The Perfect Base for Adventure Lovers
The town of Port Alberni sits near the center of Vancouver Island. About two and a half hours by car from Victoria, it is a gateway to the west coast of the island, including the popular tourist towns of Tofino and Ucluelet.
But Port Alberni is more than just a town you drive through. Recently, the Alberni Valley has been reinventing itself with new businesses and a focus on tourism. To us, it is the heart of Vancouver Island and deserves a trip all of its own.
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Our trip to Port Alberni begins with a flavour-filled breakfast at one of the town’s most beloved restaurants: Boomerangs Café. This spot promises “We’ll keep you coming back!” and their family-run atmosphere and familiar staff make us realize why.
We order the traditional breakfast and eggs benedict, and love the perfectly seasoned and crispy hashbrowns. We quickly realize we will need to stop back in to try their traditional Australian fare for dinner some day.
Feeling fueled up and ready for some exploring, we head over to the Alberni Valley Museum to learn more about the area’s history.
Whereas most museums store the majority of their artifacts where guests cannot see them, the Alberni Valley Museum uses a unique ‘Visible Storage’ system to make their entire collection available to their visitors at all times. The collection is vast and impressive, and highlights the area’s rich history of First Nations culture, industrial history and folk art.
We meander through its displays for hours and admire the handmade doll collection by John Halfyard and the life works of local craftsmen, Peter Szachiv.
We decide to hop in the car and take a quick drive west on the Pacific Rim Highway to visit the Ahtsik Native Art Gallery.
The Ahtsik Native Art Gallery is the home of Gordon Dick’s studio and carving shelter. Gordon is a Tseshaht/Nuu-chah-nulth artist and master carver who has been creating works as an artist for 27 years and opened this gallery in 2008.
Upon entering the gallery, we see Gordon working on a custom piece. He speaks to us about the traditional Nuu-chah-nulth style and how he uses his carving tools and techniques on the red and yellow cedar.
The gallery displays his works in all different stages along their journey. Each piece is unique, intricate, and stunningly beautiful.
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We head back into town and grab lunch at The Starboard Grill, which sits on the waterfront in Harbour Quay and has views of the Alberni Inlet, Vancouver Island’s largest ocean inlet.
The atmosphere here is casual and laid back. It feels like a great spot to sit down for lunch and meet up with some friends to chat over a few drinks.
The whole restaurant is filled with natural light and it feels very easy for us to sit back and enjoy our time there.
We take advantage of the restaurant’s fresh and locally caught seafood and order the candied salmon chowder and the cod and chips. We happily sit and sip on some local craft beers as we gaze out of the floor-to-ceiling glass walls.
Knowing that Port Alberni is surrounded by beautiful waterfalls, we head out to see our first one.
Kitsuksis Creek Trail is conveniently located right within the town’s downtown area. The majority of this trail is paved and intersects both Blair Park and Spencer Park with many amenities, including washrooms, playgrounds, picnic areas and a dog park.
We stroll along this easy trail and follow Kitsuksis Creek to its north end where we find a well-worn dirt path. As we walk into the woods, we are surprised by a forest of ivy-covered trees. And five minutes later we see the cascading Kitsuksis Creek Falls with a towering wooden trestle overhead.
We sit and enjoy the tranquility of this spot and listen to its rushing waters.
This is such an easy and enjoyable hike that is accessible to all skill levels and only takes us one hour to complete.
A day of exploring this town calls for some dinner and craft beers at Twin City Brewing. We head to this cozy and welcoming public house that sums up Port Alberni perfectly.
Twin City Brewing has a focus on community. Even the name represents this ideal. As the story goes, prior to 1967, Port Alberni was actually two separate municipalities. But when a tsunami came and wreaked havoc on both communities, they decided to come together to rebuild it, and Port Alberni became one.
The brewery’s focus on community is obvious as soon as we walk in the door. We chat with the staff who quickly begin to feel like friends. We ask for some food recommendations and they tell us about their on-site smoker and three-day fermentation process for their pizza dough.
We order the Crispy Chicken Wings (turns out they are perfectly crispy!) and a lineup of freshly stretched pizzas and pretzels.
The live beer menu displays many European-inspired flavours, each one with its own intriguing name. We realize the best way to experience it all is to order up some flights. Twin City’s beers are unassuming, easy to enjoy, and remind us of our time in Germany and England.
We thoroughly enjoy our night spent here and find it is the perfect combination of passionate people, community, high-quality food and tasty beer.
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We think a trip to Port Alberni is wasted without spending a few days exploring its varied craft breweries, restaurants, and outdoor adventures, so we happily check into our room at the Best Western Plus Barclay Hotel. This hotel is perfectly located in the downtown area, and as the largest full facility hotel in town, it offers all the amenities you need, including a restaurant, pub and liquor store.
We are quick to jump into our comfortable king-size bed and chat about our plans for tomorrow before falling off to sleep.
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We wake up refreshed and excited for all that is in store for us today. This is going to be one adventure-filled day!
We head down to the lobby of our hotel to the conveniently located Stamps Cafe. We love that this cafe opens at six in the morning so we can fuel up and get out adventuring as soon as possible.
We savour our eggs benedict and english muffin breakfast sandwich while surrounded by photography of local gems. It gives us even more inspiration for the places we want to explore.
We are blessed with a beautiful March day so we head back to Harbour Quay to ramble around its docks and shops. Being located right downtown, we notice that Harbour Quay is a gathering place for locals. We see folks gathering outside of donut shops and cafes looking quite content.
Coffees in hand, we stroll around the docks of the harbour and are blown away by the panoramic views of the Alberni Inlet and surrounding mountains of the Alberni Valley.
Harbour Quay is where community, industry and beauty merge, exhibiting a true sense of what this town is all about.
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Our bellies are calling out to us so we stop in for a light lunch and a drink at Alberni Brewing Company.
The newest of three craft breweries in Port Alberni, Alberni Brewing Co. opened its doors in 2021. The space is unapologetically West Coast with huge indoor and outdoor spaces filled with live-edge wood tables, fireplaces and modern British Columbian design.
The beer menu consists of the brewery’s core beers as well as some seasonal rotations. We order a flight and the flavours take us on a worldwide beer tour from a light Mexican lager to an Asian rice beer and a West Coast-style IPA.
The food menu is extensive and also borrows flavours from around the world. We order a spread of appetizers including Coconut Shrimp and Salt and Pepper Chicken Wings that accompany our beers perfectly.
It is very easy to spend hours here enjoying the atmosphere, chummy staff, and variety of local craft beers. We know this is a place we will return to time and time again.
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Feeling fully energized and ready for some adventure, we head out on our second waterfall hike to Weiner Falls. We begin with a 15-minute drive up the Pacific Rim Highway to find the cut off toward the trailhead marked with a handmade “Weiner Falls” sign. This trail is easily accessible by a decommissioned logging road and the entrance to it is right across from Sproat Lake Landing.
The locals have made the trail easy to find and follow, with orange blazes and inukshuks all along the path. Once we get to the waterfall we see there is a rope section that allows us to scramble down to the base of Weiner Falls. As advanced hikers, we carefully make our way down the muddy and rocky hill.
It is quite an impressive view from the bottom of the falls. And we are very satisfied with our choice to wear waterproof gear as this waterfall is absolutely raging in the spring. We then notice we can also hike up to the top of the waterfall by taking a fairly easy and safe path. The top of the waterfall provides a beautiful perspective of this magical place.
The entire hike is under four kilometres and is an enjoyable, mostly easy, one-hour round trip.
After adventuring all over the Alberni Valley we are so excited to visit Port Alberni’s third craft brewery, Dog Mountain Brewing.
As we are led up to its giant rooftop patio we immediately catch a super fun and chill vibe. It actually reminds us of the lively rooftop patios in Nashville. Up top we get vast views of the Alberni Inlet and the valley’s surrounding mountains. And because this view faces west, it’s also a killer sunset spot.
We sit down in the patio’s year-round covered and heated section and decide to nosh on some pre-dinner chips with housemade pice de gallo and freshly made guacamole while perusing the beer menu.
Dog Mountain Brewing crafts its beers with premium ingredients and blends traditional and non-traditional techniques to create its own spin on classic beers. We settle on the Red Yeti, which is a smooth and slightly sweet red ale with notes of caramel, and the Leaving Tsunami Hazard Zone IPA and love its citrusy flavour.
Dog Mountain Brewing’s mission has been to build a hidden gem, sought out by lovers of local craft beer and delicious, hand-crafted food that showcases the beauty of the Alberni Valley. Its gorgeous patio, fresh food, and casual beers have definitely shown us that they have achieved their mission.
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Having teased our appetite, we opt for dinner and head over to the most iconic restaurant in Port Alberni, Little Bavaria. Little Bavaria has deep roots in this town and has been serving traditional German food since 1966. It is a true icon here and every resident has a story to tell about it.
We walk into an intimate, cozy and romantically lit restaurant, and are greeted by multiple staff members, including the owner. Everyone is so welcoming — they all seem genuinely happy for us to be there.
The restaurant offers a large menu with plenty of German and European food options. We are happy to see so many platters, which allow us to sample all of their specialties. Their goulash soup, schnitzel, and cabbage rolls are the ultimate comfort foods, and we can tell everything is made with love — by the same chef that has been there for 40 years!
This deliciously comforting German food has put us in the perfect state of mind to head back to our hotel and relax a while before heading to bed.
Sweet treats for both the eyes and the stomach!
For our last morning in Port Alberni we decide to treat ourselves to a sweet breakfast at Ironworks Café & Crêperie. The cafe is so bright, fresh and modern; it’s an excellent way to start off the day.
The menu has a huge variety of savoury and sweet Belgian-style crêpes, and even includes vegan and keto options. We choose the lemon coconut swirl and peanut butter banana crêpes and pair them with lattés made with locally roasted coffee.
We are thrilled to learn that there are multiple Ironworks locations all over Vancouver Island including Duncan, Nanaimo and Ladysmith. This definitely means there will be more crêpes in our future.
We are so ready to hit up our final waterfall of the trip! We open up our map and begin driving toward the China Creek Falls trailhead.
This trail is accessed by taking an active logging road so we plan ahead to ensure it is usable today. Just outside of the downtown area, we drive two kilometres up Franklin River Road where we find the trailhead marked with a wooden sign reading “trail.”
The entire hike follows beautiful China Creek which is crystal clear with a vibrant turquoise colour. There are plenty of spots to stop and hang out near the shore. We can see how popular this place could be in the summer as there are many places to jump in and swim.
We find most of the hike to be quite easy until we get closer to the waterfall where there are some rope sections, scrambling, and steep areas.
Once we finally come to the waterfall we are totally blown away. The entire scene looks like something that came out of a fairy tale. We think it is absolutely one of the most beautiful waterfalls we have seen on Vancouver Island.
The entire hike takes us about one hour to complete (2.7 kilometres out and back) with lots of time to sit and enjoy the waterfall. The trail is completely beautiful from start to finish and it was the perfect way to end our trip.
As we finish off another ale-venture, we drive away from Port Alberni with a better sense of what makes Vancouver Island truly special. This town exhibits what we cherish the most: passion, community, and heart.
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The Alberni Valley is called the “real west coast” because you’ll find a variety of outdoor activities here, including hiking, fishing and boating, windsurfing, zip lining, mountain climbing, mountain biking and more.
The Alberni Inlet is a long narrow arm of the ocean that travels inland from Barkley Sound, excellent for both freshwater and saltwater fishing. Just north of Port Alberni is Stamp River, with incredible Chinook and steelhead fishing. In late summer, over half a million salmon spawn near the Stamp River Hatchery, making it a favourite for local black bears (and bear watching!). Sproat Lake is great for rainbow trout fishing, and features the famous Mars Water Bombers. Or, if you’re keen on kayaking or diving, try Barkley Sound, home to the Broken Group of Islands, a series of islands and reefs.