Vancouver Island’s best attractions aren’t always obvious to tourists. Sure, you can grab a brochure upon arrival, but these typically push the businesses of stakeholders instead of offering unbiased advice. There are beautiful destinations on this island and more restaurants than you can possibly visit in one trip. A local’s perspective can guide you to the best of the best. Check out these top seven tourism highlights that will provide any visitor with an authentic West Coast experience.
Best Primary Forest Walk: Cathedral Grove
When people think British Columbia, they think big trees, and you don’t get much bigger than the trees found in a primary forest. If you’re new to the tree game, a primary forest is full of old-growth trees that have never been logged. Known by locals as Cathedral Grove, this temperate rain forest located half-way between Qualicum Beach and Port Alberni is an excellent spot to wander through and admire old-growth cedars and douglas firs, some of which are over 800 years old. It’s a popular spot, so try to avoid peak times like the weekends during the summer.
Best Beach Walk: Long Beach
Tofino has the island’s most beautiful beaches, and none is more breathtaking than Long Beach in Pacific Rim National Park. This beach earned its name honestly, at 16 kilometers, it’s the longest beach on the West Coast of the island. Cradled between thick forests and open ocean, Long Beach has preserved its natural splendors; there are no vendors of any kind here. If you go during whale season, you could see grey whales from the shore, so bring a pair of binoculars.
Best Spot for Whale Watching: Telegraph Cove
Whale watching expeditions are available all over the island, but you’ll get the best encounters on the north island–specifically Telegraph Cove. North island is less developed and more wild than the central and southern parts of the island, so not only are your chances of spotting a variety of whales higher, but so are your chances of seeing big wildlife.
Best Vineyard: Averill Creek
Located just outside of Duncan on the way to Lake Cowichan, Averill Creek Vineyard offers tastings to the public daily between 11 and 5. Known for their Pinot Noir, Averill’s wine selection sets the standard for BC wines. Bring some food and enjoy a bottle on their outdoor patio; the view is spectacular.
Best Gardens: Butchart Gardens
Gardens don’t get more splendid than Butchart Gardens, located in the provincial capital of Victoria. Originally a limestone quarry owned and operated by Robert Butchart in the early twentieth century, Robert’s wife Jennie transformed the quarry into a garden in 1912. The gardens have since expanded, and now, in addition to the original Sunken Garden (pictured above), there’s a Rose Garden, Japanese Garden, Italian Garden, Mediterranean Garden and a vintage carousel in the middle of the grounds. High tea is served in the Dining Room and is not to be missed.
Best Sushi: Nori Japanese Restaurant
Head mid-island to Nanaimo for a taste of the best sushi I’ve ever had. The chefs work at a furious pace to keep up with demand, but are still happy to engage the patrons with a cheer and a fist bump. The tofu agedashi, salmon sashimi, and endless rolls will have your taste buds singing by the time you leave. Be sure to make reservations before showing up, as there’s often a lineup to get in.
Best Restaurant: Stage Wine Bar
Victoria has a plethora of quality restaurants to choose from, and my personal favourite is Stage Wine Bar. Located in the Fernwood neighbourhood, Stage serves up an assortment of tapas and wide variety of local wines and delicious cocktails. The care put into each dish is evident as each bite bursts with flavour and keeps you coming back for more. They’ve won Restaurant of the Year in 2015 and 2016 in Vancouver Magazine and were voted one of Canada’s best new restaurants in 2008 by En Route.