8 Fun Summer Things to Do in Nanaimo, British Columbia
Autumn is almost upon us here on the west coast, but I wanted to get one last summer-themed British Columbia post in before we can say that it’s officially fall.
This past July my mum treated myself and my daughter to a week of exploring Vancouver Island - it was a lovely three-generation ladies trip! We based ourselves in Nanaimo, a harbour city on the east coast of Vancouver Island. It turned out to be the perfect base as the city has every amenity that travelers require (we were after all traveling with my at the time 9-month old daughter) plus the city has a flourishing arts and culture scene, and spectacular ocean views and access. It’s also not far to head south towards British Columbia’s capital city Victoria, or to head north to discover some of the more remote areas of the island.
With that said, I’m going to jump right in to highlighting eight different things that you can do should you choose to visit Nanaimo in the summer months!
#1. Visit the Bastion
Considered to be Nanaimo’s most recognizable landmark, the Bastion was originally constructed in 1853 by the Hudson’s Bay Company. It is the city’s oldest structure and the last remaining wooden Hudson’s Bay Company bastion in North America.
While the structure is original, the interior has been set up as a small, three-level museum which depicts the former purpose of the Bastion as a site of trade, storage and defense. You’ll also find visitor information desk inside. The Bastion is open 7 days a week from May long weekend through to Labour Day.
#2. Explore Downtown and the Old City Quarter
Wander around the downtown area of Nanaimo and you can expect to find funky boutiques, art galleries, cafes, restaurants, and museums such as the Nanaimo Museum (even if you don’t have time to visit the museum, you can still check out their lovely gift shop which has unique local jewelry and little trinkets to take home).
Nestled right beside the downtown core is Nanaimo’s charming Old City Quarter, where you’ll come across independent boutiques and businesses, children’s stores, and delicious restaurants. The whole Quarter only covers a couple of blocks, but it’s worthwhile to spend an hour if you’re interested in shopping and dining.
#3. Step back in time at Petroglyph Provincial Park
Located a few kilometers south of Nanaimo along the Trans-Canada Highway, Petroglyph Provincial Park is a 2-hectare protected area that features prehistoric stone etchings and carvings primarily depicting animals and human figures. They’re estimated to be over 1000 years old! While these types of etchings have been found elsewhere on Vancouver Island, Petroglyph Provincial Park contains one of the highest concentrations.
There is a short and easy walking trail that you can take to view all of the petroglyph rock slabs. All in all, you can expect to spend about 30-45 minutes here.
#4. Eat some wild blackberries
If you visit during the summer there will be wild blackberries reading for picking all over Nanaimo and the surrounding area!
Help yourself - yum!
#5. Walk the Harbour front Walkway
Stretch your legs along the beautiful oceanside walkway which meanders its way along downtown Nanaimo. You’ll pass by parks, public art and sculptures, the city marina, cafes and ice cream shops, and you can watch the sea planes taking off and landing.
One of the city parks along the Harbour Front Walkway is Maffeo Sutton Park, which is a great place to stop and take a break. There are washroom facilities, playgrounds, and often community events taking place. There’s also a harbour zipline nearby which is operated throughout the summer months.
#6. Watch the crabbers pull in their traps
Located right along the Harbour Front Walkway, the Swy-a-Lana walking/fishing pier stretches out in to the harbour and typically fills up with crabbers in the summertime. You can head on out and watch them pull in their daily hauls - they’re very friendly!
Keep in mind, if you’d like to try crab fishing for yourself you’ll need to ensure you have the proper permit.
#7. Go whale watching
Although I didn’t go whale watching on this particular trip, I have had the pleasure of going on a tour in the past and seeing whales in B.C. waters (you can read more about my whale watching experience here). In my opinion, it’s always money well spent and an unforgettable experience!
If you’d like to go on a whale watching tour, simply head down towards the marina where you’ll find operating tour companies. Generally, most companies guarantee sightings!
#8. Try a nanaimo bar
Finally, a trip to Nanaimo wouldn’t be complete without trying a Nanaimo bar! Although its origins are unclear and rather mysterious, it’s widely assumed that this Canadian treat originated in the city of Nanaimo.
Regardless of where it came from, the traditional combination of graham wafer crumbs, coconut, custard, and chocolate is delicious! Although you can easily find Nanaimo bars all over the city, if you happen to have a serious craving you can also embark on the Nanaimo Bar Trail.
Where to stay in Nanaimo
During our week-long visit we stayed in the Ramada by Wyndham Nanaimo which is conveniently located a walkable distance to downtown and only a couple of blocks away from the Harbour Front Walkway. Our room was spacious, comfortable, clean, and quiet. Best of all, the nightly price includes a daily hot buffet breakfast. Highly recommend if you’re looking for a great place to stay in Nanaimo!
Where to eat in Nanaimo
Head on over to the Old City Quarter and try La Stella Trattoria for amazing wood-fired pizza (made with three-day fermented dough) and fresh, made-from-scratch pasta. The ambiance is comfortable, the food tastes gourmet, yet the prices seem reasonable. La Stella Trattoria would make for a nice evening out or a fantastic date spot.
If you’re on the hunt for a takeout meal that still tastes great, I can recommend the deli counter in the Thrifty Foods grocery store. Since we were traveling with a baby, we ended up getting lots of takeout to eat back at the hotel in the evening once baby was asleep. It’s a convenient option that won’t break the bank.
Getting to Nanaimo
You can fly into Nanaimo Airport directly from three major Canadian cities: Vancouver, Calgary, and Toronto. Alternatively, you could also fly in via sea plane (it’s only a 20-minute flight from downtown Vancouver).
If you’re traveling by car you’ll need to sail on one of the BC Ferries to get to Vancouver Island, departing from either Horseshoe Bay or Tsawwassen. It’s a scenic two-hour crossing from the mainland to Vancouver Island.