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, 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.
- 1 Things to Do in Abbotsford
- 1.1 Tiptoe Through the Tulips at Bloom
- 1.2 Fly Up and Away at the Abbotsford Air Show
- 1.3 Sip High Tea
- 1.4 Swing at the Driving Range
- 1.5 Get Juiced
- 1.6 Feast on Brunch
- 1.7 Get Stuffed at Duft
- 1.8 Kit out the Kitchen
- 1.9 Curate Your Home
- 1.10 Get Your Art On
- 1.11 Shop Farm Fresh
- 1.12 Caffeine Fun with Friends
- 1.13 Splurge on Seafood
- 1.14 Curate your Wardrobe
- 1.15 Hunt for Treasure
- 1.16 Get Your Game On
- 1.17 Meet Bees, Taste Mead
- 1.18 Do Wine Tastings
- 1.19 Be a Little Bit Country
- 1.20 Get Craft-Beery
- 1.21 Go Birding
- 1.22 Take a Hike and a Selfie
- 2 Where to Stay in Abbotsford
Things to Do in Abbotsford
Tiptoe Through the Tulips at Bloom
The popularity of Bloom, Abbotford’s Tulip Festival has been phenomenal, and responsible for some highway traffic jams on busy weekends. Peter Warmerdam and his family immigrated from the Netherlands and settled in the Fraser Valley in 1950. Peter proudly brought his Dutch heritage, horticultural knowledge and farming experience to the area, where he began with a few acres of daffodil flowers. Alexis, Peter’s granddaughter, came up with the idea for Bloom, and the rest is, as they, Abbotsford history.
The Festival is a seasonal event best visited in April and May, when the flowers are at their bloomiest and loveliest. Keep in mind that the tulips and daffodils will bloom at different times, so you’ll nearly always have rows upon rows of flowers to appreciate and photograph during the festival. Pay for some U-Pick blooms to bring home, or order bulbs to plant in your own garden in fall. If you’re coming out for the day, consider doing one or more of the activities mentioned below, or better yet, extend your stay to really appreciate all that Abbotsford has to offer.
Tip: Purchase tickets online ahead of time, and try to visit on a weekday if possible. If you’re limited to weekend visits, no worries, just get there early, or go late in the day for that special early evening light. Also, wear flat shoes or rainboots. You’ll be walking on the earth, and often, in the mud.
Fly Up and Away at the Abbotsford Air Show
The Abbotsford Air Show is one of the largest air shows in Canada. If you’re an aviation fan (as we are), this is a must-see show of acrobatic fliers, precision flying demos, climb-aboard photo opps, chances to chat with pilots and air enthusiasts, and watch awe-inspiring flyovers by the Canadian Snowbirds and U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.
The Airshow takes place the second full weekend of August each year, and buying tickets in advance is highly recommended. As the general viewing area is a wide open grass field, it’s a good idea to pack along a picnic blanket, foldable chairs, sunscreen, and a beach umbrella to create some shade.
Sip High Tea
I love a High Tea experience, especially one as lovely and as chill as the Signature High Tea at Tracycakes. The chic black and white decor is the perfect setting to linger over coffee and colourful cupcakes (they come in more than 40 varieties), those elegant tiers of High Tea, or a glass of wine. In addition to High Tea, the menu features made-from- scratch meals including soups, salads, sandwiches, and quiche. On our visit, we spotted an incredible custom unicorn cake on our visit.
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 Brunch
Kristina and Johannes, also the owners of Old Hand, along with a third partner, founded Little Brother on simplicity and farm-to-plate and home-made foods. Everything from the butter to the yogurt to the fluffy pancakes and drool-worthy creamy mushrooms on sourdough toast is made from scratch. And let me tell you, it’s simple and divine. As I write this, things are in transition and the restaurant is evolving in partnership with Field House Brewing. So we’ll have to wait for the new iteration of Little Brother, but I have no doubt it will be incredible.
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.
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 with 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’s (VFF) vision is to use food to transform the local community and 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, working to create a culture of teaching, and bridging the gap between what is farmed and crafted with the food that is prepared and shared. 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, the same husband and wife duo who own Little Brother. 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. Find sweet and savoury decadent treats, snacks and small meals, each is 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 and distressed pieces reminiscent of 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 merchandising that blends 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), pyment (honey/grape wine) and more. 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, honey wines, and other products from the beehive such as 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 that IS from grapes grown 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, open year-round and showcasing 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.
DYK: Field House hosts local, live music every Thursday (and the occasional Tuesday) on their magical beer patio at 7 pm.
The mild and varied climate of Abbotsford’s ‘Heart of the Valley’, along with its position on a 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 all kinds and sizes of birds. We spotted herons, hawks, eagles and all manner of small birds on our walk through the park.
The parkland features two retention ponds and circling those ponds are two loop trails. Each loop trail circles a wetland pond and connects with each other. The northern loop trail measures 1.6 kilometres and the southern loop trail measures 2.33 kilometres. The Willband Creek Trails are easy going, level routes suitable for all ages and fitness levels. Located on the paths are sightseeing benches and wooden bridges. There is a trail map in the main gravel parking lot. The trails are shared gravel trails.
Take a Hike and a Selfie
All the incredible food and drink options in Abbotsford means that a bit of hiking and exercise is in order. 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.
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.
Read More about British Columbia
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.