Symphony By The Sea: Tune in to Nanaimo’s arts, culture and nature scene this summer

July 25, 2017

Summer is never quite complete without the pleasure of listening to live music in a park, sitting in a lawn chair, the trees rustling in the breeze while you relax and soak up the sounds.

In pretty Maffeo Sutton Park in Nanaimo, chances are you’ll hear an old favourite at Symphony By The Sea, one of Nanaimo’s premier festivals happening on Saturday, Aug. 12, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

The more than 5,000 people who’ve been attending this free, three-hour outdoor concert each year know all the tricks for getting the most out of it. They bring a comfy lawn chair, a blanket in case it gets chilly, a picnic basket of goodies – and an umbrella. (The event goes rain or shine.)

There’s still plenty of time to build a weekend itinerary around the festival, getting to know this city that graces the east side of Vancouver Island. Need some ideas? The folks who organize Symphony By The Sea have a long list of must-sees and must-dos.

Stay in Nanaimo

The Coast Bastion Hotel ( makes for an easy basecamp for the weekend and not just for its comfortable rooms, but also for its second-floor patio. On a beautiful day, it’s the perfect perch to hang out for a few hours. Treat yourself to a pedicure, manicure or massage at the onsite spa.


Drop by Mon Petit Choux ( where you just might feel like you’re in a Parisian or Montreal café. Linger over a specialty coffee or tea with a good book or your newspaper. Perhaps indulge in one of the baked goodies, like the buttery croissants. They also serve a gluten-free version of the Nanaimo bar. Follow it up with a morning stroll on the waterfront, watching the seafaring world go by.

Island hop

newcastle island hiking
image by Nancy Shields

Take the 10-minute scenic ferry ride from Nanaimo to Newcastle Island Marine Provincial Park , filled with Indigenous and pre-Second World War history. (The pavilion once hosted big band music and dances back in the day). But besides getting a cool new view of Vancouver Island, a day of activities awaits. Check out the walking and hiking trails and the Salish First Nations historic sites.

Martini lunch

You’ll be hungry after all that sea air on Newcastle Island. Head to one of Nanaimo’s classic and popular dining spots – Bold Knight Restaurant, whiich specializes in surf and turf fare, for a late lunch. Enjoy a steak or freshly caught seafood. End your meal on a sweet note with the highlight of the cocktail menu – the Nanaimo Bar Martini.


Poke around some of the cool shops in the Old City Quarter. A local favourite is Lobelia’s Lair Metaphysical Treasures. It’ll keep you busy for hours. You’ll find unique, fair trade and whimsical items, including crystals, essential oils, local artwork, home décor and tarot cards. You might even want to make an appointment to have your tea leaves or tarot cards read.

Game time

Drop by for some fun at The Board Game House. As the name suggests, play a friendly round of Scrabble, Battleship! or Backgammon, to name just a few from its extensive 250-plus game library. The shop also has a menu of game-named food like the Yahtza Melt and a selection of teas, coffees and milkshakes. Not sure what to play? The staff can recommend games that suit your mood or the skill level of the people in your group.


Make your way over to Maffeo Sutton Park by 5 p.m., when the band strikes up. Make yourself comfortable as Dr. Calvin Dyck, conductor and producer of the symphony, plays music over three hours that appeals to all tastes. Part of the fun of Symphony By The Sea are the surprises that Dyck likes to weave throughout the playlist. You’re sure to hear more than a few recognizable movie and show tunes.

More food

Food trucks from around Vancouver Island will be scattered around the park for concert-goers to sample – everything from ice cream to fish and chips.


When the show ends, the night is still young. Head back to the Coast Bastion Hotel to freshen up and then gather with friends for a nightcap at the Minnoz lounge. The hotel has wonderful views of the historic fortification known as the Bastion and, of course, the water.

Sunday breakfast

Brunch is a big deal over at 2 Chefs Affair, one of Nanaimo’s favourite spots for breakfast and lunch. The husband-and-wife chef team of Daniel and Tammy specialize in creating dishes with locally sourced fresh food. You’ll find everything from waffles to what we hear are some of the best eggs Benedict anywhere. The menu also has lots of vegetarian and gluten-free options.

Shop the market

No visit to Nanaimo is complete without hitting the Cedar Farmer’s Market, open on Sundays from May to October. Check out the hand-crafted local goods, like beeswax candles, crafts and artisanal food, while being serenaded by live acoustic music. It’s the perfect way to end your weekend in Nanaimo.

More symphony gigs

If you loved Symphony By The Sea, then be sure to check out the fall season lineup of the Vancouver Island Symphony beginning in October. Vivaldi, Bach, Beethoven and Mozart are among the featured composers. More details at

Book Your Stay Now