Fed up with cancelled dinner plans, abbreviated after-work cocktails and brunches interrupted by marauding BF’s… or kids? Then gather your best gal pals and depart on a girlfriends’ getaway. Quality time with your girls will do wonders for your soul. Our suggestion? Head west to BC, where there’s anything and everything your gang could hope for, whether you’re foodies, nature lovers, adrenaline hounds or spa junkies.
1. Surf’s Up in Tofino
If you and your pals love to bond while breaking a sweat, you’ll love chillin’ in wetsuits. Tofino (population 1,500 year-round, up to 22,000 during July and August) is a wicked wonderland on Vancouver Island’s West Coast. It’s a Mecca for outdoorsy pursuits like hiking, sea kayaking and, of course, surfing. And don’t think you need to travel in summer to hit the waves: Tofino’s one of the world’s foremost winter-surfing hotspots.
Where to stay: The Wickaninnish Inn is Tofino’s resort par excellence, with gorgeous beachfront accommodations (not a single room with the dreaded “parking lot view”), a world-class restaurant and lovely Aveda-concept spa. The Wick is right on Chesterman Beach, perfect for morning walks, beachcombing or surfing. Or, if you want to go low-key, rent a house or cabin. Find listings at Tofino Vacation Rentals.
What to do: Hit the waves. Head to Surf Sister for their popular weekend clinics ($195 per person; see the website for other lesson options). Female instructors, a positive vibe and a great espresso bar in their boutique/office make them the best choice in a town where there are more surfing outfitters than variety stores.
On terra firma, consider hiking at Pacific Rim National Park in nearby Ucluelet. In few other places will you find this combination of wild Pacific coastal cliffs, beaches and temperate rainforest. And don’t forget to reward yourselves for all this outdoorsy goodness by visiting Chocolate Tofino (1180 Pacific Rim Highway, 250-725-2526) or The Wick’s Ancient Cedars Spa.
Where to eat: The Wick’s Pointe exquisite restaurant is a can’t-miss with its focus on regionally sourced produce and fresh-from-the-ocean seafood. Try the Raincoast Café for an innovative dinner menu and live music, or Tough City Sushi for Japanese food in a chic, bourgeois-bohemian setting.
Shelter is worth returning to again and again for its laidback surfer vibe and fresh, organic, locavore menu. The surfcam on their website will send you daydreaming once you’re back home again (sigh.)
Wine andunwind in Kelowna on the next page …
2. Wine & unwind in Kelowna
If you and your girls are all about living the good life, make tracks to the gorgeous city of Kelowna. Cradled in the Okanagan Valley, Kelowna is known to oenophiles as Napa North, thanks to its many estate wineries. It’s also a world-class golf and ski destination and has developed a reputation for amazing regional cuisine. Kelowna has a glut of lake and mountain views, both of which you can enjoy while sipping some biodynamic wine on a deck. Better yet, hit the spa and have the wine come to you via vinotherapy.
Where to stay: The Hotel Eldorado is a 20-room boutique hotel on the shores of Okanagan Lake. The El has a fabulous patio and romantic lakeside dining room, and, frankly, the best room service menu we’ve ever encountered. Be sure to book one of the coastal-chic guest rooms in the newer wing.
Or, for a more casual vibe and onsite golf, horseback riding and spa amenities, head to Lake Okanagan Resort on the west side (a scenic 20-minute drive across the lake from downtown Kelowna).
What to do: Sip your way through the wine tours, and then unwind at the spa. Mission Hill Family Estate Winery is a can’t-miss for its beautiful grounds and architecture, as is Summerhill Pyramid Winery for its giant limestone pyramid, organic wines and slightly-wacky-but-endearing New Age vibe. Both wineries have plenty of places where you and your gals can play catch up.
Don’t forget to book spa treatments at Beyond Wrapture Day Spa. The independent, locally owned chain has an outpost at the Lake Okanagan Resort, as well as one within a short drive from The El. There’s no debate: you have to book the Timeless Eternity vinotherapy treatment. For $318 you’ll be scrubbed, wrapped, massaged and pampered for three hours using heavenly-smelling byproducts of the local wine industry like skin-smoothing crushed grape pips and skins.
Where to eat: Bouchons Bistro is a classic French bistro with delectable seasonal menus. If you’re staying at The El, walk next door to the Manteo Resort’s Wild Apple restaurant, where you can talk into the night sipping local wines and sharing platters of tapas.
3. Whale–watching in Victoria
BC’s capital city features quaint shops, public gardens galore, fab galleries and Canada’s oldest Chinatown (circa-1870s, with Canada’s narrowest street, Fan Tan Alley), as well as a compact and nicely curated downtown shopping district. Now that’s all well and good, but if you’re a gang of nature-lovers, you’re looking for something more, right? How about going whaling?
Where to stay: Pamper yourself after oceanic paddling by staying at The Inn at Laurel Point, considered one of the best in Canada by Condé Nast Traveler. Or go the vacation-house route and set up camp in a condo, townhouse or swanky estate. Search online for rent-from-owner websites or check out the Access Vacation Group’s website at emrvacationrentals.com, among others.
What to do: Get wet, girls. Rent a canoe or kayak and explore the nearly 3,500 km of breathtaking ocean coastline on Victoria and its surrounding environs on Vancouver Island. Check out Blackfish Expeditions for guided kayak day trips or overnight camping trips via kayak. Or get onboard their whaling canoe for a naturalist-led expedition to the Gulf Islands. You may spot dolphins and orcas (a.k.a killer whales) in the Juan de Fuca strait. Day trips come with exploration time on protected marine reserves, where sightings of river and sea otters, cormorants, harbour seals, eagles can be expected. You can book your own private group tour if you don’t want to share your naturalist with anyone else!
Where to eat: The Inn at Laurel Point’s Aura Restaurant is considered one of the best, boasting an urbane menu with a strong pan-Asian inflection. The Surf N Turf isn’t your grandpa’s surf n turf – sukiyaki-braised short ribs and tea-soaked scallops and all.
The luxe Temple restaurant, set in a heritage building offers hipster-approved surroundings and foodie-approved tapas-style small-plates menu choices (as well as more trad entrees for those who’ve worked up a big appetite outdoors).
4. Get high (and mighty) in Whistler
Remember: she who climbs up, must come back down again, whether it’s via skis, snowboard, mountain bike or Zipline. Regardless of time of year, outdoorsy pals can have a blast in Whistler. The mountain town, a two-hour drive from Vancouver, will host alpine events at the 2010 Olympic & Paralympic Winter Games – so get there before the madding crowd.
Where to stay: Whistler’s not cheap and neither are its vacation homes, but renting one gives you the freedom to make your own food and snacks, or sprawl out with the gang in front of the plasma TV. The housing stock is high-end but you’ll thank yourselves for splurging when you sit in your outdoor hot tub gazing at the stars and mountain. Wild Flower Lodging Company has nice rental listings.
The Summit Londge & Spa is located in Whistler Village where all the (off-slope) action is, and offers spacious suites where you and your girls can plan your next adventure. Or play hooky at the onsite Taman Sari Royal Heritage Spa.
What to do: Between late November and early June, it’s a no-brainer: You head to Whistler to ski or snowboard at Whistler Blackcomb. The resort’s 200 marked runs, 13 bowls, three glaciers and terrain parks have earned it the reputation of being North America’s best ski resort.
If your pack’s idea of fun is white-knuckled summer adventure, try the mile-high, thumbing-nose-at-gravity antics of bungee jumping into a gorge, or zip-lining far above Fitzsimmons Creek, between Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. ZipTrek Ecotours offers a variety of tours from $99 for a three-hour session that includes an eco-tour and bussing to the mountaintop.
Whistler Mountain Bike Park is open from mid-May to early October and has 44 lift-serviced runs, plus skills centres where everyone from beginners to she-devils can work on their technique. You can rent a bike onsite for $100 a day.
Where to eat: The Fifty Two 80 Bistro at Four Seasons Resort Whistler is named in honor of the 5,280 feet of slope on Blackcomb mountain’s vertical mile. Fresh regional cuisine, a beautiful setting and outdoor fireplace combine to make this a place to linger over meals. Sustainability, small-scale agriculture, and artisan foods drive Après, a contemporary French restaurant and a founding member of the Whistler Slow Food Convivium. The chef offers cooking lessons, BTW, if you and you and your pals are ready to kick your menu planning up a couple notches.
5. Eating Vancouver
Foodie friends will think they’ve died and gone to heaven when they arrive in Vancouver. Between the amazing regional produce and seafood, unique pan-Asian influence, and the overall sophistication of Canada’s third-largest city, there’s much to make chowhounds drool.
Where to stay: The Wedgewood Hotel & Spa boasts a trendy Robson Square location as well as spacious suites where you can gab all night in comfort. It appears on numerous global top-10 lists for its decadent lodgings, spa and epicurean restaurant. Comp truffles await you when you walk into your suite.
The Listel Hotel is known as “Vancouver’s most art-full hotel,” owing to its copious collections of original paintings and sculpture. The rooms are colourful and quirky, and the great Robson Street location makes for plenty of dining and shopping options.
What to do: Spend a leisurely morning strolling the stalls of the Granville Island Public Market. Fresh-baked bagels, local and exotic fruit, artisan sausage, pastries and more beg to be scarfed down while you shop. Bring home goodies like locally made small-batch preserves and organic teas, and, the for carnivores, homemade sausage from Oyama Sausage. Oyama’s wares start out as wholesome pasture-raised meat, and end up as Chorizo Pamplona, Speck (smoked prosciutto), duck prosciutto, Salame Napolitano and dozens of other European-style delicacies. Don’t forget to pop by Roger’s Chocolates for a taste from BC’s best chocolatiers since 1885.
Head to Chinatown for a guided culinary tour with A Wok Around Chinatown ($90 per person, includes dim sum lunch, wokaround.com). Local expert Bob Sung will show you the ins and outs of this bustling gourmet haven on a walking tour that starts at the peaceful and serene Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, meanders through the best shops and vendors, past historical landmarks and into a Taoist Temple. Once you know where to find the best five-spice barbecued duck and choicest cookware bargains, you’ll be back.
Where to eat: Carderos Restaurant sits in the Coal Harbour district, overlooking the marina just off the Stanley Park Seawall path. A casual- upscale vibe and menu faves like wood-oven pizza, cedar planked BC salmon, or wok squid make this the place to be. Check out their Live Bait Yacht Club Marine Pub, which offers live music and a place to kick back in comfy leather club chairs while you gab into the wee hours.
Whether you’re staying at the Wedgewood or not, go by their Bacchus Restaurant & Lounge for an extensive wine list and lushly period-romance surroundings. It’s a sexy spot to linger at night (after all, you are a gaggle of hot chiquitas, no?) – or recover the next morning.