One Day in Nanaimo with Kids

Posted By Cathy on Jan 11, 2018

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Hey there!

It’s Cathy from My Book A Day. Our family loves to travel together! It’s a time when we make family memories we can talk about for years to come. It’s such bonding experience for us.

We probably travel a bit differently from most people. That’s partly because we have a crazy age range – our kids are 17, 11, and 3, – and partly because we cram in as many activities as we can so we don’t miss an experience. You won’t find us sitting on a beach for long periods of time, or hanging out at the hotel pool. We start early and go, go, go all day long. It’s crazy, but it works for us!

Last summer we decided that we wanted to try out the Seattle area and go up into British Columbia, Canada. I knew nothing about Vancouver Island before we planned our trip, but we loved every bit of our time in Canada. We want to go back because it was super smokey from fires when we were there, and we missed the beautiful views that British Columbia is famous for.

We spent one day of our trip in Nanaimo, British Columbia and it’s such a great city! Here are my tips for how to get there, where to stay, what to do and where to eat.

One Day in Nanaimo, British Columbia with kids | | Canada | things to do in Nanaimo | Vancouver Island | ferry to Nanaimo

Getting There

Nanaimo is located on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. It’s not too far from Victoria and Vancouver. There is an airport near Nanaimo, but we found that the best way to reach it was by ferry.

We drove from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to the ferry terminal in Anacortes, Washington. We drove our rental car onto the ferry to Sidney, British Columbia. This 3-hour ferry takes you through the beautiful San Juan Islands. This was fun for most of our group, but our 3 year-old got really bored on the ride.

The one-way trip takes around three hours and ferries don’t have a lot of activities for kids, so be sure to bring your own. You can buy a snack, walk around the boat or go out on the front of the boat for a really good view. Allison shares more ferry tips in her post Washington State Ferries – What NOT to Do!

After a trip through Canadian customs in Sidney, we were starving and ready for lunch. We found a cute little restaurant called Toast. They didn’t have very many places to sit, but the food was fantastic and the portions were huge, even the kids meals! From there, we drove north to Nanaimo.

If you don’t often travel out of the United States, find out in advance if your phone plan includes international cellular data. If you don’t have an international plan, you can turn off your cellular data to avoid unplanned fees and still use local Wi-Fi for texting, internet and apps.

One Day in Nanaimo, British Columbia with kids | | Canada | things to do in Nanaimo | Vancouver Island | ferry to Nanaimo

Where to stay

We stayed in a great hotel called The Inn on Long Lake. The rooms in this hotel are unique and they were the biggest we stayed in on this trip. We had space for a pull-out bed in our Double Queen room. That’s a rarity. Every room had a view of the lake. Such a beautiful view! Our room was on Level 1 and we had a sliding door right to the lake. LOVED it.

Click the button below to check rates and availability for The Inn on Long Lake on TripAdvisor.

We rented a paddleboat that fit our family and spent some quiet together time. It was even more fun when the boats didn’t work quite right. We might or might not have broken one. Oops! The front desk crew was super attentive and noticed right away that we had a problem. They were right there to help us and get us a new boat.

We loved the breakfast at Inn on Long Lake. It is complimentary, which saved us time and money. We ate outside with a beautiful view of the lake. That’s one of my favorite memories from our trip.

One Day in Nanaimo, British Columbia with kids | | Canada | things to do in Nanaimo | Vancouver Island | ferry to Nanaimo

Outdoor Activities

Our family is active, and this was one of our busiest days of our Pacific Northwest vacation! We started the morning with a hike at Little Qualicum Falls. This was a quick and easy hike that even our three year old was able to do on his own. There are several trails you can follow to end up back at the parking lot. It was fun and beautiful.

Next up was Cathedral Grove. This one is super popular. There is a small parking lot, but most cars were parked along the road.

The trees at Cathedral Grove are huge (think giant sequoias) and they are simply amazing. They are old, some of them around 800 years old. Many are still standing, but there are big fallen ones and interpretive signs. This is a flat unpaved loop, and it’s a super easy walk through the woods. This was a fun stop!

Where to eat

Nanaimo is famous for one thing, Nanaimo bars! We had to try some before we headed back. We found our favorite at Bocca Cafe. It was a salted caramel version, and it was fabulous! We loved them so much that I came home and made my own. Here is the recipe!

One Day in Nanaimo, British Columbia with kids | | Canada | things to do in Nanaimo | Vancouver Island | ferry to Nanaimo

We also loved Bocca Cafe’s sandwiches on homemade cheese bread. We ate our lunch in the alley next to Bocca Cafe. They have small tables set up and the whole setting is just charming.

Our last stop in Nanaimo was at the Harbourfront Walkway. This spot was so much fun! We grabbed another Nanaimo bar (stick with Bocca’s), had some ice cream, and just spent time watching the people and seaplanes coming and going. It was a perfect ending to our time in Nanaimo.

Nanaimo is a beautiful place and we wish we could have spent more time there. We were only there for about 24 hours, but we managed to pack quite a bit into it. We have fond memories of our time there and hope to be able to get back before too long!

I’m excited to tell you about the other places we went in the coming months! Watch for my next post soon.

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Hi, I'm Cathy! I usually review books at When I'm not reading or reviewing my latest read, you'll find me chasing my crazy crew wherever the wind blows us. We love to travel as a family, but we have some extra challenges because of the ages of our kids (currently 17, 11, and 3). We've traveled through the United States and even a bit into Canada.

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