At the head of the island’s longest inlet, Port Alberni is an industrial town of 17,500 centered around the forestry industry. The town’s three mills—lumber, specialty lumber, and pulp and paper—are its main sources of income. But despite this industry, Port Alberni has much to offer, including interesting museums, nearby provincial parks, and a modern marina filled with both charter fishing boats and tour boats.
Follow the signs from Highway 4 to brightly decorated Alberni Harbour Quay (Argyle St.), where you can climb a tower for a great view of the quay, harbor, marina, inlet, and surrounding mountains.
Off Argyle Street is Industrial Road, which leads to the Maritime Discovery Centre (2750 Harbour Rd., 250/723-6164, daily 10 a.m.–5 p.m., donation). Ensconced in a red and white lighthouse, children will love the hands-on displays that explore the importance of the ocean to the town’s history.
Find out more about the origins of the West Coast Trail , see a collection of Nuu-chah-nulth artwork, or tinker with a variety of operating motorized machines from the forestry industry at the Alberni Valley Museum (4255 Wallace St., 250/723-2181, Tues.–Sat. 10 a.m.–5 p.m., donation).
The vintage Scottish coaster MV Lady Rose (250/723-8313 or 800/663-7192, www.ladyrosemarine.com ) has been serving the remote communities of Alberni Inlet and Barkley Sound since 1949 as a supply and passenger service. But because of the spectacular scenery along the route, the cruise is also one of the island’s biggest tourist attractions. Sadly, the MV Lady Rose was retired several years ago, but was replaced with an equally beautiful vintage vessel, the MV Frances Barkley
Depending on the time of year, orcas and gray whales, seals, sea lions, porpoises, river otters, bald eagles, and all sorts of seabirds join you on your trip through magnificent Barkley Sound.
Year-round, the MV Frances Barkley departs Alberni Harbour Quay Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at 8 a.m., reaching Bamfield  at 12:30 p.m. After a one-hour layover, she docks back in Port Alberni at 5:00 p.m. In July and August, sailings are also made to Bamfield on Sunday, with a special stop for kayakers in the Broken Group Islands.
The round-trip fare is $68 per person. If you want to stay longer in Bamfield, accommodations are available. June–mid-September an extra route is added to the schedule, with the vessel departing Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 8 a.m. for the Broken Group Islands, arriving at Ucluelet  at 12:30 p.m. for a 90-minute layover before returning to Port Alberni around 7 p.m. ($72).
The Lady Rose also accesses remote Sechart Lodge, where meals are included in the price of $140 s, $215 d per day.
Within walking distance of the quay is Bluebird Motel (3755 3rd Ave., 250/723-1153 or 888/591-3888, www.bluebirdalberni.ca , $79 s, $89 d), with reliable but unsurprising rooms. Right downtown, at the Hospitality Inn (3835 Redford St., 250/723-8111 or 800/723-8111, www.hospitalityinnportalberni.com , $145 s or d), each of the large rooms is air-conditioned and features a comfortable bed and writing desk.
Stamp River Provincial Park ($19), northwest of Port Alberni, enjoys a beautiful location on the river of the same name. To get there, follow Highway 4 west, and immediately after crossing Kitsuksus Creek take Beaver Creek Road north for 14 kilometers (8.7 miles).
The best place for something to eat is down at Alberni Harbour Quay, where you’ll find a number of small cafés with outdoor seating. At the entrance to the quay is Blue Door Cafe (5415 Argyle St., 250/723-8811, daily from 5 a.m.), a small old-style place that’s a real locals’ hangout. Breakfasts are huge; an omelet with all the trimmings goes for $6–7.50, and bottomless self-serve coffee is an extra buck.
On the rise above town to the east is Port Alberni Visitor Centre (2533 Redford St., 250/724-6535 or 866/576-3662, www.avcoc.com , Mon.–Fri. 9 a.m.–5 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 10 a.m.–2 p.m.).