YOUR 9-10 DAY ARTS AND CULTURAL ROAD TRIP ITINERARY ON VANCOUVER ISLAND…
Off the coast of BC’s mainland across the Georgia Straight lies Vancouver Island. Promising a true Pacific Northwest experience, a locals vibe in every community and a sense of the relaxed pace of island life, the Island is the perfect place to add to your road trip itinerary. Breathe deeply and get outside to experience lush old growth forests, rugged shorelines, secret coves and beaches. Even your drive will take you through unmatched scenes of island beauty.
Along the way, discover many unique local experiences where art and life are interconnected in the essence of each creative community. Since you can drive from tip to tip of the island in just 7 hours, a road trip over a few days can include all of the incredible, recommended destinations on our list.
DAY ONE – Victoria
A gallery tour is a must on the island, beginning with a self-guided gallery tour in Victoria’s downtown area. In addition to checking out the important historical sites, the parliament buildings and museums, plan to spend a day pursuing shops, dining and be sure to grab a coffee at one of the local roasters and tour the downtown galleries. Our recommended stops include the Madrona Gallery, the Mark Loria Gallery, Flux Media Gallery, Xchanges Gallery and Studios, the Gage Gallery Artists Collective, and near the water be sure to check out the Bateman Gallery. Dive into experiencing Indigenous arts and Culture at Explore Songhees kiosks around Victoria where you can book walking tours, canoe tours, and shop Indigenous art at the shop at Ship Point. Check out events put on by the Victoria Arts Council or explore your creative side and schedule a class with a local studio like Argentum Jewellery School and Supply. In addition to your downtown walking tour, think about checking out local artist studios open to the public like Spinning Dog Studio, the studio of SCA artist Deborah Czernecky.
DAY TWO – Highway 14 (2hrs, 110kms)
After thoroughly exploring Victoria, head out of the nation’s capital along the West Coast toward Sooke. Just 30 minutes West of Victoria, Sooke is an artistic and adventurous town. We recommend checking out the Sooke Fine Arts Gallery and if you happen to be in town at the end of July, be sure to hit the Sooke Fine Arts Show. Plan to explore nature while in Sooke and spend time walking the trails of many scenic local parks.
Explore the Pristine beaches and the rugged natural beauty of the Jordan River, Shirley and small waterfront communities along the Pacific Marine Circle Route between Sooke and Port Renfrew at the end of Highway 14.
DAY THREE – Port Renfrew to Tofino (5 hours, 340kms)
The scenic drive from Port Renfrew to Tofino is one of the longer drives on your road trip itinerary, but don’t fret, there are plenty of awe inspiring views and instagrammable pit stops along the way! We recommend a pit stop at Cathedral Grove where towering old growth forest reaches into the misty skies along boardwalk trails.
Arriving in Tofino, head to a local spot for dinner or grab some groceries and spread a blanket on the beach, basking in the glory of the rugged Pacific coast.
DAY FOUR – Tofino to Port Alberni (2hrs, 156kms) and Qualicum to Campbell River (1hr, 110kms)
Spend the morning walking the beaches in Tofino on the beach with a good coffee or locally brewed kombucha, enjoying the true island vibe of this renowned surf town. Head out after lunch and drive the coast to Ucluelet for a beautiful drive, or head straight out of town along Highway 4 to Port Alberni and through to Parksville and Qualicum Beach. In Parksville, we recommend a stop at the McMillan Arts Centre and the MONK Studio Gallery. Check out the Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism organization for local programming and events before you plan your road trip itinerary. Drive into Campbell River for the evening and grab a bite to eat and spend the night in a local air bnb.
DAY FIVE – Campbell River to Telegraph Cove (2hr, 200kms)
In the morning in Campbell, check out the local museum , the beautiful gallery showroom of Mussels and More Pottery where a local family of artists create one of a kind coastal inspired pottery works. Add to your growing collection of Island Indigenous artworks and pick up a unique treasure from Wei Wai Kum House of Treasures.
Heading out of Campbell River, the drive to Telegraph Cove takes you through beautiful island highways toward an unforgettably Island experience. Experience a blast from the past in one of the last boardwalk settlement communities remaining on Vancouver Island is the picturesque village of Telegraph Cove. Experience the rustic nature of life in the cove where the old saw mill town overlooks the Broughton Archipelago. With the last local moving out in the 1980s, intensive restoration work has gone into renovating and preserving the colorful dwellings along the boardwalk that make up the Telegraph Cove Resort. Accommodations at the resort offer historical authenticity that is appreciated by tourists every season along with the adornment of carvings by local artist Don Bastien who runs the Telegraph Cove Art Gallery.
DAY SIX – Telegraph Cove to Vancouver Island North (48 Minutes), Port McNeil to Alert Bay (1hr Ferry).
In the morning head North along Highway 19 to the pinnacle stop along the highway at Port Hardy. Spend a few hours here and explore a curated experience of Vancouver Island North through local outdoor adventure tours, or take a self-guided Art Tour. Head back south to Port McNeill where you’ll board a ferry for Alert Bay where you can visit the U’mista Cultural Centre housing a world-famous collection of repatriated Kwakwaka‘wakw ceremonial regalia and includes galleries and a gift shop with hand-made jewelry and carvings by Kwakwaka’wakw artists. Visit the Culture Shock Interactive Gallery where a unique experience designed to offer friendly access to the indigenous NAMGIS arts and culture. If you want to extend your trip by a day, spend the night at the Sein Boat Inn built in the 1940’s, during Alert Bay’s heyday as the main supply centre for the South Central Coast, the Inn was lovingly restructured & renovated in 2010.
DAY SEVEN – Port McNeill to Courtenay/Comox Valley (3hrs, 250kms)
Once back on the main island, head South along the Eastern coast of the island during your road trip itinerary. Your first stop is the arts and cultural hub of the Comox Valley. In Courtenay and Comox spend the day checking out the plethora of local galleries, museums, artists and shops along with a diverse local culinary scene. The ArtWrx Studio and Gallery is home to 10 artists in a shared studio space and promises a unique and memorable experience. Check out the Courtenay and District Museum and Palentology Centre to see artifacts and fossils that put Courtenay and the Comox Valley on the international map. The Comox Valley Art Gallery, Artful: The Gallery, and Spirits of the West Coast Gallery feature the work of recognized local artists, indigenous artists and curated exhibitions year round. While in town, be sure to check out the performance schedule at the Sid Williams Theatre. Spend the night in the Waverly Hotel or another quaint local spot.
DAY EIGHT – Comox to Cowichan Valley (3hrs, 200kms)
From Comox, grab a great coffee and hit your next and head out along the Eastern coast of the island through the towns of Cumberland, and Fanny Bay. Make a pit stop in Bowser and check out the Salish Sea Market Gallery where art in a variety of media is curated to express the uniqueness of the Salish Sea region. If you happen to be here on a Sunday or a Monday, check out the Elissa Anthony Studio and Gallery, if you’re around on a different day, consider calling the artist for a private viewing.
Continue South towards Nanaimo, Vancouver Island’s second largest urban centre. In Nanaimo you’ll find a bustling arts community from performing arts, galleries, festivals, studios museums and more. The Nanaimo International Jazz Festival draws crowds with a series of performances in the spring and fall each year. Depending on your time of travel, the renowned Maple Sugar Festival is a must. Internationally recognized artist Patricia Banks calls Nanaimo home, check out her website for exhibitions and upcoming workshops. The Nanaimo Ceramic Arts Studio and Gallery is located downtown and features the work of local ceramics artists. Be sure to check the playbill for the Port Theatre for upcoming performances while you’re in town.
Heading south, make a pit stop in Chemainus and follow the footsteps (literally) to see the Murals of Chemainus depicting the history of the region throughout the community. In the afternoon, you’ll pull into Duncan and the Cowichan Valley. The eclectic charm of this area of Vancouver Island has a draw of its own. A rich agricultural, epicurean and winemaking culture, artists and craftspeople, and unique places to experience the vibrancy of the beautiful valley. In Duncan, visit the E.J. Hughes Gallery at Excellent Frameworks before heading out of town toward Cowichan Bay.
In Cowichan Bay, spend the night at the beautiful Ocean Front Suites where you can relax, go for a swim in the pool, dine in and enjoy the magnificent sunset over Cowichan Bay.
DAY NINE (OR TEN IF YOU EXTENDED YOUR TRIP TO PORT HARDY) – Exploring the Cowichan Valley
On your final day on the island, take some time to slow down and savor your experience before heading for the ferry out of Nanaimo back to the mainland. From Cowichan Bay, head out to explore “the warm land” and its orchards, wineries, artist studios, cideries, distilleries, galleries, museums and beautiful scenery. Home of the Quw’utsun people, the area has been a lush and verdant region cultivated for over 5,000 years and is home to the warmest year round temperatures in the country. Today is a day to “just drive around” and follow your heart. No matter where you look you’ll find local artisan producers making everything from glassworks and paintings, to cheese and craft soap, small batch spirits, and craft wine and beer. The eclectic communities of the Cowichan inspire and cultivate a rich sense of culture, lending itself naturally to a laid back vibe and seemingly intentionally curated aesthetic, local business and artisanal fare of all kinds.
Book a late ferry out of Nanaimo to Horseshoe Bay. As you travel home aboard the ferry, think about posting some of your instagrammable moments on your road trip itinerary with the #SuperCulturalBC and tag us @ArtBCGuide – maybe you’re in FanTan Alley, or standing in front of the totems at ‘Namgis Original Burial Grounds in Alert Bay, or relaxing on the boardwalk in Telegraph Cove. We want to share your photos and experiences with our recommended destinations as you’ve experienced The Art of the Roadtrip.