One of the reasons I moved to the island was to take advantage of the easy access to the fresh and saltwater experiences that are minutes away, no matter where you are. Here are a few of my favourite things to do in or on our local waters.
Beaches, boating, and nautical good times
A nautical adventure in Nanaimo has to start with a seafood theme, and the Crabby Benedict at the Modern Café on Commercial Street perfectly sets the tone for today. Pacific Blue Crab served on a pretzel bun with lemon hollandaise will make you think you’re on a luxury liner.
Once you’ve finished your breakfast, it’s time to go cold-water snorkelling, and we have three fantastic diving outfits to choose from: Sundown Diving, Sink or Swim Scuba, and Nanaimo Dive Outfitters. Slip into a wetsuit, booties, gloves, and mask, and follow your experienced guide as they explore some of the richest waters in the world. Check out the brilliant starfish, anemones, nudibranchs, and other critters living their lives under the sea.
Once you’ve dried off, it’s time to warm up with a hot soup from McLean’s Specialty Foods, a wee deli in the Old City Quarter, serving on-site baked goods and fresh soups, as well as truffles, pates, terrines, and other tasty treats.
You’ve got a few choices for activities this afternoon – go for a walk along the winding trails and seaside lookouts of Pipers Lagoon and Neck Point Park, watching the gulls, sandpipers, loons, kingfishers, and great herons; doing some quality beachcombing; or just appreciating the natural beauty of the waters around us. If you prefer a more interactive experience, book a kayaking tour with Brackish Adventures to paddle the shoreline of the Strait of Georgia.
Whether you spent the afternoon on the water or admiring it, you’ll have worked up a healthy appetite. It’s time to navigate your way to the Dinghy Dock Pub, the only registered floating pub in Canada! Set sail on the Protection Connection ferry, which brings you from downtown Nanaimo right to the Dinghy Dock Pub. Start with a seafood poutine of prawns, clams, fish, bacon, and a creamy chowder, then anchor yourself with a hearty plate of fish’n chips – I like the halibut best, but the salmon and cod are fantastic, too.
After supper, take the ferry back to Nanaimo and walk across the road to the Coast Bastion Hotel. From your room, you’ll be able to look out over the waterways you spent most of the day in. As you lay in your big comfy bed, you’ll practically feel the mild rocking of the gentle currents that surround Nanaimo.
Remembering the past, catching the future
Wake up, enjoy a cup of coffee in your room, watching out over the Nanaimo Harbour, then take the elevator down to breakfast at Minnoz Restaurant and Lounge. The weekend brunch menu is delicious, but if I’m there on a weekday morning, I have a hard time resisting the smoked salmon Charlotte Benny.
Leave the car keys behind – this morning is about walking and exploring Nanaimo’s harbourside. A five-minute walk from Minnoz brings you to the Vancouver Island Military Museum, where you can learn about Canada’s contribution to peacekeeping efforts around the world, from the War of 1812 through to our involvement in Afghanistan. After exploring the 25 exhibits and displays, go for a stroll along the Harbourfront Walkway, admiring the boats in the marina, watching the seaplanes come and go, and simply appreciating Island life.
Take your time on the walkway. Pop into Javawocky for an essential coffee and classic Nanaimo Bar, then sip and savour as you explore Maffeo Sutton Park. The walkway is a comfortably busy place year-round, with locals and visitors drawn to the al fresco public art. Dip your toes in Sway-a-Lana Lagoon (a great place for a saltwater swim in the summer), make a wish on the arched bridge, and sit for a bit on the steps, taking a moment to appreciate where you are.
When your body starts letting you know that it’s lunchtime, you’ll be a few steps away from the Lighthouse Bistro and Pub. Sitting on the patio while sharing a calamari or curried steamed mussels from Salt Spring Island, paired with a local beer, is a summer day I try to repeat as often as possible. If the weather isn’t cooperating, you can comfortably enjoy the harbour views from the indoor dining room, keeping warm with a seafood hot pot or cedar plank salmon.
After lunch, get ready for a day on the water with the friendly folks at Invictus Charters. Your skipper will navigate you through the calm waters between Saysutshun and Nanaimo Harbour, heading out to find some of Vancouver Island’s best fishing, crabbing, and prawning. Watch for sea lions, humpback whales, orcas, and eagles, and so many more critters that enjoy life in one of the richest marine environments on the planet. Whether you’re fishing for the giant halibut, trolling for the Winter Chinook, or setting traps for delicious Dungeness, a day on the water is time well spent.
Back on land, the perfect way to end the day is at the Firehouse Grill on Victoria Road. Wake your taste buds up with the Salt and Pepper Squid – they’re spiced perfectly – then dive into a hearty Jambalaya that tastes like Louisiana. Finish your stay by sharing a dessert platter and planning your next visit to Nanaimo. We hope you’ll be back soon!