Sometimes the call of the open road lures us away from the big city. We grab some water bottles, fill the gas tank to full and just drive. Most of the time we have no final destination in mind, only an idea of what direction we want to head in. When you live in Calgary, heading out to the mountains during the summer weekends can be like trading one rat race for another and when you’re dodging throngs of tourists on the sidewalks of Banff…there’s really no difference. If we want to relax, but still enjoy the joys of civilization, we head for a small town. There’s just something about a small town that makes me smile.
Our Cool Little Town adventure began on a sunny Saturday summer morning. We packed up the dogs and headed south on my favourite Alberta highway #22, dubbed the Cowboy Trail because it passes through so much gorgeous ranchland. The views along this highway begin with rolling grassland hills that give way to the mountains in the distance as this north/south highway runs parallel to the southern portion of the Rocky Mountains. I spent a lot of time with the window rolled down, trying not to drop my phone as I took photo after photo of this classic Alberta landscape.
The first small town we hit is Turner Valley. It’s a typical small town with quiet side streets, big backyards, and ball tournaments. On weekends, it’s a bit more lively, as the main crossroads between highway 22 and Mains Street contains more than a few unique stops for hungry and thirsty travellers. The Chuckwagon Cafe is often one of the first stops that anyone makes because it is truly a small town gem. Already famous locally before it’s appearance on The Food Network’s ‘You Gotta Eat Here’, The Chuckwagon Cafe serves home style all day breakfasts and one of Alberta’s best burgers (okay THE best burger in Alberta). The AAA grain finished, hormone free Alberta beef comes from the owner’s own ranch west of Longview. It’s the real deal.
Since it was a Saturday morning, there was a bit of a wait for a table at The Chuckwagon Cafe and we were all starving. Waiting for a table was not an option because the three of us were beginning to get a little hangry. We drove around looking for our next destination for quite a while, considering we were in a small town. We were just about to head out to the next small town when my son shouted, “There it is, the burrito truck STOOOOOOP!”. I had to laugh, really. This place is pretty difficult to miss Motoburrito situated right there in the yard at Motorrad Performance Motorcycle Shop. Bright Dia de los muertos adirondack chairs, Mexican flags, and all sorts of kitschy knick knacks abound at this road side food trailer. There were a few families and single biker dudes enjoying their burritos in the sunshine but best of all, there was no line! We ordered right away and the ladies got to work while we chatted away. It turns out that Claudette and Anne’s husbands own and work together at the motorcycle shop so the most logical step for them was to open a burrito stop. They are open Wednesday-Sunday and make a mean breakfast burrito if you ever want to get on the road nice and early.
I know I’m definitely not the only one from Calgary that makes the odd weekend pilgrimage to Eau Claire Distillery in Turner Valley. I’ve been a big fan ever since they opened their doors in November 2015. One peek into my home liquor cabinet gives you an idea of how much Eau Claire has grown over the year…I have every spirit (except for the Nectarine distillers series) including the most recently produced Apple Brandy. Home cocktail enthusiasts and professionals alike love the ‘grain to glass’ concept of locally grown grains sourced directly from farmers. While the tasting room and distillery tours are open year round, summer is the time to enjoy a hand crafted cocktail and nibble on some charcuterie on the sidewalk patio. For the kids, there’s locally crafted sodas and gelato from Fiasco Gelato in Calgary.
After our tour and cocktail at Eau Claire Distillery we were ready for coffee. A quick drive to nearby Black Diamond, an equally quaint but perhaps slightly smaller and quieter town and we hit the caffeine jackpot! The Stop Coffee House and Gathering Place is everything you would expect from a small town coffee shop, and more. They have all the classic baked treats (I had to pick up a puffed wheat square, turns out it was the best puffed wheat square I’ve ever had!) and sandwiches you would expect but they also have espresso and cappuccinos. New this year is an outdoor stage (made out of an old haywagon) for impromptu open mics and scheduled summer performances. Check out their facebook page for upcoming shows and keep in mind that they also hold indoor performances during the winter. We had such friendly service at The Stop that I want to go back and spend an afternoon there in the sun with these great folks; just check them out in the photo above…great people! Not coincidentally, great people attract great acts of kindness. One day, shortly after the outdoor stage was set up, the people at The Stop showed up at work to find a set of stairs up to the stage when before there was none. Cool little town random acts of kindness …
While checking our schedule, we made the executive decision to visit one last small town after Black Diamond. We’ve passed through Longview so many times but all we’ve ever done is admired the ‘long view’, literally. I really don’t know why it took us this long to stop in at the Longview Jerky Shop because both of our boys are huge fans. I guess we were just content with buying our Longview Jerky at the Farmer’s Market or Co-op, rather than stopping at the source. What began as a butcher shop in 1978 has grown into an established and beloved small town Alberta business.
These cool little town experiences were just the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty of other interesting eateries, great music events, and local artisans to check out. Here are but just a handful of the fun things to do in Southern Alberta’s Cool Little Towns:
- Alberta Culture Days – Okotoks Sept. 30 – October 2
- Kristoferson Studio Open House – October 2 Turner Valley
- Nanton and Millarville Farmer’s Markets
- Bragg Creek Scarecrow Festival October 6 – November 7
- Branch Market & Studio – Black Diamond – a new shop featuring some of southern Alberta’s best ‘makers’ of handcrafted items.
- Willow Creek Forge – Nanton
- Firebrand Glass Studio – Black Diamond
- Black Diamond Bakery & Coffee Shop – specializing in traditional and Danish baked goods.
To find out more, visit the Cool Little Towns website HERE.