West Coast Living: Travel Inspiration from BC Residents

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Oyama Lookout | @miraecampbell

No one knows a region like the people who live in it. But even they can always find new experiences that ignite their passions and improve their sense of well-being. In Canada’s westernmost province we call that “The British Columbia Effect,” the deep and very personal transformation that happens when we open ourselves up to the environment around us.

That’s just what these three British Columbians discovered recently when they explored the areas around Vancouver, Victoria, and Kelowna. BC’s cities have been shaped in harmony with nature, and offer opportunities for profound sensory experiences, heart-pumping activities, and meaningful cultural interactions and learning. Follow these travellers’ adventures to help plan your own itinerary and open yourself to all the new possibilities along the way.

An urbanite falls in love with nature along the Sea-to-Sky

The Sea-to-Sky Highway travels through some of BC’s most breathtaking scenery, winding from Vancouver along Howe Sound to Squamish and on to the mountain playground of Whistler. But for Viranlly Liemena, a convivial man about town best known for his dapper fashion sense and stylish food photos on Instagram, it was a trip that took him well out of his comfort zone.

“I did not know there would be wilderness planned around it,” he says. “There’s this via ferrata and I thought it was a restaurant. I looked it up and was like, what is that?”

Via Ferrata experience with Mountain Skills Academy Adventures at Sea to Sky Gondola | @viranlly

Liemena’s journey via Evo car share actually started in Richmond (where he highly recommends stopping at Chef Tony for dim sum before hitting the highway), then continued through Vancouver (pausing in Gastown to fuel up at Revolver Coffee) and on to Squamish, known as the Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada, and Whistler.

Squamish, he says, was the highlight of the trip, and not just for its excellent array of baked goods. Flying by Sea to Sky Air over Howe Sound, enjoying the view from the deck at the Sea to Sky Gondola summit, and climbing the Squamish Via Ferrata were all breathtaking experiences. The via ferrata—literally, “iron road”—is a system of ladders and cables that assists hikers to climb to the summit of the Sea to Sky Gondola.

“I overcame a big chunk of my fear of heights,” Liemena says with a laugh. “It was definitely terrifying, but my friend who went with me said, ‘This is awesome.’ It was the highlight, looking back.”

He was charmed by his stay at the Sun Wolf Fisherman’s Cottage, and says,  “Squamish has such cute places to stay, and all these adorable little bakeries. Even the drive to get there is one of the most beautiful drives you can experience.”

But Whistler also offered plenty to do, including a “haute picnic” dinner hosted by Alta Bistro at the Audain Art Museum, a UTV ride, another gondola experience (this time on the PEAK to PEAK), and a dip in the steamy waters of Scandinave Spa.

Liemena advises anyone planning a similar journey to book as much in advance as possible, and to travel early in the week to avoid crowds. And be willing to try something new.

“It really opened up my perspective on what we have to explore even just two hours from Vancouver,” he says.

Two mainlanders savour the flavours of Victoria and Cowichan Valley

Elaine Rystead and Taylor Loren write the travel blog Local Wanderer, which is designed to help readers connect with communities when they travel. A recent trip took them from BC’s capital city of Victoria to the bucolic Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, an area they had never visited before.

Their journey began in Vancouver and the duo travelled across the Salish Sea via BC Ferries, where they enjoyed the fresh sea air from the viewing deck. Since this was their first time visiting the Saanich Peninsula, they made a few stops, including a visit to The Butchart Gardens. They described walking through the gardens as being “like active meditation. All you have to do is follow the path and soak it all in.”

From there it was a quick trip to downtown Victoria and a stay at the Fairmont Empress, the “Castle on the Coast,” a bucket list experience for the both of them. They loved the hotel, the view of the Parliament Buildings, and watching the sun rise over the Inner Harbour. But the clear highlight, says Loren, was all of the incredible food: “Breakfast at Bear & Joey was amazing. Loved the Instagrammable aesthetic! Charcuterie and cider outside on the patio at Sea Cider. Dinner with a view at Boom + Batten.”

Then it was about an hour’s drive up the Island Highway to the Cowichan Valley wine country. They stayed at the Tractor Shed Guest House on Emandare Vineyard, where they relaxed in the hot tub under the stars and cozied up in front of the fire with a glass of wine. But they also tasted wine at Averill Creek Vineyard, enjoyed a tasting flight at Merridale Cider, and savoured more wine and dinner at Unsworth Vineyards.

Unsworth Vineyards on Vancouver Island | @localwanderer

“It was so fun to explore a new wine region of BC that we hadn’t been to before,” Loren says. “Learning about all the natural wines in the region was awesome, and the stay at the winery was very peaceful and relaxing.”

A bit less relaxing was a spin in a race car on the 19-corner track at Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit, a heart-pumping activity to balance out the whole experience. “It was WILD!” Loren says. “It’s the equivalent of being on a rollercoaster or something—you really have no idea how fast and powerful cars can be!”

If you go to the Cowichan Valley, Loren has a useful piece of advice: “Make sure you have a designated driver for your winery tour! That’s why we loved using Explore Vancouver Island—fun vibes with a great tour driver.”

A photographer connects with Indigenous experiences in the Okanagan Valley

The Okanagan Valley is only about 180 kilometres long but travels though some of the most varied landscape in not only BC but all of Canada. In the south is desert, sagebrush, and temperatures high enough to ripen big red wines; in the north, cool green forests; in between, a series of pothole lakes in a valley formed by glaciers and volcanoes. This is wine and orchard country, and as Whistler-based photographer Mirae Campbell discovered, a beautiful place for a scenic drive and nature getaway.

Her journey took her from Whistler along the famously winding Duffy Lake Road and into the Shuswap to Kelowna via Highway 97.

 

A cultural tour at Quaaout Lodge & Spa | @miraecampbell

The highlight of her trip was the cultural tour at Indigenous-owned Quaaout Lodge on Little Shuswap Lake. “I love learning about the lands that I recreate and connect on,” Campbell says.

“Understanding the Indigenous territory I’m visiting as explained by Indigenous folk is something that really inspires me and makes me feel like I am having a reciprocal approach to tourism.”

She had never been to the Shuswap before and enjoyed visits to the Shuswap Pie Company (“It was AMAZING,” she says) and Sprokkets Café, which is home to a museum of more than 100 mostly vintage motorcycles. She’d never been to Vernon, either, and was impressed by all the city had to offer, including a wonderfully amusing alpaca farm she discovered by happenstance.

After a detour for some paddleboarding on Kalamalka Lake with Kalavida Surf Shop, which also rented her an e-bike to ride to Kekuli Bay, she made her way into Kelowna, stopping for lunch at the excellent plant-based restaurant Frankie We Salute You, before checking into the historic Eldorado Hotel. The next day featured a guided bike tour of the Myra Canyon Trestles, and then it was back on the highway and home via Merritt and Maple Ridge.

In Merritt, she stopped at the Kekuli Café, where every dish is based on bannock, a food that has a complicated cultural legacy among Indigenous people because, even though it is an important part of many Indigenous people’s cuisine, it is at the same time a legacy of colonialism. “Elijah (the owner) shared his story with us and I think connecting with him made me remember why I love travelling so much,” Campbell says. “Without the opportunity to visit new places I would never have the chance to connect with such resilient and inspiring folks.”

For those planning a similar journey, Campbell advises: “Support local Indigenous businesses. By supporting local Indigenous businesses, the money goes back into funding community efforts and programming that helps restore and upkeep the land that we visit.”

 

Also, she suggests familiarizing yourself with local First Nations and nation names and using correct geotags when posting on social media. “We are on unceded land, after all,” she says. “I just recently started doing this and I have learned a lot about the land and who was there before me.”

Wherever you go in British Columbia, whether your travels take you to mountains, islands, valleys or urban centres, an eye-opening, restorative adventure is just waiting for you to learn something new, about this beautiful place, but also about yourself. And the best place to start that journey is in one of BC’s vibrant cities.