Living in downtown Vancouver, I love indulging in my urban comforts near Stanley Park and the North Shore Mountains. Sipping that Americano at a waterfront cafe while writing the Great Canadian Novel and admiring fashionable joggers certainly has its merits. (Great multi-tasking, eh?)
However, when the weather gets nice, it’s natural to crave an occasional escape from local traditions like discussing real estate and wondering when this city will celebrate its first Stanley Cup since 1915.
Thankfully, many great day trips and weekend getaways await Vancouverites and visitors. Southwest British Columbia has something for every budget and lifestyle. Here are five fantastic options.
Sea Safari Tours and Fish & Chips in Horseshoe Bay
Just 30 minutes from downtown Vancouver, Horseshoe Bay provides a picturesque gateway to the Salish Sea with its ferry terminal. However, this cozy West Vancouver community is more than a jumping-off point to Nanaimo and the Sunshine Coast.
The family-owned Sewell’s Marina offers thrilling sea safari eco-tours. Hop into a 30-foot-long Zodiac with twin outboard motors and ride up Howe Sound. This vast, pristine fjord is entrancing, and the pilot-naturalist will give you the low-down. Enjoy views of the Vancouver skyline and the majestic Coast Mountains. Harbour seals loll about on Pam Rocks, and you may also spot otters and eagles.
Afterwards, explore the village of Horseshoe Bay. The Spirit Gallery sells beautiful bentwood boxes, masks, and jewellery by Indigenous artists. Dine on scrumptious fish and chips at Troll’s Restaurant, and stroll in nearby Whytecliff Park with its dramatic waterfront cliffs.
Aquatic Fun at Cultus Lake
According to ancient Indigenous traditions, Cultus Lake is the bottomless home of various monsters. Today, visitors to this summer paradise an hour outside Vancouver can enjoy limitless fun on a day trip or weekend getaway.
Cultus Lake Water Park, BC’s largest water park, attracts families with 16 thrilling waterslides like Freefall and Colossal Canyon. Relax in five hot tubs and chow down on burgers and pizza.
Canoeing, stand-up paddleboarding, and water-skiing are also available at Cultus Lake. Avid anglers can catch rainbow trout and Dolly Varden. For overnight stays, book your spot at a local campground or, for a more civilized option, rent a cabin with a kitchen, bathroom, and cable TV.
Find Amazing Adventures in Squamish
Forty-five minutes up the scenic Sea-to-Sky highway from Vancouver, nestled between the Coast Mountains and Howe Sound, Squamish deservedly bills itself as the “Adventure Capital of Canada.” The Sea to Sky Gondola offers an exciting 10-minute ride to a mountain ridge 885 metres above sea level. Check out jaw-dropping views of Howe Sound from a suspension bridge, explore hiking trails, or sip craft beer on the Summit Lodge deck.
Rock climbers love the Stawamus Chief Mountain, which towers over Squamish. North America’s second-largest granite monolith abounds with challenging climbing routes. For windsurfers and kiteboarders, the natural wind tunnel in the Squamish Spit creates ideal conditions.
If you’re more historically inclined, the Britannia Mine Museum, a National Historic Site, has guided tours with gold-panning and an underground mine train ride.
Indulge All Your Senses in Nanaimo
Vancouver Island’s “Hub City” delivers a great weekend getaway, whether you prefer burning calories or earning calories. Hike to spectacular Ammonite Falls on Mount Benson through a cathedral of fir trees and take a dip on a hot day. Or get adrenalized with the 19 ziplines and 150-foot giant swing at Nanaimo’s WildPlay Elements Parks.
Rehydrate on the BC Ale Trail, hitting Nanaimo’s top craft breweries. Longwood Brewery sources its hops and barley hyper-locally, which pays off with tasty beers like Berried Alive Raspberry Ale and Steam Punk Dunkelweizen. Score a brewery T-shirt or zip-up hoodie in the homey tasting room.
At Wolf Brewing, Def Leppard and Lynyrd Skynyrd provide the soundtrack as you quaff traditional English ales such as the best-selling Golden Honey Ale. “I’m not a flash-in-the-pan brewer,” states head brewer Kevin Ward. “The beer will tell me when it’s ready.”
The centrally located White Sails Brewing supplements its award-winning, citrusy Mount Benson IPA and sublime Chocolate Porter with poetry nights, knitting groups, and beer-themed yoga. Enjoying baked Brie and specialty coffees enhances the ambience.
Don’t leave Nanaimo without sampling its rich, signature Nanaimo Bar pastry at Hearthstone Artisan Bakery. To set up your tour of indulgence, contact Vancouver Island Expeditions.
Spa Resort Bliss on the Sunshine Coast
Seeking a romantic interlude? At Painted Boat, a five-acre resort in Madeira Park (100 km northwest of Vancouver), the outdoor Spa Garden embodies the vibe. Bliss out in the hot pool, savor the massaging waterfall, or refresh yourself in the glacial rain shower.
The Lagoon Restaurant’s seasonally inspired menu ranges from mussels in white wine to herb-crusted lamb rack. When you’re ready to turn in, well-appointed oceanfront villas await you.
More Excellent Escapes
Bowen Island: On this bucolic island within eyeshot of Vancouver, hike up Mount Gardner, kayak in Snug Cove, or check out handcrafted chocolates and custom stoneware pottery at Artisan Square.
Langley: For wine and beer connoisseurs, this Fraser Valley community boasts nine wineries and two craft breweries.
Sonora Island: Come for the salmon fishing and luxury accommodations and stay for the helicopter rides and grizzly bear tours at the fly-in Sonora Resort.
Top image: Painted Boat Resort on the Sunshine Coast (© Painted Boat Resort)