It was my first trip to Saskatoon in more than a decade and I’ll admit it — I was expecting a city resembling the one I had visited with my family as a teenager. Back then, highlights included trips to the mall (of course) and eating at the Cave, a restaurant that’s been around since the 1970s.Yes, I thought it would all be there: the sleepy riverside, the Chinese-Canadian restaurants and the allure of visiting a place locked in another time.I was wrong. So very wrong. It turns out that while I was developing my tastes and interests beyond themed restaurants and chain stores, so too has Saskatoon. It’s matured into a fully-developed city with eclectic tastes, a solid sense of humour and a rich history behind it.Regardless of whether you’re a foodie or looking for an adventure, Saskatoon is the perfect place to spend your next summer weekend getaway. Here’s how to make the most of it.Show up ready to shine (not sleep)
Saskatoon? Sleepy? Ha! Time your visit right and I can guarantee you’ll be up all night for good reason. Every August, the Delta Bessborough Garden is host to Rock the River, a full weekend concert featuring classic greats like Nazareth and Trooper. This year’s lineup includes Loverboy, Blue Oyster Cult and Colin James. (If you’re staying in the hotel that weekend, I have one word of advice: earplugs.)Rock the River is timed to coincide with Rock 102’s Show & Shine weekend, when the streets are flooded with nearly 1,000 cars, trucks and motorcycles. The actual event is great, but the highlight might be the tailgate pre-party the night before. Hot tip: Score a spot near the Dairy Queen on 8th Street and grab a soft serve. You’ll be in prime viewing territory to watch the cars roll into town.Or, if you’re like me and watching cars drive around isn’t your thing, I’ve got the answer. Head out to Wyant Group Raceway, where you can drive the cars instead. On four summer Sundays a year, the racetrack lets visitors ride beside a pro stock car driver, before taking their own hand at the wheel.Go stand-up paddleboarding
Not everything had changed about Saskatoon. The river was still there and the walks along it were just as leisurely and beautiful as I remember. However, a three-hour stand-up paddleboarding tour with Escape Sports’ owner Marcus Storey made me realize that the best city views are from the water.Relatively slow-moving and shallow, the South Saskatchewan River is the perfect place for beginners to perfect their stroke. Escape has both rigid and inflatable boards for rent, but I recommend asking for the XL Party Board, a monster-sized SUP that can fit up to eight people.Of course, if you prefer sticking to dry land, the outfitter also has cruiser bikes and longboards on-offer.Visit a Chinese-Canadian restaurant like no other
It was at the Hollows that I thought I’d finally returned to the Saskatoon of my memories.“It’s very nostalgic for people who grew up here — and it looked just like this,” said Aviva Kohan, Tourism Saskatoon’s director of media. I know exactly what she meant. Travelling across the Canadian Prairies — or anywhere in rural Canada, for that matter — Chinese-Canadian restaurants are as synonymous with the landscape as hay bales.Those looking for the buffet are going to be sorely disappointed, though. While the restaurant’s interior stays true to its origins (it was once home to the Golden Dragon restaurant), there are no warming trays in sight. Instead, chef Christie Peters takes the trend of “snout-to-tail” to its extreme, even butchering the meat she serves so she can ensure nothing goes to waste. (Fat from the bacon she cooks even finds its way into her homemade soap, which is for sale at Goldie’s Vintage upstairs.) With home-grown veggies and wild-harvested foods taking centre stage, the menu changes seasonally, but you can except everything from crabapple-stuffed perogies to Saskatchewan whitefish in dashi broth with Tokyo turnip.If I learned anything from my three days in Saskatoon, it’s that change and growth are good — but understanding your roots is just as important.