Interview with Where.ca

Where.ca recently contacted me about participating in their Travel Tuesday Q&A. I promptly agreed. A chance to talk about my favourite place on the planet (The Canadian Rockies)? You bet I will!

They asked me lots of questions about my favourite spots in the Canadian Rockies, my life as a writer, and my own travel habits. My favourite question: Are there any common misconceptions about the Rockies region that you’d like to dispel? You’ll have to read the article to find out!

Java Life in Banff: Coffee Shop Guide

Wild Flour Artisan Bakery Cafe on Bear Street, Banff.

I once heard that Canadians are some of the highest per capita coffee drinkers in the world. Living in Banff, where there more coffee shops in a 2km radius than there are mountains, it’s not hard to believe.

So which is the best one to sit down and read the paper? Where do you go to grab a cup-of-joe and run? Which coffee shop has the best java? Wireless internet access?


Guide to Banff’s Coffee Shops

Wild Flour: Banff’s Artisan Bakery Cafe  (i)

Let’s start with my personal favourite. This is truly the local’s hangout. If you do live in Banff, you could easily see 10 people walk in that you know in a 5 minute time span. This is the spot in Banff for organic and freshly baked breads, baguette, as well as soups, grilled paninis, cookies, squares and much more. They also offer a number of vegetarian or vegan options. As far as drinks go, they have loose leaf teas, fair trade coffees, espresso based drinks, organic fruit juices, homemade ice tea and more. This coffee shop is full of natural light and the walls often feature local art and photography.

Website • 101-211 Bear Street, The Bison Courtyard

What’s Sweet: Best Coffee, Daily Focaccia Bread, London Fogs, Wild Flour Brownie, Local Culture.

What’s Bitter: Sometimes Slow Service (but ‘Worth the Wait,’ they say!), Patchy Wireless Access.

Jump Start (i)

This coffee shop has your usual fresh brew with a selection of fresh-baked treats, sandwiches, soup and ice cream. Located directly across the street from Banff’s Central Park, this is a great spot to pop in for some lunch items to go and enjoy as a picnic. The ambiance here is exactly as the name suggests. It is spunky and fun, but lacks the ‘local feel’ as it is not somewhere that people generally meet up or hang out. If you’re new to town, check the bulletin board here for accommodations, furniture and snowboards for sale.

206 Buffalo Street

What’s Sweet: Cheap Lattes, Community Bulletin Board, Bar-Style Seating for Great People Watching.

What’s Bitter: Decor a Bit Outdated.

Cake Company Cafe (i)

Located in the Bear Street Mall, the Cake Company has options for both breakfast and lunch (coffee, muffins, pastries, breakfast bagels, wraps and soups). It is a great coffee shop to hit if you are wanting a hot drink and more of a meal. Even though it is located in a mall, it has windows facing out onto Bear Street, so it doesn’t feel stagnant. There are a few tables available in the shop itself and a few more located just inside the mall. You’ll often see locals meeting here in the morning or people reading through the newspaper while they enjoy their cup of coffee. The food is simple, but good, and is always made ready to go if that’s what you need.

Bear St. Mall, Suite 6011

What’s Sweet: Breakfast Bagels, Soups, No Line-Ups, Friendly Staff, Free WIFI.

What’s Bitter: Slightly Industrial Decor.

Second Cup (i)

Since their renovations, this Second Cup now offers a cozy enough spot to sit and meet a friend or grab a coffee on the go. It is busy in the morning with locals grabbing their coffee on the way to work, especially those who work in the Cascade Plaza. This coffee shop specializes in espresso-based specialty drinks and some (dare I say unhealthy) snack foods (muffins, biscotti, squares and granola bars). There is internet access here, though they don’t encourage patrons to stay on for more than half an hour, which is not the most convenient thing for a writer. The great thing is you can almost always find a seat here, though.

Website • 317 Banff Ave., Cascade Plaza

What’s Sweet: Great Flavoured Coffees, Seasonal Lattes, Biscotti, Friendly and Quick Service.

What’s Bitter: Lengthy Internet Access Discouraged.

Evelyn’s Coffee World (i)

This is a beautiful new coffee shop right on Banff Avenue that can be accessed from the street or inside Sundance Mall. It has one of the best ‘coffee shop feels’ in town, but unfortunately doesn’t have a ton of seating. Not only can you buy coffee drinks, italian sodas and daily menu items, but you can also buy coffee ‘equipment’ (perks, mugs, coffee beans, etc.). I particularly love the decor here and the large leather chairs to sit back and enjoy a book. This is one of Banff’s hidden secrets…still.

215 Banff Ave.

What’s Sweet: Great Ambiance, Hot Chocolate, Mugs for Sale.

What’s Bitter: Lack of Seating.

Evelyn’s Coffee Bars

The owners of Evelyn’s Coffee World also bring you three other Evelyn’s Coffee Bars in Banff. To make this easier, I’ve broken this down into a few descriptions.

Evelyn’s Coffee Bar is located just a few stores down from Evelyn’s Coffee World. It is a tight squeeze to get in and offers the same food and beverage options as the full-on shop. It is your grab and go spot, but the line up tends to be out the door in the summertime. Still, it is an option and if it’s busy then you can hop on down just one block to the next Evelyn’s.

Website • 201 Banff Ave.

Evelyn’s Again is located on Banff Avenue in the same plaza as the Elk and Oarsman. It offers more seating than the Coffee Bar, so you may have better luck finding a seat to read the paper or chat with a friend. This Evelyn’s often features local photography, which gives the community a chance to shine.

Website • 119 Banff Ave.

Evelyn’s Too is the third location, but this one isn’t on Banff Avenue. This one is located next to the Lux Cinema. It has very minimal seating, but is the ideal spot to grab and go. Of all the Evelyn’s Coffee Bars, it feels the least busy.

Website • 229 Bear Street.

What’s Sweet: Quick Service, Local Photography Exhibits at One Location, Great for Grab and Go.

What’s Bitter: Lack of Seating.

Starbucks Banff Avenue (i)

This is probably the most popular coffee shop in Banff other than Wild Flour because of its recognizable name. As a tourist town, visitors flock to places like these – comforts from home – because they are, well, everywhere. This Starbucks has a cozy feeling with a variety of seating options and all your usual caffeinated/decaffeinated, no foam/foam, 2%/non-fat coffee drinks of every variety. This coffee shop has by far the most reliable internet connection and no one is there to kick you out, even when you’ve been sitting for 3 hours. Maybe that’s just because they know me there, though.  Here you can enjoy some local photography while you sip on your hot brew by the fireplace. They also have some food options similar to those at Second Cup.

Website • 225A Banff Ave.

What’s Sweet: Quick Service, Great Seating, Reliable Internet, A Great Extra-Hot No-Foam Soy Latte (ok, that’s mine).

What’s Bitter: Gets Busy in Spurts, Higher Prices.

Starbucks (Sulphur Mountain Gondola)

Nestled at the base of the Sulphur Mountain Gondola, this is quite possibly one of the niftiest Starbucks you’ll find…during the quieter season in Banff. Otherwise, it is quite busy with tourists that are picking up their cappuccino for their eight minute ride up the gondola. When you catch it in a slower time, you can find a quiet-ish spot to sit and look at the local photography (seeing a theme with Banff Coffee Shops here?) Make it a part of your trip up to the gondola or the Banff Upper Hot Springs – that’s what it’s there for.

Website • Mountain Ave.

What’s Sweet: Location, Energy, Photography, Convenience.

What’s Bitter: For Tourists, Busy When Gondola Busy.

Starbucks (Safeway)

OK, I don’t know why people would struggle to grab a coffee while they’re hauling 8 reusable bags to their car, but if that sounds like your cup of tea, grab one here. This is the usual Starbucks in a miniature size. If you need a coffee or your favourite espresso drink, you can grab it here. This stop can’t even be qualified as a coffee shop, so let’s leave it there.

Website • 225A Banff Ave.

What’s Sweet: Quick Service, Convenience.

What’s Bitter: No Seating, No Ambiance.

(i) Indicates wireless internet access.

Post updated May 30, 2012.

© Meghan J. Ward, 2010.

Sundance Canyon

If you are using this information for your own trip, please read this disclaimer and description of my abilities.

Sundance Canyon (approx. 7.4km) in Banff National Park is a relatively easy stroll to a more moderate hike up the canyon itself. After having lived in the Bow Valley for a few years, I was a bit ashamed to say that I had never done the walk out to Sundance Canyon, so I did it today. The trail starts on the other side of the Cave and Basin at the end of Cave Avenue in the Town of Banff.

Great Views from the Sundance Canyon Trail

The pathway there is paved, and a bit boring that way, but it offers great views and leads you to a canyon that is well worth the walk. Winding its way along the Bow River, which was pretty high and muddy at this time of year, the trail offers views of the sharp spire of Mount Edith, Mount Cory, Mount Bourgeau, and on the return, Mount Rundle.

Spire of Mount Edith

At one point, I came across a tree that had been cut down and laid across the creek coming down the Sundance Canyon. The trail continued straight however, and it got me thinking that sometime in the past someone used that tree to cross the creek, who knows why. That’s one thing I love about exlporing this area and the Rockies in general – there is always a story behind what you see and mini-mysteries that can keep your mind busy thinking of hypotheses.

Tree Bridge

Sundance Canyon

Either at the beginning or the end of your hike, you can also pay a visit (free to locals) to the Cave and Basin National Historic Site to learn more about the formation of the Parks System in Canada. It’s a pretty funky spot with a lot of history. It’s especially fitting as Banff National Park celebrates its 125th birthday this year. “Discovered” in 1883, this site of natural hot springs (reeking of sulphur) presented a great controversy over its ownership. The dispute was eventually settled by the government claiming the hot springs as for all people in the nation of Canada and establishing the 26 km2 Hot Springs Reserve in 1885. Two years later, the Rocky Mountains Park Act expanded the reserve to 405 km2.

The Cave and Basin

© Meghan J. Ward, 2010.