Where would be the best place to stay where we could just park the car and walk from the hotel? (Restaurants, shopping, entertainment...)
We stayed downtown once before, maybe it was just where we were, but things seemed to close early downtown and there was some sketchy activity in an area that didn't seem like a bad part of town.
Is downtown the best option? What would you suggest?
You're exactly on point -- Calgary is a big commuter city so once the work day is over most people leave and the core closes up. What area downtown did you stay? There's definitely areas worse than others, and unfortunately when the business folks leave the homeless population tend to take over.
The 17 Ave SW (SW), 4 St SW (SW) and Kensington districts are the most vibrant and lively -- lots of great places to eat, little shops, etc. We used to live just off 17th on 19th Avenue and we walked almost everywhere, there are also a lot of buses close by. 4th Street and 17th intersect so it's easy to see everything in the area on foot. Kensington is on the north side of the river but you just have to cross the bridge to get into the core, has the Sunnyside train station right there so it's also very convenient. You'll probably enjoy yourself more if you stay out of the core in one of these "beltline" areas.
Depending on your budget the Kensington Riverside Inn is a nice hotel, the River Wynde Bed & Breakfast is also right in the area. Kensington tends to be pricier, possibly because it's near the river and has the train access.
Near 17th most of what is available are suites, the O hotel suites with one building off 15th Ave and another on 19th; Eighttwelve off 14th Ave; Hotel Elan off 16th. There is a BEST WESTERN PLUS Suites Downtown near by on 8th street and 13th Ave but it's not fancy or anything, kind of old looking building.
The 1st Street SE/15th Ave area is close to 17th Ave and 4th Street Mission districts but closer to the core and the Stampede grounds. There is Hotel Arts which is a really well reviewed hotel and the Fairfield Inn & Suites Calgary Downtown which is brand new, both in that area if you want to be close to 17th and not in a suite.
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