Nanaimo’s central location on Vancouver Island makes it an ideal hub for day trips that take you to beautiful places and unforgettable experiences. Here are a few favourites.
Set off on a 90-minute drive south to reach the province’s capital city. En route make a stop in Chemainus to see more than 50 murals that reveal the quaint town’s history. Or if you’re day tripping in fall, stop to see spawning salmon in the river at Goldstream Provincial Park just before you reach Victoria.
In Victoria, start exploring downtown in Chinatown, Canada’s oldest. Grab a tea at Silk Road Tea and see the district’s grocery stores and souvenir shops set among traditional Chinese-style architecture. Browse boutiques in the narrow Fan Tan Alley or on Johnson and Government streets. Next, hop on a Victoria Harbour Ferry for a 45-minute narrated cruise. Do lunch at Barb’s Fish & Chips in Fisherman’s Wharf where seals pop up near the colorful floating homes on docks. Return to the Inner Harbour for views of the grand Parliament Building and the high tea experience at the Fairmont Empress Hotel, or opt for a flight of craft beer at Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub. With kids in tow, check out the Victoria Bug Zoo where your littles can hold creepy crawlies. For dinner, Il Terrazzo is one of the hottest reservations in town and an ideal prelude to a harbour sunset stroll.
This little surf town is about a three-hour drive west of Nanaimo and absolutely worth the trip even if you have only one day. Before you hit the road, grab a coffee and muffin and take in the incredible ocean view at Drip Coffee in Departure Bay. The route to Tofino passes through MacMillan Provincial Park’s Cathedral Grove, a majestic stand of old-growth trees you’ll want to photograph.
In Tofino, wander the village’s surf shops and hipster clothing and home decor boutiques. Don’t miss the Roy Henry Vickers Gallery for a memorable display of the Indigenous artist’s work. The Tacofino food truck or Wildside Grill are perfect for a casual picnic table lunch. If you’re up for surfing, try the Surf Club at Long Beach Lodge with rentals and lessons directly on Cox Bay Beach, the most popular spot for beginners. Otherwise, spend the afternoon exploring tidepools and walking barefoot in the sand at Pacific Rim National Park’s Long Beach. Dinner at Shelter restaurant is a signature Tofino experience and memorable way to close out your day.
It takes just over an hour to drive to Courtenay and Comox in the Comox Valley, home to skiing at Mt. Washington and beautiful ocean beaches. En route, stop in Parksville at the cozy local Pacific Brimm Cafe for breakfast or a coffee by the beach. Another option: With an early start and a bit of luck you’ll reach the legendary Bigfoot Donuts in Courtenay before the special monthly flavour varieties are sold out.
In Courtenay, while you’re on 5th Street, browse the cute shops. Three blocks away, the Courtenay & District Museum & Paleontology Centre includes the local discovery of an elasmosaur fossil and hands-on fossil tours. Sit down to soup and a sandwich at the unique Yellow Deli, where the furniture and decor is made from up-cycled driftwood, barnwood and hand-hewn beams. Next stop: the outdoor Comox Air Force Museum Heritage Air Park to see the retired planes. Then head to nearby Kye Bay Beach for swimming and exploring tide pools or watching planes make their final approach to the Comox Air Force Base. Finish your day in a beautiful setting at Locals Restaurant at The Old House Hotel & Spa in Courtenay.