Quirky cafes, hidden waterfalls, beaches with incredible sunsets and pubs with character are among Nanaimo residents’ top picks. When friends and family come to town, here’s where we take them:


Start your day downtown a bit off the beaten path. The eclectic Vault Cafe is a non-touristy spot that fills with the buzz of locals meeting up for breakfast. After a lox bagel or breakfast wrap, walk to the waterfront walkway and watch float planes and boats in the harbour.

Circle back to Commercial Street and browse shops for clothing, jewellery, art and home decor before lunch at Gabriel’s Cafe, known for its fresh, farm-to-table goodness.

Then hit the Doumont Road mountain biking trails with technical and beginner single track that cuts through beautiful, lush forests.

For dinner, go for wood-fired pizza at La Stella Trattoria downtown in the Old City Quarter. Finish the day with live music and dancing at The Queen’s downtown.


Early risers, head to Departure Bay Beach for the sunrise with a warm drink in hand from Drip Coffee across the street. You might also see morning swimmers, float planes and the Vancouver ferry in this busy bay. Don’t miss the indigenous totems and historic interpretive panels.

Next, hike the moderate Ammonite Falls Trail to the cascading waterfall and feel the mist on your face.

On sunny summer days locals head to Penny’s Palapa on the wharf docks for fish tacos. From here you’re just steps away from the departure point for a Vancouver Island Whale Watch tour, where whale sightings are guaranteed.

For dinner, pick up pulled pork sandwiches or ribs at Smokin’ George’s and picnic while you watch the sunset at Pipers Lagoon Park. Finally, raise a glass to a great day and sip local craft beer at the White Sails Brewing taproom.


Begin your day at Bee’s Knees Cafe with a decadent cinnamon bun topped with blueberry cream cheese made in-house.

Spend the morning at WildPlay, where you can zipline over the Nanaimo River Canyon or harness up for the treetop adventure course’s tightropes, cargo nets and rope swings.

Enjoy lunch at a British-style Crow and Gate Pub set in a Tudor-style home among English gardens. Cruise the country roads to the nearby Yellow Point Farms for a visit with goats, sheep, mini donkeys, mini horses, and kune kune pigs.

Dinner is a mini getaway that begins with a short ferry ride from the downtown harbour to Protection Island’s Dinghy Dock Pub, a fun restaurant (with a family section) right on the dock. After dinner, catch a stunning sunset over the ocean at Neck Point Park. Before turning in for the evening, soak your tired muscles in the hot tub or wave pool at the Nanaimo Aquatic Centre.