Coastal Circle Route

3 to 7 days, 563.84 km (350.35 mi)

Uncover the places where many of British Columbia's artists and artisans live, work and showcase their art.

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Part 1

Ferry to Vancouver Island

Sunshine Coast | Andrew Strain

From Tsawwassen or Horseshoe Bay, board BC Ferries and sail to Vancouver Island. You can take a detour and visit one of the southern Gulf Islands, known for creative communities and fresh local fare. Galiano, Mayne, Saturna and Pender islands each have vibrant artistic collectives, but the biggest concentration of galleries and studios is on Salt Spring Island in the village of Ganges. Many of the islands also offer a Saturday Market and in fall, get to know their deep farming roots by attending a fall fair (usually held in August or September).

Part 2

Sidney and Victoria

Fairmont Empress Hotel in Victoria | Reuben Krabbe

Drop by Sidney and find Canada’s only “BookTown” where, within a four-block radius, book lovers have a multitude of stores to shop for modern, used, collector’s and antiquarian books.

Plan to visit Butchart Gardens, located in Brentwood Bay. Another must-see is the popular Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea. Learn about this living eco-system and see marine life from the surrounding waters.

In the capital city of Victoria, stop by the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, which houses BC’s largest public art collection, which includes a permanent collection of 17,000 pieces and features artists from Asia, Europe, and North America, including works by iconic Canadian female artist and writer Emily Carr. Other galleries include the Winchester Galleries and the Fran Willis Gallery. Peruse BC’s natural history dating back 10,000 years at the Royal BC Museum. Make sure to visit Mile 0 of the Trans-Canada Highway, a great spot to learn about celebrated Canadian athlete, humanitarian, and cancer research activist Terry Fox.

Part 3

Duncan, Chemainus, and Ladysmith

The Raptors in Duncan | Jordan Dyck

From Victoria, head north. As you head over the summit of Malahat Drive, pull into the viewpoint for panoramic ocean views over Saanich Inlet and the Saanich Peninsula to distant Mount Baker along this scenic stretch of Highway 1.

Stop in Duncan—the “City of Totems”—in the Cowichan Valley to visit carvers at work at the Quw’utsun’ Cultural Centre. A visit to the Raptors, a tour of local wineries, and BC’s first cidery is a must.

Continue north to Chemainus, originally a logging town, to see the world’s largest outdoor gallery of murals and sculptures. Through the hands of artists, this town transformed its economy and now offers visitors an array of boutiques filled with west-coast-inspired art from local artists and artisans.

Further north, the pretty little town of Ladysmith has heritage walks and various antique and curio shops to peruse. The Ladysmith Historical Society can provide more insight into the town’s coal mining and logging past.

Part 4

Nanaimo to Comox Valley

Parksville beachcombing | Graeme Owsianski

Continue north from Ladysmith to Nanaimo. In Nanaimo, take a heritage tour, stroll along the waterfront or enjoy a short ferry ride to Newcastle Island Marine Provincial Park for a picnic on one of the many beaches.

Head north to Qualicum Beach. For those interested in antiques and artisan studios, detour west of Parksville to Coombs—famous for its market with the goats grazing on the roof. Garden lovers should stop at Milner Gardens & Woodland in Qualicum Beach. Plan to visit the Comox Air Force Museum, located on the Canadian Forces Base, for a fascinating history of Westcoast military aviation. A visit to the bustling village of Cumberland is also worth a side trip for those who enjoy scenic views and history.

Part 5

Ferry to Sunshine Coast and Lund

Sunshine Coast | Andrew Strain

The Sunshine Coast is the next stop on your journey. In Comox, board BC Ferries to Powell River. Nestled between ocean and forest and rich in lakes and rivers, Powell River is a hub of the Sunshine Coast that successfully combines the great outdoors with historic and cultural appeal. Stop to catch a flick at the Patricia Theatre—Canada’s oldest, continuously operating movie theatre, and make sure to visit the new and old town.

Drive north to explore the eclectic community of Lund, located at the end of Highway 101, and visit the Lund Resort at Klah Ah Men. Watch for whales, sea lions, porpoises, seals and coastal marine birds on a scenic cruise into Desolation Sound. You can board this cruise out of Lund, Powell River, or Okeover Inlet to view what are considered to be some of the world’s best cruising waters. Or, take a 15-minute water taxi ride from Lund to Savary Island; the island’s white-sand beaches and warm swimming waters are reminiscent of more tropical destinations.

Part 6

Lund to Sechelt

Sunshine Coast | Andrew Strain

South of Powell River at Saltery Bay, board another BC Ferries vessel to Earls Cove to see Harmony Falls in Hotham Sound—it drops 420m/1,400ft into the sound. At Skookumchuck Narrows Provincial Park, hike the easy 4-km (2.5-mi) trail to a viewpoint of Sechelt and Jervis inlets. These turbulent waters form spectacular whirlpools and whitewater during peak tide change. Cast a line in Pender Harbour or rent a kayak to paddle the peaceful curve of Halfmoon Bay’s coastline.

Tip: Keep watch for purple banners as you drive south, which signal that an artist’s studio is open to the public to browse or purchase. “The Purple Banner Route” stretches from Powell River to Gibsons.

Part 7

Sechelt to Gibsons

Hops harvester at Persephone Brewing company | Andrew Strain

Sechelt boasts a multitude of eclectic studios, galleries and shops. Check out the year-round schedule of exhibitions displaying local and off-coast art at the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre in Sechelt. Adventurers may want to rent a kayak or take a guided paddling tour of Sechelt Inlet.

Visit Gibsons’ numerous galleries, check out Persephone Brewing, and complete your holiday with a visit to the Sunshine Coast Museum and Archives before boarding BC Ferries to Horseshoe Bay and Vancouver.

Part 8

Return to Vancouver

Vancouver | Thomas Hill

Ferry from Gibsons to Vancouver, BC’s largest city, and finish your trip in the heart of the downtown shopping district. Inside the Vancouver Art Gallery, find the most significant holdings of works by BC-born artist Emily Carr, whose paintings feature the landscape and Indigenous peoples of the west and northwest coasts.

Further south of downtown is the art lover’s haven of South Granville, with approximately 20 small galleries showcasing art, photography, Indigenous work and fine antiques. It’s not surprising that area residents call the strip from the Granville Street Bridge to 16th Avenue “Gallery Row.” Visit nearby Granville Island, known for its many artisan studios on Railspur Alley, then take an Aquabus service back over to downtown, or to Main Street Science World in Olympic Village, to walk or cycle the seawall through Stanley Park.

 

Header image: Pender Harbour. Photo: Albert Normandin

Driving Directions

Part 1 - Vancouver
  • 6.25 km
  • 12 min
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