carry an extensive selection of international cheeses and cheese accoutrements. The options can be overwhelming, but fear not, the staff is always helpful with information or a sample of cheese to try.
LUX Beauty Boutique is, as the name suggests, a beauty boutique for luxury indulgences. Everyone deserved a treat once in awhile!
The Front Gallery focuses on local Edmonton and area artists and carries work from emerging, midcareer and established artists. The gallery vibe is a little more laid back than your typical gallery, and it is not uncommon to end up chatting with one of the artists as they drop new work off.
Scott Gallery founded in 1986, represents over 40 artists and features contemporary Canadian art. The space is open and well lit, and it’s been my experience that the employees are well informed about the work and excited to share information with you.
SNAP or the Society of Northern Alberta Print Artists is an art-run centre that helps make Edmonton awesome. They do this by promoting traditional and experimental printmaking techniques and housing a gallery and printmaking studio. They also offer classes and workshops.
Bear Claw Gallery is Edmonton’s headquarters for contemporary and traditional First Nations art. For over three decades, the gallery has represented native and Inuit artists that create paintings, soapstone sculptures, and traditional craft items.
Bergera Matheson Gallery features Canadian contemporary fine art and exhibits paintings with a variety of subject matter ranging from abstract, landscape, still life and figurative.
West End Gallery was established in 1975, and presents a wide range of Canadian paintings and sculptures. Make sure to check out the back end of the gallery to see an impressive collection of contemporary glass art.
‘Festival City’ is a nickname that Edmonton has earned by hosting more than thirty established festivals throughout the year. The list is long, and always growing but I will leave you with a sampling of my favourites:
Michael J.Fox (actor)
Leslie Nielsen (actor)
Jill Hennessy (actress)
W.P. Kinsella (author of the book that became the film, Field of Dreams)
Nellie McClung (first woman appointed to the Board of Governors of the CBC)
Emily Murphy (first female magistrate in British Empire and petitioned Supreme Court of Canada to allow women to vote)
K.D. Lang (singer/songwriter)
Maren Ord (singer/songwriter)
Kreesha Turner (singer/songwriter)
Shout Out Out Out Out (musicians)
Mike Comrie (hockey player)
Mark Messier (hockey player)
John Acorn (naturalist)