Written by Jordan Dyck (Follow along with her travels over @joordanrenee on Instagram).
An escape from city life for some, a place to call home for others. A city that borders lush rain forests, crashing coastlines, bountiful farmland, and even a slight urban sprawl, Nanaimo wears many faces to those who experience it. On first glimpse off the ferry, you may see similar big-box retailers to those on the mainland. You may be tempted to stop by that drive through on your way to another island destination, but you’d be missing some of the most delicious, most unique, creative businesses and people that inhabit this coastal city.
The creative entrepreneurs and businesses in Nanaimo have in part, kept themselves relatively hidden from the main highways that run through this heavy town. Instead, to discover their unique experiences, you need to venture ever so slightly off the beaten path. As I did. In doing so, I was pleased to discover wineries a 10-minute drive from a shopping mall, a farm within walking distance of an airport, and one of the most delicious lattes I’ve ever had behind a non-discrete supermarket.
This is the Nanaimo that I needed to discover, and the farm-fresh ingredients and inspiring conversations crafted by the creative locals that I met while travelling through here.
Locally Sourced Ingredients
On arrival to Nanaimo by plane, a spot that can’t be missed is Yellow Point Farms. I instantly grabbed a delectable cup of cider and met the farm animals as I toured the property. A not-to-miss experience? Their locally renowned goat yoga. The name says it all. As I headed into town, I popped into Regard Coffee for a to-go cup of delicious joe before we made our way around the city. Touring can be made easy by booking with an island-based tour operator, such as Vancouver Island Expeditions, where experiences can be custom-tailored around what you and your group are interested in seeing.
One thing that you’re definitely not going to want to leave without is an award-winning Nanaimo bar from local favourite Hearthstone Bakery. Let’s just say, I left with a massive smile on my face and a happy belly. A hidden gem that’s a unique island experience, is a tour around St. Jean’s Cannery. Nothing beats seeing fresh salmon come in from the local waters and processed for delivery to very happy customers. The staff are pretty great too, and I saw plenty of smiles as I walked through the brightly lit building.
West Coast Smoked Salmon
Elevated Places To Eat & Drink
It’s incredible to see the ingredients carefully selected by the local artisans in Nanaimo, such as at Longwood Brewery, where they serve vegan-beer (yes- that’s a thing) made from local ingredients from farms around the island. It was very, very delicious. A more recent addition to Nanaimo’s food scene, Eve Olive, strives to serve locally sourced and organic food using 100% plant-based ingredients. The chef may or may not have just picked up some king oyster mushrooms, and I may or may not have sampled a few before they hit the menus- they were to die for.
Beer, Wine, Spirits, and Plant-based Cuisine
All in all, by going a bit off the beaten path, Nanaimo will give you some truly unique and wonderful experiences that will leave your stomach and mind much happier than when it arrived. One comes to Vancouver Island to explore, so I encourage you to try something new for your senses on your next visit to this diverse coastal city.