Nanaimo, the Harbour City, offers more than just spectacular waterfront views. The city’s many parks are its jewels but there’s also an active art and music scene with lots to see and do year round. The 10 top free attractions listed below are in geographical order and all are equally worthy of your time. For a fuller account and precise walking or driving directions, consult the various tours included in the Nanaimo 50-Kilometer Holiday.
1) Maffeo-Sutton Park. This lovely park is Nanaimo’s showpiece and there’s something for everyone. In summer you can swim in the Swy-a-Lana Lagoon or sit on a bench and enjoy the view of the snowy peaks of the Coastal Range of British Columbia between Newcastle and Protection islands. In July and August free weekend concerts are presented in the blue-roofed Nanaimo Lions Pavilion and outdoor festivals are happening all the time. Three hours of free parking is available here except during special events.
2) Pedestrian Fishing Pier. It’s fun to sit on this scenic pier just south of Maffeo-Sutton Park and watch people trying to catch crabs as seaplanes take off and land. Keep an eye out for harbour seals.
3) Barton & Leier Gallery. Two of Nanaimo’s top artists exhibit their work in this commercial gallery just up Chapel Street from downtown. It’s something of a mini museum and worth a look even if you aren’t buying.
4) CIBC Nanaimo Arts Centre. In the heart of Nanaimo’s Arts District, this public art gallery on Commercial Street is the best place in town to familiarize yourself with the work of local painters, sculptors, and jewellers. It’s open Tuesday to Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm.
5) Bowen Park. Just east of downtown, this wooded park offers lawn bowling, a recreational centre, an outdoor swimming pool (May to September only), and a covered picnic area. Go down the road beside the pool to the Millstone River and a trail with descriptive panels which leads to a large waterfall.
6) Buttertubs Marsh Conservation Area. This attractive park off Jingle Pot Road is an important nesting area for waterfowl and songbirds. The level 1.2-km trail around the marsh is one of the city’s most enjoyable walks with numerous benches and viewing platforms. If you take the trail to the right and go around the lake counter-clockwise you’ll be on the Trans Canada Trail.
7) Westwood Lake Park. Westwood has Nanaimo’s most popular public beach and on a hot summer’s day you could have trouble parking. Washrooms with outdoor showers are provided and there are several pontoons in the lake for swimmers. A broad six-km trail leads right around the 66-hectare lake, a hike of an hour or two. The steepest part is over a rock bluff to the left of the parking area.
8) Linley Valley. The easiest access to the many hiking trails in this large valley is off Hammond Bay Road. A boardwalk up Cottle Creek begins at the end of Linley Road and many lovely hiking trails wind through the valley’s old growth forest.
9) Pipers Lagoon Park. Further up Hammond Bay Road, this is another Nanaimo beauty spot. There’s a long sandy beach where you can swim, with picnic tables, washrooms, and outdoor showers provided. It takes about an hour to hike around the isthmus with one rocky section to cross. The park is famous for its Garry Oak ecosystem.
10) Neck Point Park. Also off Hammond Bay Road, this park has many scenic trails and viewing platforms, which you can access via the paved pedestrians-only road up the hill from the parking area. Watch for deer and bald eagles.