Canada's really big
May 8, 2016 10:43 AM   Subscribe

I got some great suggestions about visiting British Columbia last year, but we didn't make it that far because we already had so many stops. This year we want to visit Crater Lake, Portland, B. C., and Seattle (in that order, due to the timing of an event in Seattle and having to rush back home for the fall semester). And I have some more specific questions about the whole Canada thing.

Both specific and general suggestions are welcome.

General itinerary: We'll probably drive from Portland to Bellingham on one day and then to Canada on another day. I love the multi-ferry trip suggested by Nerd of the North in my previous AskMe, but since this comes in the middle of a lot of other travel, I'd like to minimize transfer days (changing accommodations). We like having a base and returning to it at night even if it means a couple hours of driving during the day. But I realize that, per the Arrogant Worms, Canada's really big (3 hours from Vancouver to Victoria?). So maybe we ought to aim for staying in 2 locations (maybe 3, but hopefully not). What itinerary would you suggest?

Things to do or see: We like museums of all kinds, maritime/age of sail stuff, secondhand bookstores, food of almost all kinds, beautiful scenery that doesn't involve long hikes, interesting neighborhoods, geeky and nerdy stuff, farmers' markets...for that matter, I wouldn't mind wandering around a community college if one happens to be nearby (we are community college professors ourselves). We'd love to have some great salmon and, even if it's not the right province, poutine and anything with maple in it. I hear that there's some great Chinese food in BC, and since we've moved to a bleak part of California that has virtually no regional Chinese food, might as well have some of that, too. Not looking for nightlife or fancy shopping. Less crowded destinations >>>> crowded scenic spots or busy downtowns. Cooler weather >>>> warmer weather. Where should we go?

Things to be aware of: We've travelled internationally before, but never to Canada or by car, and I've never been through a land border crossing. I read the advice on this recent question, and I'll get cash in advance. I have a Visa with no international fees and a chip. I have a GSM iPhone, which will be 0.30/minute voice and 0.30/mb data--which I guess means I won't be using Waze to navigate! What should I do instead? What else should I be aware of, particularly in terms of driving but also general US-Canada differences?

We're pretty excited about this, even if I won't get to see bagged milk in real life (there are 2 types of travellers in the world: the ones who think visiting grocery stores in different regions is SUPER FUN and the ones who fall asleep at the mere thought. Guess which one I am!). Thank you for any suggestions.
posted by wintersweet to Travel & Transportation around British Columbia (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
(oh, update: I'm reasonably sure my iPhone is unlocked, so it looks like I can get a SIM card from somewhere like Roam Mobility and use that for Waze and all!)
posted by wintersweet at 11:04 AM on May 8, 2016


(3 hours from Vancouver to Victoria?)

More like 4-5 hours. 3 hours is just the ferry. (Unless the ferry is faster now which is possible). So you have to factor in travel to and from the docks at either end.

Canada is huge. Like, really big. Really mindbogglingly huge. I'd suggest Portland -> Bellingham -> Van -> Vic -> Seattle.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:12 AM on May 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


You didn't put down a length of time you expected to be in BC, so it's hard to give an itinerary. You could spend a week in Vancouver or Victoria and do fine with your interests.

Tofino, Kelowna, Nelson, and the Sunshine Coast are all places that check off elements of what you're looking for and I've loved, but there's a bunch of driving getting from one to another and would not be "day trip" from Victoria or Vancouver kinds of trips - rather, trips you'd travel to, stay for a couple of nights, and then move on to your next spot.

We're pretty excited about this, even if I won't get to see bagged milk in real life (there are 2 types of travellers in the world: the ones who think visiting grocery stores in different regions is SUPER FUN and the ones who fall asleep at the mere thought. Guess which one I am!).

Why not VRBO/AirBnB where you get a full kitchen and the capacity to live out your bagged milk dreams? The container for it costs about $2 at any local dollar store and the house you rent may even have one in stock.
posted by scrittore at 11:34 AM on May 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


Some suggestions - Bellingham, visit the Village Bookstore. It's in Fairhaven surrounded by beautiful Federal-era buildings nice shops and yummy restaurants. Eclipse, a second-hand bookstore, is nearby a few blocks away. While you are there, take a stroll on the Taylor Street dock (a pedestrian bridge that's a circle really, takes you on the waters and brings you back on land a few blocks farther). Insider tip, do this as the sun is setting, it's beautiful there.

In Vancouver McLeod's and Pulp Fiction are terrific second-hand bookstores to browse in. For easy access to nature I recommend Lynn Suspension bridge in North Vancouver (free) or Capilano Suspension bridge a few miles further (paid attraction).

Grouse Mountain gondola will whisk you to the top of Grouse Mountain, where you can walk around, enjoy your own lunch, a pub lunch or superb restaurant food in the lodge. If you would like to drive to Whistler, there's another gondola on the way, the Sea to Sky, which offers splendid views of Howe Sound and little islands within (as well as the Sunshine Coast)
posted by seawallrunner at 11:58 AM on May 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


Ah, sorry. The length of time kind of depends on the cost of accommodations. At least 3 days, but hopefully 5 or so? Could be longer if we find cheap good places to stay!
posted by wintersweet at 12:45 PM on May 8, 2016


I think you should forgo Vancouver and just go straight to Victoria (the ferry leaves from quite near the border). Maritime, less busy, Farmer's Markets, etc sounds more like Victoria than Vancouver to me. Spend a few days in the city, then drive up the coast past Spoke and spend some time on the ocean. You can return via other ferries directly to the USA.

Alternately, spend a few days in Vancouver around False Creek (maritime museum, Granville Island market, Farmer's Markets) and then take the ferry up to the Sunshine Coast to Gibson's for a day (very maritime).

With 3-5 days and a preference to have a home base, I'd avoid trying to do Victoria and Vancouver in one trip. Both Vancouver and Victoria have community colleges, both are beautiful, have good food, etc. Very different: Vancouver is a big city, Victoria is as mid sized city, but both are nice to visit.

I wouldn't try to go anywhere else in BC in such a short time frame (my area is beautiful, but you aren't going to drive 11 hours to get here).
posted by ssg at 1:19 PM on May 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


I downloaded the here map app which allows you to download sections and navigate offline. Google maps does this too, I think.

If you've got Verizon, they now have a flat $2/day Canada plan.
posted by rtha at 2:01 PM on May 8, 2016


"Community college" means a bit of a different thing in the US than here, even overlooking the whole private "college" debacle. (Van has the larger and more prestigious UBC to check out, Vic has the much more walkable UVic, if those interest.)

I concur with ssg except I'd go to Vancouver. I lived in Victoria for a bit. It is not without its charms, but Vancouver has a LOT more to look at and do. The joke about Victoria is that it is "the only old age home with a bus route." You can also see an awful lot in Vancouver just wandering around whereas some of the destination destinations in/near Victoria require a good drive "up-island." OTOH, if you like driving, the Malahat is a spectacular (albeit slightly scary) highway.

Do you want to see a big city or do you want to see a nice middling-sized town...? I would argue that Victoria is short on "interesting neighbourhoods." You can walk around the downtown in a day and then you're pretty much done vis-a-vis interesting neighbourhoods.

(If you end up in Victoria please at least dash into a supermarket and treat yourself to a tub of "Island Farms" cottage cheese. It took me over a year after leaving to be able to eat non-island cottage cheese again; it all tasted like it had gone slightly bad and like the container it comes from. The island has really good dairy products for some reason...)
posted by kmennie at 3:00 PM on May 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Seems like Victoria has pretty cheap lodging, so feel free to respond based on a 7-day visit staying in Victoria and in Vancouver.

If we do wind up doing just one, it's OK; we can do the other on a future visit. And maybe some day we'll live in the PNW and can explore a lot more.
posted by wintersweet at 3:13 PM on May 8, 2016


It depends on your personality and planned activities, but a week in Victoria sounds very long unless you're planning to do a bunch of full-day activities. I was there for about 7 days for a conference a few years ago, and with only one full day free plus a few hours exploring in the evenings, I really felt like I'd seen everything that interested me there before the end of the week. It was beautiful and I'm happy I went, but there's really not a lot of stuff to do there.

I went to Vancouver for 4 or 5 days after that, with only two half-day activities preplanned (Grouse Mountain ziplining and hiking at Lynn? Canyon, which were both great), and there's so much stuff I didn't have time to do. I'll definitely go back there when I can. Victoria.... eh, maybe when I retire in 4 or so decades.

So in your case (with a week) I would probably suggest visiting Victoria for 2-3 days and Vancouver for the rest of the week, but if you have to pick one, I'd definitely go with Vancouver unless you have a specific thing drawing you to Victoria.
posted by randomnity at 3:51 PM on May 8, 2016


If you can land a full week, I'd suggest lining it up to spend thu-sun in Van, and then mon-wed in Vic, to take advantage of better nightlife options and general eventy kinda stuff.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:36 PM on May 8, 2016


However if three days is your only option, pick one or the other.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:37 PM on May 8, 2016


It's been years since I've been to either place, but Victoria is the provincial capital and has an excellent provincial museum, the Butchart Gardens, and there are ferries directly back to the US (Washington State Ferry to Anacortes, not far off the freeway north of Seattle) or the Black Ball to Port Townsend (on the Olympic Peninsula, lovely but a somewhat longer drive to Seattle).

You can also drive up the west coast of Vancouver Island to Tofino/Uclulet (which were sleepy little fishing towns when last I was there, and have grown) and Pacific Rim National Park. Probably more than a day trip, though.
posted by lhauser at 6:23 PM on May 8, 2016


If you're going to Seattle after Van/Vic, may I suggest driving Portland to Port Angeles (along the coast and through Olympic park if you're inclined, I-5 and 101 if you're not), and getting the Coho to downtown Victoria. After a few days here, you can get the BC Ferries ship to the mainland and hit up Vancouver, after which you'd just barrel down the highway to Seattle.

I suggest that order, as directly travelling between Victoria/Seattle with a car is kind of awkward - you either backtrack through Vancouver, or take the Anacortes ferry (Washington State ferries) which will flake out in even slightly rough weather, and only travels once a day. I may be biased, as that boat and I have a history...

Victoria is quiet so long as you stay of the main tourist strip, which is part of why I live here. I work at the college, so memail me if you want any info on it.
posted by bethnull at 6:29 PM on May 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Actually the ferry trip from Tsawwassen (Vancouver) to Swartz Bay (Victoria) is 90 minutes. It's a 30 minute drive to downtown Victoria. The ferry crossing has never ever taken three hours.
posted by My Dad at 6:41 PM on May 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


If you can find a bed and breakfast in Victoria's James Bay neighbourhood (that's where I live) it would be ideal. It's within easy walking distance to downtown, there are grocery stores and so on, and it's like one big park surrounded by ocean.

The Coho Ferry idea is a good one, as is the Anacortes Ferry.
posted by My Dad at 6:43 PM on May 8, 2016


Lhauser, regrettably it is not possible to drive up the West Coast of Vancouver Island to Tofino - the West Coast Trail is in the way, as are a few major river crossings and the Alberni Arm fjord. The only way to Tofino is via Highway 4 from Parksville through Port Alberni. Sorry.
posted by seawallrunner at 7:39 PM on May 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Um, minor quibble but bagged milk is an Eastern Canadian thing. (West Coasters, correct me if I'm wrong.)
posted by bluebelle at 7:54 PM on May 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Anacortes ferry (Washington State ferries) which will flake out in even slightly rough weather, and only travels once a day. I may be biased, as that boat and I have a history...

I've done Friday Harbor to Anacortes at least a couple dozen times without trouble. But I could see the Vancouver stop being a problem, and a ferry that runs once a day... Let's say the Friday Harbor run is a pain in the ass and it runs a lot more than once a day.
posted by wotsac at 9:10 PM on May 8, 2016


I would suggest going to Victoria - it's quaint and fairly quiet and lots to do. Very touristy and relaxing. There are a lot of museums, 'chinatown', scenic drives, beautiful parks .... lots to do in a week.
Vancouver is nice - but expensive. And time consuming to get around. (I live in Vancouver, but have lived in Victoria too).
posted by what's her name at 9:23 PM on May 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


We had bagged milk in Vancouver up until the 90's, then everything was in tetrapacks.

If you have a car, the drive up to Lilooet is amazing; we did it as a day trip from Vancouver and back taking some of the Gold Rush Trail. Great geology, lots of interesting spots to stop for a few minutes.

The ferry to Victoria is rather expensive, and there's an hour+ drive to get to it on either side. However, if you do go to the Island, the 'old highway' is a gorgeous drive up the Eastern coast, and if you feel the need for speed, the new interior Highway 19 is a great drive (I took the 'old highway' up to Campbell River from Nanaimo, ~ 4 hours and the 'new highway' back down, ~1 hour - really!)..
posted by porpoise at 10:35 AM on May 9, 2016


We had bagged milk in Victoria when I was a kid 30-40 years ago. Not just an East Coast thing. Victoria is probably the most bang for your tourist buck. It's no longer quite as quaint as it used to be, either, thanks to a growing tech economy that is attracting upscale shops and eateries downtown.
posted by My Dad at 2:54 PM on May 9, 2016


If anyone happens to drop by this later, I'm still looking for specific places to go/see/eat, general US-Canada advice, and timing suggestions (and also, since it looks like it got lost in the wall of text above: we have zero interest in nightlife and vastly prefer less crowded places and events). Thanks for the suggestions so far!
posted by wintersweet at 12:38 PM on May 22, 2016


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