July 9, 2020
Looking for the top things to do in Port Alberni? Look no further! Here are my unsponsored, honest recommendations from my hometown.
COVID-19 has hit these small, independently owned shops and restaurants pretty hard. They can only survive with our support.
This blog post is my way of giving back to the apty named ‘Community With A Heart’ and share my favourite spots for tourists to visit in Port Alberni.
I would like to acknowledge the unceded traditional territory of the tseshaht ans hupacasath First Nations on which we live, work and play.
The Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District is a large and diverse area of over 6,600 square kilometers centrally located on the west side of Vancouver Island. It is bordered by the Beaufort Mountain Range to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west.
The city of Port Alberni is the largest city and commercial hub of the region. Port Alberni currently has a population of over 18,000 of the total regional population of over 31,000.
Other population centres include Tofino, Ucluelet, Bamfield and several other small communities.
– From City of Port Alberni’s Community Profile
I lived in Port Alberni from the age of 6, moved away for university, and returned to teach for over a decade. Three years ago, I moved to Surrey BC, but come back to visit several times a year.
Funnily enough, I got my start with social media marketing by working with the City of Port Alberni, Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce and the local MLA, Scott Fraser.
If you’ve seen my instastories, you’ll see that there’s NOTHING I love more than being a tourist in my hometown.
NOTE: I’ve had feedback from locals that this blog post NEEDS to mention that Port Alberni is the ‘Salmon Capital Of the World’ and ‘Canada’s Ultimate Fishing Town’. While these are both true, I’m just am not able to recommend fishing to you. The closest I’ve been to anything fish-related has been enthusiastic participation in the Salmon Fest Beer Gardens.
I hope you catch the BIG one.
Aptly subtitled as ‘The Best Donuts on Vancouver Island’, this one is on the top of the list. Located at the Harbour Quay, I suggest you take a homemade donut ‘to go’ with a coffee, and sit on a bench overlooking the Alberni Inlet and Centennial Pier.
This is truly the quintessential Port Alberni experience.
My fave is the lemon glazed coconut.
Find out more about The Donut Shop on their Facebook page.
This view is one of Port Alberni’s most instagrammable spots with its arbutus trees and stunning view over Cameron Lake. Very popular with tourists, many locals shun it as being ‘too mainsteam’.
Caution: Even though it’s not a long hike, it’s a very physically challenging one (for me!). Prepare for steep inclines, switch backs and rock climbing with ropes.
The first part (to this bench) takes 35-45 minutes depending on your fitness level.
I recommend you go in the morning, mid-week to avoid the crowds and get that bench to yourself for photos!
You’ll be swearing under your breath… until you make it to the bench and see the view.
Find out more about Wesley Ridge HERE.
Twin City Brewing is Port Alberni’s original craft brewery, owned by locals.
Offering award-winning beer, made right and fresh hand-stretched pizzas and smoked meat sandwiches (and lighter fare such as lettuce wraps!)
My fave is Swedish Gymnast Single Hopped Blonde Ale, Tickety Boo British Pale Ale with the Wurst Place To Live Pizza: Beer-poached brat, caramelized onion, beer cheddar drizzle.
Find out more about Twin City on their website.
Note: Unless you want to stand out as a clueless tourist, you need to know that The Harbour Quay is pronounced THE HARBOUR KEY.
Home to the Donut Shop, Alberni Aquarium, Salmonberry’s Emporium, the Clock Tower, Centennial Pier, waterfront playground, Swept Away Inn and The Starboard Grill , All Mex’d Up Taco Shop, The Harbour Quay is the perfect spot to bring your family for an afternoon of playing, browsing and eating.
This is also the home to many community events and festivals.
Find out more about the Harbour Quay HERE.
It’s more than just a gas station (although it’s a handy one at that– especially if you’re heading to Tofino and need to fill up your tank!)
Tseshaht Market is owned by the Tseshaht First Nation and employs indigenous locals– including my longtime friends and many former students.
It offers everything you’d need to satisfy a snack attach (including the BEST fried chicken and mojos), as well as indigenous themed giftware.
Find out more about Tseshaht Market on their Facebook page.
Cloud City is what locals wear. Since the shop first opened, their modern west coast graphics have been emblazoned on the chests of pretty much everyone.
For example, when my Port Alberni friends and I get together, we play a game of “How many Cloud City pieces are you wearing today?”
Designed and printed in Port Alberni, the clothing is sourced from well-known ethical brands and high quality.
They do big-batch custom orders too.
Find out more about Cloud City on their Facebook page.
Located across the street from Cloud City, Steampunk Cafe boasts eclectic decor and THE BEST DIRTY CHAI. I haven’t had another, anywhere that comes close to comparing. It’s perfectly spicy, strong, and creamy.
It’s recently under new ownership, so I hope they keep the Dirty Chai the same.
Find out more about Steampunk Cafe on their Facebook page.
So many of my friends didn’t want me to include this one, as it’s kind of considered a ‘local’s only spot’ to go swimming in the summer.
I thought about it, but I didn’t want you to come to Port Alberni and be stuck with busy Sproat Lake Provincial Park as your ONLY option.
Drive out a bit further (and be willing to walk through a forested path) for views like this.
Gets busy. Go late morning or weekdays.
Note: The main part of Taylor Arm Provincial Park is to the right side of the highway as you’re heading away from Port Alberni towards Tofino. This is also known as ‘First Bridge’. My favourite beach is known as ‘Second Bridge’ and is about 5 minutes along the highway, with a turnoff to the left. It’s technically part of Taylor Arm Provincial Park, even though it’s very separate and not clearly marked.
Find out more about Taylor Arm Provincial Park HERE.
Originally located in Coombs, next to ‘Goats On The Roof’, Coombs Country Candy is a family favourite for their made-from-scratch ice cream.
My fave is the salted caramel.
Coombs Country Candy is also famous for its handmade chocolates, fudge, and caramel corn. Everything is made from fresh, quality ingredients.
It’s safe to say that your sweet tooth will be satisfied.
Find out more about Coombs Country Candy on their website.
In Port Alberni’s Field of Honour (in Greenwood Cemetary) veterans’ graves lie under an oak tree that was grown from an acorn brought over in a soldier’s pocket from Vimy Ridge, France.
I think it’s fair to say that most people around today don’t the the history of this tree. It’s a striking symbol of the connection between our past and present, as well as coming home (or not being able to).
Find out more about the Royal Canadian Legion Alberni Valley on their Facebook page.
Under brand new ownership, the Fish and Duck Pub is an icon on Sproat Lake.
One of our favourite things to do is rent a ski boat for an afternoon and go tubing on Sproat Lake. We’ve also rented their houseboats with 12 friends.
If you aren’t lucky enough to own property on Sproat (or have friends with boats), this is a great way to experience all that Sproat Lake has to offer.
Find out more about The Fish and Duck on their website.
I grew up in Cherry Creek, and this spectacular waterfall is one of our all-time favourites. From the gate, it’s a fairly easy 20 minute hike with a big reward at the end.
Every time we’re there, we remark how the moss and fern covered rocks transport us back to ‘ the dinosaur times’.
Note: The waterfall is at its most impressive during ‘wet’ season. In the summer heat, it reduces to a trickle.
Find out more about Cold Creek Waterfall HERE.
You haven’t really been to Port Alberni if you haven’t been to what locals affectionately call ‘The Bucket’.
It’s been visited by Robin Williams and Al Pacino, when they were in town filming ‘Insomniac’. You can find framed photos of them in the lobby.
Although the Clam Bucket boasts an impressive menu ranging from burgers, to salads, to seafood— I insist that you order the fish and chips on your first visit.
Trust me– I’ve been searching high and low on the mainland for a fish and chips alternative that compares with The Clam Bucket’s. No dice.
And can we take a moment to appreciate that squeeze bottle of homemade tartar sauce?
I think I need to move back to Port Alberni.
Find out more about The Clam Bucket on their website.
While its rushing waters are impressive any time of the year, the best time to see Stamp Falls is in the autumn. It’s when the vibrant leaves come out and thousands of salmon fight their way up the falls and fish ladders.
Note: Please don’t be one of those stupid tourists who accidentally starts floating in an inner tube WAY too high up the river and end up going down the falls. It’s happened.
Find out more about Stamp Falls HERE.
Brand new to Port Alberni, Dog Mountain Brewing offers good food and beer on an amazing rooftop ambiance.
My fave– their donairs are super popular, but I loved the pulled pork. I also liked their Bees! Belgian Inspired Blonde Ale.
Find out more on their website.
This riverside campground, set alongside a family-run farm is our go-to for its rustic hayrides to the pumpkin patch.
This annual event is tremendously popular with local families, and is one we try to participate in each year. It’s also a great way to teach kids about life on a rustic farm.
Find out more on their website.
Docked at the Centennial Pier at the Harbour Quay, the tug offers both meals and overnight stays. It hosts 3,000 guests from all over the world every summer and specializes in homemade French/ Moroccan Meals.
Just when I was there, groups of B&B guests arrived from England, Spain and Germany! I talked to a few of them, and they wanted a fun ‘Canadian west coast place to stay”.
Word has gotten out – several celebrities have come to eat and stay. When pressed for more details, co-owner Daniel just said “There’s been some big names you would recognize”. Hmmm.
The Hole In The Wall is a man-made pipeline hole through solid shale, that’s now a bizarre–and photogenic– waterfall.
It’s a short, fairly easy (and sometimes wet) hike from the Alberni Highway. I’d recommend parking across the highway at Coombs Country Candy and ‘playing frogger’ (aka running across the highway) to get to the trailhead.
Note: Many locals avoid The Hole In The Wall as it’s considered to be kind of cliche and touristy.
Find out more about The Hole In The Wall HERE.
I used to sit on the ACAWS Board as a Director, until I became a single mom and was no longer able to make it to the before-work breakfast meetings.
Much of the life-changing work that we do at ACAWS incorporates the notion of transitions. Transitions from abusive relationships into the safety of our shelter. Transitions from shelter into independence and economic security. Transitions from the trauma of sexual assault to whole, healed, hopeful futures. Courageous transitions from fear and isolation to empowerment and hope.
– ELLEN FROOD EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
ACAWS offers FREE community programs, including the PEACE (Prevention, Education, Advocacy, Counselling + Empowerment), Youth Support Workers, Community-Based Victims Services, Drop-In Resources Centre, Transition House, Sexual Abuse Intervention and Stopping The Violence Programs.
You can find out more (or make a donation) at their website.
All opinions are my own.