The Comox Valley: Pretty as a Postcard
We moved to the Comox Valley nearly six years ago, but my husband still finds my awe-struck comments about the region rather comical. While he grew up in the area, I was born and raised in the flat, wide-open expanses of the Saskatchewan prairies. So to my mind, Vancouver Island was a place for family vacations—not a place people actually got to live year-round! I find myself frequently commenting on how I feel like I am on a permanent vacation, in constant awe of the gorgeous mountain views, the outdoor adventures just moments away, the quaint tourist feel of the local downtown areas—and of course, the incredible West Coast cuisine. Although I do miss my wide-open prairie skies, I am so honoured to now call the Comox Valley my home—and I’ve become quite the proud tour guide for friends and family who make their way here for a visit.
Cumberland is a great place to start your weekend Valley tour. Fuel your Friday afternoon with an incredibly satisfying burger from Cooks (and if you’re feeling particularly indulgent, pair that burger with a side of their “messy fries,” because who doesn’t love the sound of bacon, sour cream, green onions, and stadium cheese sauce on fries?). Then, for the adventurous spirits who aren’t afraid of a little dirt, cruise through the over 80 kilometers of renowned mountain bike trails in the forest abutting the town.
Main Street in Cumberland is a charming stroll, with lots of little shops and cafés; it feels a bit like the set of a classic, old-fashioned movie. Indulge in decadent hand-crafted truffles from Dark Side Chocolates or revel in the explosion of flavours from a taco at Biblio Taco. Oh, and you absolutely have to make a stop at the Cumberland Bakery for one of their mouth-watering fresh donuts. (I’m not sure if my youngest brother comes to visit me or if he actually just comes for the Cumberland donuts!)
After your afternoon touring, plan to eat a fabulously named pizza from Rider’s Pizza for dinner (like The Sasquatch, The Dad Joke, or The Cumberlander). Finish the evening with a flight of beer at the Cumberland Brewing Company—much of their seating is outside, but they have outdoor heaters and blankets that will keep you feeling cosy while you enjoy the ambiance and the beer.
Shop in Courtenay
Saturday morning practically requires a trip to the Comox Valley Farmers Market. Open year-round, it’s one of the largest markets on the Island, filled with local vendors selling their baking, cooking, produce and other locally made food and drink products. Many locals even do their weekly grocery shopping here.
After you’ve undoubtedly found a fresh croissant or pastry at the market for breakfast, make your way to Courtenay’s 5th Street. I love this street; it’s filled with adorable boutique shops, exuding small-town charm while offering quality shopping. Be sure to pop in to Hot Chocolates and pick up some handmade artisan chocolate for later; then delight in the beauty of the hand-crafted pottery at The Potter’s Place Gallery. You can also explore the side streets and adjacent streets if you’re on the hunt for more local products: The Mustard Lady is a great little shop filled with local treasures, and while it may seem strange to recommend the local butcher as a shopping destination, The Butcher’s Block has awesome local products (and the friendliest people I’ve ever met working behind the counters!). Then head over to local favourite Atlas Café on 4th Street, a great place to rest your shopping feet and enjoy lunch.
Wander Seal Bay Nature Park
At this point, it’s time to leave the bustle of the city and get back into nature for an afternoon stroll at Seal Bay Nature Park. The picturesque park is located on the unceded traditional territory of the K’ómoks First Nation, and new signage features trail names in a traditional Coast Salish language, reflecting both the beauty and cultural significance of the area. It will only take a few steps into the woods to understand why the Indigenous people call the land “Xwee Xwhya Luq,” which means “a place that has beauty, beauty that is not only seen but also felt.”
Warm up with Local Wine and Spirits
If you’re a bit chilled from the outdoor wandering, don’t forget that a great way to warm up in the winter is from the inside out, so plan to visit some of the Comox Valley’s wineries and distilleries. Check out Wayward Distillery: their lovely tasting room is open year-round, and you would be remiss not to taste (and then take home!) their Krupnik—Spiced Honey Liqueur made from 100% B.C. honey. If your libations preference leans towards wine, prioritize a visit to 40 Knots Vineyard and Estate Winery—but prepare to leave with your arms not only filled with bottles of delectable wine but also products from their unique VinoSpa Skin Care Line. (Another winery to visit during the warmer months when their tasting room is open is Beaufort Vineyard and Estate Winery, which was the first vineyard on Vancouver Island to receive official organic certification.)
Of course, a visit to the Comox Valley would not be complete without a delectable dinner at Locals. Dress up and dine in style at one of the most-talked-about eating establishments in Courtenay. And don’t say “no” when they offer you dessert; you’ll want to make room for their Crème Brûlée Trio or Oat and Black Current Cheesecake.
Rise early on Sunday morning to watch the sunrise in Comox—but first, grab some coffee from Komox Grind Espresso & Smoothie Bar, The Mill Coffee or Milano. Then walk the harbour with its beautiful long dock that provides a gorgeous mountain and inlet view. Or, take your coffee to Goose Spit Park, a popular beach with an expansive ocean view. There’s even a long set of stairs up the cliffside if you’re feeling energetic that will give you an even more impressive view.
Afterwards, warm up with a brunch at Tidal Café, an adorable eatery that serves delicious, hearty breakfasts. Then, wander around Comox Avenue, and don’t be surprised when every person you pass on the street tosses you a smile or a warm “hello.” The Comox Valley has all the amenities of a city but in many ways, the residents still hold on to their friendly, small-town ways.
Experience Mount Washington
One of my favourite things about living here is the proximity to Mount Washington. The prairie girl in me thinks winter isn’t complete without some snow memories, and it’s such a unique experience to hang out on a temperate, sandy beach and then hop into your car and watch a winter wonderland slowly appear as you drive up the winding mountain road. Whether you ski, snowboard, snowshoe, hike, or want to try something a little different like winter snow tubing, Mount Washington is a playground for all ages.
After an afternoon of adventure, the perfect place to fill your hungry bellies is Il Falcone in Courtenay—because doesn’t a hearty authentic Italian pasta dish made with fresh local ingredients just sound like the perfect complement to an activity-filled afternoon? (Trust me, it does.)
Plan Your Next Visit
And just like that, you’ll have spent a busy weekend exploring just a little of what the Comox Valley has to offer. You could easily spend a week here, eating each meal and snack at a different local café or restaurant, finding new parks and forest walks in every neighbourhood, meeting kind souls and making sweet memories. It’s the kind of place people love to visit on vacation—and some of us are even lucky enough to call this paradise “home.”
This article was originally featured on Edible Vancouver Island on January 6th, 2021.