Only a 40-minute ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay, the Sunshine Coast is a gorgeous 177-kilometre stretch of secluded coves, log-strewn beaches, freshwater lakes, verdant rainforest, moss-carpeted hiking trails and cute towns full of characters with fascinating histories.
So, it embarrasses me to admit that I haven’t visited since I was an arts reporter covering The New Beachcombers. That was 2002!
I had a lot of catching up to do during two recent long-weekend stays, especially now that the Sunshine Coast is basically the new Squamish – filling up fast with entrepreneurial young families who have been priced out of the Lower Mainland’s housing market. When not mountain biking in world-class adventure parks or fighting for spaces at overflowing daycares, the new-generation Coasters have been opening bistros, cafés, pubs and craft breweries at a pace that would make snarky old Relic’s jet boat look like a dinghy.
Molly’s Reach, which only became an operational restaurant after the beloved Beachcombers television series ended, is still up and running. I didn’t go. There are so many new places to explore, especially in Lower Gibsons, which will be barely recognizable after the new George Marine Resort & Residences are built.
When and if you go, I hope this eating and drinking guide comes in handy. I’ll be covering the Northern Sunshine Coast next week. While not exhaustive, it covers many new establishments and older favourites, all of which I dined at or drank at and can whole-heartedly recommend.
Drift Café and Bistro
546 Gibsons Way, Gibsons, B.C., 604-886-5858, drift-gibsons.ca
Locals might tell you that this bright, breezy, farm-to-table bistro with a picture-perfect patio overlooking the Salish Sea is out of the way. Don’t believe them. The walk from Gibsons Landing to the town’s original telegraph building is only five minutes up a gentle slope. Owned by husband-and-wife team of Stephanie Heins and Tim Bedford (the latter worked at Burnaby’s acclaimed Peartree Restaurant for six years and now teaches at Vancouver Community College), it boasts a seriously skilled kitchen that puts out fresh crowd pleasers (charcoal-grilled fish and meats, handmade pasta, quinoa bowls), garnished with excellent Japanese and South American flavours (including authentic leche de tigre) and as much local produce as possible.
Tapworks Brewing Company
537 Cruice Lane, Gibsons, B.C., 778-462-2337, gibsonstapworks.com
Tapworks wasn’t the first craft brewery in the South Sunshine Coast (that was Persephone Brewing Company, located in an idyllic farm setting closer to the Langdale ferry terminal). And it isn’t the newest (The 101 Brewhouse + Distillery is in Upper Gibsons). But this two-level tap room opened by three quirky rat-race refugees (a business-data analyst, an environmental scientist and a plumber) has a lot going for it: thirst-quenching, balanced brews (including the salty margarita kettle sour and zesty wild-ginger-infused blonde ale); lively entertainment (trivia, open mic and comedy nights); and a hopping rooftop patio lit up by twinkling lanterns.
442 Marine Dr., Gibsons, B.C., 778-462-2325, eatbuono.com
Perched above the boardwalk in Lower Gibsons with panoramic ocean views, this new Italian restaurant has big-city sleekness and celebrity lineage (executive chef and owner Mike Buono is the son of famed CFL coach Wally Buono). Go for the wood-fired pizzas, which pile lots of quality (if slightly untraditional) toppings on light, perfectly leopard-spotted Neapolitan-style dough. Stay for the craft cocktails, which continue to be executed at a high level after the departure of opening bar manager Rob Scope.
Sheer Bliss Bakery Café
1001 Gibsons Way, Gibsons, B.C.; 604-886-8500
Justly famous for its buttery ciabatta, this cozy bakery in Upper Gibsons also makes great dark-roasted espresso beverages (using Caffè Umbria beans) and boasts the friendliest service in town. Owners and life partners, chef Stephen Chan and artist Morley Baker, were early adopters, having opened their café in 2010. Stop in for sticky cinnamon buns, massive scones and seasonal fresh-fruit pies. It feels a lot like West Vancouver’s Savary Island Pie Company, where Mr. Chan, who trained at the Grand Hyatt Regency in Hong Kong, also worked.
Chasters Restaurant at Bonniebrook Lodge
1532 Ocean Beach Esplanade, Gibsons, B.C., 604-886-2887, bonniebrook.com
Only a 10-minute drive out of town, this historic lodge (now under new ownership) feels worlds apart. Located in a tranquil neighbourhood with quiet beaches, thickly forested winding roads and a tony mix of modern mansions alongside summer-chic cottages, you can’t help gazing off the ocean-view deck while sipping a dry martini and thinking, “Ah, this is the real Gibsons, not the televised version, where only those lucky enough to know someone who inherited a property ever get a chance to visit.” Chasters, with its formal service and fine wine list, is the room for romantic dinners. Chef Eddie Malcolmson doesn’t mess with the classics, including herb-crusted rack of lamb accompanied by slow-built port jus and a perfectly crisp and creamy, thinly sliced stack of potato pavé.
The Wobbly Canoe
4774 Sunshine Coast Hwy., Sechelt, B.C., 604-885-4444.
Heading further north, to beautiful Davis Bay, you can’t miss this modern roadside diner across from the pier, surrounded by budget motels. Locals will tell you the food was better when it was Beach Buoy Waterfront Restaurant. But, I’ll bet Beach Buoy didn’t have the same international, burger-meets-bahn-mi flair or great selection of B.C. wines. It certainly didn’t have such a gorgeous view (the kitchen used to face the waterfront). And you’d be hard-pressed to find such a chummy, clubhouse vibe even in the city. The place was packed on Saturday afternoon. Everyone knew everyone. Owner Gordon Knights knows how to create a buzz. From 1999 until he recently gave up commuting, he was the general manager of the Commodore Ballroom
6660 Backeddy Road, Egmont, B.C., 1-800-626-0599, backeddy.ca
This is the last stop before the Earls Cove ferry. You’re probably only here because you hiked in to Skookumchuck Narrows to see the second-fastest tidal flow in the world. And if you hung around too long watching the whitewater rapids during the evening flooding tide, you’re going to have to hurry to catch the kitchen before last call (8 p.m.). But it’s worth stopping at this hidden gem. The beer-battered lingcod with crispy fries and tangy slaw speckled with pumpkin seeds will hit the spot, while the pork-belly tacos with crunchy chicharron, pickled onions and micro greens will exceed your expectations. With live music, and a mountainous backdrop and peachy-golden sunset over the marina, it makes the postcard-perfect ending to a sensational weekend in one of the country’s most delectable destinations.