Pacific Rim, Canada’s true West Coast



Parksville BC

You would think that we, on Salt Spring Island, live on Canada’s west coast.

But the true west coast along the open ocean, is one more ferry ride and about a 3 hours drive away.
Cutting across the mountainous heart of Vancouver Island, Highway 4 winds through Port Alberni to the Pacific coast. On this particular trip, we spent one night in Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island’s east coast. We roamed the wide sandy beach, picking up a sand dollar here and a polished rock there. We sipped tea on the gorgeous patio of The Beach Club Resort right on the beach in Parksville. And we had a beautiful AirBnB booked in Qualicum Beach. The very private cottage was in the heart of town, allowing us to walk to shops and restaurants.
IMG_0554The next morning we made the mandatory stop in Coombs. This tiny town has only a few services but made a huge tourist attraction out of a former farm stand. Some 30 years ago it was a farm stand with local pumpkins and apples in the fall. Now it is a huge supermarket/deli with lots of shopping options. Stores have sprouted up around it, selling icecream and t-shirts. 
But the reason for all this is likely the goats on the roof. Yes, you read that right. The old farm stand and now the beautiful supermarket, sports a grass sod roof on which various goats roam and graze at will. This is enough of an attraction that hordes of tourists stop and take pictures. It’s a fun and interesting stop. And after gazing at grazing goats, you can pick up a tye-dyed t-shirt or a giant lawn ornament next door.
IMG_5609The next stop is even more popular and also more natural. Cathedral Grove, also named McMillan Provincial Park, is an awe inspiring place. Huge towering trees block out the sun, filter the rain and support an intriguing eco system. Some of the trees are 800 years old and 75 meters tall, making you feel like a tiny dwarf. Fallen trees support new ones. I doubt that there is much wildlife left since every car and motorhome stops here, but it is gorgeous and definitely worth the loop walk through the grove. I just hope that BC Parks will spend the money and effort to provide a safer way to park. The tiny parking area along the road is not nearly enough and cars parked along the shoulders, with people crossing the road at will, is an accident waiting to happen.
Port Alberni is a large town with many services and lots of camping, hiking and fishing nearby.
We continued on, past the picturesque Sprout Lake to the junction where you turn south to reach Ucluelet or north to reach Tofino. 
Tofino used to be my favourite of the two isolated towns – with a cozy coffeeshop and a relaxed hippy atmosphere. Now Ucluelet feels more like a nice small town while Tofino is overrun with people and sky high prices. We couldn’t find affordable accommodations even when booking two months ahead. So this time we ended up staying in Ucluelet.
It used to be a bit run down fishermen’s village. Through the inevitable evolution along BC’s gorgeous coastline, Ucluelet has morfed into a friendly town of a few permanent residents and a surging summer population. We found a lovely cabin, complete with fireplace and jetted tub, in the woods and near the coast. Both towns have a nice Coop Supermarket with fresh produce and lots of choices. Since we had a kitchen we made our own meals but had to find a coffeeshop to get wifi.
Unfortunately we had two days of rain, out of our three days on the coast. But a walk in the rain forest does feel more authentic when the trees are dripping…
IMG_0562Pacific Rim National Park stretches between the two towns and beyond (including the Broken Islands group). One of Canada’s most splendid coast lines is protected in this national park. Several long beaches offer a great place for a brisk walk, watching foamy waves and mist, scenic rocks and outcrops dotting the shore.
Equally impressive are the short rain coast walks. Here a sturdy wooden walk way allows visitors a glimpse of a unique ecosystem. Ancient logs serve as nurseries for new growth. Giant skunk cabbage leaves and tiny unfurling ferns live side by side, thriving on the more than 3 meters of rain that falls here annually.
Immense cedars and spruce form a green canopy that filters the sunlight, if there is any. IMG_5651
Another must-stop is the Kw’istis Visitor Centre with an interpretive display of both natural and First Nations histories. We even watched spouting whales from the upstairs room. Be sure to ask the front desk staff for one of the movies listed. This is a great way to learn more about this beautiful area – one of Canada’s most scenic natural places.

The Oregon Coast

Perhaps there is no coastline in the world that is more scenic than that of Oregon.
When our kids were 8 and 9 years old we fulfilled another dream by traveling around all of North America for a whole year. We put the kids in correspondence school, settled into a van and trailer and bummed around Canada and the US. Of course, as a park ranger family we visited many national parks. We saw buffalo and geysers in Yellowstone. We hiked in Arches National Park. The boys learned about scurvy on the historic ship that explorer Jacques Cartier arrived on in Canada. We learned about geology in Gros Morne National Park and saw bears in Banff.

We’ve even lived in Oregon for several years, twice. And now we’re back for a week of exploring.

Sometimes Fall and Winter are the nicest times for walking on the beach here. We’ve hiked quite a few miles on the wet sand, enjoyed a bowl of clam chowder for lunch at the famous Mo’s Restaurant while watching pelicans and seals compete for fish remains as a fishing charter boat came into the public dock in Newport.
( once had Christmas dinner at Georgie’s – probably the best table on the entire coast. Their dining room and pub have large windows right over the beach. We had a great turkey dinner while watching the sun set over the Pacific.
( Next day we had great burgers and beer at our favorite hangout: The Drift Inn in Yachats. They have life music every night of the year, usually folk or blue grass. We loved sitting there, listening to mellow music.
( we ever come here with our grandkids we will likely visit the Newport Aquarium or the Hatfield Marine Science Center, but when it’s just the two of us our favorite passtime is walking on the beach. Today we had blue skies, the odd drizzle but mostly nice weather for walking. We watched a blue heron, blue jays, junco’s and many different kinds of chickadees attack our birdfeeder. Life is good.

There is so much to see and do  here. I will focus on the center of the state: from Florence to Oceanside, Oregon.

There are many lighthouses along this coast. Check here for details on visiting and touring them:
On the following dates, admission to public lands and parks will be free of charge:

  • August 25, National Park Service Birthday and
  • September 28, National Public Lands Day

Florence has a lovely old town with little stores and restaurants. Driving north, a visit to the Sea Lion Caves is pretty impressive. You can take an elevator down into the rocks, stepping out into a natural cave that houses hundreds of sea lions. The smell and noise make this a memorable experience:

Next is Cape Perpetua with a good visitors’ center, trails and tide pools. Kids (and adults..) will love exploring life in the tide pools, finding anemones, starfish and much more.
If you have time, take the drive up to Perpetua Look-out for the amazing view south along the coast. And be sure to stop at Devil’s Churn to watch white foam waves spouting up between the rocks.

We like visiting the little town of Yachats, especially the little winery and The Drift Inn with live music every night of the year.

After that you will come to “our” village of Waldport, where we do our grocery shopping, find amazing wines and micro brews in Ray’s Supermarket, pick up a latte and watch seals lazing along the Alsea river. Nice kayaking here, too. We have a little cottage just north of here and love spending days walking along the wide sand beaches. Amazing beaches. At low tide they are 1/4 mile deep, and allow us to walk many miles from here to Seal Rock. Along Highway 101 are several woodcarvers, selling large wooden bears, fun sea gulls and more. There are also 5 state parks between Waldport and Newport, all with gorgeous beaches.

Newport and Lincoln City are pretty crowded in the summer with tourists, shopping, doing all the touristy things. But do visit downtown Newport to see the sea lions on the public dock. Clam chowder at Mo’s makes for a good lunch. And I like to pop into the Leather Works Store which has many leather things, all under $20.-, including office roll-on bags, purses, belts and jackets. Newport also has the Aquarium and the Hatfield Marine Science Center, if you travel with kids or want to explore these sites.

North of Lincoln City, the crowds fade away behind you and things get quieter. But there are also fewer places to eat or shop. The towns seem more ‘rustic’ and I noticed more ‘closed’ signs than ‘open’… But be sure to swing into the road leading to Cape Foulweather. Amazing vistas. And the cool giftshop here has my favorite window in the whole world. It makes you feel like you are hanging above the Pacific. Which you are. 500 feet to be exact.

Tillamook… you can visit the cheese factory, the airplane museum which is the largest wooden structure in the world ( and take a ride on the Garibaldi steam train. But it’s worth the drive to Oceanside to spend some relaxing days in this picturebook village. The houses cling to the cliffs (literally) and you can sip a latte looking out over the blue ocean or walk on the sand beaches near the famous Three Arches. A great place to hang out. Best time to visit the coast: September, when the wind is calm, the sun usually shines and the crowds have gone home.

Our Oregon Top Ten

January. T-shirt weather on the Oregon beach! Went for a hike this morning and had to take our jackets off ’cause it is so warm! Amazing.
We are lucky to have a glorious week here. No problem with driving and now we are basking in spring-like weather.
We love Oregon and come to our little house near the beach as often as we can. Which is not often enough.

When we go to Oregon, this is our Top Ten of things to do:

10. Leather work – a store in both Depoe Bay and Newport where everything is real leather and under 20.-! I have bought an office bag on wheels here. Kees buys new belts and his signature cowboy hat.

9. Used bookstores – especially Smith Family bookstores in Eugene. With stacks and piles on floors, and isle after isle of book mazes, we love getting lost here among great titles.

8. When we are in the Eugene area, we love the cozy pubs and restaurants. Our favorites are McMenanin’s  and Mazzi’s. The first one is a chain of quaint buildings with great micro brew pubs, i.e. one with Dutch streetname signs in Corvallis, a converted brick school in Portland and many others (
Mazzi’s is unchanged since we went to school in Eugene in the ’70’s – great Italian food in the perfect atmosphere:

7. Wine/beer. Where else can you buy Mount Hood Riesling or a big bottle of Lambrusco for 8 dollars! Kees enjoys the Black Butte Porters and other micro dark beers.

6. State parks. Oregon can’t be beat for its gorgeous abundance of state parks that offer hiking, beaches, nature, camping, even yurts.

5. I’m not really much of a shopper. But whenever we come down, we visit stores like REI (outdoor clothing and equipment), Goodwill (amazing array of household items, clothing and more), Ross (brand names at a fraction of the price) and – my favorite – SAS. These handcrafted shoes are the most comfortable and durable. I wear them every day, some pairs I’ve had for 8 years and they still look like new.

4. Crab burgers in Newport. This is our favorite meal here. The Crab Shack has crab burgers and fries, which we pick up and eat sitting on a log on the beach! Beats the most fancy restaurant!

3. Music. Oregon has some fantastic music places and events. There are regular Opry’s with musicians coming out of the hills and valleys to perform old time folk and blues. Florence has an annual Folk Fest with impressive bands. Last night we saw The Brothers Four in concert!
Nothing beats a classical concert in Eugene’s Hult Center. And then there is the Drift Inn in Yachats with live music every night of the year:

2. Friends! We love catching up with friends dating back to our university days in Eugene. So special that we still often meet and get together!

1. And best of all: walking on the beach. We walk for hours to the Alsec River, to the Seal Rocks, listening to the breaking surf, picking up shells and marveling at the ever changing beachscape.