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Weekend Road Trip to the Sunshine Coast, BC

Named for its surprisingly abundant summer sun, the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia sits on a striking section of coastal rainforest. Start this easy weekend getaway from Vancouver with a 40-minute ferry ride, meandering between offshore islands. Once on shore, you can drive through a string of funky seaside towns to gallery-hop, hike, or savor the solitude of the rocky beaches.

But this region offers unexpected stops, too: you can a tour a one-of-a-kind archeological exhibit in a small First Nations-run gallery, or hike to the Skookumchuck Narrows, where twice-a-day tides churn up unusually large rapids.

Here’s our itinerary for a road trip to the Canadian sun.

quite seen of a boat at dock on a lake
Seek serenity at Ruby Lake Resort. Photo © Carolyn B. Heller.

Markets, Microbrews, and a Mandala

Reserve a spot for your car on BC Ferries Horseshoe Bay-to-Langdale route, which departs 13 miles northwest of downtown Vancouver. When the ferry docks, follow Marine Drive to Gibsons, a seaside town featured in the long-running Canadian TV series, The Beachcombers, which aired from 1972 to 1990.

At Gibsons Public Market, lunch on salads, burgers, or Buddha bowls at Emelle’s Market Bistro; the Thai curry with fresh seafood from the fish market downstairs is excellent. Opposite the bistro, the Nicholas Sonntag Marine Education Centre, a catch-and-release aquarium housing local marine life, is opening later this summer. Have a post-lunch latte at Bowen Island Roasting Company or a fair-trade organic bonbon at Art Meets Chocolate.

A short stroll from the market, check out Sa Boothroyd’s gallery of humorous artworks on Government Wharf. As her sign helpfully notes, it’s “the last building before you fall into the water.”

Drive up to farm and microbrewery Persephone Brewing to sample a tasting flight on the shady patio where the tables are crafted from tree trunks. Try the multigrain saison or the unusual smoked porter.

Check into Bonniebrook Lodge opposite beautiful Ocean Beach. Choose a room with a view of the water in the main lodge or a modern suite with whirlpool tub near the gurgling creek. For dinner, it’s a short drive north to Roberts Creek and Gumboot Restaurant, where popular dishes include local fish tacos, wild salmon burgers, and oversized salads. After your meal, walk to the pier to watch the sunset and check out the colorful mandala that residents paint every year.

four pints of beer lined up for tasting
Enjoy a tasting flight on the patio at Persephone Brewing in Gibsons. Photo © Carolyn B. Heller.

Centuries of History

In the morning, continue north on Highway 101 toward the town of Sechelt and Gourmet Girl Café, where you can dig into the hearty breakfast poutine or sip a fresh fruit smoothie.

Operated by the shíshálh First Nation, Sechelt’s tiny Tems Swiya Museum recently opened a groundbreaking exhibit. On shíshálh land, archeologists discovered the body of a man determined to be a chief, buried in a garment made of more than 350,000 minute stone beads. Nearby were several more bodies, including that of a woman also interred with thousands of handmade beads. Using facial reconstruction technology, scientists determined what these people and their relatives, estimated to have lived more than 3,700 years ago, may have looked like; you can examine their “faces” in an eerily like-life video. The unearthed beads, which would have taken years of work to craft, are also on view.

Refresh at newcomer Bricker Cider Company with a taste of their original apple cider or their almost beer-like hopped version. If you’re ready for brunch or a coffee break, the French toast with berry compote or eggs Benedict served on homemade banana pepper scones at Mad Park Bistro are good choices. Then continue toward Garden Bay to settle into a colorful cottage at John Henry’s Resort, Marina, and Café. On the busy marina, the four cute cabins aren’t super private, but all have sitting areas, kitchens, and lovely water-view decks.

After relaxing by the bay, head north for dinner on the terrace at Ruby Lake Resort, where you might spot a beaver swimming in the adjacent lagoon. Chef-owner Aldo Cogrossi, a Milan native, uses regional ingredients in trattoria-style dishes like smoked tuna with caper mayonnaise or savory wild boar with local mushrooms.

depiction of four indigenous people on a screen
Learn about indigenous culture at the Tems Swiya Museum. Photo © Carolyn B. Heller.

Hike to the “Skook”

From Highway 101 north, turn east onto the winding road toward Egmont, where a 2.5-mile hike through the forest leads to a unique tidal phenomenon. As tidewater squeezes through the Skookumchuck Narrows connecting two inlets, large waves form, sometimes exceeding nine feet in height. Bear right at the sign toward Roland Point to get closest to the waves on a “flood tide”; during an “ebb tide,” you’ll see whirlpools by bearing left to North Point. Check the tide tables online, and time your visit for a large or extra-large tide.

Near the start of the trail, stop at Skookumchuck Bakery for a giant cinnamon bun; they’re soft, doughy, and perfectly cinnamon-sweet.

rolling waves with a backdrop of green hills
Watch the tides at Skookumchuck Narrows. Photo © Carolyn B. Heller.

Cruise to the Falls

On your Sunshine Coast road trip, you also have to leave the road, so pack a picnic and explore the region’s waters and inlets. Departing from Egmont, Sunshine Coast Tours runs scenic guided boat tours through the fjords toward Princess Louisa Inlet and Chatterbox Falls, which plunge 120 feet into the sea, next to granite cliffs that soar to more than 7,000 feet.

Back on land, reserve a table on the deck at West Coast Wilderness Lodge, where dishes like oysters Rockefeller or grilled halibut come with expansive views across the inlets. Then toast your road trip to the sun on BC’s Sunshine Coast.

rushing waterfall with a mountainous backdrop
Chatterbox Falls plunges 120 feet into the sea. Photo © Carolyn B. Heller.

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