If I had my way, my home would be decorated with original paintings from local masters, but then they wouldn’t be available for everyone else. I think a good compromise is to hang the prints in my home and visit the galleries and studios whenever I feel the need to see the original. Nanaimo is rich with arts and culture, and I’ve put together this itinerary to share some of my favourites. Hope you enjoy!
History, Art, and Culture in Nanaimo
Treat yourself to a delicious eggs benny at Mon Petit Choux, a French-style café in downtown Nanaimo. They have excellent coffee, great service, and a charming atmosphere, setting the stage for today’s cultural exploration.
A few steps up the road from breakfast, nestled among the boutiques and cafes, you’ll find the Nanaimo Art Gallery. Stop in and explore the current exhibitions and collections, and join an Art Lab to learn more about art and art appreciation. After exploring the gallery, keep heading north to Bastion Street, where you’ll find Hill’s Native Art: North America’s largest Northwest Coast Native Gallery. Check out the fantastic totem poles and carved masks, argillite sculptures, and custom jewellery. A handmade Cowichan sweater is a great gift for anyone, including yourself.
A leisurely seven-minute walk will bring you to Bocca Café just in time for lunch. Go for the daily soup and sandwich deal: made with fresh, homemade bread and a hearty rustic soup. Check out the variety of shops and boutiques in Old City Quarter: explore the mystical realm of Lobelia’s Lair or find your style at Damsels, then grab a Nanaimo Bar cupcake at the Wee Cupcakery – another great stop on the Nanaimo Bar Trail.
Sip a coffee and download the OnThisSpot app to spend the rest of the afternoon on a self-guided walking tour, learning about Life in Early Nanaimo from the 1850s to the 1920s through a collection of pictures that highlight the differences between then and now.
For supper tonight, we’re going to Asteras Greek Taverna to enjoy authentic Greek cuisine, housed in a heritage home that’s been here for over a century. Order some keftedes and dolmades to share with your group, then try the Moussaka or roast lamb. Being a Greek myself, I should probably suggest the Baclava for dessert, but I just can’t resist the delicious Crème Caramel. If there’s two of you, get both and share – you won’t be disappointed.
After supper, head back to your room at the Best Western Dorchester Hotel, with clean, comfortable, and simple rooms featuring a champagne view on a beer budget.
Meeting the Artists
Today is all about art and artisans, so Gabriel’s Café is a fitting place to start: all of the meat and eggs they use are sourced from local, small, sustainable farms. For a truly gastronomical experience, try the No. 12 – coconut milk pancakes hiding pulled pork and a fried egg, smothered in a bourbon maple syrup. You don’t have to be vegan to love the No. 9, a tofu, three-bean, corn, and potato scramble that is bright and delicious.
Your next adventure will depend on the time of year. Through December and the first week of January, check out the Works of HeART show at the 78 Wharf Street Gallery, and the touring exhibition, The Poetics of Space, at the Nanaimo Art Gallery. The Port Theatre has live entertainment year-round, with comedy shows, concerts, and live performances for the whole family. If you love the stage, TheatreOne regularly offers interesting performances that enrich, entertain, and educate. On Thursday afternoons, January through March, visit the Bowen Park Auditorium for a fantastic variety of live musical entertainment – with coffee, tea, and goodies served after the show. Stay tuned to the Festival and Events calendar so you don’t miss a thing.
Continuing the artistic theme, today’s lunch features gorgeous colours, flavours, and creative presentations. The Firehouse Grill has brought a delicious west coast flavour to their menu: sushi rolls that marry traditional techniques with local ingredients, and massive burgers that pair perfectly with locally crafted beers.
After lunch, it’s time to drive out to the tasting room at Chateau Wolff Estate Winery (stop into the Tourism Nanaimo Visitor Centre and say Hi!) The local boutique-style winery has some of the oldest vines planted on Vancouver Island, and you can taste their commitment to excellence in every bottle. Try a bright Chardonnay, rich Syrah, or the Chateau Wolff Estate Rouge, a fortified wine made from estate-grown Dornfelder grapes.
Last stop for the day is a light supper at Eve Olive, one of my favourite spots for a vegetarian or vegan experience. I love that they offer a tapa size for most entrees – it’s the perfect way to share the flavours with friends and family. Vegan wines are an option, and the servers are great at suggesting a locally crafted beer that pairs perfectly with your selection.
With truly 360° of experiences to enjoy here in Nanaimo, I hope that after you’ve enjoyed the artistic influence of the Harbour City, you come back so we can help you enjoy the Harbour City from a different perspective.