Today I’m sharing some highlights and things to see in and around the town that we live in: things to see on Western Vancouver Island, BC.
I’m really excited today to be sharing a post that is a little bit out of the ordinary for this blog; it’s a little more personal and doesn’t exactly fall within my usual niche of home decor, DIY, crafts, organizing, printable or recipes. In the summer I took part in another more personal blog hop, hosted by Jennifer of Town and Country Living, where we shared WHY we chose the house we live in. I shared all the details about both why we sold and why we chose our current house, as well as shared the details on our (new) lake cabin. Well, today I’m joining Jennifer again to share a little glimpse into the place that I live, and the highlights and points of interest in this area that we call home.
We live in a small town called Port Alberni located in the center of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Our community basically stretches between Cameron Lake in the East to the tip of Sproat Lake in the west, with the actual town encompassing a population of 18-20,000 and the outlying areas adding an additional 10,000 residents. It is located at the base of a large valley surrounded by mountains and full of waterways, including lakes, rivers, and an inlet that leads out to the west coast of Vancouver Island (and therefore Canada).
Originally a community based around the fishing and forestry industries, there was a boom time during the 1970s when Port Alberni had one of the highest per capita incomes in all of Canada. Since the decline in fishing and forestry over the past couple of decades, our community has definitely taken an economic hit due to this downturn. We have begun to diversify our economy outside of the resource sector, and tourism (especially outdoor focused tourist activities) are growing strongly.
There is no doubt that the outdoors are what offer the most interest and enticement in our community. We are surrounded by beautiful rainforests, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, mountains, hiking trails, and are the next closest community to the beautiful west coast towns of Tofino and Ucluelet.
If you’ve been following along for a while, then you know that our previous home was located on a lake just outside of our town. Sproat Lake is definitely one of the biggest highlights of our community.
There are two provincial park areas adjacent to Sproat Lake: one closer to town and one further down the highway towards Tofino. Both offer public lake access and lovely beaches, and the closer park also offers excellent camping and access to the Sproat Lake Petroglyphs. We love spending our summer days on and at the lake, and can’t count how many beautiful family memories we’ve created there.
When we first looked at our new house, just above the center of town, one of the things that sold us was the easy access to a fantastic network of walking trails in the area. We absolutely love using them on an almost daily basis for walking our dog and riding bikes. It’s truly amazing to walk out your front or back door and right into a forest full of fantastic walking trails.
On your way into our town from the East Coast of the island, you have to pass through a famous old growth forest area called Cathedral Grove. This forest is a rare and endangered remnant of an ancient Douglas fir ecosystem. The biggest trees in the Grove are about 800 years old and measure 75 m (250 ft) in height and 9 m (29 ft) in circumference. It is truly a magnificent forest to walk through and take in.
The lookout – Just at the east end of town, before you head out on the highway, you can access one of our more popular and famous hikes or walks in the community; an uphill hike to what locals call “The Lookout”. Popular with local fitness enthusiasts, this is quite a grind to reach but you are definitely rewarded with beautiful westward facing views across nearly the entire valley and beyond once you reach the top (as long as it’s not fogged in, of course).
Hole in the Wall – Another fantastic little hike in this area leads you to what locals call “The Hole in the Wall”. This is a popular hike for classes at our school to take in the late spring before school gets out. There is also a great little swimming hole in this area that people love to enjoy as the weather heats up.
Coombs Country Candy – At the base of the hike up to the lookout is the best local candy shop, Coombs Country Candy. Famous for it’s incredible homemade everything, my personal favourite is the homemade gelato and homemade ice cream cakes that we love to order for special occasions like birthdays. Definitely a well-deserved treat after hiking (or biking) in the trails in this area!
Stamp Falls – Another provincial park to the north of town is Stamp Falls, which is popular later in the summer and in the early fall due to the fish ladders and salmon run that you can observe during this season. There is a provincial campground as well which is set beautifully along this stretch of the Stamp River.
Harbour Quay – At the base of town is the Harbour Quay, which is a public area with a park, public docks, shopping, and restaurants all overlooking the Alberni Inlet. The inlet leads out to the wild west coast and Pacific Ocean, but is a much more protected and calm waterway this far along the island. There is also a clock tower that you can climb that gives beautiful views of the surrounding areas. The donut shop at the Harbour Quay is known for it’s delicious homemade treats, and the Taco shop is one of the best you’ll try on V.I.
Looking up Argyle Street from the Harbour Quay, you can see Mt. Arrowsmith which is also full of great areas to hike and explore.
After all your outdoor activities, the local brewery, Twin City Brewing, is amazing for such a small community. Full of award winning libations and delicious on-trend snacks and meals, it’s definitely worth a visit and a favourite place for locals to gather.
One of our favourite places to visit nearby is the small beach front community of Tofino, BC. Located on the far west coast of Vancouver Island, we actually lived in Tofino for three years before moving back to our home town of Port Alberni. As such, we have a special place in our heart for this stunningly beautifully area of the world.
Long Beach is part of the National Park on the west coast, and truly lives up to it’s name with it’s length of golden sand and pounding surf. A hugely popular surf destination, it’s equally as fun to pull up a chair and enjoy the blue skies and rhythm of the surf from a drier location on the beach.
Chesterman’s Beach is another of our favourite beaches in this area. As it’s not part of the National park system, the beach is lined with privately owned houses and cottages (as well as one of Tofino’s most famous high-end hotels, The Wick). It’s a very popular surf beach and has been host to world class surf competitions in the past.
Cox Bay – We love to stay at Long Beach Lodge on this smaller cove beach called Cox Bay. Home to a few small resorts and a few homes, it has a quieter feel than Chefstermans and is bordered by rocky outcroppings that are fun to wander and explore. Long Beach Lodge itself has the most beautiful patio overlooking the beach and it’s a perfect way to wile away a sunny afternoon enjoying the surf and sunshine with some friends.
We also like to visit Tofino during the winter months for “storm season”…
MacKenzie Beach – Ocean Village Resort is one of my favourite super casual places to stay in Tofino, and not just because it’s more affordable than most. A throwback to the first days of tourism in the area, the beehives have a classic charm that we love and the grassy lawns are a fabulous spot for small groups to enjoy games and activities just above the beach line. MacKenzie beach is also great for sitting around the campfire in the evening, and perhaps eating some fresh crab sourced that day right out of the ocean in front of you.
The park in the center of downtown Tofino is a place we spent many an hour with our young boys, as it features as fantastic playground as well as a great skateboard/scooter park that my boys love to visit now that they’ve moved beyond swing sets and slides. If you’re here in the summer, there is a fabulous Saturday market in the park that is not to miss.
SOBO is my favourite spot for lunch in Tofino, and the fish tacos are one of the best things on the menu. Another fave is the Polenta Fries (you have to try them!), Tofu pockets, and the house made margaritas. Dangerously good, they limit you to a maximum of two for a reason!
Shelter was our favourite dinner out restaurant while we lived in Tofino, as it was located just down the hill from our house and had amazing winter specials and incredible food. It still lives up to it’s promise, and we rarely miss the chance to eat here when we visit Tofino.
Wildside Grill is our favourite spot for casual meals, and eating outside is part of the fun in this little complex just off the highway near the MacKenzie Beach area. The chicken burgers are to-die for, I don’t know how a chicken burger can possibly be so delicious?!
On the East side of our little town are some fun highlights to visit as well, including Parksville, Qualicum, and Coombs. The Coombs Market (also known as Goats on the Roof), is a fun stop and one of the most popular tourist locations in all of British Columbia. It includes a market full of beautiful and delicious wares in addition to famous roof that houses the goats…
The Cuckoo Trattoria at Coombs is one of the best restaurants on Vancouver Island, and a beautiful location for weddings and special occasions. Definitely try the smoked salmon fettucine!
There are so many more incredible things to share with you, but these are a few of my favourites from this beautiful, rustic, and special little corner of the world that we live in.
As I mentioned, my friend Jennifer (from Town and Country Living) is hosting this fun hop this week. Today some more of my blogging friends are sharing what is special about their home towns. Enjoy!