Destination Regency hops a ferry this week for British Columbia’s Vancouver Island. With an enchanting city, charming fishing towns, a surfers’ paradise, truly noteworthy wine country and old-growth forests, Vancouver Island truly delivers something for everyone. My husband and I were actually stationed in northeastern Alberta for three years and we made it our mission to explore as much of Canada as possible during our stay. Although there were many places that we loved, Vancouver Island stole our hearts. So, we’re returning to our favorite pocket of Canada once more to bring you a comprehensive guide to the island from behind the wheel of our Regency RV.
Victoria’s been coined the City of Gardens, the most British City outside England as well as the Most Romantic City in Canada, but whatever draws you to her shores, you’re sure to find something to charm you senseless. Here’s a smattering of our favorite highlights, but however you plan your trip, remember – it’s not the destination but the journey! And speaking of journeys, the daily ferry from Seattle, Washington to Victoria, BC takes less than three hours and is quite a scenic trip in its own right.
Settled by the British in the 1840’s, Victoria is one of the oldest cities in the Pacific Northwest and it carries the historic architecture to go along with it. Two of the most stunning examples are the Parliament Building and the Fairmont’s Empress Hotel; both structures were designed by BC’s famous architect, Francis Rattenbury. The neo-baroque Parliament Buildings hold court, so to speak, above a lush park trimmed with vibrant blooms and presided over by a massive statue of Queen Victoria. It’s a favorite place for locals to picnic or just have a coffee on the lawn. So, grab a newspaper or a book and find a cozy spot.
The Empress Hotel, commissioned in a chateau-style by the Canadian Pacific Railway, first opened its doors in 1908 and it’s been a staple of high living in Victoria ever since. The Canadian Pacific Railway actually built several of Canada’s most opulent and architecturally significant hotels including Quebec City’s Chateau Frontenac; Chateau Lake Louise; Banff Springs Hotel and Toronto’s Royal York Hotel. Today, The Empress, as well as the other CPR hotels are owned and operated by Fairmont Hotels and are maintained and managed with world-class attention to detail. Staying in one of these legendary hotels is extraordinary yet pricey, but you can still experience the magic of the Fairmont without being a guest. Their daily and traditional high tea is the most lavish display of the old British ritual this side of the Atlantic.
Beacon Hill Park is Victoria’s oldest and most charming park. Cricket matches have been continuously held here since the 19thcentury; bridges span lakes full of swans and herons; the petting zoo is wonderful; and at 160 feet, stands the world’s largest totem pole, in honor of the First Nations people who have called the island home for thousands of years.
Bastion Square rests on the original site of Fort Victoria and is home to charming shops, restaurants and a wonderful artisan market during the summer months. The beating heart of downtown, this charming square is full of mom and pop establishments and locally made wares that really show off some of Victoria’s most talented craftsmen.
Munro Books is housed in a beautiful old bank and was actually started by Canada’s beloved, Nobel Prize-winning author, Alice Munro. If you love bookstores as I do, this lovely spot is an enchanting place to spend the afternoon.
Nestled just north of Victoria are the famed Butchart Gardens. Spanning over 55 acres and boasting around 1000 varieties of plants and flowers, these magnificent gardens have been luring visitors to their splendor since 1904.
Food and Libations:
Victoria is overflowing with wonderful food – local, organic and sustainable farming are almost a religion here on the island and it’s difficult to find a bad meal. That said, here are some of our favorites:
Housed in a colorful shipping container turned fish joint that rests on an Inner Harbor Pier, Red Fish Blue Fish almost always has a line that snakes the length of the wharf. The sustainable seafood rolling out the walk-up hutch though is well worth the wait. Fish and chips as well as tacos are all made with wild caught fish and the sauces, fresh cole slaw and lemon-pickled onions are truly the best you will find on the island.
Fol Epi is not just a bakery; it’s a testament to how wonderful baking can be. They use only wild yeasts, their organic flour is milled on site and everything is baked in their brick ovens. This is a throw-back to the old-world patisserie that could make even Julia Child’s heart flutter!
Blue Fox Café serves up hearty organic breakfast with only local ingredients all day long. Banana Maple Porridge, Moroccan Chicken Benny or traditional Bubble & Squeak (pan-fried potatoes with spinach, mushrooms and peppers) are only a handful of the brilliant items coming out of the favorite local joint.
Ferris’s Oyster Bar peddles myriad BC oyster ensembles, insanely fresh seafood, legit bouillabaisse and outstanding service all housed inside a lively atmosphere that keeps locals and visitors beating a path to their door year after year.
Il Terrazzo is tucked off a little pedestrian street with lights twinkling above the old brick courtyard; her looks alone are pure magic. If the insanely romantic ambiance isn’t enough of a sell, the northern Italian cuisine with a Pacific Northwest twist will seal the deal. To top it all off, the wine list is worthy of the most serious vinophile. If you only eat at one restaurant in Victoria, make it Il Terrazzo.
The Mint offers the speakeasy swank of a Gatsby novel complete with artisan cocktails and late-night appetizers that are truly inspired. If you’re looking for the perfect cocktail, this is the place.
Irish Times is my favorite pub in the city. Housed in an old bank that was designed by architect Francis Rattenbury (The Empress and Parliament), the atmosphere seriously overdelivers. After a round of the best brews Britain has to offer, give their Irish coffee a whirl. The recipe originates with the famous Buena Vista in San Francisco – one of my all-time favorites!
Where to Park it:
Salish Seaside RV Haven is definitely the closest and easiest way to do Victoria in your Regency RV. It’s just over 2 miles from downtown Victoria. You can either cab it or hop on the Victoria Harbor Ferry, which offers hourly service daily. Salish Seaside is truly one of Western Canada’s nicest RV parks. The site is nestled on a private peninsula overlooking the harbor and is meticulously run by the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nation tribes. Many of the sites are right on the water and all feature power, free wifi as well as access to washrooms, showers, laundry and a lovely clubhouse with outdoor decks and fireplace.Like any city, listen to what beckons to you. Make Victoria your own. When you’ve had all the fun you can possibly stand, head northeast for Vancouver Island’s wine country in the Cowichan Valley…even Francophiles will be impressed.
The Cowichan Valley still flies under the radar for the rest of the world, but BC chefs know that this swath of land is the place to go for pinnacle of produce in the Province – even the country. With an almost unparalleled devotion to farm-to-table ethos and the slow food movement, Cowichan Valley takes gastro-tourism to a level rarely experienced in North America. Like a patchwork crazy quilt of restaurant-farms, wineries, honey farms and cideries, Cowichan Valley is a food-lovers paradise that will make you feel like you’re sitting down to a beloved friend’s table. Wind down rural roads and wander off the beaten path; you will be delighted by the culinary surprises that cross your path. For a few failproof options, here are some of our favorites:
Food and Libations:
Duncan Farmers Market, voted the best farmers market in British Columbia by the esteemed BC Association of Farmers Markets, is open Saturdays from 9:00-2:00 and on Sundays from 10:00-2:00. This superb market is essential to a Cowichan Valley trip!
Deerholme Farm offers an unrivaled feast behind the helm of the passionate mushroom forager and inspired chef, Bill Jones. His thoughtful tasting menu, served in his inviting farmhouse, delivers an experience that will marinate in your sense memory for a lifetime. His sporadic themed dinners fill up fast, so take a look at this website and book ahead for something truly spectacular.
Hudson’s on First is tucked inside a painstakingly restored home that dates to 1906. Inside, the family serves up seasonal, local and organic fare from the best of Vancouver Island.
Alderlea Farm serves up a bonafide field-to-fork dining experience from their on-site, working farm. The salads will change your life, their wood-fired pizzas are dazzling and the locally raised chicken would make even the masters of Lyon blush.
True Grain is an old-world bakery in the truest sense; they source only organic ancient grains from BC farmers then mill everything with meticulous attention to detail. The result is the most magnificent array of bread, sweets and savories you’ll find outside France.
Venturi Schulze has been a labor of love for Giordano Venturi for nearly 30 years. A Modena native (the birthplace of balsamic vinegar), he grew up without the pocket change for pricey, world-class balsamic. Fast-forward to the present day and he’s producing time-honored balsamic vinegar that rivals Italian greats – the complexity will blow your mind. His wine is nothing to sneeze at either. Lovely Pinot, Sauternes-worthy dessert wines and stunning Brut Naturel Sparklers are all enough to convince you to tote at least a case home.
Blue Grouse is a solid place for Pinot Noir as well as Alsatian-style Pinot Gris. One of the older wineries in the Cowichan Valley, Blue Grouse was once a test vineyard to experiment with different grape varietals in the area. Today, it’s showcasing some of the loveliest examples of wine on the island.
Averill Creek crafts Burgundy-level Pinot Noir from their charming estate, which offers a phenomenal view of the Cowichan Bay.
For a little taste of everything crafted in the Cowichan Valley, head to town for their wine festival, which takes place August 23 – 25.
Merridale Cidery crafts their cider from heirloom fruit cuttings acquired in France, Germany and England. Their process is old-world, strikingly pure and results in an effervescent beauty that’s well worth a tasting room visit.
Westholme Teas is Canada’s only tea farm and their tasting room as well as their tours are simply steeped in magic!
Where to Park it:
There are a few RV parks in the Cowichan Valley; for the most centrally located to everything, we recommend Bee Hive Campground, which offers water, sewer and power at gravel pads that are set amidst nature.
Just 2 hours northwest of Duncan, lies the eastern coastal town of Comox. Comox was an early Hudson’s Bay Company outpost, a fishing and logging village, and boasts a 4000-year history as a fishing settlement for the Coast Salish peoples. In fact, the tidal flats at low tide reveal wooden stakes for fishing weirs that carbon date to 750 AD! Nevertheless, due to its remote locale, the village was without a railway or road link to Victoria until World War I. Today, Comox is known for its amazing fishing, wildlife, year-round golf and hiking. It enjoys close proximity to the Forbidden Plateau as well as ski resorts and offers a view of the nearby Comox Glacier from almost anywhere in town.
I first discovered this charming enclave thanks to my husband who used to fly missions out of the local Canadian Air Force Base when we were stationed in Canada. In fact, he regularly loaded up his jet with a cooler full of fresh fish to fly back to our land-locked home in Alberta.
If you enjoy the great outdoors, Comox is your place. Take a boat tour to a local oyster farm, complete with a tasting, or a cruise around the coast. Go on the salmon fishing trip of a lifetime. Hike, bike ride or go horseback riding through Nymph Falls where the beauty is breathtaking and a terraced salmon ladder is truly a man-made site to see. Golf courses abound in the area; top honors go to Crown Isle, Glacier Greens and Sunnydale.
Like just about anywhere else on the island, Comox thrives off the natural bounty of the locale when it comes to food. Here are a handful of our favorites.
Atlas Café, in nearby Courtenay, boasts sleek big city ambiance coupled with inspired locally sourced cuisine. Their eggs bennies are blessed with creativity, their salad are bursting with crisp, local produce and a majority of their entrees center around the abundant local seafood with a global twist in style. Their cocktails are just as inventive and their wine list boasts the best of the island. I just love this place.
With the wealth of fresh, wonderful seafood in the Comox area, it’s no surprise that Ichiban Sushi is one of my all-time favorites – and I’ve been to Japan! The restaurant is nestled inside a cozy little cottage and the outdoor patio, lined with peonies, is equally inviting. If you’re looking to do sushi on your journey through Vancouver Island, this is it!
Komox Grind satiates that yearning for great coffee and pastry. Pop in for a cappuccino and croissant then step outside for a stroll along the Marina Park.
Blackfin Pub looks rests on the beautiful Comox Marina and churns out on-point pub food with refreshing local brews.
Comox Fisherman’s Wharf is an ideal place for fresh fish to stock your Regency RV. The fish comes in fresh every morning from the pristine, ice-cold waters. It’s a must if you want something to take back to your campsite or take on the road for the rest of your trip.
Where to Park it:
Cape Lazo RV Park is incredibly inviting; this lovely RV park boasts 62 full-service sites (including cable & wifi) with access to showers, laundry, a lending library, a pavilion, BBQs as well as a playground. Most sites have water views and the ocean is a mere 1-minute away. Their herb garden and apple orchard are also free for guests to use! What more could you ask for?
The Road West…
As you journey west, there are a couple stops on the 3-plus-hour drive that may be my ultimate favorites. Head south on Highway 19 toward Highway 4 and stop in Coombs at the Old Country Market!!! This place is a real life Hobbiton with GOATS ON THE ROOF! That’s right. You read it correctly. The Old Country Market has goats grazing on their sod roof. What started as a fruit stand evolved into a thoughtfully curated food, deli and local crafts market beneath a lush sod roof. The grass was getting long one summer evening, and legend has it that, over multiple glasses of wine, Larry Geekie asked his wife, “What if we put goats on the roof?” ‘What if,’ indeed! Today, it’s one of the most famous sod roof structures in North America, and what’s inside definitely stands up to the hype.
As you take the 4 over to Ucluelet and Tofino, stop in MacMillan Provincial Park (about 19 kilometers west of Coombs). Home to Cathedral Grove, MacMillan Provincial Park feels like walking through Tolkien’s Lothlorien! It’s a breath-taking old-growth forest adorned with ancient Douglas Firs – some of these towering beauties are over 800 years old and span 30 feet in circumference!
After a magical jaunt through the forest, a 2-hour jaunt will deposit you on the shores of the island’s west coast. The two inimitable towns of Tofino and Ucluelet are close in proximity, but feel like a world away from one another in terms of personality. Ucluelet is a picturesque, laid back fishing village while Tofino is an edgy surfers’ village that seems frozen in time. Both are surrounded by jaw-dropping nature and are situated along the Pacific Rim Trail – quite a bucket list hike if you have the time.
Tofino earned its stripes as a surf town and an environmentally conscious hippie haven. There’s still a significant portion of American ex-pats that dodged the Vietnam draft and decided to put down roots. Tofino still maintains its original groovy aura, but there is quite a bit more tourism in the area and prices reflect that. It’s a great town to rent a surf board, enjoy the beach of just go for a hike. The food is on par to fuel you through any adventures you can conjure up.
Food and libations:
Tacofino Cantina Taco Truck, nestled behind surf shops off Pacific Rim Highway, makes Baja-style fish tacos out of their adorable taco truck. So, grab a Tuna Ta-Taco and graze at their al fresco patio.
Wolf in the Fog is the crown jewel of Tofino restaurants; with a creative and professional staff that utilizes the local and seasonal bounty in an inspired, unforgettable way, Wolf in the Fog will truly run away with your heart.
Wickaninnish Inn delivers a waterside mecca in their On the Point Restaurant as well as their On the Rocks Bar. They source from local purveyors and the food is considered among the best on the island – for good reason. Upscale yet cozy, On the Rocks boasts top shelf spirits with a side of Sinatra. You can’t go wrong with anything Wickaninnish has on offer.
Tofino Coffee Roasting Company roasts their beans daily and their baristas are true artists. There’s several coffee shops in surfer’s paradise, but this one is my consummate favorite!
I can’t gush enough about Tofino Brewing Company – I love these guys! On our last trip to the brewery, we scored a growler of their seasonal IPA for a hike to an old WWII bomber crash site. They brew only small batch beer from high-end barely and Pacific Northwest hops. The result just smells of the forest and quenches your thirst with every sparkling drop.
Where to Park it:
The oceanfront Bella Pacifica RV Park offers water, power, sewer, free wifi, a picnic table and firepit with each site. Showers, flush toilets and laundry facilities are available as well as firewood and ice.
After the hang loose vibe of Tofino, Ucluelet is something entirely different. Although Tofino is definitely worthy of your time, my personal favorite is Ucluelet when it comes to a place to park it and stay awhile. This is a town forged by people who work with their hands and fish the crystal cold waters of the Pacific. It’s relaxing, warm and inviting and one of my favorite places on earth to just unplug and soak it all in. I highly recommend taking a hike in the lush area or just stroll along the beach in one of the most staggeringly beautiful coastal spots on earth. Pacific Rim trails mix old-growth forest beauty with rocky shores of the Pacific all beneath soaring bald eagles and a pristine sky. Exploring town is delightful, but the true adventure lies in the all the magical, natural spots!
Food and Libations:
Norwoods was, hands-down, one of the most memorable dining spots on the planet. The first time we ate here, we landed a spot at the chef’s table where we chatted about the local oysters and seafood as well as what was in season – forest-foraged fiddleheads anyone!? The unforgettable, gastronomic smash has kept us returning again and again. Today, Chef Norwood has retired, but has passed the torch on to a surprisingly worthy recipient, Chef Warren Barr. The name has changed to Pluvio, but the culinary brilliance remains the same.
Zoe’s Bakery and Café, with a glistening view of the Inner Harbor, delivers beautifully prepared organic baked goods, pizzas, quiches and sandwiches for a steal as well as delicious, locally roasted coffee.
Fetch Restaurant at Black Rock Resort, with an ocean view to swoon over, serves up beautifully executed seafood and culinary delights for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The resort’s Float Lounge is also an ideal place to grab a drink and watch the sun dip below the Pacific.
Where to Park it:
Ucluelet Campground is worth it just for the picturesque views of Ucluelet’s charming Inner Harbor! They also offer water, sewer and electric as well as flush toilets, showers and dishwashing sinks. Ask for a water site; it’s worth it!
We wish you well on your travels and hope you enjoy this magical island as much as we do. Happy trails!