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#ExploreBC Road Trip: West Coast Culture

4 to 7 days, 450 km (279.62 mi)

From Vancouver Island to the Sunshine Coast with Yvonna Chow

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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.

Part 1

Nanaimo

Sailing from Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay

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.

Yvonna’s Highlights:
  • “Our guide Nadine explained the fascinating history of Saysutshun (Newcastle Island Marine Provincial Park). I really enjoyed learning more about the Snuneymuxw people and some of the amazing features on this island, like the stone quarries.
  • A concession stand is usually open at Brownie Bay, so you can grab a bite and have a little picnic on the grass overlooking the Salish Sea. There is even a small playground for kids.
  • We were warned that BC Ferries were going to be busy so we made a reservation, which was especially helpful when travelling with a toddler. I encourage everyone to reserve if at all possible, and if not try to get there at least 90 minutes early to get a spot.”

Part 2

Parksville and Qualicum Beach

Beach time in Parksville

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.

Yvonna’s highlights:
  • “Get takeout for a beach picnic from Realm Food Co, which serves food made with fresh local ingredients, including raw vegetables to keep it super fresh. They had really amazing spicy cod sushi rolls, cold ramen noodles, rice bowls, tacos, and refreshing lattes and coffees. The food was excellent and perfect for a picnic at the park.
  • Coombs is home to my favourite restaurant in the Parksville Qualicum Beach area, Cuckoo. They serve delicious Italian cuisine and have a gorgeous outdoor area filled with plum trees in the summer—you can even see the goats below.
  • We stayed at the Beach Club Resort and got two ocean-view rooms. It was so nice to hear the sea breeze before bed and see the sunrise in the morning. I also loved that we were in the heart of Parksville, so everything was easily accessible.”

Part 3

Courtenay and Comox

Mural near Fifth Street and Fitzgerald Avenue in downtown Courtenay

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.

Yvonna’s highlights:
  • “We discovered a great pho place called Pho54 in Courtenay (among the best pho I’ve had) and yummy dessert places like Hot Chocolate, which serves handmade chocolates and pastries from their neighbour/sister company Cakebread Artisan Bakery; I really liked their hazelnut sandwich.
  • At 40 Knots Winery, owner Lane spent time teaching us about honey bees, and the climate of Comox and why it’s so great for wine making. They also gave Adelina a little tasting of cheese and crackers, so it’s also a very kid-friendly winery.”

Part 4

Powell River

Old Courthouse Inn in Powell River | Yvonna Chow

Old Courthouse Inn in Powell River

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.

Yvonna’s highlights:
  • “We stayed at the charming Old Courthouse Inn in Powell River with Victorian-style decorations at every corner. I loved that the inn is very central.
  • Nearby Townsite Brewing is a lovely place for a date night and beer before heading to That Chicken Place about one minute away for some fresh fried chicken.”

Part 5

Earls Cove

Skookumchuck Narrows

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.

Yvonna’s highlights:
  • Skookumchuck Narrows Provincial Park was one of my favourite hikes. The hike is easy but really long, so I wouldn’t recommend it for toddlers because they would have to walk a lot and it’s not stroller friendly. It’s best for kids who are a little older.
  • I especially loved Skookumchuck Bakery at the end of the hike, where they serve treats like cinnamon buns, raspberry lemon squares, and even pizza.
  • Halfmoon Kayaks was the highlight of the trip for me. We met Cam and Char near Brooks Cove, close to Smuggler Cove, and I realized how important it was to have a guide, especially if you’re an inexperienced kayaker like me. Your guide can, for example, rescue you if you’re stuck on rocks (which happened to me) and can tell you about the area and great spots to see wildlife.”

Part 6

Pender Harbour

Ruby Lake Resort

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.

Yvonna’s highlights:
  • “At Painted Boat’s Lagoon Restaurant we munched on scallop and crab cakes, drank some beautiful BC wine from Burrowing Owl, and enjoyed seafood pasta and lingcod overlooking the marina.
  • I had a 90-minute Swedish massage at the resort and visited their famous Serenity Garden, which is only for spa users. It’s a great place to relax and enjoy time in the jacuzzi with some tea and water.
  • I was completely surprised by the beauty of Ruby Lake Resort’s La Trattoria Italiana, located on the lake. The views are breathtaking and the food is beyond amazing. We dined on delicious pasta, wild boar (it tasted like sirloin), and veggies grown on the resort. We then headed to a magical walkway on the lagoon across the highway and took some great photos.”

Part 7

Gibsons

The Nicholas Sonntag Marine Education Centre

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.”

Yvonna’s highlights:
  • “Meeting Roo at Persephone Brewing was a highlight. He was directing traffic and we didn’t realize he was the Tasting Room Manager. He told us he much prefers to be in the background, but when speaking about the farm he was so passionate about giving back to the community and making everything sustainable.
  • Stop by Silver Moon Gallery, where they have a collection of work from photographer Mark Benson, artist Sandy Kay, and Indigenous artist Levi Purjue. The gallery was really neat and has some beautiful artwork.
  • Kids will love Nicholas Sonntag Marine Education Centre, a small marine centre located inside the Gibsons Public Market. There’s also art on display at nearby Emelle’s Market Bistro, where you can admire the pieces while eating delicious clam chowder: a must-do in Gibsons.”

 

Driving Directions

Part 1 - Vancouver
  • 6.25 km
  • 12 min
Show Map & Driving Directions

With smaller capacities and safety protocols in place, it’s best to book ahead for things like ferry crossings and meals at a popular bar or restaurant. It’s also advisable to check in advance that galleries and artist studios are open. Here’s what Yvonna had to tell us about how she prepared for the trip:

“Travelling this time was definitely different. We packed plenty of hand sanitizer (mainly portable ones that you can access right away after handling something), plenty of reusable masks (I would suggest bringing a minimum of three per person so you can change or hand wash the masks at least every other day), disposable gloves, and sanitizing wipes. On the ferry they stress that you must wear masks inside or stay in your vehicle. Do plenty of planning ahead, especially for restaurants where they have limited seating as it might be hard to get walk-in service. I’d definitely recommend making reservations at restaurants and ferries if possible to ease your mind so can better enjoy your trip.”

This road trip was created specifically for the unique travel circumstances of 2020. Information is accurate at the time of publication; we recommend you contact businesses directly to confirm availability.

 

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