At approximately 32,000 square kilometers and 460 km in length, Vancouver Island off the southern coast of British Columbia is five times the size of Prince Edward Island with a population four times greater.
BC's capital, Victoria, (population 370,000 in Greater Victoria area) is the largest city on the island but there are six other cities as well — and no, Vancouver is not one of them — plus a countless towns, villages, and regional districts up and down the island.
While PEI is flatly beautiful, Vancouver Island has a rugged beauty thanks to a craggy spine of steep mountain peaks.
So how come few people east of the Rockies know Vancouver Island even exists?
This came as a shock to us on recent trips across the country. But I'm not here as an ambassador, only to tell you about my favourite restaurants on this island, from Sidney on its southern tip to Campbell River 250 km to the north but only halfway up the island's east coast.
North of Campbell River the island is far less populated by humans but contains more wilderness and wildlife.
"Sidney by the Sea" is a beautiful town not far from the Swartz Bay ferry terminal. The town itself is easily walkable and brimming with little shops to explore and restaurants with patios to enjoy. If you walk very far you'll likely end up at a gorgeous park and a beach!
My favourite Sidney restaurants:
Fish on Fifth…
…was a wonderful surprise. From the outside it ressembles a small take-out restaurant which I was reluctant to try because I need to avoid gluten.
Inside is a different story. There were two rooms, bustling with happy diners and, when asked, the server produced a separate gluten free menu. Everything would be cooked separately from the regular menu items.
I was delighted with my perfectly prepared salmon and a delicious salad.
My only regret is that we don't live closer so I could go there more often!
Sea Glass Waterfront Grill…
We treated our granddaughter and her boyfriend to lunch at Sea Glass Waterfront Grill, overlooking Van Isle Marina. We all ordered something different and all enjoyed our meals in a lovely setting by the sea.
I had the Sea Glass Niçoise Salad, a delicious mix of Albacore tuna, grape tomatoes, Kalamata olives, green beans, sweet peppers, carrots, red onion and hard boiled Vancouver Island fresh eggs, dressed in a red wine vinaigrette. Yum! I can't recall now what the others had only that all of us ate with enthusiasm and left feeling satisfied.
Definitely worth a visit! Or two!
J J Morgan Family Restaurant…
is on McKenzie in the University Heights Shopping Centre. While I have been disappointed in their dinner menus in recent years, their Sunday brunch buffet is one of the best I've had in a long time. There is plenty of variety, from eggs, sausages, and ham to seafood, fruits and salads. And the bonus was a very knowledgeable server who pointed out which items were gluten free and safe to eat.
This can be a huge drawback to any restaurant buffet, without labels or an informed server it is difficult to know which items to eat and which to avoid.
What can I say about the Keg? it might be expensive but it's always good, whether you like steak, seafood, or a combination of both. We went to the one on Quadra for dinner and were not disappointed.
Breakwater Cafe . Bistro . Bar
Perched at the shore end of the breakwater that protects Victoria's busy harbour and the freighters, cruise ships, and smaller boats that tie up there, and with a stunning view across Juan de Fuca Strait to Washington State's Olympic Mountains, the Breakwater Cafe would be a perfect place to eat even if the food weren't so delicious!
If you don't want a sit down meal you can always get an ice cream cone to take with you on your half-mile stroll to the lighthouse at the far end of the breakwater.
Discovery Inn Restaurant, Campbell River
I'd forgotten how good the Greek Seafood Salad at the Discovery Inn, Campbell River, really is I until I had it again recently for lunch. OMG!
Bursting with flavour and not skimpy on the fresh, fat, perfectly cooked prawns and tasty little shrimp this is the best salad I've had in a long time! Maybe ever!
To make it gluten free I ordered it without pita bread or deep-fried calimari but the cook added extra shrimp to make up for what was missing. Lots of feta cheese, the perfect amount of dressing, it could not have been better!
Even without the pita, this salad was plenty for me, I struggled to finish it but didn't want to waste a bite!
Union Street Grill & Grotto, Courtenay
The Union Street Grill is on Fifth Street, go figure. I like it because it has good food, and a whole gluten free menu, separate from their regular menu.
Turtle Beach, Port Alberni
We drove to Port Alberni the last day of September, a beautiful sunny day, and went to the Turtle Beach Restaurant for oneour favourite lunches. It's located in the old Blue Marlin Inn. The cook makes their seafood chowder from scratch as you wait.
The first time I had it I thought it was too good to be true, filled with scallops, prawns, and chunks of salmon. Yum.
The bad news was that I felt so full the rest of the day and night that I thought I was going to be sick. That was before I discovered I can't eat gluten.
This time I asked if they could make it gluten free and to my delight they did! The bad news this time was that I really didn't enjoy it. There seemed to be a lot more chowder and a lot less seafood than I remember. And I found the chowder to be more like a paste than a thick soup. Maybe it's the gluten free version, I don't know, because Gary enjoyed his as much as ever. Next time, if there is a next time, I'll order a salad.
We recently enjoyed one of the best breakfasts ever in the restaurant of the Best Western, Westerley in Courtenay, we've been there before and have yet to be disappointed. Their Great Bear Rainforest coffee is always excellent, so rich and fresh tasting two cups go down way too fast!
As usual, I enjoyed the garden omelet including their gluten free house potatos so much I almost ate the whole thing! I think they get better every time!
Gary never liked eggs benedict, mainly because he never tried them, but one bite of the Westerley's west coast bennie, made with smoked salmon, and he's fallen in love with bennies!