When Vancouverites think of weekend getaways, Nanaimo is probably not on the radar. It wasn’t on mine either, until I spent a weekend in the harbour city on the east coast of Vancouver Island.
Once a former rough-and-tumble town with coal mining and logging as the main industries, Nanaimo has morphed into a charming seaside locale where restaurants are housed in heritage buildings and the ocean views are exquisitely west coast. As locals like to brag about, it is also where Grammy Award-winning jazz pianist and singer Diana Krall grew up.
Billed as home to one of the world’s largest artificial upright scuba reefs, Nanaimo is a two-hour ride from Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal, the primary departure location for sailings from the British Columbia mainland, and a 90-minute drive north of Victoria. Surrounded by water on three sides, Nanaimo offers a bounty of seafood, as well as fresh produce from farmers markets and roadside stands, and four craft breweries.
That’s not all. I discovered there are lots of surprises in this inviting town — such as great walking and hiking trails.
Vitality on Vancouver Island
With the pandemic drawing people into nature and away from crowds, Nanaimo is especially attractive because it is home to more than 880 hectares of city parks and 170 kilometres (105 miles) of trails. Two of my favourite Instagram-worthy routes are Westwood Lake and Neck Point Park.
Nestled in the foothills of Mt. Benson, Westwood Lake is a year-round destination. The easy 5.51-km (3.42-mile) trail is an exhilarating walk, even on a crisp fall day. Most of the walk followed the curving of the lake, through a beautiful park and with every amenity one could expect from a jewel of the city. Beaches and floating docks, playgrounds and picnic tables as well as fishing docks are there to be enjoyed.
Overlooking the Pipers Lagoon and ocean, Neck Point Park draws you into its historic and scenic setting. I kept snapping photos of the rugged cliffs, pebble bay beaches, and winding trails through Garry Oak groves.
After a two-hour hike, the body is deserving of a spa treatment. For me, the choice was a pedicure very much out of the ordinary: A warm chocolate-infused treatment that made me feel both pampered and serene. Kiyo Salon & Day Spa’s luxurious pedicure was an extravagance in aromatherapy soak, hot towel wrap, exfoliation, an extended aromatherapy massage, followed by a deeply moisturizing mask. Can you think of a better way to indulge tired feet?
Where to Dine in Nanaimo
Despite a homelessness issue in the city centre, Nanaimo’s business owners have developed a culinary scene that showcases their community’s hospitality.
Visitors will be delighted by the delectable selection of places where you can indulge your inner foodie. Situated in the heart of the Old City Quarter and amid unique artisan shops, Asteras Greek Taverna is in a century-old heritage home (buildings in the Old Quarter date back to the late 1800s to early 1900s). The landmark offers delicious traditional Cretan Greek cuisine.
While eating your way around Nanaimo, be sure to stop by the Longwood Brew Pub. Its fish taco trio and baked crab cakes are as worthy of a visit as the gorgeous views of the Coastal Mountain range and spectacular sunsets — making it a destination in town.
In downtown Nanaimo, the Modern Café’s roasted tomato bisque is comfort food at its best. Not to be outdone is the ménage à trois: fish three ways, a delicious handcrafted crab-and-snapper cake topped off with candied salmon.
Once satisfied with your explorations, you will likely make note of the delightful feeling that has opened your mind to Nanaimo and the idea of someday returning to learn what more there is to see and taste.
MORE ABOUT VISITING NANAIMO
Where to Stay: After taking full advantage of what Nanaimo has to offer, Inn on Long Lake rewards you with a comfy place to lay your head. Besides its picture-window vistas of Long Lake, the property’s 62 rooms are sleek and modern. You can rent kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and pedal boats or go for a swim right from the hotel docks. Address: 4700 North Island Highway, Nanaimo, BC (see map below). Reservations: Visit the inn’s website, or call toll free 1-800-565-1144. The inn is pet-friendly, and its rooms are reasonably priced and with updated fixtures. The executive suites offer lakeside views. Room Rates: A recent search of the property’s website returned a starting price of $143 per night.