One of my favourite things about Nanaimo is that you can do pretty much anything you want, rain or shine. The hardest part about living here isn’t thinking of things to do; it’s figuring out what to do next. I’ve put together this itinerary of some of the experiences I’ve enjoyed in my time here, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.
Breakfast is one of my favourite meals of the day, and when I know I have a full day of outdoor activities planned, I start with something delicious. Kelly’s Kitchen Café on Bowen Road is one of my favourites: it’s a classic, old-school diner. It’s not fancy, but as one reviewer said, “The food is good, the price is right, and the people are friendly.”
After breakfast, drive up to Ammonite Falls to hike between the tall firs until you reach the clearing, where you’ll find the stunning waterfalls and an unbelievable collection of ammonite fossils: millions-of-years-old rocky remnants of marine molluscs. It’s a great hike that’ll take about 40 minutes each way.
For lunch, go to Smokin’ George’s BBQ Restaurant on Mostar Road. They’re serious about BBQ, and you can taste it in every bite. The Beef Brisket is outstanding and the Fried Chicken Plate is finger-lickin’ perfect. Leave a bit of room for a bacon-topped Nanaimo bar.
Next up, the Romper Room Climbing Room, where you can practice climbing no matter what the weather is doing. It’s across the street from Smokin’ George’s, so don’t bother putting it in the GPS. Book a one-hour session to get a taste of climbing, or improve your climbing and knot-making skills with the Belay Course.
After all of that stretching and climbing, it’s time to rest and relax with a good meal and a great beverage. Longwood Brew Pub & Restaurant on Turner Road is one of my favourite spots to bring friends for a good time. Start with the Yorkshire sliders – they’re good for sharing between a few people – then reel in a plate of honey Dijon baked salmon. You could probably share it with someone else, but it’s so good, you won’t want to. I’m a huge fan of the Nanaimo Bar Trail, and the Nanaimo Bar cheesecake at Longwood is an excellent contender for best dessert ever.
Once you’re done supper, head back to the Grand Hotel to have a wee dram in the Whisky Bar, savouring the peaty notes and hints of dried fruit. With the warmth of the whisky in your belly and your muscles well-exercised, go up to your room and get ready to enjoy the sleep of the contented.
Develop a taste for culture
Let yourself sleep in for a bit, and when you’re ready, roll out of bed and prepare for a day of discovery.
Enjoy the 15-minute drive to downtown Nanaimo (and think about your friends at home, stuck in the commute while you’re enjoying a quick break) to have breakfast at Modern Café on Commercial Street. It sounds cliché, but Love at First Bite is true to its name – each forkful is smothered in sweet cream cheese and real maple syrup from Quebec.
After breakfast, take a stroll along the Harbourfront Walkway, heading north towards Maffeo Sutton Park, enjoying the ocean views, public art, and friendly folks sharing the walk. Jump on the passenger ferry to Saysutshun to explore the forest trails and sandy shores. Watch for an upcoming special event to join a delicious salmon BBQ or walking tour, or book a guided interpretive walking tour for your group to learn the stories and practices of the Snuneymuxw people.
Once you’re back downtown, stop at Gabriel’s Café for a bowl of the three-bean, chipotle, and lime chilli (it’s even vegan and gluten-free) or the quinoa and chickpea fritters with Sriracha, made with fresh ingredients from local farmers.
After lunch, download the OnThisSpot app to take an Historic Walking Tour of Nanaimo’s downtown, Departure Bay, and the harbour walkway, learning about the region’s roots, then and now. There are six tours to explore, with plenty of stops along the way.
After your immersion in Nanaimo’s unique history, it’s time to reward yourself with a delicious meal at Eve Olive, a local eatery serving vegan without compromise. Try a vegan wine with a plant-based cheese platter, or a cashew coconut curry that will take you closer to Thailand with every bite. And for dessert, you have to try the Decadent Lemon Tart pie, made with coconut butter filling and a pecan and date crust. It’s unbelievable.