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The Sunshine Coast: Canada's Most Underrated Destination

I just can’t figure out why British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast isn’t better known to tourists.

It’s blessed with natural beauty in the form of rugged beaches and lush rainforest, the towns are charming, the people are super friendly and welcoming, there is so much to do, and it is within day tripping distance from Vancouver.

It just doesn’t make sense.

The Sunshine Coast, BC comprises a string of towns on a secluded stretch of coastline that is carved out with secluded bays and inlets. Sandwiched between the Strait of Georgia and the formidable Coast Mountains, the Sunshine Coast can only be reached by sea plane or ferry from Vancouver and Vancouver Island.

Despite being so close to the big city, the Sunshine Coast retains a very laid-back vibe which has attracted a lot of disillusioned city dwellers craving the simple life to move there. Can’t say I blame them.

Beach fort on the Sunshine Coast BC

I first visited the Sunshine Coast in 2010 when I was travelling through the US and Canada for nine weeks. I had just said goodbye to Trav on Vancouver Island and had a couple of days before I was meeting up with my Dad in Seattle.

I had heard a bit about the Sunshine Coast from when we lived in Vancouver in 2009 and as we had never made it there, I thought it would be the perfect place to spend a couple of days.

Turns out it was. I ended up falling for the Sunshine Coast, and hard.

In my short two day visit I explored the small community of Roberts Creek by bike and experienced the local CreekDaze festival, I hiked in local Provincial Parks, and wandered the seaside town of Gibsons. I loved it all. Two days was simply not enough. I have been plotting a return ever since.

It wasn’t in my plans to re-visit the Sunshine Coast on this trip but I had found myself trying to fit it into my already packed schedule. But it didn’t seem possible until my plan to do a Help Exchange in Alaska fell through. Suddenly I had two weeks to play with until I would be starting a newly arranged Help Exchange placement in the Rockies.

I guess destiny stepped in. I was meant to return to the Sunshine Coast, and sooner rather than later.

Sechelt on the Sunshine Coast BC

Staying at Up the Creek Backpackers in Roberts Creek

Staying at Up the Creek Backpackers was a big part of why I loved the Sunshine Coast so much the first time around so it was a no-brainer to stay there again.

Located in the small community of Roberts Creek, my favourite town on the Sunshine Coast BC, Up the Creek is one of those rare hostels where you instantly feel like you have come home.

Located on a hill above Roberts Creek town centre (if you could call it that), Up the Creek is small and cosy with a large common area, well-equipped guest kitchen and a deck with hammocks for lounging in.

It feels a lot more like a well-loved home than a backpackers and therein lies its charm. I was given the exact same bed in the same dorm that I was in five years ago. It gave me major deja-vu. It was great.

Up the Creek attracts a wide range of guests including young families and older travellers, mainly due to the location as people certainly do not come to Roberts Creek to party.

During my time there I befriended a blogging couple from Scotland, a French aspiring artist, a middle aged male yoga teacher, a friendly guy from Vancouver and his teenage son and the owner of the hostel himself, Martin.

I think that the best kind of hostels have a diversity of guests. In my opinion it’s a lot more fun when you get the chance to meet people of different ages and backgrounds that are all in different stages of their lives.

There is so much you can learn from other people and the more diverse the better.

Beautiful Roberts Creek, BC

Nestled in close proximity to the sea and surrounded by the beautiful temperate rainforest that I can’t seem to get enough of, Roberts Creek could well be one of Canada’s most pretty towns.

But it isn’t just pretty, Roberts Creek is home to a vibrant community of ageing hippies, back to landers, young families and travellers that have found their perfect base to settle down.

The community spirit is palpable with a notice board outside the General Store crowded with flyers advertising local yoga classes and live music. 

Downtown Roberts Creek on the Sunshine Coast BC

This alternative haven is full of charm with it’s attractive red wooden shops including the best restaurant on the coast: The Gumboot. This place serves up some killer meals and the staff are so friendly. There is also a cafe of the same name that does great coffee and baked goods.

I loved that hardly anything had changed in Roberts Creek during my five year gap between visits. It is still quiet and friendly. It is still beautiful and delightfully under-developed. And I have a feeling it will stay that way, especially if the locals have anything to do with it.

The Gumboot Restaurant in Roberts Creek on the Sunshine Coast BC

On this trip I explored more of the Sunshine Coast but my favourite memories were from the time I spent in Roberts Creek. Relaxing in the sunshine on the deck of Up the Creek, browsing and sampling the local products at the small but popular farmers market, swimming in the clear waters of the Strait of Georgia at Marlene beach, watching the sunset from the walkable pier.

I was also lucky enough to be in Roberts Creek for a meteorite shower. Usually I only find out about things like this after they have happened but for once I actually had warning and a couple of us ended up getting up at 2.30am to go down to the pier to watch it.

We gazed up at the night sky and watched the meteorites in wonder for two hours, seeing an average of one per minute.

Roberts Creek was such a great place to experience it as there is little light pollution. It was pretty special and worth being tired the whole next day for.

This little town really grew on me, even more so this time around. Looking back I realise I hardly took any photos of Roberts Creek and the hostel. I must have been too busy having fun.

A Quiet Day Out to Davis Bay, BC

Up the Creek has free loaner bikes for guests so I took one for a spin to the nearby blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town of Davis Bay. The ride itself was along the forested highway, mainly on a daisy lined bike path that parallels the road. There’s nothing like riding a bike through natural surroundings on a sunny summer’s day.

Blessed with a beautiful long rocky beach, Davis Bay is the perfect spot for a swim and to sit with a book. I grabbed some fresh cherries from a local fruit vendor and parked myself on a bench to while away some time in the sun.

Lunch was delicious fish tacos from a food truck that was pulled up in front of the beach. It was a simple day out but it was a goodie.

Davis Bay wharf on the Sunshine Coast BC

Exploring the Lower Sunshine Coast’s Largest Town, Sechelt

Sechelt is the biggest town on the Sunshine Coast BC, and as I missed it the first time around I made sure to get there this time. The downtown itself was nothing special in my opinion. It lacked the charm of nearby GIbsons and Roberts Creek, although I had an awesome lunch of blue cheese and pear pizza with corn chowder at Ty’s Fine Foods and Bistro.

I browsed the shops before heading down to the beach which ended up being my favourite part of Sechelt. There is a selection of totem poles at the southern end of the beach that are worth checking out.

Lunch in Sechelt on the Sunshine Coast BC Sechelt totems on the Sunshine Coast BC

From Sechelt I walked in the sweltering heat the four kilometres to Porpoise Bay Provincial Park on the edge of Sechelt Inlet. This was probably not my brightest idea. My God it was hot and I didn’t have any water with me. The last section I walked along the quiet coastline, dodging boggy sections along the way.

Swimming at the white sand beach backed by the second-growth forest of the Provincial Park was worth the long, hot walk. Luckily I didn’t have to walk the whole way back, a friendly local took pity on me and gave me a lift back into town.

Walking to Porpoise Bay on the Sunshine Coast BC Beach at Porpoise Bay on the Sunshine Coast BC

Marveling at Nature’s Power at the Skookumchuck Narrows

My last day on the Sunshine Coast was probably my favourite and turned out to be completely different than I had planned. Originally I was going to head back to Gibsons but instead I was invited by fellow backpackers Kevin and his son Matthias to come with them to see the Skookumchuck Narrows rapids.

The Skookumchuck Narrows forms the entrance to Sechelt Inlet and the rapids are created by 200 billion gallons of sea water being forced through the narrows on each tide. It is one of the fastest tidal rapids in the world. And I had never even heard of it.

We drove the hour north to Skookumchuck Narrows Provincial Park near the small settlement of Egmont, timing it to get there for the incoming tide.

After parking up, it was a 45 minute hike through the quiet of a morning forest to the viewpoint over the rapids. They were certainly impressive with many eddies and whirlpools that could suck a person down in a second if you were unfortunate enough to fall in.

Kayakers are known to ride the rapids but there weren’t any around during the hour we were there. In fact, we were also the only people at the viewpoint for the first twenty minutes until others slowly trickled in.

Hiking to Skookumchuck Narrows on the Sunshine Coast BC Skookumchuck Narrows on the Sunshine Coast BC

The West Coast Wilderness Lodge is located nearby and we went in for a peek before leaving Egmont. If I come back to the coast next time with significantly more money, I know where I am staying!

West Coast Wilderness Resort on the Sunshine Coast BC

Swimming at Ruby Lake

On the way back to Roberts Creek we stopped at the sublime Ruby Lake, one of many lakes that dot the interior of the Sunshine Coast BC making lake swimming a popular summer activity in these parts. If I was only going to see one lake on this trip then I was glad it was Ruby Lake.

With a small white sand beach and super clear water that was just cold enough to be refreshing but warm enough to stay in for ages, Ruby Lake was a great spot to spend a couple of blissful hours.

Ruby Lake on the Sunshine Coast BC

And then my time on the Sunshine Coast was over, all too soon. I could have stayed for weeks.

This visit re-affirmed my love for the understated charms of the Sunshine Coast in BC, an overlooked region that is truly blessed with abundant natural beauty and locals so friendly that you will never want to leave.

I will be back, and sooner rather than later.

Have you been to the Sunshine Coast? Did you love it as much as me?

The Best Travel Insurance for your Sunshine Coast Trip

Make sure you get travel and health insurance before your Sunshine Coast trip, just to be on the safe side. Safety Wing is my go-to and they are cheap and easy to claim with. 

Safety Wing also allows you to sign up when you are already traveling, unlike a lot of other travel insurance providers.

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27 Comments on The Sunshine Coast BC: Canada’s Most Underrated Destination?

  1. Make sure to get a boat ride over to Buccaneer Bay which is a nice sandy beach and where a limited # camp sites are available on the North Thormanby island. You can get a water taxi from either Secret Cove Marina or from one of the Mercers who run Buccaneer Marina.

  2. Unfortunately one has to mortgage their first born to afford the rates BC ferries charge ,so those areas will likely stay relatively people free , much to the delight of the locals .

  3. I absolutely agree, especially when you consider the upper Sunshine Coast in this equation. The Powell River region boasts the 180km Sunshine Coast Trail (with awesome hut-to-hut hiking), the sandy beaches of Savary Island, the warm waters and majestic scenery of Desolation Sound (sea kayaking!), world-class rock climbing, a canoe route and so much more. There is also an increasing variety of great eateries as well as Townsite Craft Brewery. Festivals, culture, music – so much to offer and only getting better each year! Perhaps I am a little biased – but I have done my share of traveling and the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia is definitely worthy! Thanks for your blog. Happy travels.

    • I wish I could have made it up to the Upper Sunshine Coast and Savary Island – I couldn’t afford the bus this time round unfortunately but will get there no matter what next time. You may be bias but I think you are right!

  4. You nailed it. My husband and I lived on the Coast (near Davis Bay) for over fifteen years. It is exactly as you described. Loved it there. We’re in Vancouver now, but still think of ourselves as ‘Coasters’ and go back as often as possible.

  5. I love the sunshine coast and miss it all the time. I’m a born and raised coaster didn’t leave till I was 19 and one day I hope to go back and show my kids the beauty and amazement of the place

  6. I grew up in Robert’s Creek and totally agree it is an amazing town. I love going back, and I’m always surprised more people don’t visit. In the summer it’s one of the nicest places on the Pacific Coast.

  7. I’ve been to the Sunshine Coast. In fact I’ve lived in both Sechelt and Gibsons. Tourists don’t know much about the coast and inhabitants like it that way. I’ve made the decision to move back to Ontario because of family and looking at your photos caused pangs in my stomach. Wish I could go back and live there again.

  8. I’m a Brit that moved to Vancouver around 5 years ago. This summer I purchased my first Canadian home in Gibsons, the best decision I ever made. After 5 years of the city I was DONE!!! I needed that small community feel that i missed from home.

    The Sunshine Coast has not disappointed. In my first weekend on being here I saw a bear, wolf and a bald eagle to name a few. More wildlife than I had seen in 5 years in the city.

    Whether it is taking a walk along the beach, wandering the rainforest, swimming the lake, watching the sunset or making a fire the coast never disappoints.

    I think when they were coming up with the tag line for BC “Beautiful British Columbia” they must have been staying on the Sunshine Coast. If you ever need someone to lay your head please don’t hesitate to ask.

    • I bet it was your best decision Nick – I would love to live on the Sunshine Coast, just got to get to Canada first so if you know anyone that wants to sponsor a kiwi for a job in tourism (or anything!!) let me know and I will happily be your neighbour 🙂

  9. Well, Dirk Becker from Errington BC on Vancouver Island asked “And how would burning garbage there affect your “ratings?”, since our community is earmarked to host one of the Metro Vancouver garbage incinerators, along with Nanaimo.

    It is also a little known fact, that several years ago, when Zero Waste Canada was launched, it’s birthplace just happened to also be The Sunshine Coast BC.

    This place is our home. It is special for a reason. Air quality, public health, tourism and property values will all be negatively affected, if one of Metro Vancouver regional government’s garbage incinerators gets built at Port Mellon, on the Sunshine Coast.

    ” Zero Waste Canada, an eco-advocacy group based on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast, estimates that Canadians go through six million rolls of tape, 28 million natural trees, and 250,000 tonnes of plastic packaging every Christmas.” says Barbara Hetherington director at Zero Waste Canada.

    Let’s keep the Sunshine Coast special and clean!

    • I’m not surprised at all that the Sunshine Coast was home to Zero Waste Canada and that is terrible that it is earmarked to host an incinerator. I’m sure the community is coming together to fight it, if there is a petition that I can sign, please let me know

  10. I have and I was lucky enough to meet you there! It truly is one of the spots with the best vibes that I’ve ever been to. I went back to Gibsons a few weeks ago and the snow was on the mountains, the sunset was pink, just a dream! As Arnie says, we’ll be back (permanently?!) Great post, left me feeling all warm and fuzzy.

  11. The province is considering building a bridge to replace the ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Langdale, creating easy car access to the Lower Sunshine Coast. There goes the neighborhood!
    BTW, there is also an Upper Sunshine Coast – you take another ferry from Earls Cove (north of the Egmont turnoff) to Saltery Bay. We’d be happy to welcome you to Powell River 🙂

    • Oh no! I hope that doesn’t happen as I imagine it would change it so much. I would love to get to the upper Sunshine Coast, unfortunately I couldn’t afford the expensive bus this time around ut DEFINITELY next time

  12. You’ve only seen half the Sunshine Coast. One more ferry ride would have taken you to the Upper Sunshine Coast which offers a whole different experience, including the 180 km long Sunshine Coast Trail complete with 13 free huts to stay in no reservations required!

    • I know, I would have loved to get up to Powell River – in fact that was my original plan – but I just couldn’t afford the expensive bus to get there on my backpacker budget. I will definitely get up there next time – even if I have to hitch

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