If you are visiting Canada's west coast, you will inevitably be heading to British Columbia, and one of the best ways to explore this beautiful province is to drive around it.

From charming villages to magnificent cities, British Columbia’s coastal towns are a popular destination amongst travellers as you can enjoy world-class beaches, see abundant wildlife and much more.

So, if you are looking at the different options for car hire in Canada, you should also look at the best coastal towns and cities in British Columbia that you can drive to during your trip. Fortunately for you, we have compiled the below list of some of the best places to visit in BC.

The top coastal towns and cities in British Columbia

  • Vancouver
  • Victoria
  • Tofino
  • Ucluelet
  • Nanaimo
  • Prince Rupert


Vancouver

The seawall at sunset at Stanley Park in Vancouver

Vancouver is a coastal gem set between the Coast Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, and this diverse landscape makes it the perfect natural playground for anyone who loves the outdoors. Being located on the Pacific Ocean, you can expect to enjoy some spectacular beaches and get involved in all sorts of activities on the water.

The English Bay Beach in the downtown area of the city is the most popular beach on the Vancouver coast, and from here, you can walk along the Stanley Park Seawall, which runs along the east side of the beach, and you can enjoy some incredible views of the mountains.

Vancouver is the biggest city in BC, and there is so much you can do during your visit. The city prides itself on the quality and variety of its cuisine, and no matter what Vancouver suburb you stay in or are visiting, you will be sure to find good food. The shopping scene is also renowned, and you can visit attractions which range from iconic museums to the Sea to Sky Gondola for incredible views of the city and the surrounding scenery.

Tracy, the writer behind Tracy’s Travels In Time blog, highly recommends cycling or walking along the Stanley Park Seawall during a visit to Vancouver: “The seawall is the world’s longest sea path and is worth walking or cycling around. There are clearly delineated markers on the path, with one side for walkers and joggers and the other for cyclists.

“The Stanley Park section of the seawall is 9km long and takes about an hour to cycle and around 2/3 hours to walk, depending on how often you stop to admire the views.

“There are loads of things to see and do on your way around the park, including numerous types of wildlife, cultural heritage such as the totem poles, natural and manmade structures such as Beaver Lake, Siwash Rock or the Lion’s Gate Bridge.”

The city is a great destination to start your trip in British Columbia, and you can easily book a car hire in Vancouver and then explore the rest of the province.

ALSO READ: Top attractions & things to do in Vancouver

Victoria

You can go whale watching from Victoria

Victoria is the provincial capital and is therefore considered one of the major cities in British Columbia. It is also one of BC’s prettiest cities as it is picturesquely located at the southern end of Vancouver Island and boasts a stunning coastline.

It is filled with attractions that range from beautiful gardens to museums, while its waterfront eateries (serving fresh seafood) and beaches are also hugely popular with visitors.

The city is surrounded by the sea and is home to a famous harbour and a coastline that boasts a network of coves, bays, and beaches. The views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca are fantastic, and on a clear day, you might even be able to see the Olympic Mountains in Washington State, which is on the Canadian/American border.

If you are looking to go whale watching in Canada, then Victoria is one of the best destinations to go on whale-watching tours. You can see whales such as orca, gray, humpback, and minke whales around the waters of Victoria.

During her visit to Victoria, Heather, who is the founder of the travel blog Heather On Her Travels, went on a whale-watching tour, and has shared some tips:

“Whale-watching is one of the most popular things to do in Victoria, BC, through the months of April to October, and it’s an all-round nature experience. On your boat trip, you’ll see the marine wildlife of the area; seals, bald eagles and sea lions, as well as hopefully spotting some Humpback whales and Orcas.

“It’s a good idea to check the weather on arrival in Victoria and book onto a whale watching trip as early as possible during the weekend, just in case the weather changes and trips get cancelled.”

ALSO READ: 48 hours in Victoria

Tofino

Surfers in Tofino, British Columbia

Tofino is on the west coast of Vancouver Island and is set within the First Nations territory of Tla-o-qui-aht. This picturesque town is in the heart of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Clayoquot Sound and is famed for its rugged beauty, excellent surfing and incredible hiking routes.

Tofino is a great coastal town to visit if you have hired a car, as it is a key stop on many driving routes. It is around a five-hour drive from Vancouver, and during this trip, you can go on a scenic ferry ride across the Strait of Georgia and enjoy highlights such as The Old Country Market, MacMillian Provincial Park and the Pacific Rim National Park.

Lynn, the blogger behind What Lynn Loves, says she loved visiting Tofino and recommends going surfing: “The most obvious and common thing to do in Tofino is surfing. Whether you’re a complete newbie or a seasoned pro, there are loads of options. If you fall into the former category, sign up for lessons with one of the Tofino surf schools.”

ALSO READ: Top places to visit on Vancouver Island

Ucluelet

A coastal view of Ucluelet, British Columbia

The small fishing town of Ucluelet is another coastal village that should be on your list of places to stop off at, especially if you love hiking. It is home to some scenic walking routes, but its most famous walk is the Wild Pacific Trail, as you will see stunning lighthouses, take in beautiful ocean views and explore a rainforest.

Other popular attractions you can enjoy while visiting the village include strolling along Long Beach, which spans the middle of the Pacific Rim National Park, and the Ucluelet Aquarium – a perfect attraction for families.

Cec & Ari, the travel writers behind Groovy Mashed Potatoes, have visited Ucluelet before and have spoken about their experience: “It's often overlooked by tourists since the popular surf and luxury retreat town of Tofino is located just a 35-minute drive away. We love visiting Ucluelet, as it has an authentic west coast vibe and feels off the beaten path. It's worth adding this fishing village as a stop to your Vancouver Island itinerary.”

Nanaimo

A woman hiking at Mt Arrowsmith, near Nanaimo

Many of you who get on the BC Ferries from Vancouver to Vancouver Island will drop anchor in Nanaimo, and after your arrival, we’d recommend you pause and explore the city.

Known as the Harbour City, Nanaimo is well worth spending a day or two to discover the city as it is home to a fantastic food scene, is close to lots of great walking trails and is the perfect place to hire a kayak or go on a boat trip around the waters to see its spectacular coastline and meet the local wildlife.

Nanaimo is a historic city – the third oldest in BC – and you can learn about its heritage by visiting the city’s museum. From ancient Coast Salish traditions, the city’s Canadian military history and coal mining in the area, there is so much you will learn about Nanaimo.

You must pick up a copy of the Nanaimo Bar Trail map from any info centre in the city as you will discover bakeries, cafes, spas, bars, and shops offering their creative spin on the city’s namesake treat.

Prince Rupert

A Grizzly Bear at Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary, which is accessible via floatplane from Prince Rupert

Prince Rupert is on the Northwest Coast of British Columbia, and if you drive here, you can expect to enjoy a rugged wilderness and see some spectacular wildlife.

As Prince Rupert is set amidst British Columbia’s most spectacularly untouched coastal wilderness in the Great Bear Rainforest, you will get the chance to see some of the largest wild mammals in the world, from grizzly bears and coastal wolves to orca & humpback whales if you go on a whale watching tour.

Whilst wildlife is one of the major draws, the city has many museums, galleries, historic buildings, and cultural places you can visit and learn about the Indigenous People who call Prince Rupert home.

If you plan to drive from Vancouver to Prince Rupert, you must consider places to stay along the way, as it is a very long drive. Some popular places that stop on the route are Prince George and Smithers.

Hopefully, this article gives you an idea of some of the best coastal towns in British Columbia that you can visit and what you can do at each one. If you are interested in hiring a car or getting ideas for your holiday to Canada, you can speak to one of our experts.

For more tips, guides, and advice, visit our blog.

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