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comox valley guide

by Grace Bonney


Our Comox Valley City Guide update comes to us from Simone Thompson, a designer and photographer living in Comox Valley, Vancouver.  As a resident of the Valley for the past 10 years, Simone has learned the ins and outs of this ocean-side city.  Today, she shares with us some of my many new additions to the area.  Thanks Simone for this wonderful update! –– Stephanie

Read the full guide after the jump…


Stretched between a glacier and the ocean, about halfway up the east side of Vancouver Island, BC, lays the Comox Valley. It is home to an ocean-view ski hill (which often has the deepest snow base on the planet in the winter and gorgeous meadows of wildflowers in the summer), a few small islands, an air force base, tons of beaches and farm land, and many forest, river, and lake areas. The valley cradles a large handful of communities, the largest of which are Courtenay and Comox. The scenery is as stunning as you can imagine, the recreational opportunities are limitless, and the art life is just as rich. I do believe there is something for everyone in this valley but since I can’t share it all I’ll just tell you about my favorite places which relate to aspects of design that are fairly unique to the area.



The seaside town of Comox can easily be explored on foot but one of my favorite things about visiting the Comox peninsula is the drive from Courtenay. You’ll see seagulls, crows, eagles, kayakers, herons, seals, and evidence of ancient First Nations fishing weirs. It is especially beautiful at sunrise and sunset, and amazing under a full moon at high tide!

Filberg Park and Lodge

61 Filberg Road

In the 1930s the Filberg family built their summer house and some unusual out-buildings on these 9 water-front acres, leaving it all to the town in 1977. Make sure you get a good look at the front gates – rumor has it the existing letter Fs used to be swastika symbols. The house is often used for craft fairs and other such functions. In the warmer months they open a petting zoo and outdoor café. The gardens grow everything from herbs to flowers (providing tasty treats for the ever present deer). This is also the site of the Filberg Festival held each summer to showcase fine BC arts, crafts, music, and food.

Comox Golf Course

1718 Balmoral Avenue

This chunk of land which eats up some of the downtown space was given to the town by the Filbergs on the condition that it would always remain a green space. Not so great for traffic flow but good for charm. It has long been a golf course. There are always deer on the course and, as my golfing dad can attest, you’ll see at least one set of twin or triplet fawns growing up there each year. Everyone is welcome at the simple club-house café which offers ample deer watching opportunities.

Comox Mall

215 Port Augusta Street

This small mall wouldn’t really be noteworthy if it weren’t for the large paintings by local artist (and fellow ECUAD grad) Ja Whitcombe. Ja found historical B&W photos of the area and reinterpreted them in a pseudo-impressionistic way, in full colour, and with a 3D twist.

Black Fin Pub

132 Port Augusta Street

This pub has amazing views of the Comox harbour and marina, the (shrinking) glacier, and surrounding mountains. Sit outside on the deck in summer or inside by the big fireplace in winter. The place manages to be cozy even with high ceilings and beams. It is clad in warm wood paneling and the large floral arrangements are usually spectacular. Make sure you look up to see the real boat hanging from the ceiling (the history of which is told on the menu).

benino Gelato

1700 Comox Avenue

I’ve had other gelato (even in Italy) but this is my favorite. I like the Limoncello – the flavor is so saturated I’m always satisfied with the smallest scoop. The bright wall colour packs a punch and often showcases a few small paintings by local artists. If you’re a local start collecting their trading cards to get free scoops. This tiny shop sits across from an unusual building which appears to have two boats growing out of it.

Island Treasures

7-1787 Comox Avenue

This shop includes high quality jewelry, pottery, and wood items, all made by local artists. Check out the high resolution mandalas Preston Denny creates out of photographs of leaves. My friend April of Yapes Paints (yapespaints.com) also sells some of her prints here.

Originals Only

This is a show which happens each summer and winter in Comox. The summer show is held outside beside the marina. Don’t be intimidated by the name – artists are careful to present pieces at a wide variety of sizes and prices. The show attracts a lot of painters but you will also find potters, photographers, and a variety of sculptors.



With about 20,000 people, Courtenay is the largest community in the area. It is stretched along the coast and river, and up “the hill” towards the air force base and more beaches. There is always something happening in Courtenay – many of the restaurants and pubs host musicians, the theatres always have productions in the works, and community groups are always hosting a wide variety of events.

Red Living Recycled Everyday Design

2790 Cliffe Avenue

This thrift shop seems to be a bit pickier than the norm with a retro flair. The last time I visited I saw three replica art deco posters, a great chandelier, a set of cream coloured dishes which looked brand-new, and a handful of furniture I’d love to redesign.


Rosewall Crescent

The buildings on this crescent all have commercial space on the ground floors, living space on the upper floors, and are clad in corrugated “tin.” The area is in constant flux but at the moment is home to (among other things) a variety of artists’ studios and galleries, a wig shop, yoga studio, dance studio, and the fantastic Freakin’ Coffee Shop which seems to be the hub of it all.

The Freakin’ Coffee Shop in TinTown uses all retro vintage table and chairs with other vintage treasures like radios, lamps, and dishes (for sale and show) tucked around the shop. One of the walls is a garage door which they roll up on warm days. Take a moment to look up when you order so you can see the old neon sign from the Palace Theatre, one of our last historical buildings which burned down a few years ago. They feature live entertainment some evenings.


4330 Island Hwy. S

A waterfront hotel, spa, and restaurant just a few kilometers south of town, the Kingfisher attracts guests from all over the world. It is set among the trees with paths crisscrossing the property. The original buildings sit on top of a cliff with the newer buildings built in front of the cliff (accessible by an outdoor elevator). Sure, going to the spa is nice (the hydropath is famous) but my favorite part is lying in the warm “recovery” room looking out at the ocean and sky.

The Old House

1730 Riverside Lane

This restaurant is in an actual old house (as old as they get around here). In addition to it being somewhat enveloped by the quarter-share Old House Resort and Spa buildings (oldhousevillage.com), the restaurant has been through quite a few changes in recent years but it still retains a lot of its original charm – it still looks like an old house being reclaimed by nature. It used to look across the river at a saw mill but that’s been dismantled and we are all waiting to see what will take its place.

Music Fest

Held each summer this festival has been very successful, drawing many big name acts and the largest crowds we see in the area. The venue is stretched along the river so you might watch the main stage in a field with 15,000 other people, and then watch a tiny stage among the trees with just 15 other people. There are always lots of great vendors too. I highly recommend volunteering if you can (I have twice) – you might get back-stage access and meet the performers.

North Island College

2300 Ryan Road

The art department here has such a good reputation in 2005 they were able to partner with Vancouver’s Emily Carr University of Fine Art + Design. This allowed students (like me) to remain in the valley, get taught by instructors flown in from Vancouver, and complete their BFAs. Once per semester the students organize an Art Event to show off their creations and do some fund-raising. You never know what to expect for art or entertainment. The prices are usually very good if you find a piece you love.

Downtown Courtenay

Like the seaside area of Comox, the downtown area can be explored easily on foot. It’s easy to navigate because the street closest to the river starts with the letter A (Anderton) and the rest of the streets follow the alphabet as they get farther from the river. Fifth Street has the most to offer but 4th and 6th are definitely worth touring too. When you’re shopping in this area it is worth taking a moment on the bridge (and maybe a walk around the nearby park) to look for wild-life. It’s easy to see seals here as they have learned how to use the shadow of the bridge to their advantage while fishing. You might eagles and herons too.

Muir Gallery

440 Anderton Ave Courtenay

One of two public galleries in the valley, the Muir is run primarily by volunteers via the very busy local arts council (comoxvalleyarts.org). This gallery shows local artists only. The council organizes many festivals, fairs, and projects throughout the year.

Tab Imports

285 – 5th Street

In a building that dates back to 1910 (with the original Douglas Fir floors on show) this shop offers a variety of high quality furniture imported from Indonesia (they will also arrange custom builds) and a variety of interesting home décor items and jewelry. Be sure to zip upstairs to take a look at their discounted goodies.


113-255 6th Street

This shop is small but in this case size definitely does not matter. Most of their stock is clothing though they also sell some jewelery and accessories. All of their high quality products were made in Canada, designed by Canadians, and the shop aims to keep about 90% of their product from Victoria, Vancouver, and closer. Artist April Lacheur of Yapes Paints (yapespaints.com) gets another nod here for turning one of her tree paintings into their logo.

Atlas Cafe

250 6th Street

The owners of the Atlas own another, slightly more upscale restaurant, called avenue, in Comox, but this location is just so much more convenient to visit when you are on the go. The prices are fair, the food is always delicious, and the varied menu includes foods inspired by Japanese, Mexican, and Italian cuisine among others. You might like to sit on the private back deck in warm weather. I love the giant antique maps, the old worn wood floors, the art of Lucy Schappy (lucyschappy.com), the lit plexi-glass shelf which holds all the liquor, and the ever-changing but always interesting floral arrangement on the bar.

Locals Food From the Heart of the Island

Unit C 364 8th Street

This restaurant doesn’t look like much from the outside but is a treat on the inside. All the food is sourced locally, inspired by the “One Hundred Mile Diet” idea while keeping quality and service in mind. Be sure to have a close look at the art – each frame contains either a photograph of local produce or a collage about the local suppliers. I have a special place in my heart for our Natural Pastures Cheese which is featured here (you can visit their shop nearby).


536-6th Street

One of two Mexican restaurants in town, this is my favorite because I’ve been going to it since it opened, I love the décor and ambiance, I love their unusual margaritas (quince was the latest flavor I savored), and I adore the fact that some of the ingredients come from the gardens surrounding the restaurant. The food is always seasonal and fresh. The prices are reasonable. The chocolate ganache with a hint of chili is fantastic.

Comox Valley Art Gallery

580 Duncan Avenue

A former fire hall, with the old coal-shoot covers still in the floor, the building is now is home to a handful of community groups and the valley’s main art gallery. As a public gallery they do show local artists but they also present more established artists from outside the area. The gift shop is packed with high quality local crafts (two of the items made it to Oprah’s Favorite Things list). At Christmas time a large part of the gallery is dedicated to a juried craft show and sale. The gallery is always hosting events, talks, and workshops alongside their exhibits.



This small community is steeped in coal-mining history. It has managed to hold off more of the sterilizing commercialization than the rest of the valley. You can see a variety of architecture which includes neglected and treasured character homes as well as genuine and replica old western style store fronts. Most of what the town has to offer can be seen with a short walk up and down the main street (Dunsmuir). Be sure to visit the bakery early in the day to try their famous donuts fresh. If you’re a music fan you might want to think about attending their music festival (thebigtimeout.com) and you should check out what “the Wave” (waverlyhotel.ca) has to offer.




Suggested For You


  • If you get the chance to visit, go. I’m a Brit that tries to travel to somewhere in this area every year from UK. This time I hope to visit Victoria. If you go the Sunshine Coast area I recommend sailing Desolation Sound with Pristine Charters at Lund and buying a handmade sweater from Pollen also at Lund. Warmest woolies in the world. Keeping me snug in frozen England right now.
    Does anyone know if Comox still has a folk festival?

  • i visited vancouver island as a teenager and to this day it’s one of the most beautiful places on earth for me. i guess another trip is in order to see comox valley!

  • Oh my goodness, I’m so excited! Comox is my boyfriends hometown! He was just there visiting his family for Christmas. Thanks for this, next time we go I’ll definitely be using it :)

  • I grew up on Vancouver Island and spent a good 9 year in the valley and you are right some unfortunate changes (as you’d see just about anywhere with growth) but there is still a distinct charm about the area too. We go back at least once every two months. I can’t agree more with your places to see. The only thing I would have added was a trip up to Mt. Washington.

  • I’ve never heard of Comox. I live in Seattle and am planning a Valentines trip to Victoria. Wondering if Comox is a better destination… sounds wonderful!

    I’ve been blogging about interior design and renovations in the comox valley since september. I agree – this place is AMAZING…
    We have some local home tours on my website, so come on by and check them out :)

  • What a great job, Simone. I live in the Comox Valley (Courtenay), too, and I would just add a couple of places that i think D*S readers might like. FD & Interiors is a small but well curated home design store on 5th St. in Courtenay – leans toward contemporary design. Also on 5th St. is The Home & Garden Gate which sells home and garden accessories.

    And a great food deal is the yummy Mexican Cafe, Diego’s.

    I also think D*S readers will find a kindred spirit in a local design blog written by the dynamic Bethany – check out http://www.comoxvalleydwellings.com/

  • The trading cards at benino gelato are the highlight to any trip north island (outside of family) — but let’s be honest here, If you’re in Naniamo you’re better to go south for some good times.

    Mount Washington is fantastic and summers in the Valley are beautiful for biking though.

  • Wow! My hometown! I think there are definitely some places missing especially where to swim in the summer and Mt. Washington all year round – hiking in the summer, skiing/snowboarding in the winter.

  • Yay Vancouver Island! The Comox Valley is beautiful, indeed. It has plenty of wilderness and small town charm.

    For anyone looking for a little more city life, come to Victoria. :-)

  • I am proud to call Simone and the Comox Valley home for the past 20 years. Previously I visited here. Sad we are losing landmarks but I guess that is progress. Come explore for yourselves. Simone could have listed a lot more places but everyone will have their own take. Outdoors, arts and culture… sea to sky is all here.

  • I grew up in the valley, this was such a surprise to see! All those familiar places. But, lots left out…I guess you’ll all just have to visit!

  • Gotta love promo’s for the Comox Valley – lived here almost my entire life and love it. One of the most beautiful and recreationally rich areas in BC – or even Canada – or even the world!

  • Now what about beautiful capital city of VICTORIA??? Happy to see Vancouver Island represent, but Victoria deserves coverage next! :)

  • Holy Moly Guacamole! This makes me so pleased! Vancouver and Comox Valley! Benino Gelato, so good IMMD.
    I live in Nanaimo and often find myself wondering where to stop in Courtenay/Comox… these will surely be on my next itinerary.

  • so crazy to see comox on here!! and so crazy to see so many other comments by others from Vancouver island!!! too cool!!! i ‘ve lived in nanaimo most of my life -for 24 out of my 26 years… i happen to think our island is the most beautiful place inthe world. thanks for the neat article!!

  • What a pleasure to see “The Valley” get recognition, Look forward to sharing our design style with you all. Be sure to say hello when you drop by our shop …

  • This is great! It was a surprise to see the city guide of Vancouver, but now the Island and the Comox Valley (born and raised in Merville, about 15 mins outside of Courtenay)! There is definitely so much to explore around there, and I miss it terribly. One thing to note is the Waverly in Cumberland where lots of bands come to entertain. Simone did a great job of listing some local spots, but there needs to be another section on the activities. Lots of swimming holes – lakes, and rivers – mtn. biking, sailing, skiing/snowboarding up Mt. Washington, the outer islands of Denman and Hornby , etc. Go check it all out! It’s such a beautiful place. If you’re on the island, the next place to go would be Tofino! Look it up! Thanks for this D*S.

  • WOW I am shocked to see this post! My husband is from Comox and we go back to visit every single chance we get. You did miss one fantastic spot…what about The Green Room?

  • I LOVE COMOX! So delighted to see it featured here.

    We have our summer vacation there every year at a tiny ‘rustic’ resort on one of the many amazing beaches just outside of Comox. My home away from home, a place just meant to calm and relax and play with the kids.

  • I grew up on Vancouver Island and have explored many creative places/people/things. One place that I will always remember, is George Sawchuk’s ‘Enchanted Forest’ or ‘Freaky Forest’. My friends and I would visit freaky forest, which happens to be on artists’ George Sawchuk’s property. Its an awesome nature walk through his property where you can see his hand crafted art pieces often dealing with controversial topics such as religion, politics, war and economics in a way that is not preaching, or heavy but charming. All of his pieces get you thinking about serious subjects all while being surrounded by such a beautiful forest filled with art and random pieces ( Like an old-fashioned bus stop ) or my favourite, Bright orange curtains hanging from the trees. The last time I visited the forest we ended up stumbling onto George’s property, and we were surprised to see him working in his yard, and he actually invited us into his workshop! It was such an amazing experience to enter his place of creativity and talk to him about different pieces he was working on. We asked him why he does it, and he simply replied “Why not?”

    Directions: Fanny Bay Area: Take the Old Island Highway, Make left on Ships Point Road, Left on Little Way, and then left of Bates Road, at the end of Bates road to the right there is a trail where you follow the pieces of art where it takes you throughout the forest!

  • Natural Pastures Cheese deserves a mention – they’ve won gold medals and are a must if you’re taking friends a taste of the valley.

  • Hi i am from comox and can’t remember how to get to enchanted or freaky forest i saw an a bit of an article from hear explaining how to get there but can’t find the whole thing i was hoping for directions.

  • It’s not a rumour. The Fs on the Filberg gates _did_ used to be swastikas, and there was a larger one on a building roof in the early-mid 1950s as well. I know, I saw it when I lived there in the 50s.

    Please don’t misconstrue this as any sort of attack on the Filbergs at all. They seemed very nice…but I saw what I saw. I have no idea why the swastikas were there…but they _were_ there, period.