A Vancouver Island road trip should be on everyone’s summer bucket list. The little island in Western Canada is a paradise between May and September – there is lush greenery everywhere and temperatures can reach +30 and above. If you’re looking for a place to cruise down scenic Canadian mountain roads and drink patio beers afterward, you’ll love a Vancouver Island road trip.
When Gillian and I went on our Vancouver Island Road trip, we didn’t actually have a car. We relied on public transit and a coach bus to get us from Victoria to Tofino. We felt that we missed out on some gorgeous spots and hikes by bussing and we hated the smell of the bus – I would not do it again. That’s why I made this post for a road trip, taking the bus up island is an option but I don’t recommend it.
I’d like to acknowledge that Vancouver Island is home to 50 First Nations, in three distinct tribal regions–Coast Salish, Nuu chah nulth, and Kwakiutl. These are the first peoples of Vancouver Island. To learn more about the history of British Columbia, go to the Royal BC Museum in the City of Victoria on your travels.
First Road trip Stop – Vancouver
Vancouver isn’t technically on the island but it’s the cheapest and easiest place from mainland Canada. With Flair Airlines, you can fly into Vancouver for 50-90$, where flying into Victoria airport on the island will cost you around 150$+ from other Canadian destinations. As a university student, I took advantage of those low prices and was able to fly Edmonton to Vancouver for $110 (80+30 for baggage).
Things to Do in Vancouver
We started our Vancouver Island Road trip in Vancouver and although we only had about 24 hours there, we loved every minute. My friend Gillian and I enjoyed dinner at sunset on English Bay, the Cactus Club restaurant has an amazing view of the sea since it’s practically right on the beach. It’s always lined up so go early!
Granville Island is another place that’s fun to explore. The island has a market under the bridge with a brewery, a couple restaurants (my favourite is SandBar), and local artisans. The water taxi can take you to Granville Island from the English Bay area in minutes, and for less than 5$ each.
Something that should be on everyone’s Vancouver bucket list is biking around Stanley Park. Renting bikes is easy and the park is beautiful, it’s like Canada’s equivalent to New York’s Central Park.
After biking, I’d recommend taking a taxi or bus downtown to enjoy one of my favorite restaurants – Tacofino’s Taco Bar in Gastown. It’s bound to be lined up but the tacos and cocktails are well worth the wait.
Getting from Vancouver to Victoria
Option 1 – Cheapest but most time consuming
Fly into YVR
Take the train to the station, then bus to the ferry terminal in Tsawwassen – 2.50 and 2 hours
Ferry over to the island – walk on foot passengers are about 13$, 2 hours
Bus into Victoria downtown – $2.50 and 2 hours
Take another bus to your final destination and rent a car in Victoria before your Vancouver Island road trip up island.
Option 2 – Rent a car at YVR
-same as option 1 except you would drive to Twassen and pay the car fare for the ferry. You need to arrive significantly earlier, especially in the summer, to get onto the ferry in time.
Option 3 – Expensive but best for time and views
In Downtown YVR, you can either take the Harbour Sea Plane or helicopter right to Downtown Victoria (2 hours max).
Student travel tip – both companies offer student standby rates! Call ahead and ask if there’s room on the flight, then head down and you will get it for a student rate plus a 50% standby discount (about 90-150$).
Next Stop – City of Victoria on Vancouver Island
Victoria is the second largest city in the province of British Columbia. Victoria is known for being a mix of young hippies and retired people. Basically, you’ll feel the chilled out vibes that only come with being retired by the sea while at the same time having a wide variety of places to go to for a pint.
Things to do in Victoria
A few kilometers away from Downtown Victoria is Dallas Road, a seaside path and park with rocky beaches. I guarantee you will see at least one cute dog while walking along Dallas, it’s inevitable. The first beach area near Ogden point might not be a beach when you’re there because it changes with the tide. I’d recommend walking past the Ogden Point area to the rockier beach, it’s a lot more peaceful.
I love to grab a hot drink from Discovery Coffee and walk down Oswego Street to the sea – it’s so relaxing and beautiful. At sunset and on a clear day, you can watch the sun go down with mountain views and cute dogs galore – what could be more perfect than that?
For dinner, I’m a bit addicted to Zen Sushi. The location is pretty far from Dallas Road but it’s within walking distance if you’re already downtown. For a more student budget-friendly option, all the food on El Furniture Warehouse’s menu is $5.95. The food at Warehouse is not the best in Victoria by any means. If you drink enough cocktails, the food tastes better. For a full list of Victoria’s cheap eats and drinks, check out this guide my friends at the Martlet made of the best happy hour specials.
Exploring the Great Outdoors in Victoria and Vancouver Island
It might seem like there isn’t a lot of things to do on Vancouver Island but if you like hiking, you’ll never get bored. Any Vancouver Island Road trip would be incomplete without a hike. The Mount Doug hike is in the city of Victoria and takes about 1hour and a half. The view at the top shows the city of Victoria, sea, and surrounding mountains.
There are things to do on Vancouver Island that involve water but none of them involve swimming. In both Tofino and Victoria, you can rent canoes, kayaks, and SUPs. The water is freezing and although you don’t need a wetsuit for canoeing, you really want to avoid tipping your canoe. The water is cold, even by Canadian standards.
Another beautiful spot in Canada is the Rocky Mountains, here’s my post about my travels there!
Road trip up the Island – Victoria to Tofino
Tofino is the surf capital of Canada. It’s got mountains, rainforests, and beautiful beaches. In just two days, I fell in love with the place. It’s the type of place where everyone smiles for no reason – there’s something in the water up there, or maybe it’s just the legal weed. Either way, Tofino’s laid-back surfer culture makes it one of my favourite spots in Canada to kick back.
We stayed at Bella Pacifica Campground on Mackenzie Beach and booked an Ocean View campground. These campgrounds are a bit up from the beach and offer a bit more privacy than the ones right on the beach.
Things to do in Tofino
We spent our first morning in Tofino looking around at the boutiques in town. For breakfast we stopped to get bagels at Rhino cafe. It was so good that we biked back there the next morning. For coffee in Tofino, go here!
Bicycle Mark at TofsCycles was the absolute MVP of our Tofino trip. He dropped off cruisers at our campsite and gave us his favorite spots in town to check out. The Tonquin Park hike he told us about was amazing and we never would of found it without him! Bikes are a great way to get around Tofino, the highway is lined with a biker friendly path so you can get from the town to the surfing beaches in 20-45 minutes.
The main reason Gill and I wanted to go to Tofino was to surf with the Surf Sisters. I read about them in this Globe and Mail article on International Women’s Day. Our awesome Australian instructor showed us how to surf and told us about her favourite bars in town. She said “you were so close”every time I fell off the board (which was all the time). Both Gill and I had so much fun, it was the highlight of our Tofino trip!
After surfing, the only right thing to do is go to Tofino Brewing Company, Tacofino, or both. These businesses are known throughout the island. They lived up to their rep and are conveniently located outside the main Tofino townsite, closer to the surfing beaches. Because the Tacofino location is an outdoor food truck, they do not have cocktails like the Vancouver location in Gastown (I was disappointed – the pineapple cinnamon marg is SO GOOD). So go to the Tofino Brewing Company next, you can get a flight of beers for about 9$.
Back to the mainland and more hikes – Tofino to Nanaimo
We went back to Victoria because I had an event there but ideally, from Tofino, I’d recommend driving and taking the ferry from Nanaimo on your Vancouver Island Road Trip to save on gas and car rental $. We made a quick stop at Point No Point when we went as a family to Vancouver Island. Point No Point is near Sooke – the hike to the beach is less than a km and the view is stunning.
I’ve yet to explore the eastern part of the island (Nanaimo, Sydney, Sooke). I’ve heard the hikes near Nanaimo are amazing, there’s a few waterfalls I’m dying to check out this summer.
PS – More of the island’s best hikes are listed here.
Vancouver Island is filled with places to get lost, there is still so much I have yet to see. So, what are you waiting for? Load up the trunk, pack up the cooler, and grab a Tim Hortons from the mainland while you still can. But I’m warning you – a Vancouver Island road trip might just cause you to cancel all your life plans and move out there, that’s what happened to me and I haven’t regretted it since.
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