Miles of open road, mind-blowing rugged sights and 36 hours with a 2017 Mini Cooper Clubman. Ride along to see where to stay, what to see and best spots to re-fuel along the way.
Life is often a series of mundane tasks that takes its toll on the soul. Picking up groceries, driving the kids to swimming lessons, grinding gears through mindbogglingly slow traffic along the way. Oh, and let’s not get started on the Vancouver drivers. That is why if you get a chance to blaze a trail through the stunning natural landscape between Victoria and Tofino in a street legal go-cart, you take it.
So we did…
We explore tasty nooks, twisty chicanes and slumber-ific lodging worthy of a cut-and-paste into your next dream GPS Vancouver Island road trip. Buckle up and be sure to tag us along the way.
Road rocket for All4…
With enough space for 4 adults (5 would be a touch tight, but doable) and modest baggage, this road rocket delivers a comfortable ride for the passengers, goosebumps to the driver, and red racing stripes that turn heads. The All4 all-wheel drive system has the fabled ‘go-cart’ driving feel and then some. Flip the switch to sport mode and the car will blast through the gas almost as fast as the corners. Beautiful acoustically charged tail-pipe sounds create an addictive gurgle, pop, pow, particularly when using the paddle-shifters to gear down. Be sure to fuel up when you hit Port Alberni as there is a solid stretch with no gas station, a must if you are going to flip sport mode on. We love everything about the car, even the on-board navigation is pretty easy to figure out. MINI connected XL is worth the 1k wired navigation package upgrade for sure. The only drawback is how often sea birds target the red stripe landing zones. Visit your local MINI dealer for the best deals on super sweet wheels.
Where to eat:
Superbaba is a Middle Eastern fare creation served up to Victoria residence courtesy of the folks responsible for Tacofino and Cafe Medina in Vancouver. Chef Abdallah El Chami of The Dallah Menu steers the menu towards fresh local ingredients, an array of drool worthy sandwiches, bowls and sides. We recommend greasing your gears with steak kabab sandwich with pickled veg. The falafel bowl is also a must.
Nourish Kitchen & Cafe is where tourist and locals go to fill their tanks without the greasy spoon eaters-remorse. Built in a gorgeous 1889 heritage house, Nourish has a cafe, a community workshop space and a dining hall for all occasions. A stone’s throw from BC Legislature building, Victoria harbour and endless jaw dropping coastal viewpoints, you can make your visit to Nourish a morning charging point or a leisurely brunch chill and chat. We recommend the Benny in the moment. The cashew nut hollandaise sets off the chorizo sauteed beets, kale and squash topped eggs nicely. The Nourish food philosophy is based on the principles of holistic nutrition, which encompasses both mind and body and recognizes the influence both have on optimal health.
Olo Restaurant located in the heart of Victoria’s Historic Chinatown district, is steps away from breweries and quaint cocktail bars, should you decide to walk off your recently devoured farm-to-table meal. The space is cozy and warm with exposed brick walls at the bar and hand crafted wooden furniture. Light pours in through the vaulted bay windows as you sip a glass of wine. We recommend checking out the kitchen tasting menus and be sure to sub in the octopus salad. The craft beer selection is on point as well.
Where to drink:
It is little wonder that you feel like you are stepping into an old school saloon in London or New York when you walk into Little Jumbo Restaurant and Bar. The space hearkens you to the late 1800’s era with antique light fixtures, a massive dark wooden bar, and dusty old bookshelves inviting you to sample spirits, local beers and select wines. Can you hear the clatter of horse hooves yet? The food puts typical pub grub to shame, offering an array of tasty share plates to full-on hungry-man dinners. Check out the foie gras and chicken liver mousse, braised lamb shank, or Moroccan spice lentil soup bowl. If you are simply stopping in for a cocktail, we recommend gin based witch-in-the-woods or the tequila based la calavera.
The Drake Eatery is where those who dislike mainstream anything go. Call them hipsters, the cool kids, whatever. The point is that you will find a selection of amazing craft beer that doesn’t sit around in the tap lines for long. It’s a beer parlour for beer lovers, for heaven’s sake. Find Hoyne, Driftwood, Phillips, Four Winds, pFriem and more poised to make your night lit. That’s right, lit, like a Christmas tree.
Where to stay:
The Magnolia Hotel and Spa is a boutique hotel with a full service luxury spa. When you roll into the room you might find a champagne bucket filled up with a selection of Phillips craft beer. The hotel has most of the services you’d expect: gym, infrared sauna, business centre, valet parking. However, we think the top-notch service is why the hotel has been voted top luxury spa hotel by Conde Nast Travellers readers awards. Oh, and the Catalano Restaurant & Cicchetti Bar is a great spot to eat, drink and chill if you feel like staying in.
What to see:
Ditch the car and take in the harbour. The BC legislature, Empress hotel, endless shops and cafes abound. Feel like taking a cruise in your Mini? Drive along the Dallas Road coastline to the Mount Douglas lookout. At the top is a concrete lookout that inspires a 360-degree view that attracts shutter bugs from around the globe. The best plan is to park the car and sign up for a West Coast Brewery Tour. You can see the historic sights while hopping from brewery to brewery. Win-win, sleep.
En route to the Pacific Rim…
Where to eat:
Merridale Cidery and Distillery in the Cowichan Valley makes for the perfect pit stop en route to Tofino. Full disclosure, we do not endorse drinking and driving, so definitely bring along a designated driver. Merridale is an apple orchard, craft cider house and distillery as well as a great spot to tie the knot or hold any celebratory event. As you stroll around with a belly full of wood oven pizza and cider, you will see quaint little yurts, farmhouses loaded up with distillery goods and friendly family owned/operated staff busily oiling the gears of the 20-acre property. You will not want to speed through this pit stop.
What to see:
Coombs country market has goats grazing on the roof. Seriously. Go get an ice cream cone, meander through the tourist trinket laden shops and see if you can count how many goats are on the roof. Forty years ago, Norwegian immigrants bought the market and wanted to bring a design cue from the homeland into the picture, hence the sod roof. When the sod (grass) grew voraciously, goats were brought in to take care of it. Now over one million people a year stop in to see Billy Goat Gruff and the gang. And if you’ve got time, stop by Canada’s largest wooden structure, Kinsol Trestle. It is massive and provides great shutterbug fodder.
Cathedral Grove is the Canadian version of California’s Redwood forest. Located in MacMillan National Park, the protected forest is home to hundreds of ancient trees, some even as old as 500 years. Walking through the hallowed grounds you feel the ancient spirit of the trees cleansing your soul, which is a good thing, as you’ve arrived here powered by dinosaur fossils. We recommend taking the short trek to the waterfall and keep a light foot on the pedal as you leave.
While in Tofino…
Where to eat:
1909 Kitchen is the definition of coastal rustic with a modern twist. The long dining room has marine portal windows guiding you to gorgeous views of Tofino Resort + Marina. A short right hand dog leg leads you into the Hatch bar, complete with pool tables, big screen TVs with surf videos on loop and a large patio that lights up with humans being social during the warm, less moist months. The menu is seasonal, so expect seafood done right. We enjoyed the prawn salad and ling cod, paired with a Phillips Blue Buck as the sun set on the harbour.
Where to drink:
Let’s keep this simple, The Hatch Waterfront Bar is where you need to go for a rich selection of local craft beers and spirits. It is a great spot for friends to get together to yell talk over the rad tunes or just pop in solo to contemplate how you’ve managed to be so #blessed to land up drinking tasty pints at the edge of the world.
Where to stay:
The Tofino Resort + Marina is a newly renovated haven for weary road warriors looking to drift into the sweet spot between rugged and luxury living. Perched on the edge of the harbour, the minimalist rooms have all the basic amenities with the added touch of a charcuterie board of fresh meats, fruit and cheese waiting for you in the mini-fridge. Soft, clean bedding and surf-inspired wall prints make you feel just comfortable enough to stay focused on the prize, getting out into the wet wild wonderland. Go fishing. Go whale watching. Heck, charter a boat to some gnarly natural hot springs for the win.
What to see:
Oh man. You have options. Go to the Tofino Resort + Marina head quarters and just start signing up for stuff. Go buck-tailing, deep sea fishing, surfing, kayaking, day drinking. You would really have to try hard to not have the time of your life. During high season, get on this website and pre-book your adventure so you don’t end up like old grumpy Relic from The Beachcombers.