Note: This story was originally published in 2020.
With long stretches of shoreline, fresh culinary options, and space to explore, BC’s Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island are perfect for a family getaway. This August, Yvonna Chow, photographer husband Andy, daughter Adelina, and mother-in-law Irene set out to discover for themselves. Follow their route from Vancouver to Nanaimo to Parksville-Qualicum Beach to the Sunshine Coast with this #exploreBC itinerary.
Start your journey at picturesque Horseshoe Bay and sail with BC Ferries across Howe Sound to Nanaimo’s Departure Bay (around 95 minutes). Head to nearby Maffeo Sutton Park for the kids to let off steam, then take a small foot-passenger ferry to the hidden gem of Saysutshun, formerly known as Newcastle Island. In less than 10 minutes, you’ll be transported back in time to the family-friendly pebbled beaches of this small island, which has traditionally been used as a place of tranquil healing for the Snuneymuxw people. Walk from the ferry dock to Brownie Bay for gorgeous views of the Coast Mountains—spend time kayaking, or even spend the night and camp here.
Drive north along the coast to Parksville, making sure to stop in the quirky village of Coombs to see the famous goats on the roof and the eclectic food markets and antique shops. Parksville is known for its beautiful beaches. Rathtrevor Beach is the perfect family-friendly spot for kite-flying, having a picnic, and playing on the sand flats when the tide is way out. Take the kids to Tiger Lily Farm to see goats and ride horses, or visit the North Island Wildlife Sanctuary to meet rescued birds and bears (and the occasional guinea pig!). Parksville is also home to many artists, so be sure to visit places like the Robert Held Art Glass studio, where they create stunning glassworks and offer tours to larger groups.
From Parksville, drive 45 minutes north to the charming community of Courtenay in the Comox Valley. Visit downtown Courtenay for chic shops, and as you wander watch for pretty street murals. Don’t miss nearby 40 Knots Winery, a picturesque spot and one of the biggest wineries in the region. It has the added bonus of being near the ferry terminal for those who are bound for the beautiful Sunshine Coast.
Board another BC Ferries vessel in Comox and bid the Island farewell as you sail toward Powell River on the Sunshine Coast. Home to the first pulp and paper mill on the west coast of Canada, Powell River combines its industrial history with a picture-perfect Historic Townsite and the charming Willingdon Beach Park just steps from downtown.
When you’re ready to continue your journey, be sure to arrive early for the 50-minute crossing between Saltery Bay and Earls Cove, as it’s a non-reservable route between the North Coast and the South Coast.
After disembarking at Earls Cove, take a hike at Skookumchuck Narrows Provincial Park to see the incredible rapids and whirlpools, then grab a sweet treat at Skookumchuck Bakery as a reward. Smuggler Cove is a popular, dog-friendly coastal hike and the area can also be seen from the ocean on a kayak trip that takes in sights such as Frenchman’s Cove, which is home to native turkey vultures and seal colonies.
Located in Pender Harbour, Madeira Park is home to beaches and culture. Check out the Harbour Gallery, which is filled with work by local artists and is part of the Sunshine Coast’s Purple Banner Art Tour (call ahead to check which galleries and studios are currently open, or look out for purple banners along the road). Stay in a condo-style suite at Painted Boat Resort & Spa for views of the marina and to enjoy some scenic rest and relaxation.
Stop at the rustically chic hippy village of Roberts Creek en route to Gibsons. Walk the painted Mandala, stock up on crystals, and grab vegan snacks at the Gumboot Cafe before taking a walk along the beach overlooking Vancouver Island. Pop into Persephone Brewing Company on your way to the Langdale ferry terminal. This gorgeous hops farm hosts a farmers market every Sunday and also has a greenhouse and veggie garden. Enjoy a flight of beer in the sunshine before boarding the nearby ferry back to the “mainland.”
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