Eat, Play, Shop, Sip, & Stay in Nanaimo
Coffee shops, breakfast ‘n’ brunch, family-owned restaurants, trendy island breweries, consignment clothing stores, lakeside resorts, and outdoor west coast adventures are awaiting our arrival with open arms (at a distance)! We’re incredibly proud to be part of some amazing coastal communities. And, just like any good neighbour, we’re committed to supporting each other, eh! With the pause on international travel there’s no better time to travel and support locally. And maybe, you’ll discover a new hidden gem along the way! We have complied a list with recommendations on where to eat, play, shop, sip and stay in Nanaimo that make for an amazing Vancouver Island getaway! Did we miss something?! Tag us in your local reccos and we’ll spread the neighbourly love!
The city of Nanaimo is a classic West Coast community that offers stunning natural beauty and is home to the longest shorelines in Canada with a forest-filled mountain backdrop just outside the downtown core. Located on the east coast of Vancouver Island, Nanaimo is the place to find natural wonders, culinary joys, and so much more. Skip the traffic and ferry lineups with an effortless 20-minute flight. Daily flights make for easy island getaways between downtown Vancouver, Richmond (YVR South), and the Sunshine Coast!
A big day of island adventures should always begin with a fresh cup of coffee. If you’re anything like us, grabbing a cup of joe from a local coffee shop is a weekly, if not daily activity. From a classic drip or pour-over, to creamy espressos and specialty teas, lattes, and macchiatos, there’s no shortage of great java joints to stop and sip some of Nanaimo’s best fruity and robust roasts n’ blends!
Located in the heart of downtown Nanaimo is Perkins Coffee Company. They have been serving homemade meals and locally roasted coffee to Nanaimo residents, visitors, and surrounding local businesses since 2000! Specializing in classic homemade café menu items, healthy breakfast, and lunch! Their waterfront location fits their philosophy of offering wholesome food and fantastic service in an amazing environment. At Perkins, their focus is on great service, quality ingredients and fresh food; their entire menu is made in-house daily while serving organic and fair-trade coffee to pair. Creating homemade food from scratch has been in their hearts and minds since they began the business over two decades ago! Stop for a java to-go or sit and stay a while watching Harbour Air’s busy arrivals and departures! Feel like venturing a little further off the beaten path for your caffeine fix? Swing by The Buzz Coffee House for a fresh cup of that sweet nectar! A place where a community is built, where people feel welcomed with the staffs amazing customer service, and where they claim to serve the best darn coffee in Nanaimo! Stop by for a coffee, stay for a smoothie, or enjoy a light lunch with your closest pals!
A spacious, green-hued cafe offering breakfast fare and all-day vegan options in a warm atmosphere can be discovered at The Vault Café. It’s easy to spot the bright millennial pink building occupying the corner of downtown Nanaimo’s Wallace Street. Fuel up with their amazing breakfast, brunch, and lunch options like Salmon Lox Bagel, Vegan Breakfast Wrap, and Banana Bread French Toast (house made banana loaf, berries, maple syrup, and almond crumble….mmm!). Venture just a little further to Gabriel’s Gourmet Café; it isn’t just a place to eat but, a community space where people from all walks of life to come together and connect around food. A true farm-to-fork restaurant that feels like home no matter where you’re visiting from; when you walk in you’ll feel like you‘re being welcomed into the family. The daily specials at Gabriel’s are inspired by the love of local farms and farmers featuring selections of fresh, sustainable, and seasonal produce! Try fresh menu items like The Benson Stack, Not a McMuffin, and Kimchi Salad Bowl!
French Toast A La Mode, Croque Madame, Halibut Blanquette en Croute? Oui, s’il vous plaît! Did your getaway to the South of France get put on hold this year? Mon Petit Choux in Nanaimo transports your tastebuds to the charming cafes and restaurants of Paris with its delightful bakery and colourful breakfast and lunch menu! A charming café with a European flare!
Located in the heart of Downtown Nanaimo, lies a restaurant that’s famous for its Nanaimo Bar Martinis, Home-Made Burgers, the Tuna Sushi Roll, and it’s warm, welcoming atmosphere. Modern Café is dedicated to using the best fresh local ingredients with top-notch customer service to match! A Nanaimo Harbour Air staff favourite! As you walk down Victoria Road, draw your gaze up towards the sky to spot an industrial-chic brick building. No. 2 Firehall is one of Nanaimo’s most iconic structures and its home to one of the cities very famous restaurants – The Firehouse Grill. Look for the double doors that lead to an open and airy space with high ceilings and a friendly and chatty atmosphere. Enjoy creative Cajun-grilled meals, fusion–sushi, craft beer and amazing cocktails! A perfect spot for hiding away on a cold, rainy day or soaking up the rays through the stained –glass windows. When no one can decide what to have for dinner, pizza is always a good idea! La Stella Trattoria is one of Nanaimo’s finest classic Italian pizza joints! Their impossibly light pizza crust is made using 100% locally grown and milled organic flour. Each dough is hand stretched to order and is topped with fresh ingredients then baked in their 900ºF wood-fired oven. Creating the characteristic char markings of true Napoletana style pizza. Try the classic Margherita or venture your tastebuds to try a Funghi (Kkale pesto, roasted mushrooms, confit garlic, smoked mozzarella, and parmesan) or Broccolini (olive oil, garlic sausage, ricotta, mozzarella, oregano, shaved red onion). Grab some za’ to-go or stay and enjoy their warm and welcoming atmosphere! Want to grab Mmargarita‘s with the girls? Stop by Gina’s Mexican Café and embrace the tacky, fun and colourful atmosphere with an array of Mexican dishes. Look for the little pink house on the hill!
Looking for more vegetarian and vegan friendly options? Check out Eve Olive for tapas and entrees created from locally sourced plant-based products! For a sweet treat try Cold Front Gelato for amazing handcrafted small batch gelato with flavours like Pumpkin Cheesecake Swirl, Espresso Stracciatella, and plant–based flavours like Choc Caramel Nut Brownie!
There are only a few treats in life that are both famous and delicious. The humble Nanaimo Bar is a tremendously sweet, no-bake layered dessert with a World-famous reputation. We have the coastal city of Nanaimo to thank for one of Canada’s most renowned sweet treats. The Nanaimo Bar has made appearances in The New York Times, Seth Rogan and Dan Levy’s Twitter feeds, and multiple features on the Food Network! The common mistake: It’s not a cookie, it’s a bar; and yes, there is a difference. You don’t have to venture far to experience this Vancouver Island specialty. Hit the road with you and your appetite and familiarize yourself with the Nanaimo Bar Trail! With over 39 stops you can eat your way along this self-guided adventure! Some downtown local favourites to enjoy this sweet treat include, Red’s Bakery, A Weecup Bakery, and Javawocky Coffee House. Searching for vegan friendly or Gluten Free options? Check out Power House Living Foods or BOCCA Café! Travel tip: bring an empty Tupperware to share this Vancouver Island delicacy with loved ones back home!
Looking to head further west to Tofino? Check out our Tofino Fly ‘N’ Drive including round trip flights to Nanaimo and preferred Harbour Air car rental rates! Read all about some local favourites to stop at along the way that make for an unforgettable Vancouver Island Road trip!
Pack your bags and explore the outdoors with your adventurous kiddos at Wild Play Element Parks! Safely enjoy the outdoors and tap into your wild side with tree-top adventure courses, zipline tours, bungy jumps, and primal swings!
The PGA tour may be put on old but a round (or two) with your closest pals is in full swing! Pack your clubs (yes, you can bring those on the plane), your best golf attire and hit the course with your mates! Take a swing at Nanaimo Golf Club. The course features a full 18 holes, a driving range, a fully equipped pro-shop and a restaurant! Looking for a place to practice putting? Pop by Beban Park Golf Course and Driving Range for a casual experience to improve your swing! Offering an 11-hole pitch and putt course and driving range, it’s the perfect place to practice, play and have fun! Just remember if you learned anything from Happy Gilmore “It’s all in the hips. It’s all in the hips. It’s all in the hips.”
Don’t worry if golf just isn’t your cup of tee. Try a swapping the clubs for a frisbee at Bowen Park Disc Golf Course! Explore a large natural park with stunning vistas, a natural waterfall, and experience a course for all levels! Practice your short game or perfect your fairway shot, your hyzer flip, and jump putt. Fun for the whole crew!
There’s no better place to Social Distance than in the great outdoors! Vancouver Island’s outdoor playground is unparalleled and it’s the many options from the sea to sky that attract visitors and locals to Nanaimo. Let your soles guide the way to the base of the natural rainforest wonder of Ammonite Falls! Find stillness and relaxation on this moderate 30-minute hike and enjoy the sounds of blissful nature. Stand tall and get your heart rate going as you ascend 1,000 meters to the peak of Mount Benson! Feel the immensity of the full circle vistas of 213 hectares of forested land with panoramic views extending from Nanaimo to the Strait of Georgia! Looking to catch those final rays of the crisp fall sunshine? Wander down the peninsula of Jack Point Park with excellent views of the Nanaimo River Estuary, downtown Nanaimo, Protection Island and Gabriola Island. Popular for wildlife viewing, you might catch a glimpse of bald eagles, sea-lions, seals and even harbour porpoises! Pack a thermos with a warm tea to catch the amazing Nanaimo sunset. For young families and little adventurers try taking an alternate path and explore the easy two kilometer wonder of Cable Bay Trail and experience one of the top ten forest walks in the Vancouver Island Region! Forest bathe among stunning Douglas Fir and Cedar Trees and breath in the fresh natural air! Other great hikes and walks include The Abyss / Extension Ridge, SaysutShun – Newcastle Island Marine Provincial Park, Colliery Dam Park Trail and Sugarloaf Mountain Park!
Take a piece of Nanaimo home with you! Charming boutiques selling a curated collection of local goods and picturesque storefronts are what add to the city’s old English charm. Find a special memento to remember your trip to Vancouver Island at The Old City Quarter; home to an eclectic collection of shops, and restaurants. Give clothing a second life at Charlie’s Closet; a quaint West Coast consignment boutique that offers fresh, young, high quality, gently used clothing in a variety of sizes. For vintage one-of-a-kind pieces check out Yours and Mine Consignment for clothing, jewelry, and vintage collectables! Everyday goods for everyone can be found at Common Foundry. Celebrating the everyday objects for their simplicity, beauty, and fundamental utility. Did you become a knit-wit during quarantine? Pop by Mad About Ewe and explore the colourful array of fine yarns and get some purls of wisdom from their very helpful staff! Just starting out? Get all the knitty gritty details for starting the perfect cast on! Venture to downtown Nanaimo and pick up a new read at Window Seat Books. From children’s stories, young-adult novels, fiction, and non-fiction, their collection of page turners make you want to curl up on a cold autumn day and get lost in a great story! Want a one stop shop? Check out Flying Fish for a place that has it all! From housewares, kitchen items, home décor and even women’s fashion you’re bound to find something new and unique here! A staff and local favourite!
A full day of Vancouver Island adventuring deserves a proper cheers and a hydrated sendoff! Clink you glasses to a day well spent at Millstone Estate Winery where the wines are handcrafted on their small family farm and vineyard. Enjoy blends like their 2017 Wild Black Berry Wine with pronounced berry flavours that are true to the island! Or swirl their classic 2018 Pinot Grigio made with 50% estate grown, 50% from Lake Country, BC. (Tasting notes include toasted apricot, with a light minerality and floral – yum!). Chateau Wolff Estate is a family run, boutique wine producer in Nanaimo with organically tended vineyards. Their five-acre property boasts some of the oldest vines planted on Vancouver Island! Enjoy a crisp Chardonnay, Rose, or a bold Syrah and discover how minimalist intervention and traditional old-world methods see it through from bottle to glass.
Oaky notes and corks aren’t your thing? No sweat! Nanaimo is home to some of the Island’s finest breweries and distilleries! Rediscover some of your favourite lagers and ales at White Sails Brewing. Taste clean, crisp award-winning beers inspired by island living and the surrounding natural beauty! With appropriately named brews like Mount Benson India Pale Ale, Bastion Blonde, and Snake Island Cascadian Dark Ale, you’re bound to find a new fav fall bevvy! Fill your growler to enjoy this Island sip at home! European tradition brewed with West Coast creativity can be discovered at Wolf Brewing located on the edge of downtown Nanaimo! Visit their Wolf Den (tasting room) and you might find yourself howling with delight over their tasty, hoppy brews. Whether you’re grabbing a keg, a growler, a bomber, a 4-pack or singles the knowledgeable and friendly staff are there to help! Looking for something a little stronger? Swing by Arbutus Distillery where you’ll find unconventional, truly unique, flavour-forward spirits and cocktails! Brewed, fermented, distilled and bottled on-site, they source only 100% BC grown fermentables and grow many of their own botanicals which make them so special. From their Citrus Gin, Lavender Liqueur, Espresso Vodka, and a wide range of whiskey you’re bound to fall in love with their unique notes and creative packaging!
Nanaimo is home to a number of charming local resorts and hotels that boast stunning oceanfront views and tranquil West Coast experiences. You’ll want to make these stays your secret slice of hidden paradise. As it’s name suggests, The Inn on Long Lake is a lakeside resort centrally located in Nanaimo where every room has a view! Choose from standard to executive suites that make your stay on Vancouver Island absolute bliss. Your stay includes a complimentary Continental Breakfast with a wide variety of options served each morning in the Lakeside Breakfast room! Just steps from the Harbour Air terminal is The Coast Hotel. Enjoy the convenience of staying in the heart of Nanaimo while taking in the views of the beautiful harbour. Want to venture out of the city? Treat yourself and stay at Tigh-Nah-Mara Seaside Spa and Resort! Reconnect and experience rustic charm in the heart of nature with awe-inspiring views on a coastal getaway to Parksville! Hop aboard a quick, convenient 20-minute flight between downtown Vancouver and Nanaimo, pick up your rental car and head north along the Island Highway to the beautiful Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort! Enjoy the quality comfort of 192 handcrafted log guestrooms nestled on 22 forested acres beside the ocean. The resort also features free WiFi, parking, no resort fees and 3 kilometers of sandy beach. Explore the abundance of outdoor activities at your doorstep plus fantastic golf, hiking, caving, cycling, and kayaking nearby. Harbour Air guests save 30%* off room rates and receive a complimentary bottle of wine (or sparkling apple cider). Ask about preferred car rental rates!
As more businesses begin to open their doors safely, the opportunities to explore your own backyard in Nanaimo will expand, too. We can’t wait to continue to support our communities. Stay in touch and reach out to your favourite local spot to see what they’re up to. Check in and give them a follow, like, or share on Social Media! Plus, stay up to date on how they’re keeping guests and employees safe during this time. It’s time to return the favour – support, buy, and travel local this year!
By: Alannah Kennedy