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Small Vancouver Island Towns You Need To Visit

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Ballard Fine Homes
January 3, 2024
Camping on Vancouver Island, BC Canada

Are you planning a road trip to Vancouver Island? Maybe you’re already aware of the capital city of Victoria, surfing in Tofino, and landed on Vancouver Island via Nanaimo, but now you are looking to branch out a little bit more. For those that want to get the full Vancouver Island experience, check out these smaller towns and attractions.

And hey, if you like it so much, why not make it permanent? Choose your own piece of paradise with your own luxurious custom home.

This article was originally published on September 20, 2023 with 5 great suggestions. We have since expanded it, offering you a closer look at other small towns on Vancouver Island. 

Love sandy beaches? Visit Parksville

Parksville is a small, seaside town about a 15-minute drive from Nanaimo. It is known for its long, sandy beaches and annual sand sculpting competition. During low tide, the ocean retreats, leaving long stretches of sandy shoreline, making it a fantastic place for beachcombing, building sandcastles, or simply relaxing by the water.

If you arrive during the summer months, be sure to book a camping spot at Rathtrevor Provincial Park (or pack a picnic for a day trip) and check out the Parksville Beach Festival to be truly amazed at what these artists can create with sand. Without a doubt, the sandy beach section that draws guests to its tranquil shores is the highlight. The beach, which is well-known for its golden, soft sands and glistening waters, provides a pleasant and safe swimming and tanning area. Families are welcome to come here to unwind and take in the tranquillity of the coast thanks to its gently sloping shoreline and calm waters.

If you visit during other times of the year, Parksville still has plenty to offer in its vibrant downtown core, wildlife viewing (bald eagles, deer, seals, and sometimes even orcas along the coastline), and the nearby Englishman River Falls Provincial Park is a beautiful spot for hiking and exploring waterfalls. It is also conveniently located near other popular Vancouver Island attractions, such as Nanaimo, Tofino, and Victoria, making it a great base for further exploration.

Tucked away in Parksville, the Community Park and Beach is a classic family-friendly spot with lots to offer. This large park offers a variety of attractions, one of which is a well-kept playground that makes kids happy with its swings, slides, and climbing frames. The park’s verdant surroundings, which include covered picnic areas furnished with chairs and tables, are perfect for hosting family get-togethers or peaceful picnics in the arms of the natural world.

Laid back living in Qualicum Beach

Near Parksville you will find another community on Vancouver Island worth visiting: Qualicum Beach. This town is also located along the shoreline, making Qualicum Beach and Parksville part of the Oceanside region.

While Qualicum Beach is one of the best places to retire on Vancouver Island, it is also a great place to visit. The laid back lifestyle allows residents and visitors to enjoy prestigious year-round golf courses, local breweries, beach activities, and local hiking trails.

The Shady Rest is a local gem, a waterfront restaurant that’s been in business for many years. Their menu has a variety of cuisines, perfect for picky eaters and large groups. After eating, visitors enjoy swimming at the beach, going for hikes, or taking a chance at whale watching.

Similar to Parksville, Qualicum Beach offers many outdoor activities in addition to a local museum, Saturday Farmers’ Market, and other opportunities for shopping and attending local events.

For accommodations, many visitors have enjoyed Free Spirit Spheres, which are treehouse-like spheres hanging within the forest. This novel experience can only be found within Qualicum Beach.

Its relaxed atmosphere extends to the charming downtown adorned with cafes, galleries, and boutique stores, offering unique treasures to explore. Discover the lush Woodland and Milner Gardens or wander the tranquil paths of Heritage Forest for serene nature encounters. The town’s dynamic array of year-round events, including music festivals and community markets, embodies its cultural diversity and communal spirit.

Comox Valley (Comox and Courtenay)

North of Nanaimo and Oceanside, the Comox Valley is home to several towns and communities on Vancouver Island. Comox and Courtenay are the main attractions, but you will also find merit in places like Cumberland and Hornby Island.

Outdoor enthusiasts love visiting the Comox Valley for its large number of hiking trails, access to Comox Lake, and Mount Washington Ski Resort. Just off the coast are two unique islands, Denman Island and Hornby Island. These islands are filled with local artisans, a relaxed atmosphere, and an appreciation for the outdoors.

At Mount Washington, visitors can enjoy the usual snow activities like skiing, snowboarding, tubing, and snowshoeing. It doesn’t end there – there’s plenty to do in the summer months, too. Alpine hiking, zip lining, mountain biking, scenic chairlift rides, and outdoor BBQs are some of the main attractions.

Denman Island & Hornby Island are short ferry rides just south of the Comox Valley. These islands contain local shops, artisans, and hiking trails, and are popular with campers.

With its gorgeous waterfront, Comox Harbor welcomes visitors to enjoy boating, fishing, and just relaxing on the tranquil shoreline. It also has a busy marina. Discover Goose Spit Park, a stunning peninsula offering breathtaking views of the Strait of Georgia and ideal for hiking, beachcombing, and birdwatching.

To the west of Comox, Courtenay can be considered the cultural hub of the Comox Valley, a vibrant artistic community. Its downtown is a hive of varied stores, galleries, and neighbourhood restaurants that invite discovery of handcrafted goods and unique dining experiences. Live performances by musicians, actors, and dancers highlight the town’s diverse cultural heritage at the Sid Williams Theatre. The Courtenay Riverway, which provides picturesque walks alongside the Puntledge River amid luxuriant vegetation, is just one of Courtenay’s parks and trails that contribute to its allure.

Explore the landscapes and take in the vibrant cultural offerings of the Comox Valley.
Woman in a kayak on the river on the scenic sunset

Luxury living on Vancouver Island

Have you fallen in love with Vancouver Island yet? We don’t blame you, it’s a beautiful island with great people, amazing scenery, and opportunities. It’s a lovely place to visit, but it’s an even better place to live.

In your search for the best place to live on Vancouver Island, are you looking for a waterfront property? A quaint home nestled in the forest? Or perhaps you want to live in a small town but have more control over practical matters, such as your home’s layout and functionality. On Vancouver Island, you can have it all.

Living the dream is possible with Ballard Fine Homes. Turn your vacation home into your full-time home, using the endless possibilities of a custom-built home. We specialise in building luxury homes in only the best spots on the island.

Take a moment and consider:
A beautiful home, just steps away from the water. The ability to jump on a jet ski, boat, or have a relaxing swim or kayak doesn’t have to be preserved for vacations. You can have it anytime you want.
Access to the best, fresh seafood caught that very same day. Shared with friends on your outdoor patio overlooking the beautiful ocean or mountain views. Topped off with a glass of wine from a local vineyard.
A walk-in closet and ensuite bathroom for yourself and another one for your spouse. Who said you have to only have one to share?
A home media room with a projector and comfortable seating for family movie night. Invest once and never overpay for theatre popcorn again. Best seats in the house, guaranteed.
Lay on your private beach, away from prying eyes. Listen to the water, the wind through the leaves, and the occasional bird chirp. Feel safe that you can leave your belongings on the beach and they will still be there when you get back.

For luxurious, custom-built homes on Vancouver Island, Ballard Fine Homes is only a call away. What are you waiting for?

North Vancouver Island Hidden Gem: Sointula

Known as the “place of harmony,” this small community off the northern coast of Vancouver Island was once home to a large Finnish population. Today, Sointula is a great piece of history and a haven for art lovers.

Named after the Finnish utopian settlement founded in the late 1800s, the town’s name translates to “Place of Harmony.” It is found on Malcolm Island, off the northeastern coast of Vancouver Island, and offers gorgeous coastal views, beautiful beaches, and a laid-back atmosphere. At the Sointula Museum, visitors can discover local art galleries, stroll through the charming town centre, and gain insight into the area’s distinct history.

For those who prefer a slower pace of life off the beaten path, Sointula offers many hiking trails and an escape from the everyday hustle and bustle. For this reason, it is a popular destination for camping for those who prefer to be off the beaten path a bit, but still close enough to civilization.

orcas swimming near Vancouver Island

Ucluelet (Ukee to the locals!)

Likely you have already been to Tofino, but did you stop in to visit Ucluelet as well? Ukee has lots to offer in terms of activities, mainly suited for outdoor enthusiasts. Surfing at Long Beach, whale watching, storm watching, and hiking.

Ucluelet is located near the entrance to the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Visitors can explore various hiking trails, including the Wild Pacific Trail, which offers stunning views of the rugged coastline, rocky cliffs, and the Pacific Ocean.

In the late fall, storm watching is a popular pastime as the wild weather and crashing waves create a dramatic and awe-inspiring experience. On the other hand, the Barkley Sound is popular for kayakers due to its sheltered waters and pristine natural surroundings.

Check out Denman Island & Hornby Island for your next camping trip

Do you enjoy camping? Then you’ll have to check out Denman Island and Hornby Island.

While technically not on Vancouver Island, they are so close we couldn’t leave them out. You can visit these beautiful islands by taking a short ferry ride from Buckley Bay to Denman Island. From there, you can take another ferry to Hornby Island.

Both are great places to visit, but we feel the best place to camp is on Hornby Island. Don’t get us wrong, Denman Island has Fillongley Park – a beautiful place to visit – but we appreciate the high number of choices at Hornby Island. During peak season, it can be a little bit easier to find a spot if you’re looking on Hornby Island.

Why is camping so good? A semi-remote island, surrounded by beautiful ocean waters, thick west coast forests, and a local community full of great people are all you need for a memorable vacation.

A beautiful golf course and scuba diving in Nanoose Bay

Madrona Point is a dive site you will want to write down. Scuba divers agree, this is one of the top places to dive in central Vancouver Island. The reason is that there are a few different areas to explore at varying depths with an opportunity to run into local animals like sea lions, octopi, sea stars, crabs, and eels.

If staying on land is more your style, you’ll want to check out Fairwinds Golf Club. This is a year-round, 18 hole golf course nestled in the heart of Vancouver Island. Surrounded by lush greenery, tree-lined fairways, and ocean views, that’s reason enough to visit. Fairwinds also offers PGA-certified teaching professionals and an outstanding restaurant, the 19th Hole Cafe.

Did somebody say “Goats On The Roof”? Only at Coombs

If you’re hiking near Qualicum Beach, you’ll want to make a stop in Coombs.

Coombs Country Market is the quaint pit-stop you never knew you needed. Grab an ice cream cone and view the goats that are, literally, on the roof! The market has a grass covered roof where a few goats like to relax and have a bite to eat.

That’s not all Coombs has to offer. Boutique shops, Butterfly World, a Dutch import store, and several quirky stores are other fantastic places to stop by.

A fishing boat at sea, much like the ones found near French Creek, BC

Fishing enthusiasts love French Creek

In central Vancouver Island, there is a lesser-known place to fish that locals love: French Creek.

While Campbell River and Port Alberni battle over which is the fishing capital of the world, locals know that there are other great options including French Creek. Chinook salmon is the prized catch of the day, but you can also find cod and halibut in these waters.

Turn your vacation into a Vancouver Island custom-built home

Is it time to turn your vacation into home? If you are wondering where to live on Vancouver Island, then hopefully you have a bit more of an idea of your preferences based on our list.

At Ballard Fine Homes, we build custom homes on Vancouver Island and would be privileged to work with you on building your own piece of paradise. If you are still on the fence about choosing a location or simply want to know more about each place before deciding, contact our team at (250) 586-9077 for any questions.