What makes you smile? Our mission on this visit was to discover the warm feeling which emanates from Port Alberni, on the unceded territory of the Nuu-chah-nulth. Come along and find your smile here.
When I think about my happy places, what often comes to mind is the smile on the faces of friends and family who were with me, and the welcoming faces of locals I met. I recently spent a day in Port Alberni with Island locals Courtenay and Jerret, visiting a few smile-filled local businesses in and around a fun day outside.
With the natural beauty of Nuu-chah-nulth unceded territory on which Port Alberni now stands, it is easy to find that sense of place and connection. Time spent outdoors in such places is one of the roots of happiness. In a 2021 Nature Conservancy of Canada survey, 94 per cent of people surveyed said being outdoors helps relieve stress or anxiety.
In Port Alberni, your day outdoors may be spent fishing the salmon-filled rivers, visiting one of the many local waterfalls or maybe boating on Sproat Lake. Whatever you choose, this positive zen feeling makes room for a strong sense of happiness as the warmth and smiles of the locals who own, operate and work at local businesses bring the experience full circle.
Young or old, you can’t miss the bright, colourful Coombs Country Candy sign as you enter Port Alberni. This local landmark has “smile” written all over it. We were fascinated watching peanut brittle being made from scratch. With a huge selection of drinks, treats and even ice cream, we opted for some of their tasty chocolate bars for treats throughout the day.
Craft beer lovers will be pleased to know the craft brewery scene is alive and well in Port Alberni. In just the last few years, three unique and distinct breweries have come alive on the landscape thanks to passionate locals. Brewers Dog Mountain and Twin City both won awards at the Canadian Brewing Awards in September 2021. Jerret, who happens to be a fan of craft beer, mentioned, “There are so many great options in town now that I will need to visit more often.”
Our first stop was Alberni Brewing Co., the newest of the breweries just opened in spring 2021. Owner Heather Welsh welcomed us with a big smile into her West Coast-inspired, rejuvenated building that features wide open spaces and great patios. Courtenay and Jerret enjoyed their flights of beer and the already local favourite burgers.
After any great meal comes dessert, doesn’t it? Providing big smiles for over 25 years on Vancouver Island is the Donut Shop at Harbour Quay. Perched overlooking the Alberni Inlet, the Donut Shop is a must-do stop and has been rated the “Best Donuts on Vancouver Island” many times. Owner Jan has worked at the Donut Shop for 17 years and owned it for the last two.
“I’m not sure who loves watching donuts be made more,” Jan said, laughing, “the little kids or all the local fishermen who line up each morning for their daily treats.”
The big grins and maybe more than just one donut that Courtenay and Jerret each enjoyed clearly showed that they were aiming to be the next top customers. While down at the Donut Shop, be sure to walk around and take in all that the Harbour Quay has to offer: quaint shops, tasty treats and amazing views of the Alberni Inlet.
Another stop on the brewery experience was Twin City Brewing. Founder Aaron Colyn has done such an amazing job with his restaurant side of the business that his pizzas are as sought after as his brews. This is exactly why we were here, more specifically for the “beatnik” pizza. Courtney had a big smile after this treat saying, “this is probably the best vegetable pizza I have had yet.”
As the day passed us by and the sun began to drift lower over the inlet, the place to be for an evening was the rooftop patio of Dog Mountain Brewing. The rooftop patio is covered and heated, perfect for supper or maybe a quick pint. You can survey the entire region while you enjoy the majestic views. Owner Andy Richard chatted with us downstairs in the tasting room upon our arrival. Be sure to pop in and check out the brewery and maybe Andy will share with you why he thinks Port Alberni is the hidden gem worth discovering.
Remember that stop for candy bars we made at Coombs Candy? Well, it was now time to end the day, burn off those stops around town and hike to the top of the Alberni Lookout. This trail is a steady workout that follows a wooded trail off the gravel roads behind the Candy Store. The reward for the effort is the amazing sprawling view west over the Alberni Valley and the Alberni Inlet below. Water, forests and mountains as far as we could see stretched out in front of us. Rounding out a beautiful day in the city, Jerret reflected, “Every time I return to Port Alberni I discover something new! I definitely need to come here more often.”
WHEN YOU GO
- Half the adventure of visiting the Island is getting there! There are many ways to travel to Port Alberni, from car to plane to boat.
- Visit Harbour Quay on a Saturday to check out the Spirit Square Farmer’s Market, open year-round from 9 a.m. to noon.
- Make Port Alberni your base for hiking, wildlife and Indigenous culture experiences – read more on how to #ExplorePortAlberni.