Up the road (and one ferry ride later) from where I live in Gibsons is Powell River, a destination that beckons when I’m craving tacos from my favourite joint, Costa Del Sol.
Here, good eats are as plentiful as the peaks and lakes that surround this charming coastal area. With its easy access to outdoor adventures, laid-back pace, and increasingly diverse food scene, the Northern Sunshine Coast is worth saving your appetite for.
Read on to plan your own food and drink-fuelled adventure on the Sunshine Coast.
Fuel up with 32 Lakes Coffee and Paddleboard on Powell Lake
Although Powell River is home to miles of oceanfront, its lakes are one of this coastal city’s best-kept secrets. They range from small fishing holes where you can cast a line into quiet waters to the massive, inlet-like Powell Lake, home to a full-scale boat launch and marina. My favourite way to explore any body of water is by paddleboard, and in Powell River, you’ll want to head to Mowat Bay, a small arm of Powell Lake known for its calm waters, sandy beach, and stunning mountain views. It’s fitting then to start your pre-paddleboard adventure with a caffeine hit from 32 Lakes Cafe and Bakery—which takes its name from the many (32, in fact) bodies of freshwater surrounding Powell River and the qathet Regional District. This bright, airy cafe is located along Powell River’s main drag and stocks single origin coffee, which you can sample in drip or pour over form. Grab a cup of coffee and a freshly baked croissant to enjoy on the sunny sidewalk patio before picking up your SUP rentals from Mitchell’s Canoe, Kayak & SUP or Palli Palli Adventure Rentals for an afternoon of tranquil gliding along the lakeshore.
Tip: grab a loaf of sourdough bread from the bakery, then head around the corner to the Chopping Block to stock up on charcuterie and cheeses for a do-it-yourself mid-paddleboard snack.
Wander Powell River’s Waterfront and Sample the Tacos at Costa Del Sol
I like to stretch my legs before any meal, and there’s nowhere more scenic in Powell River to stroll than its waterfront. The popular Powell River sea walk will take you along a portion of the town’s waterfront via an easy 2.8-kilometre out-and-back route which offers views of Powell River’s closest islands—Texada, Harwood, and Savary—along with harbour seals, birds, and other marine life. You can also make your way on foot to Willingdon Beach, a scenic waterfront park and campsite that is home to a concession (read: ice cream), playground, and picnic tables where you can stop and admire the coastal views. Drink in the scenery here before you make your way up the road to my favourite view in Powell River—the flowering purple wisteria, which blooms in spring and hangs above the front porch patio of Costa Del Sol, which houses all manner of edible and delicious things. Depending on the day, I might indulge in tacos (for me, it’s a toss up between the yam and crispy chicken), pineapple al pastor chicken wings, poblano fritos, or the “wet” burritos, so-called because they are slathered in two different sauces. Wondering what to drink? The margaritas, of course.
Fuel Up At at Magpie’s Diner, Then Hit the Mountain Bike Trails
Powell River is a mountain bike-obsessed community and for good reason: a series of trail networks, which intersect and link up with the world-famous, 180-kilometre hut-to-hut Sunshine Coast Trail, feature loamy, ribboned singletrack, well-graded gravel roads, and technical cross-country all set against a backdrop of lush forest, waterfalls, lakes, rivers, and ocean views. Take your pick: the Penticton Street Trails, known for their 30-kilometres of well-used trails and quirky signposts and trail names, or the Millenium Park Trails, home to old-growth trees and meandering creeks. As with any trail day, fuelling up beforehand is key. Magpie’s, located in the Cranberry Lake neighbourhood of Powell River, is a classic diner that serves up all day breakfast and hearty lunch dishes. They’re not shy with their portions either—evidenced by dishes like the fully loaded Magpie’s Big Breakfast or the California Triple Decker Club—both ideal for carb loading before a day of mountain biking.
Tackle the Tin Hat Hut Hike and Reward Yourself with Fried Chicken
The legendary Sunshine Coast Trail is a hut-to-hut trail system—the only one in Canada—that connects 180-kilometres of rugged mountains, dense forest, alpine lakes, wildflowers, rivers, and of course, huts. To traverse the entire trip, you’ll need at least five to seven days (and good outdoor gear) but for those who want just a taste, the hike to Tin Hat Hut only requires around six hours. The trail itself is an 18-kilometre loop and moderately challenging. The hut sits atop its namesake mountain, Tin Hat, and provides 360-degree views of the Coast Mountain Range, undulating valleys, and pristine lakes. The hike is challenging though not gruelling, and if you’re like me, you’ll want to reward yourself once you’re back at sea level. Enter: That Chicken Place. Here you can tackle a mountain of classic poutine, with house-cut fries smothered in a deeply rich gravy and topped with cheese curds, or a plate of crispy, gluten- and dairy-free dredged chicken. The portions are generous, but if you’re planning to hike the next day, let this be your excuse to dig in that much more. While this unassuming diner offers up scenery of its own (classic diner vibes, anyone?), you can always grab takeout and hit the beach for a classic—and delicious—Powell River doubleheader.
Get a Flight of Beers at Townsite Brewing and Watch a Movie at the Patricia Theatre
Powell River Historic Townsite was designated as a National Historic District in 1995 and is one of the few towns remaining intact from the early 1900s period. There are over 400 original buildings still standing—including the historic Patricia Theatre, Canada’s oldest, continuously operating movie theatre. You can still catch movies on a regular basis amid the theatre’s former splendour—which once stood as the cultural hub and focal point of Townsite. Now that cultural hub is shared with another institution: Townsite Brewing. As one of the first craft breweries on the Sunshine Coast, and Powell River’s only brewery, this lively community staple offers up fifteen beers on tap (including three rotating taps from other BC-based breweries and cideries). Townsite is the de facto gathering spot following any adventure in Powell River, but given that it’s steps from the Patricia Theatre, it makes an ideal spot for a pre-movie flight of beers.
Hungry? The Convenient Chef—a takeout and prepared meals joint—is located nearby, or you can wander over to the Townsite Grocery and Townsite Public Market to tide you over before you dig into a bag of popcorn.
Paddle the Powell Forest Canoe Route and Dine Oceanfront at The Seasider Bistro + Wine Bar + Patio
When it comes to wilderness canoeing, the Powell Forest Canoe Route is one of the finest journeys you can tackle in British Columbia. This 57-kilometre, eight-lake, five-portage journey takes you through the spectacular Powell River backcountry to clear lakes in sight of soaring, snow-capped mountains, and through forests thick with cedar, fir, and spruce trees. While you can opt for just a single-day trek, the entire route is well worth the effort and five days it takes to complete for the quiet solitude and peace it brings (thanks in part to the lack of cell phone reception available). But if you’re going to spend five days portaging through the Powell River wilderness, it’s essential to begin or end your adventure with a meal.
I like to head to The Seasider Bistro + Wine Bar + Patio which offers up views of a different kind. The restaurant’s expansive oceanfront patio is mere steps from the water’s edge and overlooks the Malaspina Strait where you can watch the drifts of clouds float past and look for whales in the distance. The patio’s fire pits and twinkling lights add to the already warm and lively ambience, and with its seaside location, the menu naturally features seafood, along with burgers and handhelds, plus an extensive drink menu that includes local craft beers and wines.
Sail Desolation Sound and Sample Fresh Seafood
The sheltered, warm waters of Desolation Sound Marine Park are considered by many boaters to be one of the top boating grounds in the world. There’s more than 6,350 acres of shoreline, and a sailing (or kayaking trip) rewards with unparalleled cruising through calm inlets, passages, bays, coves, and anchorages. The waters—some of the warmest north of Mexico, thanks to their tidal flow and well-protected geography—are ideal for mid-kayak or boat dips where you can alternate between lounging in the sun and splashing around in the water. And while these waters also hold an abundance of seafood, including oysters, clams, crabs, prawns, and salmon, there’s no need to cook over a hot stove while on vacation. Instead, head into Lund where menus celebrate the bounty of the sea. (There’s even an annual seafood festival.) The Laughing Oyster, aptly named for its seafood-centric dishes, features sprawling views of Okeover Inlet and dishes like freshly shucked oysters, barbequed wild salmon, garlic butter prawns, and more. Wash it down with a glass of BC wine and toast to the spectacular views before setting sail once more.
Find more Sunshine Coast itineraries.