When I’m travelling I want to experience everything the location has to offer by fully immersing myself in the history, culture, and day-to-day life of the locals. Just like anyone else, sometimes I forget to get in touch with the place I call home. But lucky for me, that place is Nanaimo. This city has everything anyone could wish for: lively marine ecosystem, diverse indigenous wildlife, and a trendy downtown urban sanctuary. When I feel like I’m losing touch with my hometown, I take advantage of the first opportunity I can to experience Nanaimo all over again.
Breakfast: When I wake up on the first day of my stay-cation, the first place I want to go is Tania’s Restaurant. Tucked into a corner of the complex located behind Country Club Mall is where you’ll find this hidden gem and one of my favourite breakfast joints. From the moment you walk in, you’re greeted with the warm smiles and welcoming “hello” from the ladies working and the smell of breakfast being prepared on the cooktop in the back. One of the things I love most about this joint is that even if this is your first time at Tania’s, you’ll be treated as if you’ve been a regular for the last 20 years.
While I sip on my coffee I like to browse the menu but always come to the same decision: The Mini Breakfast. This perfectly portioned meal has everything a breakfast lover could want; any-style eggs, hashbrowns, toast, and your choice of bacon, sausage, or ham. I have been dining at Tania’s for years and have yet to find a place with better prices, better menu options, and better service. You’ll come for the great food and unbelievable value, but come back time and time again for the incredible women working at Tania’s Restaurant.
Morning: Now that I’m properly fueled for the day, I head downtown to the Bastion to pick up a copy of the area’s Historic Walking Tour. This self-guided tour is packed with local facts and pictures, allowing me to take in the impressive progress Nanaimo has made over the years. For example, did you know that the Bastion has actually been moved several times to allow for city planning to continue?
Lunch: If you’re like me and want to get deep into the history and culture of the place you’re visiting, a trip to Newcastle Island is a must when you’re in Nanaimo. I like to head over around lunch time so I can enjoy the traditional Salmon BBQ (by reservation only) or stopping at the island café to enjoy an ocean-side picnic before I being my island exploration.
Afternoon: Even if it’s your trip to the island you can feel confident is hitting the trails on a self-guided adventure, but you’ll be missing out on some of the most interesting history in the area. Walking tours on Newcastle Island are led by an experienced Snuneymuxw guide who will talk about the Snuneymuxw First Nations history and Newcastle Island’s role. You’ll have the chance to enjoy an afternoon of heartwarming stories of the past that have been handed down from generation to generation. You’ll also learn about their traditional medicines that are still used to this day, all while enjoying the scenic nature walk.
Here’s a fun little fact for you, if you catch the tide just right, you can walk across the sandbar that connect Newcastle Island to Protection Island and head over to the Dinghy Dock Pub.
Dinner: After a day of immersing myself Nanaimo’s rich history and the natural beauty of Newcastle Island, I’m ready for fresh, locally sources dinner at the The Nest Bistro. Everything on the menu is made from scratch. I start with an appetizer Potato Skins – baby potatoes with pesto, vine ripened tomatoes, little Qualicum mixed cheeses, and cilantro mayo. For my main course, The Potato Crusted Salmon is one of the best meal I’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying. This dish is thoughtfully plated with local wild Coho salmon, search handmade gnocchi, white wine tarragon cream sauce, and seasonal vegetables.
Breakfast: If you ask any coffee-enthusiast in Nanaimo where you should go to get the perfect cup of coffee, almost all of them will tell you the same thing: go to Regard Coffee Roasters. The vibe in this local café is intoxicating, from the heavenly scent of freshly brewed coffee to the ambient music, and rustic décor. I grab a quick bite and Americano to go and head out to my morning adventure.
Morning: Westwood Lake is one of the most strikingly beautiful settings in Nanaimo, and it’s right in the middle of the city. This man-made lake features two beaches, a playground, and a boat launch for anyone looking to catch some fish. The trails around the lake are always alive with locals out for their daily run, a fun bike ride, or a leisurely stroll with friends. If you’ve been wanting to try your hand at kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding, you can rent equipment from Alberni Outpost and head to the calm waters of the lake.
Lunch: Now that I’ve worked up a healthy appetite from my active morning at Westwood Lake, I head downtown to a local secret: Zalathai. I have been working my way through this menu have it seems like each meal is better than the next. You’ll fall in love with the owners and staff who are so passionate about the food they serve and the sweetest people you’ll ever meet. One item that always makes it was onto my order is the salad rolls, you won’t regret this decision. The peanut sauce is so will excite and delight your senses. The green curry was one of the first dishes I tried and made me fall in love with this sweet hidden gem. Just the right amount of spice, complimented with the coconut milk, fresh zucchini, peppers, bamboo shoots, and perfectly cooked chicken.
Afternoon: After lunch I’m ready to explore Petroglyph Park, located on the outskirts of Nanaimo. The high concentration of prehistoric rock carvings are the main attraction to this Provincial park. It’s believed that more than 1,000,000 years ago, the First Nations people created the traditional carvings and carefully chose the locations based on the belief these places had strong forces of nature, usually near a water formation.
After I wander the trails, it’s time for an afternoon sampling at Wolf Brewery’s Tasting Room. The Tasting Room is open seven days a week and serves everything from their main lineup as well as seasonal and specialty batches. Enjoy a flight of four brews, stock up on a case of your favourite beer, or nab a branded Wolf Brewery growler as a memento from your Nanaimo trip.
Dinner: Gina’s is well know for being “the Pink House On The Hill” and serves up some of the best Mexican food in the Pacific Northwest. You can’t help but feel excitement was over you the minute you step into the restaurant as the music and festive décor transports you to the heart of Mexico. My go-to meal at Gina’s is the Sierra – stuffed chilies, chicken enchilada smothered in house made mole sauce, frijoles, and some of the best rice and corn you’ll ever have. Vibrant colours, fresh local ingredients, and unmatched views of Mount Benson make this little restaurant is a favourite among Nanaimoites.