This itinerary includes all of the highlights, from urban pleasures in Vancouver and Victoria to natural wonders on Vancouver Island, and even an optional excursion to Whistler. Break out any section of the itinerary to tailor it to your interests and the amount of time you want to spend. For example, plan a long weekend with three days in either city; or add four days exploring the island to fill out a week. I assume you have your own vehicle or will be reserving one for pickup at Vancouver International Airport.
Head north from the airport and loop around Point Grey to the Museum of Anthropology; the breathtaking totem poles are a wonderful introduction to the human history of the region. Duck through the old-growth forest behind the museum to get a feel for the city’s natural splendor. Check into your hotel. Enjoy a water-view room at the Fairmont Pacific Rim or soak up the style of the Opus Hotel. Consider a harborside seafood dinner at Five Sails.
Spend an hour or so exploring the historical streets of Gastown, and then hail a cab to Chinatown. Spend the rest of the morning soaking up the sights and smells of this colorful precinct. Enjoy an authentic Chinese lunch: dim sum at Fu Wah or noodles at Gain Wah Restaurant. After lunch, head to the waterfront Museum of Vancouver, and then wander through VanDusen Botanical Garden. If the weather’s favorable, book an evening kayaking tour from Granville Island; then enjoy waterfront dining at the island’s Bridges restaurant.
To get out into nature, take your pick from the following North Shore attractions: Capilano Suspension Bridge, Grouse Mountain Skyride, or hiking in Cypress Provincial Park. Or for a day of recreation in the city, rent a bike and follow the seawall around forested Stanley Park to the regal beachside suburb English Bay. Take lunch at the Teahouse in Stanley Park or one of the many good beachside eateries. Then make the short hop back to Robson Street to return the bike. Spend the afternoon at your leisure—shopping on urbane Robson Street, visiting the Vancouver Art Gallery, or taking the elevator to Vancouver Lookout for sweeping city views. Back at street level, make reservations for dinner at the Water Street Café in Gastown.
Excursion to Whistler
Ski and snowboard enthusiasts will want to head 90 minutes north along Highway 99 to Whistler for downhill adventure, especially in winter. Whatever the season, you can take a few turns on always icy Horstman Glacier, accessible via lift up Blackcomb Mountain. There are plenty of other recreation options as well. Go mountain biking on the liftserved slopes or go canoeing on Alta Lake. Take advantage of Whistler’s excellent selection of restaurants and accommodations for an overnight stay.
Drive south along Highway 99 for 20 minutes to reach Richmond. From there, head out to the historical fishing village of Steveston for lunch at one of the harborfront cafés. This will give you plenty of time to catch a midafternoon ferry ride to the city of Victoria on Vancouver Island. You’ll arrive in Victoria after the last of the bus tours have left Butchart Gardens—a perfect time to visit this famous attraction. Choose a restaurant with water views for dinner (the Flying Otter Grill is a personal favorite).
Today is a walking day, so leave your vehicle at your accommodation and make your way to Victoria’s Inner Harbour, wandering through the Fairmont Empress and strolling along the busy promenade. For its modern interpretation of natural and human history, the Royal BC Museum is a must-see. It’s possible to spend a full day at this wonderful facility. Barb’s Place, built on a floating wharf, is the perfect place for enjoying fish and chips outdoors. In the afternoon, walk along the harbor front, visiting the Robert Bateman Centre, wandering through the Fairmont Empress, and then moving north to the historical streets of Old Town and Chinatown. Enjoy dinner at Local Kitchen.
Rise early and take Dallas Road through James Bay to Oak Bay. Make as many stops as you wish along this scenic drive—for a walk along Ogden Point Breakwall, to search out historically important graves at Ross Bay Cemetery, or to simply stretch out in the sun on one of the beaches. Another option for the day is Government House. Admire the surrounding native gardens, and then wind your way on foot back down to the harbor via imposing Craigdarroch Castle and the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. Spend the afternoon walking the forested trails of Goldstream Provincial Park. Return to downtown in time for dinner at Café Brio.
Explore Vancouver Island
Drive 40 minutes north from Victoria on Highway 17 to Sidney. Jump aboard a ferry for my favorite of the Southern Gulf Islands, Galiano Island, where the highlight is kayaking along the sandy shore of Montague Harbour Provincial Park. Return to the mainland and drive three hours cross-island along Highway 14 to Tofino, where an evening walk along the beaches of Pacific Rim National Park is a fantastic way to end your day. Choose a Tofino accommodation such as Pacific Sands Beach Resort, where you can boil up crab purchased from the downtown dock.
Tofino is Canada’s best-known surf town, so join the locals by hitting the local waves. Live to Surf will outfit you with a wetsuit and surfboard for a morning of fun in the breakers of Chesterman Beach. Take a lesson if you’ve never surfed before. Then head back east along Highway 4 to Nanaimo (allow just under three hours) and the Buccaneer Inn, where you’ve reserved a room for two nights. End the day with dinner at the Lighthouse Bistro overlooking the marina.
Tell the experts at Ocean Explorers Diving in Nanaimo that you want to try a wreck dive, and let them choose a dive site that best suits your experience. After drying off, head north for 30 minutes along Highway 19 to Parksville. Spend the afternoon either relaxing on the main city beach or exploring the forested hiking trails of Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park. Return to Nanaimo for a casual seafood dinner at Dinghy Dock Pub.
Catch an early ferry from Nanaimo to Tsawwassen, heading back to Vancouver for the trip home—knowing you’ll be back.
Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Vancouver & Victoria.