Too often we reduce cities to their most popular cultural activities. Anyone who goes to Paris knows to visit the Eiffel Tower and scope out elegant cafés, and travelers to Sydney simply have to snap a photo in front of the Opera House and try some vegemite — no matter your personal feeling on the Australian spread. But, as travelers, we also know that those magical moments we crave often occur when we stray off on our own with a nose for discovery. In Edmonton, it’s a little more difficult to nail down those touchstone attractions, mainly because the city itself, being the northernmost major metropolis in North America, already feels off the beaten path. Nevertheless, we’ve rounded up a list of the most eccentric, out-of-the-box destinations to discover within Alberta’s capital.
Since it’s located outside of downtown Edmonton, you’ll have to hop in your car or call a cab in order to reach this artisanal bakery and doughnut shop. But if you’re not willing to venture off the beaten path for your doughnuts — not to mention, a doughnut party — are you truly a doughnut lover? That said, it’s not the distance that makes this shop so special; it’s the flavors. In lieu of well-worn classics like chocolate glazed and jelly-filled, here you’ll find eccentric creations like matcha coconut, orange black sesame, and pear chai fritters.
The bakery features a rotating menu with six flavors at a time, so we recommend gathering a group of pastry pals, ordering a half-dozen, and sampling them all. If you end up with a definitive favorite, you can always order more. (We won’t tell…) And don’t worry about all those extra calories. After you’ve finished the doughnuts and scraped the excess frosting from the sides of the box, you can ride your bike up the Greenbelt Bike Path and relax with a cup of joe from Iconoclast Coffee Roasters.
Neon Sign Museum
Come nightfall, one particular section of the 104 Street neighborhood (“Fourth Street Promenade”) in the Warehouse District comes alive. A major part of the city’s efforts to revitalize 104 Street, the Neon Sign Museum is an outdoor collection of — you guessed it — neon signs, which chronicle the history of the area’s developmental and commercial past.
It started with just eight historic signs featuring the iconic style popularized in the 20th century, but today you can see up to 20 that have been donated by businesses in the area, such as Colonel Mustard’s Canteen, Georgia Baths, and Hayden’s Furniture. The best part? The museum is open 24/7 and admission is free, so there’s nothing stopping you from walking by late at night and marveling at the signs’ nostalgic glow.
There was a time when public art was relegated solely to museums and galleries, spaces separate from the rest of a city, where you could take a break and observe a masterpiece before moving on to the next part of your day. Those days have passed. In Edmonton, as in many modern metropolitan areas, art is woven into the fabric of the city. You can find it displayed on the sides of skyscrapers, tucked away in hidden parks, plastered onto the sides of ATM’s and mail boxes. It’s an integral part of the urban design, injecting light and inspiration into the everyday lives of its citizens.
While you certainly won’t be at a loss when seeking out murals and sculptures along the streets of Alberta’s capital, there are definitely a few highlights you’ll want to check out. If you’re by Rogers Place, for instance, be sure to stop by Tsa Tsa Ke K’e (or, Iron Foot Place), a 45-foot-wide (13.7 meters) circular mosaic set in the floor of Ford Hall. The piece was designed by indigenous artist Alex Janvier, who used a flourish of swirling colors to highlight the land that Edmonton rests upon.
It’s worth a long, long look. Art-lovers should also venture to Borden Park, where you can view New York-based artist Marc Fornes’ 20-foot-tall (6.1 meters) pavilion known as the Vaulted Willow. This public marvel is as much a feat of engineering as it is an eye-popping, futuristic design.
And if it’s murals that you’re in search of, you won’t have to travel far. Awe-inspiring compositions can be found all throughout the city, meaning art enthusiasts can embark upon a scavenger hunt of sorts to seek them out. To aid in your search, visit Rust Magic, which curates maps for the best street art in Edmonton. But be sure to check out the recently completed 1,400-square-foot (130 square meters) mural from Spanish artist Okuda San Miguel. Stretching six stories, the work features a rainbow-colored, anthropomorphic dog standing in rippling water with mountains, trees, and nude humans in the background. You can’t miss it.
Lamont Limo Graveyard
There’s not really a reason for the limousines sticking out of the ground in Lamont, Alberta, just north of Elk Island. They don’t represent a monument to anyone lost in a car accident, and they’re not a statement on the damaging effects of capitalism. They’re just there for people to enjoy. It all started when Terry Carter, the owner of Aldon Auto Salvage in Lamont, received two beat-up limos and decided to stage them as a car crash scene. He liked the resulting image, so he started seeking out more limos and arranging them particularly around his yard, his own version of Nebraska’s Carhenge. Today, there’s a whole slew of them sticking out of the ground at various angles, and the eccentric creation has become a point of pride for Edmontonians, who flock to the spot and boast about it on social media. It’s often the most out-of-the-ordinary spectacles that bring a city together.
From the outside, you’d never know that this unassuming gray building in the heart of the Old Strathcona neighborhood houses Strathcona Spirits, Edmonton’s first-ever distillery, and North America’s smallest.
It stands out as a maker of two gins (one seaberry, one barrel-aged) and a vodka in an area more popular for craft beer than fine liquor. The space was originally used as an underground music venue, but today you can visit for a tasting and a tour — though, as the website notes, given their unusually small size, this is “more of a turn and point experience.”
Even if you don’t consider yourself a connoisseur of spirits, it’s still worth a visit, as you can admire the bottles’ intricate packaging, which incorporates a lot of regional symbolism, and which they design in conjunction with an Argentine artist. Bottoms up!
Some of the most exciting attractions are the ones that were never expected in the first place. That was the case with Edmonton’s Accidental Beach, a popular stretch of sand looking out over downtown. It emerged out of the blue along the North Saskatchewan River near the Cloverdale neighborhood during construction on the nearby Tawatinâ LRT Bridge in the summer of 2017, and the impromptu sandbar became an overnight hotspot, attracting Edmontonians who wanted to sunbathe, picnic, and party in the shadow of their city’s skyline.
The beach disappeared in the fall and rose again this past summer when construction continued, but its saga has not progressed without controversy. Excessive litter, parking issues, late-night noise, and the dangers of fluctuating water levels have caused many in the city to call for increased restrictions, and possibly even the implementation of a new beach further down the river to attract sun-seekers elsewhere. As it stands, the beach has already disappeared for the season, but if you’re visiting in the summer, keep your eye out for this Canadian curiosity.
Which of these off-the-beaten-path attractions would you visit first? Let us know in the comments.