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How to maximize a summer day in St. Albert

There are plenty of ways to spend a summer day in the city, such as by traversing the Red Willow Trail system while stopping at some of the Gazette's 2024 Readers' Choice award winners.
You'll spend a lot of time by the Sturgeon River if you spend a summer day like the Gazette has mapped out. FILE/Photo

Believe it or not the days are already getting shorter and the nights longer now that the summer solstice has passed, but St. Albertans need not to worry as there's plenty of time to soak in the sun before the snow returns.

While for many the summer season signals camping trips or baseball, soccer, or softball tournaments, there are plenty of ways to spend a summer day in the city, such as by traversing the Red Willow Trail system while stopping at some of the Gazette's 2024 Readers' Choice winners.

To start, determine your method of transportation: bike? E-scooter? Your own two feet? Car or bus?

Once you've figured out how you're going to get around, the next step is to pack the essentials (and some non-essentials), namely: sunscreen; a hat; a full water bottle or two; a jacket just in case; a frisbee; a reusable grocery bag; a picnic blanket if you have the room; a bike lock if that's how you're getting around; and your phone, wallet, and keys.

When you're packed, it's time to go.

With the full-day of activities the Gazette will lay out below, we suggest starting early with a coffee at Italian Bakery's Mercato on Bellerose Drive.

Mercato's caffè, which was voted by readers as St. Albert's best coffee shop in 2024, opened back in 2018, a few months after the grocery store itself opened. The Mercato coffee shop, which is actually called Caffè Lavazza, is open 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. every day of the week serving up espresso, lattes, and much more using Illy Caffè brand beans. Illy Caffè is a family-owned Italian brand founded back in 1933 that now offers its products worldwide.

“We are so proud and thankful for our Caffè Lavazza to have been voted the 2024 best coffee shop in St. Albert by the readers of the St. Albert Gazette.” Mercato's website reads. “When we first opened we hoped our cafe would be a spot for the community to gather and friends and family to connect, just like in the old country, and it has become exactly that thanks to your amazing support!”

Once your caffeinated — or had your fill of decaf — it's time to hit the trail, which can be accessed by heading south on Boudreau Road.

You'll want to stay on the south side of the river as the Gazette's next recommendation is, hence the frisbees you've packed, to get a round of disc golf in at the Kingswood Park Disc Golf Course, which the Red Willow Trail system takes you right too.

For those who've never tried their hands at disc golf there's no need to panic — even dedicated disc golfers will tell you its fun the first time or the 400th time.

Slinging the discs should take at least an hour — less if you decide to only play nine holes or sprint your way through the round because you're all riled up on coffee.

The next move is to head west back towards the city centre, stopping at the Woodlands Water Play Park to cool off a bit if need be and/or to re-apply some sunscreen.

Just like disc golf, the Woodlands Water Play Park is also a free activity as the city doesn't charge admission. The splash park's water features, weather permitting, are turned on between 10:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. daily.

Once you've cooled down and you're ready to go, it's time for a late lunch or ice cream or bubble tea as the Gazette recommends heading west down the trail towards downtown to stop in at Tealicious Blend on Perron Street.

Tealicious Blend, which started as a home-based bubble tea shop in 2021 before locals Myra Salas and Arnulfo Umana opened their brick-and-mortar location downtown in 2022, was the winner of three Readers' Choice awards this year: best ice cream/treat, best sandwich or sub shop, and best dining on a budget.

Besides a large selection of bubble tea, Tealicious Blend also serves up Korean-style egg sandwiches, or egg drop sandwiches, which come in a variety of combinations but can be thought of as a sandwich with thick cut bread, scrambled eggs, and a myriad of combinations such as smoked salmon or cajun chicken.

After you've re-fuelled at Tealicious Blend, it's time for the longest stretch of travel as the Gazette recommends heading further west along Red Willow Trail before making a quick detour north through Mission to get to McKenney Avenue.

Heading even further west on McKenney Avenue will bring you to the second last stop of the day, the 2024 Readers' Choice winner for best new business: the Co-op Food Store.

At St. Albert's newest grocery store you'll grab anything and everything you want for a picnic, such as a bag of cherries, cheese and crackers or chips and dip, some pre-cut veggies, or maybe something from the store's full service deli. 

With your picnic items all picked out, it's time to make your way to Big Lake and the Big Lake Environmental Support Society's viewing platform. Due to a temporary trail closure as of writing, the viewing platform is only accessible via LeClair Way, which is further south than the Red Willow Trail underpass under Ray Gibbon Drive.

The Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park was this year's recipient of the Readers' Choice award for best day trip. For the purposes of this jam-packed day in the city, the park is the nightcap of a day in the sun, as you'll enjoy your picnic while taking in the sights and sounds of nature at a park that's almost twice the size of St. Albert's northern neighbour Morinville.

If you've made it this far, it's time to call it a day and get some well-deserved shut-eye.

Jack Farrell

About the Author: Jack Farrell

Jack Farrell joined the St. Albert Gazette in May, 2022.
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