When a Canadian province consists of over 40,000 islands, you know that it’s going to be home to just a few incredible and diverse seaside towns. From Tofino on Vancouver Island to Gibsons on the Sunshine Coast, here are the best coastal towns you need to visit in British Columbia.
Did you know – Culture Trip now does bookable, small-group trips? Pick from authentic, immersive Epic Trips, compact and action-packed Mini Trips and sparkling, expansive Sailing Trips.
Located on Kaien Island in northwestern British Columbia, Prince Rupert is a small marine town, with many cruises stopping there on the way to Alaska – it’s just south of the state border. Visitors should stop by Cow Bay when in town, which is a three-block area filled with decorated cows (hence the name), enjoy a seafood meal – the area is rich in salmon – and browse local artists’ work. It is also known for its grizzly bear population in the nearby Khutzeymateen Sanctuary.
Located just an hour outside of Vancouver on the photogenic Sea to Sky Highway, Squamish may get overshadowed by its neighbour, Whistler, but it does have something else. Instead of ski resorts, this town has the beach. The most popular activities around town include both windsurfing and kitesurfing in the summer, hiking Stawamus Chief, playing golf beside the ocean and enjoying the views from the Sea to Sky Gondola. If you are looking for a town that offers both mountainside adventures and seaside fun, Squamish is the place.
Tofino is one of the most well-known townships on Vancouver Island. It’s referred to as Canada’s surf capital, with over 35 kilometres (22 miles) of surfable beach. But if surfing isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other attractions. Hiking, whale watching, stand-up paddleboarding, and even storm watching are just some of Tofino’s best activities. You also can’t visit Tofino without eating BC’s best tacos at Tacofino and dining at the award-winning restaurant, Wolf in the Fog.
It may be just a small village on Graham Island, but Queen Charlotte is the gateway to one of British Columbia’s best-kept secrets. Haida Gwaii (formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands) consists of 150 islands, but Graham Island’s the most populated. Queen Charlotte is where you will find government houses, accommodation options and many oceanfront restaurants. The seawalk is a must-do activity, which offers visitors sweeping views of Skidegate Inlet and Queen Charlotte Harbour. National Geographic named Haida Gwaii as one of the best trips of 2015, so it’s worth seeing if it lives up to this accolade.
Only a 20-minute ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver, Bowen Island lives up to its slogan, ‘Within Reach. Beyond Comparison’. It’s a great place for a day trip from Vancouver, with a thriving village life awaiting you in Snug Cove. There are plenty of restaurants, pubs, galleries and stores filled with jewellery and handcrafts to keep you busy. Catch the public bus around the island and enjoy a day at one of Bowen Island’s popular beaches: Tunstall Bay, Sandy Beach or Bowen Bay.
Described as the gateway to the Sunshine Coast, Gibsons is a popular summertime destination in British Columbia. It’s a 40-minute ferry ride from West Vancouver, and its picturesque harbour is just the beginning of the town’s charm. It has a thriving arts scene and hosts many festivals during the warmer months. It’s also where the popular series The Beachcombers was filmed from 1972 to 1990. Gibsons is an excellent option when travelling without a car too; there are ferries, public buses and bike rentals to make your trip to this BC seaside town easy breezy.
Steveston is a small coastal town in the Greater Vancouver area, but it feels a world away from the hustle and bustle of city life. That may be because, for a few months of the year, it does become another world: Storybrooke from the popular TV show, Once Upon a Time. If you are a fan, a visit to Steveston is a must. Walk down the main street and see sights like Granny’s diner, the clock tower and the pier. Even if you aren’t a fan, the town is a great place to relax, enjoy some seafood by the sea and eat some ice cream while watching the sunset.
Salt Spring Island
Separating mainland British Columbia and Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands comprise over 200 islands, with Salt Spring Island being the most popular. The reasons why? Well, the island is home to friendly locals, forested trails and scenic beaches, to name just a few. It’s described by many as an ‘unspoilt paradise’, which will feel like a breath of fresh air. There is a large range of dining options on the relatively small island too. From March to October, the best thing to do in town is to visit the Saturday Market.
Located north of Gibsons on the Sunshine Coast, Sechelt is another great BC seaside town. Surrounded by mountains, it has a lot to offer adventurers. Hire a kayak and paddle out to Smuggler’s Cove, with its clear water and rugged cliffs, or if you are a more experienced outdoorsman, head to Skookumchuck Narrows and try your luck against North America’s fastest-moving saltwater rapids. You can then do the 40-minute climb up Soames Hill, which overlooks Gibsons. After this much adventure, you will love resting your head at one of the town’s unique B&Bs.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.