As Canadian Provinces open to domestic travellers once again – and even to their American neighbours to the south – we spent a week in the country’s western most Province, British Columbia, to get a taste of some of the activities that locals and visitors alike should take advantage of as Summer continues.
Spend the afternoon on Bowen Island
Feeling a bit time poor? Those looking for a quick day trip out of Vancouver, should consider spending an afternoon on Bowen Island. It’s a quick 20 minute ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay, and the Island offers a number of great dining and sightseeing options.
On the Bowen Island Marina (pictured above), which sits next to the Snug Cove Terminal (pictured below), where the BC Ferries service arrives and departs from, you’ll find some great ice cream and tacos at Branch on Bowen. They also had a pop up Thai restaurant next door, that also served fantastic breakfast sandwiches in the morning. It’s also here you can rent yourself a kayak or head out on a kayak tour from Bowen Island Sea Kayaking.
A short walk up from the Marina and you’ll find plenty more dining options, and you can learn more about what the island has to offer HERE.
If hikes are more your style, back on the mainland you can also hike up to the Bowen Lookout at Cypress Mountain and get a birds eye view of the Island, and its surrounding islands, including Bowyer and Gambier. The 2010 Olympic site is a popular destination for locals in the Summer.
Go searching for whales off Victoria
Head out by ferry, seaplane or helicopter to Vancouver Island, and British Columbia’s capital city, Victoria. This beautiful city – which puts the “British” in “British Columbia”, double decker buses and all – is home to some great shopping, dining, nightlife and a favourite past time of many – whale watching.
While your memories going with your family may be on a slow, large boat, Orca Spirit Adventures also offer tours on inflatable speedboats called “Zodiacs”, on which you are likely to get wet and enjoy some wind swept hair as your captain (Sarah, in my visit) takes you as far as she needs to, to ensure you view as much wildlife as migration permits.
We were lucky to enjoy both Humpback and Orca Whales (pictured below) on our journey – with the former only possible because we were able to jet out at a greater distance than the slower, larger boats the company also offers. It was very much worth the extra water on your face – and they provide a full body suit to keep you warm and dry. Even in the dead of Summer, it was pretty damn cold out there.
While there’s no guarantees of whales on each voyage, you’d be pretty unlucky not to at least see some of the harbour seals, who live year round on Race Rock (which you can view above, with the lighthouse), or some of the sea lions that also live in the area.
For more details head to https://orcaspirit.com/. BC Residents can get 10% off using a code currently featured on their website.
Also while in Victoria, there’s so much great food to eat. I had an incredible meal at 10 Acres – famed for their rotisserie chicken with potatoes, coleslaw and gravy. Also check out their Roasted Cauliflower with herbed coconut mousse, lime red onions, dates and vadouvan brown butter.
Frankie’s Modern Diner offers fantastic meals in a traditional diner atmosphere, with breakfast served until 1pm, and is across the street from 10 Acres. Nearby, quite a few people recommended a classic Italian restaurant, Paccalucis – and it did not disappoint. Focaccia is served shortly after you sit down, and pastas at lunch are served with soup or salad. I had the Seafood lasagna with crab and shrimp, and I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s one of the best meals I’ve ever had.
Of course Victoria has a lot more to offer than just food and whale watching, and is worth the trip for any occasion. So here’s a bit more about how you should get over to the island.
Getting to Victoria
You have a few options to get to Victoria from Vancouver.
There’s currently no regular direct ferry from Vancouver to the Victoria (sadly the direct cruise service we talked about in 2019 has stopped operating – but here’s hoping they return). So, you need to drive half an hour to Tsawwassen, board the BC Ferries service to Swartz Bay, and then it’s another half hour or so drive to Victoria.
If you’re not driving, you can get the Canada Line train to Bridgeport, and then transfer to a bus. It’s a 40 minute trip on the bus and should get you there 20 minutes before the ferry departs. You can use a Compass transit card to pay for your journey to this point, or you can just tap on with your credit card – which is wildly convenient.
Bookings aren’t needed for the ferry, unless you’re bringing a car, and it’s $17 or so for the ferry to Swartz Bay, which leaves on the hour. Once on board, there’s dining options which includes White Spot burgers, and a massive gift shop, that are all open now – only the buffet was closed. You can also preorder your food online, with your mobile device, to skip the queues and choose the time you want to eat across the 95 minute journey.
There was a 20 minute or so wait for the 70 double decker bus to downtown, which takes another hour – and that costs $2.50 in cash (so bring some change). You can also get a day pass for $5. Taxis are also available, but I can’t imagine that would be an affordable journey.
If you are happy to spend more money on your trip, consider a helicopter from Downtown Vancouver to Victoria, or a Seaplane with Harbour Air. With the road & ferry transport taking 3+ hours – and even more if you don’t have a car, this cuts the commute to less than 30 minutes. And gives you an absolutely stunning view on the way. But it comes with a hefty price tag – you’re looking at around $200 for the privilege. If you can afford it, however, it’s absolutely worth it, both for the experience and the convenience.
Enjoy a quick visit to Hawaii (from Downtown Vancouver)
For this trip, you don’t even have to leave Downtown Vancouver! FlyOver Canada was launched at Canada Place (Coal Harbour, where Harbour Air Seaplane flights land) in 2013 – a ride that took over an old IMAX theatre, and was inspired by the “Soarin'” rides at Disneyland, whom were the first to utilise the technology in 2001.
The concept is pretty simple, though requires some pretty remarkable technology: sit in suspended chairs that simulate flight, and hang over an inverted dome screen as you soar over landscapes and enjoy the sights, smells and moisture of your surrounds. Flying over the pine trees of British Columbia? You’ll smell pines. Get too close to the Niagara Falls and feel its cool mist.
This year, the attraction has been upgraded, introducing a new experience: Hawaii From Above. Guests can choose to see one film, or both, with FlyOver alternating between Canada and Hawaiian rides throughout the day. The Hawaiian experience is similar in length and content to the Canadian one (a bit under 10 minutes) – and given it’s been 8 years since the Canadian ride first debuted, it’s a welcome addition, particularly for locals who are looking for something new to do in the area.
I was lucky enough to experience both rides in my recent visit, and can confirm they’re both as enjoyable as the next. While the Canadian version does offer more variety in terms of terrain, the thrill of flying over the active volcanos of the Big Island, and around the beaches and beautiful mountains that make up the islands of Hawaii, is pretty unbeatable.
Hawaii From Above runs until September 26th. For more details head to: https://www.flyovercanada.com/
Expect to see the FlyOver experience appear in more cities around the world in the coming years. They opened in Iceland in 2019, have rides on their way to Las Vegas and Toronto in coming years – and in Australia, as of 2019 you can enjoy the technology at Dreamworld on the Gold Coast, with the Sky Voyager ride, which was engineered by the same company who did FlyOver Canada.
Head out to the Okanagan Valley
One of the best road trips out of Vancouver, is to the Okanagan Valley. Situated primarily around the Okanagan Lake, which stretches from Penticton to Vernon, the area boasts a desert-like climate, and one of Canada’s burgeoning wine scenes.
Kelowna sits at the heart of the area, and has some amazing accommodation options, from the Delta Hotels by Marriott Grand Okanagan Resort, which sits on the water and has a wonderful spa and pool area, to the playful Hotel Zed (who also opened a location in Tofino on Vancouver Island last year).
You can also drive north 45 minutes or so to Vernon, where you’ll find the Sparkling Hill Resort. an accommodation option worth the trip to the region alone.
A private investment of Mr. Gernot Langes-Swarovski, patriarch of the Swarovski crystal family, this $22 million resort that opened in 2010 is without question one of the finest in the world. Filled with no less than 3.5 million crystals worth some $10 million (many of which you’ll find in your room), the glamour attached to the Swarovski name is only part of the attraction to the resort. It’s what else you’ll find inside that will ensure you’ll never want to leave. Let’s just start with the views, with many rooms delivering a sight of Okanagan Lake you could only dream of. And with a bath by the window, you just might.
The drive from Vancouver to Kelowna will take around 5 hours, or you can fly to Kelowna (as featured in the article’s headline image). I wrote more about this destination in 2018, and you can read that feature HERE.
Be a tourist in your own city…
And finally, with fewer tourists these days, there’s a chance for locals and visitors alike to enjoy some of the city’s most well known attractions – sans the crowds. A visit to Grouse Mountain (which we’ve featured many times on the site over the years), is always worthwhile, as is a walk or a bike ride around Stanley Park (pictured below).
You may also want to visit one of the amazing museums in the city, such as the Vancouver Art Gallery, which is open until 8pm on Tuesdays and Fridays – with entry after 5pm on those days by donation (minimum $5), making it an affordable night out.
And then there’s the famed Capilano Suspension Bridge. You can get a free bus to the attraction from Canada Place. It takes about 25 minutes, and they run every 30 minutes. While the 140 metre long bridge is the main attraction, suspended 70 metres above the river, there’s a lot more to experience while you visit.
There’s a cliffwalk that curves out against the granite canyon wall, a treetops adventure that take you across smaller suspension bridges hanging between trees, a story centre that goes through the history of the area, a variety of nature walks, and Raptors Ridge, where you can meet some raptors – and this year they’ve introduced Gandoll, the Great Gray Owl, who’ll be in the park until September 6th.
From the smell of the pine trees, to the pristine wildlife, everything here feels so perfect that it’s almost like the Disneyland of nature attractions. Something I say with the utmost respect – they have turned this a world class attraction.
Residents of BC can come back as much as they want in a year after one visit. For more details, head to the official website.
The author travelled to Vancouver from Toronto at his own expense, and was provided with select experiences thanks to the Capilano Suspension Bridge, Orca Spirit Adventures, Vancouver Art Gallery and FlyOver Canada. With thanks to Destination BC & Tourism Vancouver for their assistance.
All information was correct at the time of travel, July 2021. All prices are in CAD. The rules around Covid-19 are constantly evolving, and readers should refer to local information before taking any trips, domestically or otherwise. The latest information on British Columbia restrictions can be found HERE.
This article has been prepared for our US & Canadian readers. Australian readers are not currently able to travel for tourism purposes.