The Sunshine Coast has an essence that is resonating with those seeking a respite from the city, in some cases the world. It’s not dull though, there is something under the skin of this place that begs it’s visitors to stay if they get the rare chance to see it’s soul.
There is the obvious side. It has quickly been picking up steam as an adventure destination for discerning and seasoned nature lovers and adventurists determined to stay away from obtuse weekend warriors and commercial pitfalls. It’s got many of the best trails and hikes in BC. It’s got some of BC’s best diving off it’s shores (especially around Halfmoon Bay), incredible kayaking and camping (have you checked out Tuwanek and the Sechelt Inlet? We definitely recommend Peddles and Paddles for rentals in the area) and with the addition of a world-class mountain biking park at Coast Gravity Park (which is in addition to the numerous other awesome spots to grind trails on two wheels or legs), it’s really a great place to enjoy the Best of British Columbia. Did I forget to mention the skiing? Check out Dakota Ridge.
This however is not a travel brochure and I don’t want it to sound like one - this place deserves better, and the simple fact is, a brochure is the antithisis of what the soul here is.
The Sunshine Coast isn’t quite like any other place in BC. It’s got a history of hippies starting farms, artisans staying true and draft dodgers with great vision. It’s a place for rebels with natural perspective. It’s got a health and wellness movement that makes anything going on in Northern California look pale, if measured by earnestness and honesty. Want to order organic, gluten-free, free-range, local or vegan? Preferences like this are so normal in some areas of the Sunshine Coast it’s not even mentioned - it’s presumed. Yoga by the sea? Check. Oddest and most amazing healthfood store in Canada, sans crap and complete with “we are the 99%” t-shirts? Check (but I’d get in trouble if I told you where it is).
Here rebels become bee-keepers, scientists-go-claymaker and communities transform a tired dim lit legion in Roberts Creek into a thriving hub of music, love and dance some weekends. It’s real, but this reality isn’t like any other reality, it’s distinctly Sunshine Coast. It’s soul renders itself to true seekers and is addictive, like a marathon runner’s high. If you find it, it’s a Shangri-La, BC’s own Xanadu. Perhaps, so much so, that one day, if this place manages to retain it’s core identity, it could become a verb.
Few of the greatest things here are advertised. They really are not easy to find unless you know exactly where to look. Perhaps xenophobia plays a hand in this. After all, so many people moved here to get away. There are of course those here who never left, or, those who came because it was less expensive than living in Vancouver. But, using those means of identifying what it means to live or spend time here probably won’t produce an accurate picture of the magic that happens here for people who know how to turn that light in their lives on.
This place won’t be attractive to the Gucci purse, socialite, South Beach clubber, and plastic surgery crowd. In fact, I’d advise you to look much further south or east to connect with your tribe on a getaway if that resonates as a description of you. Although, I won’t discount what this place can do for such a reader. Few true seekers start where they end up. Don’t confuse this as a statement about economics, because while there is an absence of Maserati’s on the road, there are many Tesla roadsters and Model S’ zipping around. While many of the locally popular Delica’s look quite beat up, on closer inspection, you’ll find many are running on biofuels. Here the good life is not measured by most counting man made assets, it’s measured by things much older and more natural.
The gentrification is coming. It’s here. It’s there. Some locals are embracing it. Some are fighting against it. There are a few however, that are being constructive, creating brilliant movements that serve the identity that is precious, and perhaps fragile. Strong and active indigenous communities also help to keep the place honest.
There are ugly sides. Ofcourse there are. Nothing you wouldn’t expect though, not much of it and not enough for me to write more about it now.
How can one write opinion without being divisive? I’ve never figured that out. So here comes the hard part … What place is the heart of the Sunshine Coast? Well, if you look online most signs point to Gibsons. A crappy Canadian tv show named “The Beachcombers” made it popular. I remember the show from my childhood, and how I felt the life being sucked out of me every second I spent even trying to watch it. It was horrid. However, a set piece, a hero ship named the Persephone and a restaurant, Molly’s Reach, which kept it’s name from the tv show, remain as a town pride in the quaint area of lower Gibsons. It’s one of the first areas tourists see. It’s cute. But this isn’t the heart of the Sunshine Coast, it’s just the first stop, that’s parked over a picturesque marina. A warmup for the real thing. A place to hang your hat after a ferry ride or long drive. There are a few restaurants, the Sweet Water Bistro easily being a foodies choice, Smitty’s Oyster House easily being the hippest. There are some shops and a gallery that sometimes surprises with quality work, but it is the stories of shop owners themselves that make a couple stand out - but, I’m not writing about retail, I’m writing about soul. So far, I haven’t touched on it.
Roberts Creek is the next town, and if you got this far without getting out of the car, let me say, you have already driven by miles of gorgeous beaches, trails, artisans, interesting organic farms and enough places to make an incredible vacation a rich and complete experience. On the other hand, you have also reached what I consider the soul of the place. You won’t find much on first glance. I’m pretty sure that is on purpose.
In the summer, on a perfect sunny day at 23 Celsius, a tourist drove up to me at the foot of Roberts Creek Road in a burgundy cadillac with cream leather interior and lowered their passenger side window, which sounded like it popped a hermetically sealed air-conditioned membrane in the car to ask; “where is Roberts Creek?”. I noticed they stopped next to the Mandala that had recently been painted by the community - a sort of centrepiece to the soul of the place. “Did they notice it?”, I thought to myself “You are in it”, I replied. “You mean those little buildings up there are it?” the passenger said referring to the area where the Gumboot Restaurant and General Store are, while rolling his eyes. The female driver said “I told you, we drove past it. Let’s just go to Gibsons, there are things there” to her passenger. “Actually, Roberts Creek is quite large”, I said, not defending, but informing. “Well, there is nothing here, thanks” the passenger said and put up his window while the driver turned her ugly boat car around. They drove away. They were 50 feet away from an amazing beach, and they drove away because there was nothing gaudy pointing out where to shop, I presume. No neon to light the way to a cash register. They were a few minutes away from an amazing school of woodworking and less than five minutes drive from incredible grub at a farmers market. They were stones throws to great local artisans who would have welcomed them, and moments from the green paradise that is Cliff Gilker park. These are the people who need Whistler, perhaps Disneyland and brochures, lots and lots of brochures.
I’ve heard some people call the Sunshine Coast “Vancouver’s version of the Hamptons” - nothing, and I repeat, nothing is further from that - only one who has never been to the Hamptons and has zero concept of how different the East is from the West, could even utter such an in-appositeness. To get this place, you have to pay your dues. It’s not seniority or anything so pedestrian or orderly. It’s patience. It comes to those who ask for it and need it for free. Earlier, I might have indicated it takes luck to experience the wonders of the Sunshine Coast – I lied. It’s not luck at all. You have to possess relatable qualities to the communities here. I suppose that is true for anywhere, but unlike a city like Toronto or New York, where it’s a melting pot of tribes to blend with, this place has a strong identity, and it’s one that rewards visitors and residents who reflect it with an abundance of riches in form of nature, community, strong identity.
I’d mention more – but this post is long enough. If you like it, come back and read something else sometime ;)