Everyone knows Whistler is a haven for hikers, mountain bikers, and general outdoorsy thrill-seekers. So what if you're more into the "apres" than the ski?
With its proximity to Metro Vancouver and easy access via the stunning Sea to Sky Highway, Whistler is a perfect fall weekend getaway, even if you aren't super sporty.
Now, I can't help you if you hate the outdoors overall - let's face it: Whistler's raison d'etre is the outdoors, and you will need to get yourself from where you're staying to where you want to eat, relax, or learn whether it's on your own two feet or wheels. Pack your weekend bag with cold weather essentials, like boots that can work in rainy or slushy/snowy conditions, a warm jacket, gloves and a hat. And don't forget your non-medical face masks - this is travel in the time of COVID, after all.
Where to eat
The resort town is packed with restaurants, cafes, and bakeries, perfect for people-watching patio sessions as well as picking up treats on the go or enjoying a beautiful meal. You'll find a mix of familiar major players in the Village, as well as some veteran spots that invariably end up on the must-visit list (like Araxi or Purebread, for example). Vancouverites will recognize spots like Peaked Pies and La Cantina from their Vancouver outposts, and some tried-and-true local haunts like Splitz Grill for burgers, the Southside Diner for those hangover cure breakfasts, and Bar Oso for cocktails and charcuterie.
For a terrific dinner out, the award-winning Alta Bistro has a great fall special right now, which is a "Family Style" dinner for two for $79. The meal begins with their housemade focaccia and spread of the day, followed by a couple of appies and a main, then dessert. You'll get to share plates of things like Smoked B.C. Rockfish or a Wild Mushroom Cassoulet, all featuring beautiful ingredients like produce sourced from farms in nearby Pemberton. The cozy dining room still feels intimate even with all the COVID safety protocols in place, and you can toast to your good sense for booking a table with cocktails from their bar or one of the terrific wines from their list.
If dinner is a more casual affair, tuck into pizza and pasta at Pizzeria Antico on Main St in the Village They're firing up their hand-stretched pies and pouring great brews in a fun atmosphere - and they do take-out, too. Their Caesar Salad is an absolute must; it comes loaded onto their house flatbread, and it's a generous portion perfect for sharing, and their pizzas are served with a pair of scissors for custom cutting.
Come brunch time, there's a fresh option in town thanks to legendary steakhouse Hy's, which is piloting their all-new brunch menu in Whistler. Warm up under the heaters on their patio and sip on fresh-squeezed OJ or their house Caesar or Bloody Mary, and enjoy their thick, rich, berry-topped French Toast or their tender steak and eggs. You can even get a grilled cheese sandwich made with their signature cheese bread.
Speaking of bread, carb-lovers will want to take note of Bred, aka Ed's Bred, which is down in Creekside. This all-vegan bakery makes the absolute best sourdough loaves, along with plant-based baked treats and espresso drinks.
You'll also find the perfect sweet treat at Whistler's beloved outpost of Cow's, the PEI-based ice creamery. They have a dazzling array of flavours you can get in a cup or a cone, including a couple of dairy-free options.
Do some exploring
Whistler was made for walking, and that's just what you should do. Stroll the Village, or check out the Valley Trail (which connects all the Whistler neighbourhoods) and pause for all the beautiful moments you'll want to snap pics of. One of my favourite little hidden gem walks is through Florence Petersen Park, which basically puts you in a quiet forest glade adjacent to all the Village's bustle - there are some great little treasures along this path, including some fun public art.
There is art aplenty in Whistler, including a fun self-guided Indigenous art-spotting walk you can do as you make your way through the Village. The big draw, however, is the Audain, which is open for visitors Thursdays through Sundays and on holiday Mondays. There are also several small galleries in town; you'll find some eye-catching works inside the Whistler Contemporary Gallery that make for a fun diversion. The Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre (SLCC) is also a worthy stop for learning about the two First Nations groups upon whose land Whistler is built. Be sure to catch the live welcome song in the courtyard, and if you've got kids they have a challenging quiz to work on while you're exploring the exhibits. One last little off-the-beaten-path option is the Whistler Museum, which is a small venue packed with neat background on the region's history, wildlife, and Olympic legacy. If you've got little ones with you, ask for a scavenger hunt at the front to make their visit special.
Speaking of kids, if you manage to get there during a dry spell, the playground in the Olympic Plaza is absolutely fantastic. There are lots of spots nearby to pick up a coffee and a treat, too, to enjoy while you wait for the kids to get their fill of climbing and sliding. This is also where you can pose with the Olympic rings and enjoy your very own 2010 throwback moments.
Relax at the spaaaaahhh...
Indoor pools aren't really a thing in Whistler (I've always wondered why not) but there are several reputable spas if the ultimate in relaxation is on the agenda. There's the popular Scandinave, as well as spa facilities at most major hotels.
Fine, maybe a little "hiking"
Okay, so you might not be the kind of Whistler visitor who brings a bike or plans to spend a day hiking challenging terrain, but there is one gentle hike that you can check out come nighttime that is particularly special. Vallea Lumina is the "night hike" multimedia experience that finds visitors immersed in a bright and beautiful story told through projections, installations, and music that brings together local lore, the allure of nature, and the power of human connection. Make your way up and around the illuminated hillside terrain, taking pauses to view scenes that take you further into the story, until you are actually inside the story and showered in magical lights. The night hike is an easy one and is suitable for kids, too (though no strollers are permitted on the trail).
If your legs are up for it the popular Train Wreck hike in the Whistler area is a good option for getting in your exercise and some excellent photo ops thanks to the graffiti-laden train cars that are the focal point of the trail.
Whistler offers a range of accommodations, from the bare basics of the Pangea Pod Hotel to all-out luxury at high-end spots like the Four Seasons or the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. For something terrific that strikes a perfect balance the Hilton Whistler Resort & Spa is a great option for a weekend stay. The hotel chain has rigorous COVID-19 safety protocols, including mandatory masks in public spaces, elevator capacity limits, and sealed room doors post-cleaning that ensure no one goes in after housekeeping before your arrival.
The Hilton has a number of rooms with kitchenettes, which is great if you'd rather save some money on dining out, need a place to stash leftovers or food you've bought to take back home with you, or if you want to enjoy some drinks and snacks in your room after the 10 p.m. liquor service cut-offs now in place in B.C. If a larger suite is in your budget, the Hilton Whistler's two-bedroom suites can easily sleep six and come with a full kitchen, washer-dryer, and their own steam room (probably the best amenity you could imagine for restoring achy muscles after walking around the Village or on trails all day). That washer-dryer, by the way, can come in handy if you have gotten soaked in rain or slush, and also for a quick turnover for clean face masks. The hotel has a restaurant that's open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and there's an outdoor pool on the site that may beckon you a bit more easily in the warmer months.
Thanks to the Hilton Whistler Resort & Spa for providing a two-night stay and breakfast and to Tourism Whistler for facilitating some of the meals and activities; all opinions and inclusions are those of the author’s and were not guided or influenced in any way, and none of the businesses or entities mentioned were granted any previews of the story prior to publication.