Vancouver Island's 'second metropolis,' Nanaimo will never have the allure of tourist-magnet Victoria, but the Harbour City has undergone a quiet upgrade since the 1990s, with the emergence, especially on Commercial St and in the Old City Quarter, of some good shops and eateries, plus a slick new museum.
North Vancouver Island
Down islanders, meaning anyone south of Campbell River, will tell you, 'There's nothing up there worth seeing,' while locals here will respond, 'They would say that, wouldn't they?' Parochial rivalries aside, what this giant region, covering nearly half the island, lacks in towns, infrastructure and population, it more than makes up for in natural beauty.
At the peninsula's northern end, seafront Sidney is studded with 10 or so bookshops, enabling it to call itself BC's only 'Booktown.' It takes an hour to get here by transit bus from Victoria ($2.50, number 70 or 72) and the heart of the town is Beacon Ave. Drop into the friendly chamber of commerce when you arrive for tips.
Parksville & Qualicum
This popular mid-island seaside region, which also includes rustic Coombs, has been a traditional destination for vacationing families for decades – hence the water parks and miniature golf attractions. It's a great spot to take a breather on your trip up or down island. For more information on the area, visit www.parksvillequalicumbeach.com.
Threading along Hwy 4 through the mountains to the west coast, you'll arrive at a junction sign proclaiming that Tofino is 33km to your right, while just 8km to your left is Ucluelet. Sadly, most still take the right-hand turn, which is a shame, since sleepier 'Ukee' has more than a few charms of its own and is a good reminder of what Tofino was like before tourism arrived.
With its fishing and forestry sectors declining, Alberni – located on Hwy 4 between the island's east and west coasts – has been ramping up its visitor appeal in recent years. A good location for outdoor exploration, there are also some intriguing historic attractions. For more on what to do in the region, visit www.albernivalleytourism.com.