How to spend 24 hours in Calgary, Alberta
Drag yourself out of the king-size bed, swing open the shades, and take in the Calgary skyline from your balcony at Hotel Arts (119 12th Ave SW, downtown). Shield your eyes from the glare of the 360-degree windows atop Calgary Tower. Shower and shave.
Grab breakfast at the 1940s-style Galaxie Diner at 1413 11th St SW. Sit at the bar and order the choice omelet: select your stuffings from cheese, Montreal smoked meat, bacon, beef sausage, ham, sautéed mushrooms, green peppers, onions, green onions, tomatoes, banana peppers, salsa, and sour cream. Pick ‘em all if you want. No matter how many options you choose, it’s all the same price: $14.75 plus tax.
After breakfast, hit the streets. Notice that pedestrian signals change immediately once the crossing button is pressed. Observe the cars stopping at a comfortable distance from you, the drivers smiling and waving for you to cross. Compare that to where you’re from.
For about $15, you can take in the panoramic view of the city from the Calgary Tower at 101 9th Ave SW. Built in 1968, it was once among the highest 360-degree observation decks in the world. Now it ranks 55th, at 517 feet (157.5 meters). Canton Tower in Guangzhou, China is the tallest (1,601 feet / 488 meters), followed by the Shanghai World Financial Center (1,555 feet / 474 meters). Still, this tower gets you high enough for an unobstructed view of the Rocky Mountains to the west and the expansive prairies to the east. Stand on the thick glass panels embedded in the floor and imagine falling through.
Rent a bike at Eau Claire Rapid Rent (200 Barclay Parade SW) and make your way to Eau Claire Park, where fit white-collar folks jog on their lunch breaks. Countless shops, restaurants, and pubs are nearby, and depending on the day you might stumble on an outdoor theater or concert performance.
Pass through Prince’s Park to catch a glimpse of the cityscape from the east, crossing over the Peace Bridge, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava (who also designed Toronto’s Brookfield Place, the Milwaukee Art Museum, and renovated Berlin’s Oberbaum Bridge). Continue alongside the Bow River, working up an appetite.
Roll over to Inglewood, the city’s oldest neighborhood (est. 1875), and grab lunch at Eat! Eat! Inglewood (1325 9th Ave SE) — homemade potato and bacon soup with a grilled cheese on sourdough. Check out the unusual collages adorning the walls.
Explore 9th Ave, Calgary’s first main street and the center of the city’s arts and shopping district. Grab a coffee to go from Nine Café (1319 9th Ave SE). Wander into the many art galleries and thrift shops; admire the vintage trinkets, Western wear. Try on some cowboy hats for size. According to the sign posted at the entrance of the city, Calgary is the “home of the new West.”
Cycle back downtown, park, and walk Stephen Avenue (between 1st and 4th St SW), a National Historic Site and Calgary’s pedestrian mall. Named after George Stephen, the first president of the Canadian Pacific Railway, it’s home to the city’s highest concentration of pre-20th century buildings, which happen to be made predominantly of sandstone — a fire-resistant alternative to wood — due to a blaze that wiped out much of the area in 1886. Stop for a beer at any of the street’s patio pubs.
Consider some shit-kickers at Riley & McCormick’s, a Western-wear staple since 1901. Head over to The Unicorn Pub (hopefully with a new pair of snakeskin boots on). Bonus if it’s Wing Wednesday: at 35 cents a wing, it’s fiscally if not physically painless to sample the 35 flavors of hot wings: Tough Guy, After Burn, Hell Fire, Satan’s Candy. They come with warning labels. Wash it all down with a cold Canadian, wipe your sweat, and get back out on the street.
Enjoy a brief rest back at the hotel before hitting Buzzard’s (140 10th Ave SW) for “cowboy cuisine.” Hopefully you brought a pearl-buttoned Western shirt and some ass-hugging Levi’s. If not, you might stand out some. Choose from one of 300 beers on Buzzard’s passport list. They’ve got pints from around the world, including two of Eastern Europe’s best lagers: a Slavutych from Ukraine and a Krusovice from the Czech Republic. Buzzard’s also serves local. Try the black Pilsner from Alberta for a light, hoppy taste with a hint of smoky nuttiness.
Order the buffalo burger, dressed with Saskatoon berries and apple-raspberry chutney on a grilled pretzel bun. Open since 1980, Buzzard’s specializes in Western delicacies like prairie oysters (also known as Montana tenderloins, swingin’ beef, and cowboy caviar) — buffalo testicles — served during the Calgary Stampede in July.
Time for Ranchman’s (9615 Macleod Trail S). Try and stay atop the mechanical bull for a full 8 seconds, the time a pro rider needs to qualify. Learn a dance with the regulars. Depending on the night, this will be a cha-cha, two-step, double-shuffle, or line dance. (Tues-Fri, 7-8:30pm. Friday’s are free.) Ranchman’s costs $10 at the door, but you get a $10 drink card. Cowboy up.
Get to Hi-Fi by midnight. A mixed-use space with art, dancing, and live shows, the venue is an indie hangout that showcases a different side of Calgary’s nightclub scene and is the place to see hipster acts — Diplo, Chromeo, and MSTRKRFT have all played Hi-Fi.
After you close down Hi-Fi, stumble back to Hotel Arts and turn in. Sweet cowboy dreams.