Nanaimo to Tofino – Stop, snack, shop, sip, and surf
Tucked on the west side of Vancouver Island is the beautiful community of Tofino. Renowned for its world-class surf, spectacular west coast beauty and end-of-the-road culture, this charming town is the perfect place for a getaway at any time of year. Whether you’re looking for adventure, relaxation or an unforgettable dining experience, Tofino won’t disappoint. If you’ve visited before you’ll know that getting there is all part of the adventure. During the Spring and Summer you can hop on a direct one-hour flight to connect between downtown Vancouver and Tofino Harbour. There’s plenty to see and do on the west coast in the winter time so from October to March, we recommend doing the Fly + Drive version instead. Board a 20-minute flight from downtown Vancouver or Richmond (YVR South) and Nanaimo Harbour, pick up your rental car (ask us about special rates) and hit the road! The beautiful Pacific Rim Highway, nicknamed Canada’s Surf Highway spans over 200 kilometres and winds through ancient old growth forests, spectacular mountains, pristine lakes, mighty rivers and stunning beaches. We have complied a list of a few of our favourite stops along the way that make for an unforgettable Vancouver Island road trip.
Road Trip Fuel
Realm Food Co.
Unit 2 – 180 Craig Street, Parksville BC
Realm Food Co. is a restaurant dedicated to wild, organic, local and sustainable cuisine. They work with local farms and producers to ensure their menu has the smallest ecological footprint possible. Order at the counter and find a seat in their very Instagrammable dining area that is naturally lit from their large south facing windows that let in the warm sunshine. Realm Food strives to satisfy any palate, from vegan to paleo where the food is a as delicious as it is nourishing and energizing. The perfect meal to get you started on your Tofino road trip! And yes, they have a brunch menu.
Travel Tip: Our personal favourite menu item is the Arrowsmith Bowl with added avocado; paired with Bee You Smoothie makes for the perfect combo. Don’t forget to grab a Chickpea Brownie (or two) to go!
702 Memorial Ave, Qualicum Beach
No trip to Vancouver Island is complete without a little shopping. Covet Clothing Boutique is the perfect place to stock your wardrobe with all the west coast essentials necessary for a trip to Tofino. In fact, this little shop originated in Tofino and migrated over to the charming town of Qualicum Beach just a few years ago. You’ll find a fantastic selection of made-in-Tofino brands like Lisa Fletcher Jewelry, Tofino Soap Co., and Market Canvas Leather bags. And don’t worry if the forecast is calling for rain, they have an amazing selection of rain boots perfect for rainy day beach walks.
Travel Tip: Having regrets about that purchase you didn’t make? Don’t fret, they recently launched an online store and offer free shipping within Canada on orders of $100 or more!
Coombs Old Country Market
2326 Alberni Hwy, Coombs
The Old Country Market started as a roadside fruit stand back in 1973 providing fresh produce to travellers heading to the west coast of Vancouver Island. Flash forward to now, the Old Country Market in Coombs has become a tourist attraction and has evolved into an island landmark, with a mixture of shops and eateries for locals and visitors alike. From carpets and home décor to ice cream and local, fresh baked goods; this market is a one stop shop filled with trinkets, treasures and treats. Oh yeah, in the spring and summer months there are goats… on the roof!
Travel Tip: The best time for ice cream is…always. Swing by The Creamery for the best fresh scoops in town offering over 60 flavours to satisfy any taste buds.
Stop and Sip
2701 Alberni Hwy, Qualicum Beach
Tucked just off Highway 4 located near Coombs is Creekmore’s Coffee. A small batch certified organic wholesale roastery facility with a charming coffee shop and espresso bar conveniently located next door. With easy access off the highway and plenty of parking, this is a great spot to stop by for a warm caffeinated beverage to fuel the rest of your drive. Grab a bag of fresh beans to take home to relive your Vancouver Island road trip every morning.
Stretch your legs
452 Alberni Hwy, Nanaimo
Cathedral Grove, located in MacMillan Provincial Park, is one of the most accessible stands of giant Douglas fir trees on Vancouver Island! Stop and stretch your legs under the forest canopy of towering ancient trees and breath in the fresh, crisp west coast air. You’ll find a network of trails leading to many giant and towering trees that act as majestic pillars that have been untouched by the modern world – some more than 800 years old. This little piece of paradise is worth the stop!
Travel Tip: Pack your camera! This forest area is filled with majestic photo spots for those west coast Instagrammable moments.
The last pit-stop
4422 Gertrude Street, Port Alberni
Before treating yourself to a classic fish taco or burrito when you get to Tofino swing by the J&L Drive-In for a classic road trip meal! Burgers, fries and chicken-strips – oh my! Tucked in the heart of Port Alberni the J&L Drive-In is the perfect pit-stop to grab some quick grub. Pull up, park and order 1960’s style – the servers will take your order and deliver your food right to your window! This iconic place has been flipping burgers since 1969 and there’s no sign of them slowing down! Don’t forget to stock up on fuel and other West Coast essentials in Port Alberni, it’s your last chance before you hit the road and reach the surf in Tofino or Ucluelet.
Flights between Vancouver and Nanaimo start at $69 per person one-way and car rentals start at $35 per day with unlimited kilometres. Click here to book your Tofino Fly + Drive package with Harbour Air!
By: Alannah Kennedy