A Free Spirit’s Guide to Nanaimo

August 8, 2017

Nanaimo’s locals are eager to take the plunge when it comes to new adventures, and we knew Heather from the Adventure 360 team would be interested in sharing what a free spirited two days in Nanaimo would look like. We asked her to share her ideal 48 hours in the Harbour City—her Nanaimo 360. Check out what Heather gets up to…

I don’t know about you but when I travel I want it to be an adventure. I want to experience the best of wherever it is I’m visiting has to offer, from the region’s best cuisine to the best vantage point to snap that perfect travel-inspo Instagram shot. I usually arrive with a detailed itinerary in hand because I don’t want to miss a thing, which makes travelling with me an ambitious and exciting experience. When I get to a chance to be a tourist in Nanaimo, I take the same approach. We live in such a remarkable area, filled with luxurious urban amenities, funky local shops, and some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world.

Here’s a look into my ideal 48 hours in Nanaimo:

Day 1

Breakfast: I know I have a jam-packed day of exciting adventures ahead of me so I’m starting the day with a hearty, freshly made breakfast. I head to the outskirts of Nanaimo to COCO’s Cafe, known for their fresh baked goods, friendly staff, and rustic-chic decor. I order the “Breakfast on a Plate” with two scrambled eggs, hash browns, fresh toast, and a crisp bacon.

COCO Cafe is more than just a local hot spot. It’s a project of the Cedar Opportunities Co-operative, providing job opportunities to members of the community with a disability, and they’re daily making a valuable community impact. Your experience at COCO Cafe goes beyond the typical dining experience and is sure to stay with you as one of the more memorable and fulfilling stops in your Nanaimo 360 Adventure.

Bungee jumping at Wildplay Nanaimo

Morning: After breakfast, I’m ready for some thrill-seeking action at WildPlay. I set out on the road toward to the location on Nanaimo River Road. Surrounded by towering trees and the serene sounds of the flowing river, I head inside to check in for my adventure. You can choose from a rope course that takes you up into the trees, a zipline tour, take it to the river bridge for a bungy jump, or tether yourself to a friend on the tandem Primal Swing. Make sure you have your photographer nearby to capture your adrenaline-pumping moments to share—you’ve earned the right to brag!

Lunch: With my adrenaline soaring, I’m more than ready for lunch. I head down to the harbourfront walkway for one of the most photogenic and delicious places in town: Penny’s Palapas. This fun, festive floating restaurant has an amazing patio that allows patrons to enjoy a fresh, Mexican-inspired meal while enjoying the afternoon sun and salty air. The Enchiladas Verdes is my favourite order on the menu; spicy chicken wrapped in corn tortillas and covered in a green tomatillo Poblano chile sauce, baked with melted cheese and served with a side of Mexican rice, refried beans, and corn. If you’re looking for a lighter meal, Penny’s offers some of the freshest ceviche I’ve ever had. Pair any of their meals with an ice cold Corona or margarita and you have the perfect dining experience.

Afternoon: Next on my list is the “Taste Of Nanaimo Tour” with Vancouver Island Expeditions. This four hour tour takes you through several venues around the city to explore and sample local wineries, breweries, and distilleries. You’ll enjoy perfectly paired food samples from local producers, including our classic Nanaimo Bar, as you learn how to properly sip and savour high-quality gin, vodka, and absinthe; learn about the history of Nanaimo winemaking; and discover the process of how your favourite brews are made.

Dinner: After a long afternoon of indulging in the best of Nanaimo’s craft beer and wine, I’m surprisingly hungry and ready to treat myself to an indulgent meal at Riso Foods. This small restaurant and bakery hand-makes everything in small batches, guaranteeing you the freshest meals every time. The focal point of this intimate dining you is the rustic wood-fired pizza oven where they bake their famous Neapolitan-style pizza.

Since I’m in the Harbour City, I tend to order seafood whenever I’m out for dinner and Riso Foods is no exception. I order ‘Today’s Seafood Daily Special’, a plate of fresh, local seafood paired with my choice of side, usually the warm beet salad or mushrooms and greens. For dessert, I order the frangipane, a classic European tart of almond cake that’s topped with fresh fruit and Tahitian Vanilla gelato.

Evening: There’s something about watching the sunset in Nanaimo that makes you think no one has ever seen anything as beautiful. My favourite place to catch this view is at Sebastian Beach. Pack a blanket or two, take a deep breath, and let all your worries wash away as you take in the vibrant colours of the evening sky and the gentle whispers of the tide.

Day 2

Breakfast: Sunday breakfast always has me thinking of one thing: Eggs Benedict. I head to Minnoz Restaurant in the lobby of the Coast Hotel in Downtown Nanaimo. With a mimosa on the way, I order the Charlotte Eggs Benedict, a west coast twist on the classic featuring smoked salmon and topped with capers, red onions, and of course, hollandaise sauce.

Morning: After the exhilarating day yesterday, I’m ready for some relaxation and head to Kiyo Salon and Day Spa for a little pampering with a Nanaimo Bar pedicure. It starts with soaking your feet in a luxurious milk bath, followed by chocolate sugar scrub that will leave your feet smooth. Next, your feet are treated to a chocolate masque and vanilla custard massage. You can choose from a natural buff or a polish finish. Indulge in this delicious, almost good-enough-to-eat, Nanaimo-Bar-inspired treat without breaking your caloric intake!

Lunch & Afternoon: Shadowfax. There’s a BBQ on board or set up a picnic on deck, Captain Hans will even stop to teach you how to crab so you can enjoy a fresh seafood lunch. Make sure you bring a Bluetooth compatible device to sync with the speakers on board to set your soundtrack to the afternoon. Take this opportunity to learn to sail the ship or simply relax on the netting as the pacific ocean passes underneath you. Because of the short haul on the Shadowfax, Captain Hans can pull close to shore so you can explore the small islands surrounding Nanaimo’s harbour. This is a unique Nanaimo harbour experience you won’t soon forget!

Take this opportunity to learn to sail the ship or simply relax on the netting as the pacific ocean passes underneath you.

Dinner: An afternoon of relaxing fun in the sun always leaves me hungry for a decadent meal and Hilltop Bistro always satisfies that craving. I start with the warm marinated olives. For my main course, I’m always caught between the risotto with garlic prawns or the steak frites with house cut fries, organic greens and garlic parsley butter. Because this stay-cation is all indulging in the best experiences of Nanaimo, I opt to order my favourite dessert, crème brulee.

Evening: There’s one last thing I want to check off my list before my Nanaimo 360 adventure is over and heading down to White Sails Brewing. This is one of my favourite places in Nanaimo and the perfect spot to enjoy a local brew. The music is always perfectly curated, the views are unmatched, and the staff are like long-lost friends. Pull out the giant Jenga or one of the many board games stored around the venue and enjoy an evening you won’t soon forget.

Now that you know my go-to Nanaimo 360 adventure, tell me about yours! Use #ExploreNanaimo to share your adventures on social media.

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