Is It Better to Live in Vernon or Kelowna?


Many times we are asked what it’s like to live in Vernon versus Kelowna, and where it’s better to live. I mean obviously, the answer of course is Vernon! Just kidding :) The answer to the age-old question about where is the better city to live, Kelowna or Vernon is “it depends”.  It depends on where you stand on 7 factors. 

#1:  Amenities:  Your expectation of amenities:  Is it vastly important for you to have a Costco in the same city as you?  Or is it ok to drive 38 minutes? How about Lululemon or is it ok to drive 44 minutes?  Because that’s how far it is to downtown Kelowna from downtown Vernon.  Kelowna is a much larger city than Vernon.  The population is just shy of 150,000 in 2021 versus Vernon at 43,000.  The whole Central Okanagan is around 225,000 and the North Okanagan is 92,000 ish.  Vernon initially was to be the center of the Okanagan, however, that all changed.  Kelowna definitely wins the race for most strip malls.  So the question for you is whether you’re ok to drive to some of the few missing amenities – or whether you want to have them close to your back door. 

#2:  Size:  Kelowna is larger.  Kelowna has a big city feel – Vernon feels like a big town. And with being larger comes pluses and minuses.  The big plus is employment.  Stuff to do (nightlife).  The big minus is gridlock.  Let’s be honest, tourism in the summertime fills up both cities.  Getting through both cities fighting traffic in August is crap. However, to get through Vernon from one end to the other on the highway is 1.8 km. On a good day, it takes 5 minutes according to Google Kelowna to get across the city from say Costco to the bridge – 6.2 km and takes 12 minutes on a good day. I know what you people from Vancouver and Calgary are saying – what is your problem?  Big deal!  10 minutes?  24 minutes?  Who cares!  I commute for an hour!  And I get that, I do.  I used to as well when I lived in Vancouver.  However I will warn you – living in the Okanagan, give us one year to convert you, and then you too will be incensed when you have to wait for more than one traffic light – just you wait!  Mark my words!

#3:  Waterfront:  Kelowna is on the water, Vernon is not.  Vernon has 3 lakes, Kelowna has one.  And since more is always better, then Vernon definitely wins the prize for the most lakes.  Vernon is on the north end of Okanagan Lake while Kelowna is basically in the middle, so both cities share one lake, however admittedly Kelowna makes better use of Okanagan Lake because it plopped the city right on the lake, versus making a person drive for 6.3 km or 8 minutes to get from downtown to the lake.  However, in Vernon – you have options.  You can also go 8 minutes from downtown to get to Kalamalka Lake.  Or you could choose to go 8 minutes to Swan Lake.  I literally just googled that and it’s 8 minutes to every lake in Vernon.  Anyhow – so Kelowna would win on lake access being right downtown, it’s really nice with lots of amenities on the lake.  Vernon would win for an assortment of lakes however also wins because back in the 60’s, National Geographic stated Kalamalka was in the top 10 more beautiful lakes in the world.   So eat that Kelowna. 

#4:  Ski Hills:  From downtown Vernon to Silver Star it’s 27 minutes and from downtown Kelowna to Big White, it’s an hour.  Both are fabulous ski hills.  

As for snow; Silver Star is a lower mountain so you don’t get the whiteouts that you do at Big White. Apparently, the village at Big White is at about the same altitude as the peak of Silver Star. Big White also needs more snow to open. There are more runs at Silver Star because you can ski the backside of the mountain. 

According to skiers, the weather and the visibility are much better at the Silver Star Resort, and the ski area is largely below the treeline which affords protection from the elements.  And – it’s closer.  So. 

#5:  House prices and rentals:  Let’s talk about rentals first. Both cities have a huge shortage of rentals, so I would say they are neck in neck there.  House prices, well, the benchmark single-family house price in Vernon is $703,500 versus $978,500 for Kelowna or 39%.   That’s a huge difference.  Saying that Kelowna does have a much larger selection of higher-end homes than Vernon does.

#6:  Speculation Tax:  This is where, as of right now, Vernon really shines.  The dreaded Speculation tax.  This tax is an annual provincial tax paid by residential property owners and affects Kelowna and West Kelowna, so not all areas of the Central Okanagan, however, it does affect those two.  The tax was designed to discourage speculative buyers and people from leaving properties vacant in the more urban centers.  So that tax is significant, it’s .5% of the property’s assessed value annually for Canadians and 2% for foreign owners.  And Vernon and the North Okanagan doesn’t have it, and Kelowna and West Kelowna – do.

#7:  Temperature: This is another area where we can say “it depends”.  It depends on whether you want it 2 degrees hotter or 2 degrees cooler.  2 degrees cooler can sound pretty good on a heat dome day, and bad in a blizzard.  Vernon is approximately 2 degrees cooler on any given day, Kelowna is around 2 degrees warmer than Vernon on any given day.  It will snow a bit earlier in Vernon in the winter, and you’ll fry your face off a bit sooner in Kelowna in the summer.  Depends on what you like.  Really both are beautiful 4 season paradises, so I don’t know if I would base my decision solely on that, however, that final decision is up to you.

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