This summer, we set out on an adventure, road-tripping in western Canada for six weeks. This is the continuation (part two) of our Canadian summer road trip. We started in Calgary and drove through the Canadian Rockies on our way to the western coast of British Columbia. This post covers the bulk of our British Columbia road trip, where we spent two weeks exploring Vancouver and Vancouver Island.
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This post is the second in a four-part series about our itinerary, and then I will link up other posts that go into more detail on the places we stayed and things we did. This is really serving more as an outline rather than an in-depth look at specific attractions, activities, hikes, hotels, etc.
This leg of our trip was about two weeks, focusing on the British Columbia coast, namely the Vancouver/Victoria and Vancouver Island areas. We started this leg of the journey in Kamloops and ended in Vancouver because we were driving from Calgary. However, it can be done as a standalone itinerary from Vancouver by omitting the Kamloops to Vancouver portion.
June 10-11, 2022: Kamloops, British Columbia
Where We Stayed – Hampton Inn Kamloops
photo from Hampton Inn Kamloops
There’s not a whole lot to say about the Hampton Inn Kamloops. It was perfectly fine and completely met our needs for a quick overnight stay in Kamloops. To maximize points, we almost exclusively stay within the Hilton family of hotels when we’re traveling. A lot of our spending goes on the Hilton AMEX Surpass card, so we rack up A LOT of Hilton points that we redeem for stays like this one.
If you’re looking for a new credit card to maximize points/miles travel, I highly recommend the Hilton AMEX Surpass, and right now, you can get 150,000 bonus points after making $3000 in purchases. There is a small annual fee, but I’ve found the rewards to make the price totally worth it.
What We Did Near Kamloops
At the Rogers Pass Discovery Centre in Glacier National Park, we learned all about how Parks Canada uses the 105mm howitzer for avalanche control. By firing shells at specific targets to create small avalanches, they can minimize the impact on the road and railway. This is an excellent stop on the TransCanada Highway (Hwy 1) to learn more about how the roads are maintained through the winter and the history of mountaineering in Canada.
The Last Spike
This stop wasn’t even on my radar until our GyPSy Guide audio tour suggested that we stop. At The Last Spike, you can see where the last iron spike of the Canadian railroad was hammered in. There was a massive rush for a transcontinental railroad in order to lay claim to all the land that makes up Canada (so that the US could not claim it for themselves). And here, on November 7, 1885, eastern and western Canada were connected, and the transcontinental railroad was complete.
Jurassic World: Dominion
We happened to be in Kamloops on opening day for Jurassic World: Dominion, so we just HAD to add that to our plans. Did you know that they filmed some of Jurassic World: Dominion in Kamloops?!
The Coquihalla Highway (Hwy 5) is the quickest way to get from Kamloops to the Vancouver area. It bypasses parts of the TransCanada Highway and is a divided highway with a higher speed limit. The Coquihalla features the highest speed limit in Canada – 120km/hr. We opted for the Coquihalla because we needed to be in Vancouver at a specific time, but you do miss out on some of the smaller towns and scenery of Highway 1.
Where We Ate in Kamloops
We only had time for a quick dinner in Kamloops (before our movie), so we stopped at McDonald’s. In Canada, you can order breakfast ALL DAY(!), and they have a Happy Meal with PANCAKES! Ellie was in heaven! Usually, we would have opted for somewhere with more local flair, but this was all we had time for, and it got the job done.
June 11-13, 2022: Nanaimo, British Columbia
Where We Stayed – Best Western Nanaimo
There are not many hotel options in the Nanaimo area – and even fewer chain hotel options. We were looking for something affordable and big enough for the 6 of us, so we ended up at the Best Western Northgate Nanaimo—another perfectly fine but not particularly noteworthy option. The kids raved about the extensive breakfast buffet throughout our trip though, so I count that as a win! I’d stay there again if we were in the area, but I wouldn’t plan a trip just to stay there or anything like that.
What We Did Near Nanaimo
We sailed from Vancouver (Horseshoe Bay) to Nanaimo (Departure Bay) on BC Ferries – a trip that takes just under two hours. We arrived at the port about an hour early to get in line, drove our SUV onto the ferry, and then set out to explore. BC Ferries connects the mainland with Vancouver Island to the west. The ferries have restaurants, coffee bars, and gift shops to help you pass the time while sailing.
While we were in Nanaimo, we took care of some road trip necessities. After ten days of driving through the Canadian Rockies, our SUV was due for a good scrubbing. We drove through a carwash and then spent some time vacuuming out the interior of the car. I know planning time for things like car washes isn’t necessary on a shorter trip, but with a 6-week trip, it was critical! We also took some time to relax and unwind. Planning some downtime is essential when you’re doing such a long trip.
Goats on the Roof
This was such a fun stop! The kids thought it just had a silly name and were shocked when they realized that there were literal GOATS on the ROOF! It’s a super cute market with all sorts of goodies! We left with some jelly, snacks for the car, stickers, and a stuffed goat! There’s also a restaurant (we didn’t have time to check out) and an ice cream shop (we obv stopped at!).
Where We Ate in Nanaimo
There was a Noodlebox near our hotel, and it quickly became a favorite! I love that in addition to picking the main flavor of your dish (like kung pao, pad Thai, or Singapore cashew curry) you also get to choose between their noodle types: Hokkien, ribbon, chow mein, cavatappi, or rice (which I know is not a noodle!).
When in Nanaimo, you MUST get a Nanaimo bar! If you’re not familiar, it’s the most delicious three-layered treat. The bottom layer is a nutty, coconut-graham crust; then, it has a thick custard, followed by chocolate ganache. And they are SCRUMPTIOUS! We tried them from several different places, and the Serious Coffee Nanaimo Bars were our fave!
June 13-16, 2022: Tofino, British Columbia
Where We Stayed – The Shoreline
I actually came across The Shoreline on Instagram before it popped up in my search for somewhere to stay in Tofino. It’s a small property with five rooms plus the cutest A-frame house. We rented the A-frame house, and it was the best decision ever. I honestly think I could live there full-time! The house has two bedrooms, two bathrooms, the cutest loft area, and an epic harbor view.
What We Did in Tofino
Bear Watching Tour
The Tofino area is among Vancouver Island’s best places to see black bears. We went on a bear-watching tour with Jamie’s Whaling Station, and it was phenomenal! I honestly never realized that you could see bears on the shoreline, and the experience was unreal. The times depend on the tides, and if there’s an early morning option (we did 6:30am!), make sure to book it! The early sunrise and fog combined with bears is absolute perfection.
Tofino is known as the “Surf Capital of Canada,” so you know we HAD to try it while we were in town. Nick and Lexie did a private lesson with the Surf Club at Long Beach Lodge Resort. I loved that they included the board and wetsuit rental in the package. With 45-50º water, wetsuits – including gloves and booties! – are a necessity.
Both kids wiped out a LOT, but before the lesson was over, they were starting to get the hang of it! And now they both want to go back again and surf for days on end!
Where We Ate in Tofino
Rhino Coffee House
Rhino Coffee House is a Tofino institution. The line was out the door when we arrived midweek at about 10am, but it moved quickly. Chris went with the “Bro” Nut – fried egg, sausage, aged cheddar, and lettuce, on a homemade savory DONUT! He said it was delicious! The rest of us had an assortment of breakfast sandwiches and bowls, which were all excellent.
Another Tofino institution, Tacofino, is a food truck with a cult-like following. Seriously, DO NOT be afraid of the line and make the mistake of not stopping at Tacofino for lunch! We waited in line for an hour to order, then waited about 25 minutes for our food, and it was so good that we did it again the following day.
When I was researching where to eat in Tofino, Shelter kept popping up. I made a reservation several months in advance since I didn’t have a lot of flexibility in terms of time/date. The Tofino Surf Bowl – wild salmon, teriyaki vegetables, jasmine rice & spicy yogurt, red cabbage, and cilantro – did not disappoint! It turned out to be one of the best meals of our trip.
Unfortunately, there was a fire at Shelter a few months ago, but they’re supposed to be reopening at a new waterfront location this spring.
Located in the same parking lot as Tacofino, Chocolate Tofino is another one of those places that you must try! In addition to delicious chocolate treats, they also have an extensive gelato menu. The Salted Caramel Sundae – complete with a little surfboard! – was Lexie’s favorite treat of the trip!
We stopped by Tofitian for breakfast after our early morning surf session. Nick was originally going to get a day-old pastry (he’s a cheapskate at heart!), but when he saw the breakfast polenta, he quickly changed his order! Everything we ordered at Tofitian – lattes, hot tea, pastries, quiche, and breakfast polenta – was terrific, and we actually stopped by again the next day!
June 16-19, 2022: Ucluelet, British Columbia
Where We Stayed – Black Rock Oceanfront Resort
If you’re looking for a beautiful resort on the west coast of Vancouver Island, look no further than Black Rock Oceanfront Resort. This gorgeous resort is in Ucluelet, about half an hour south of Tofino. Ucleluet is like trendy Tofino’s little sister – quieter and less crowded – and is the perfect escape.
We stayed at Black Rock Resort for several days, and the kids were IN LOVE with the rocky bluffs and driftwood – it’s an explorer’s paradise! The Wild Pacific Trail runs right to the resort, and it’s not far to check out the trails in Pacific Rim National Park.
What We Did in Ucluelet
The Ucluelet Aquarium is small, comparatively speaking. It’s a collect-and-release aquarium, so everything in there is from the ocean right outside. It was fun to see what’s out there in the water instead of what’s in the water on the other side of the country! It took us less than an hour to walk through the whole thing, but it was well done, and we found it to be worth the time and money.
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve covers nearly 200 square miles of Vancouver Island. There are three different regions: Long Beach, the Broken Islands group, and the West Coast Trail. The park includes both beaches and rainforests, and the area is rich with wildlife, including black bears, cougars, elk, and wolves.
One afternoon we hiked the Rainforest A (North) trail. It’s only about 1km and on a boardwalk, but there are A LOT of stairs (500+). It was beautiful meandering through the red cedar and western hemlock forests. Definitely a must-do if you’re in the Tofino/Ucluelet area.
Where We Ate in Ucluelet
This guy is never one to pass up a burrito, so when we went to Ukee Dogs, that’s just what he ordered! They also have delicious tacos and hot dogs. An interesting combo, for sure, but one that works! Honestly, everything we ordered was delicious.
The Floathouse Patio & Grill is a Ucluelet staple with the waits to prove it! We waited nearly an hour for our outdoor table, but it was well worth the wait. The menu features a nice mix of burgers, seafood, and ribs, and we enjoyed everything we ordered. Note – they do not have a kids’ menu though they do have many kid-friendly things on the menu.
We originally ordered from Shipwreck Pizza because they delivered to our hotel. But after eating, I would order Shipwreck again even if I had to drive over there and pick it up myself – it was THAT good! They have a great mix of interesting pizzas all with ship/pirate-themed names.
June 19-22, 2022: Victoria, British Columbia
Where We Stayed – Doubletree Downtown Victoria
The Doubletree Downtown Victoria has a great location, just a few blocks from the Inner Harbour. It’s walkable to many of the attractions in Victoria, and I enjoyed our little break from driving. We used Hilton Honors points to book our stay. When we’re staying at chain hotels, we try to stay at Hilton-branded properties to accrue as many points as possible and then use them to cover more expensive hotels (like downtown locations!).
What We Did in Victoria
One of the newest attractions on Vancouver Island, Malahat Skywalk, is a must-do! The experience starts with an elevated boardwalk through the trees before arriving at this massive structure. It’s a super cool spiral tower with AMAZING views from 250m above sea level. And there’s a slide in the middle of it! You ride down on a mat for a consistent sliding experience – and it’s fast!
You can’t go to Victoria and not go whale watching. Really, if you just have time for ONE thing in Victoria, it needs to be whale watching! Victoria sits in the Salish Sea, one of the best places in the world for whale watching – especially for orcas. Now, it can be hit or miss as to seeing anything – we went the summer before on from the US side of the Salish Sea and only saw one lone humpback. But the chances are pretty good that you’ll spot whales on most whale-watching excursions.
Even though there’s some luck involved, there are things you can do to increase your chances.
- Go with a crew that knows what they’re doing and what they’re looking for.
- Choose an open boat that can go faster – you can cover more ground and hopefully increase your chances of seeing more whales!
We went with Eagle Wing Tours out of Victoria, and it was a fantastic experience. We did one of their sunset tours – you know how I am about sunsets!! – and the light was perfect. The sunset tours are offered from mid-May through the end of September and are three hours long. Eagle Wing Tours provides gloves, jackets, hats, sunglasses, and blankets, which we definitely took advantage of! And they’re so confident in their ability to find whales (from May-Nov) that they offer a whale guarantee – they guarantee you’ll see whales on your tour, or you can come back for free!
Victoria is home to Canada’s oldest Chinatown (pictured) and Canada’s narrowest street – Fan Tan Alley (not pictured). We walked through Chinatown briefly and stopped at the very popular Don Mee Restaurant for a quick lunch.
Victoria Carriage Tour
A carriage tour is a must-do when you’re in Victoria! We did the 90-minute tour with Victoria Carriage Tours and saw SO MUCH! They offer tours from 30 minutes that provide just a taste of the streets of the James Bay neighborhood to more extended tours that visit Beacon Hill Park and all the highlights of Victoria.
Where We Ate in Victoria
See, I told you we really liked Noodlebox! We were excited to see one within walking distance of our hotel in Victoria and enjoyed it for dinner one night. I’m all for going out to restaurants, but sometimes it’s nice to curl up on the couch with some takeout in your pajamas at the end of the day!
When we lived in Calgary when I was growing up, Earl’s was my all-time favorite restaurant. I’m pretty sure that I converted the kids into Earl’s addicts, too. We ate at Earl’s twice in Jasper, and as soon as they saw the one in Victoria, it was back to Earl’s for us! This is another place that does not have a kids’ menu, but again, they have some kid-friendly options.
If you’re looking for somewhere different to get ice cream, Chocolats Favoris is a perfect choice. You get to pick a soft serve flavor + dip flavor + toppings. Nick chose the Crunchy Hazelnut – chocolate ice cream, dark chocolate dip, hazelnuts, and a piece of hazelnut cake.
June 22-25, 2022: Vancouver, British Columbia
Where We Stayed – Hilton Vancouver Downtown
The Hilton Vancouver Downtown was another stay we booked using a combination of Hilton Honors points and free award nights. The walkable location worked out perfectly for our family of six, split into two rooms.
One thing to note is that breakfast is not included when staying at Hilton hotels, like at the more family-oriented Hampton Inn or Home2 Suites. Instead, if you have Gold/Diamond status, you get credits for food/beverage for every night of your stay. It worked out that it didn’t cover breakfast for the whole fam, so we alternated who had breakfast at the hotel restaurant and who had leftovers or pop-tarts back in the room. While that’s not an ideal solution, having breakfast with just a few kids at a time was fun.
What We Did in Vancouver
Capilano Suspension Bridge
Just north of Vancouver, Capilano Suspension Bridge Park is one of the most popular attractions in the area. I remember going as a child, and it’s always stuck in my head as one of the coolest places I’ve ever been. Originally built in 1889, the Capilano Suspension Bridge has seen a few updates over the years. It’s now strong enough to hold a fully-loaded 747, so even though it’s a bit wobbly, it’s totally safe to walk across.
Also at the park, make sure to check out the Treetops Adventure – a combination of platforms and suspension bridges high up in the trees. The view is out of this world!
The award for the first public aquarium in Canada and the largest aquarium in Canada goes to the Vancouver Aquarium in Stanley Park. We spent about four hours exploring what the aquarium offers and could have easily spent all day. Like most aquariums, they have touch pools which are always a highlight with the kids. Don’t miss Stellar’s Bay, where you can see the Sea Lion training – it’s usually offered twice a day!
THINGS TO REMEMBER FOR YOUR BRITISH COLUMBIA ROAD TRIP
- Like Seattle, the coast of British Columbia is on Pacific Time. In fact, most of BC is on Pacific time, except for a few mountain communities near the Alberta border that are on Mountain Time.
- Road trips are popular in British Columbia during the summer due to the long, warm days. However, if you’re planning a winter road trip, ensure you have winter tires, chains, and experience driving in snow and ice – the conditions can be brutal.
- If you’re coming from the US, remember that speed limit signs are in kilometers in Canada. No, you cannot drive 100mph!!
Have you been to British Columbia, Canada? The British Columbia coast is genuinely bucket list worthy – definitely worth the time and effort to visit!