Nanaimo is west of Vancouver, about two hours by ferry on the opposite side of the Strait of Georgia. While many northwest-dwellers only know Nanaimo for the non-baked cookies known as Nanaimo Bars, or for the locally-famous bathtub races on Nanaimo Harbour, this waterfront city is actually the third oldest in British Columbia and offers tourists a chance to visit several key historical sites.
Nanaimo tourists are encouraged to visit the Tourism Nanaimo Visitor Centre downtown, where brochures offer both walking tours and the recipe for Nanaimo Bars. Historical highlights downtown include The Bastion, a 1853-built outpost for Hudson's Bay Company, the old storefronts and bars along Victoria Crescent and Commercial Street, and two museums. The Nanaimo Museum hosts a variety of exhibits showcasing forms of local entertainment, arts and culture, as well as the history of the Nanaimo Harbour, which rose to island prominence in the late 1800s as a Hudson Bay Company shipping port for coal and timber. Also here, the Sports Hall of Fame at the museum highlights a selection of sports figures nominated by community residents. Around the corner, Vancouver Island Military Museum exhibits include uniforms, weaponry and other artifacts from the history of Nanaimo, Vancouver Island and Canada as a whole.
After walking around the city, visitors to Nanaimo might also enjoy exploring the green spaces in the city. With more than 130 kilometres of trails and 65 playgrounds, city developers have ensured no one will be bored. The Beaufort Park Commons, located in the centre of downtown Nanaimo, allows residents to request a bed of land for gardening. In fact, there are five community gardens in the city, and neighbourhoods can request access to parks or city property to set up their own gardens.
Water sports are big business in Nanaimo, and scuba diving is an especially popular activity here. Both the HMCS Saskatchewan and HMCS Cape Breton sunk off the shores of Nanaimo, creating a man-made diving reef, and inspiring the Nanaimo Dive Association to sink the RivTow Lion in 2005 as a diving reef for beginners. For those who are underwater-wary, boating and fishing are great alternatives, while area beaches and lakes attract picnickers and swimmers.
Nanaimo is also home to a vibrant arts scene. The Vancouver Island Symphony specialises in classical music, but they also perform some more contemporary styles. The Crimson Coast Dance Society sponsors performances and offers classes in a wide variety of dance styles, including flamenco and capoeira. TheatreOne showcases independent films and live theatre; the Pacific Coast Stage Company hosts an annual theatre festival; and the Port Theatre features live concerts, films and dance productions.
The Calico Cat Teahouse has a gentle, charming ambience, with stained glass windows and a wood-burning fireplace. Not only can visitors enjoy tea and homemade treats while here, but they can also have a Tea Leaf Reading. For those wanting a casual dinner in a lavishly-decorated venue, Minnoz Steak and Seafood Restaurant & Lounge downtown offers the only tapas menu in Nanaimo.