Living in Seattle, I always forget how much of Canada I haven’t been to yet. This is especially true with Vancouver Island. I’ve been there several times by taking the Victoria Clipper to Victoria, but haven’t ventured too far past there. Vancouver Island is huge and has hundreds of miles to discover, so I recently went to the east side of the island to see what it had to offer.
How to Get There
You’ll want your own car to explore, so I recommend taking one of the BC Ferries. I took the Tsawwassen ferry to Duke Point/Nanaimo and it couldn’t be easier. Without traffic, it’s a little over two hours from Seattle to the ferry terminal (border crossing wait dependent). You can reserve your time online so you don’t have to worry about waiting all day for the next available one.
Where to Stay
To really feel relaxed and immersed in nature, I love staying by the water. Luckily there are dozens of hotels to choose from on Vancouver Island where you’re minutes from the ocean. I stayed at the Tigh-Na-Mara Resort, which is in Parksville. There are 22 acres of land to explore full of beaches, trails, a fitness center, spa, and lounge/restaurant. The hardest part is deciding if you want to stay in a cute log cabin that’s dog-friendly, or a suite just feet away from the water.
What to Do
Old Country Market
This small town of Coombs has a ton of cute little shops at their Old Country Market, but is most famous for something unique – goats on top of the roofs. They have a large section of grass that they just hang out on, not minding that the grocery store is right beneath it. Make sure to bring your camera! You can buy fresh fruit and vegetables at the stands in Coombs. I’d also recommend having dinner at Cuckoo Trattoria, which has delicious pasta dishes. For dessert, head over to Billy Gruff’s, where dozens of different ice cream flavors are available. I had the birthday cake flavor and loved how creamy it was.
Every single place I ate at was not just good, but very fresh. Many of the restaurants had signs saying how all the ingredients were local, which I really appreciated. I loved the healthy options at Realm Food Co. that tasted so indulgent. From Parksville to Nanaimo, everywhere I went had options for those with food allergies or vegan options.
Realm Food Co.
If you love cheese, you need to try BoMe Cheese. You can visit their shop in Coombs to see how the cheese is made, and of course, try plenty of it. Another place that produces amazing cheese is Little Qualicum Cheeseworks. You can walk around the dairy farm and see the cows themselves.
Island Soda Works
If you’re in Qualicum Beach, make a stop at Island SodaWorks Bistro for lunch. The restaurant wall completely opens up on sunny days, so it feels like you’re having a picnic outside. They take pride in making sure all their ingredients are local and sustainable. I got the lavendar soda (which is not at all sweet like a normal soda) along with a vegan special they had.
Exploring Vancouver Island for the week only made me want to go back again to see more that I didn’t get to. It’s such a beautiful place that you can’t help but pull off the side of the road every time you see a beautiful lake or sunset over the ocean. I know I’ll be back soon to discover even more!