Vancouver Island's 'second metropolis,' Nanaimo will never have the allure of tourist-magnet Victoria, but the Harbour City has undergone some quiet upgrades since the 1990s. It's seen the emergence, especially on Commercial St, of some good shops and eateries, plus a good 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 character and natural beauty.
Transforming from resource outpost to hippie enclave and now a resort town, Tofino is Vancouver Island's favorite outdoorsy retreat. It's not surprising that surf fans, families and city-escaping Vancouverites keep coming: packed with activities and blessed with spectacular local beaches, it sits on Clayoquot Sound, where forested mounds rise from roiling, ever-dramatic waves.
Comprising the towns of Comox and Courtenay as well as the hipster-favorite village of Cumberland, this is a region of rolling mountains, alpine meadows and colorful communities. A good outdoor-adventure base and a hotbed for mountain biking, its activity highlight is Mt Washington.
Southerners will tell you this marks the end of civilization on Vancouver Island, but Campbell River is a handy drop-off point for wilderness tourism in Strathcona Provincial Park and is large enough to have plenty of attractions and services of its own. Head to the waterfront for seal and boat-bobbing marina views or wander the shops and restaurants on Pier St.
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.
With resource jobs declining, Alberni – located on Hwy 4 between the island's east and west coasts – has been dipping its toe into tourism in recent years. And while the downtown core is a little run-down, there are some good historical attractions and outdoorsy activities to consider before you drive through.