Cute place to stop for a meal, a bit like an affordable/low rent cousin of Sausalito, CA.
Cowichan Bay is a semi-idyllic small fishing town, in a ‘crunchy granola’ sort of a way. It’s not unlike a lot of other small towns located along the west coast of the North American Continent that have made the effort to try to be touristy by adding to, rather than distracting from, their natural advantages — namely attractive vistas. Neither of the primary ferries from the mainland to Vancouver Island land here (they go either from the city of Vancouver to Nanaimo an hour north, or from Seattle to Victoria an hour south of here), but if you happen to be driving between the two and wanted to stop midway for a meal in a cute seaside town, this would be a good option. It reminds me a lot of a smaller version of Sausalito in the San Francisco Bay area, only sans the gourmet restaurants, sans the view of the city and Golden Gate bridge, and no fairly regular flow of movie stars, although (keeping on the SF comparison) the vibe here is a bit more Berkley.
That said, I’m not sure its a place worthy of a special trip, but if you are in the area anyway, and I am, it’s nice…. I came to Vancouver Island British Columbia, specifically to check out where my friend Louise grew up. She and I shared an office for two and a half years while teaching at a University in South Korea, and she often told me about how great her hometown was and how much she missed it, especially the pristine clear air. She recently returned to Mill bay, which is only about 10 minutes from here. From the balcony of her home, she has an almost unobstructed view across ~140 miles (or 230 KM) to Mount Baker (if you ignore the electrical lines)…. which from my perspective beats the crap out of anything you can see in the horribly polluted air she and I used to breath daily in S. Korea — it was not uncommon for the air to be so smoggy that I couldn’t even see the mountain located an easy walking distance from my apartment. Add to that the fact that she regularly sees seals, bald eagles, and the occational whale while walking her dogs by old growth forests and a bay …Victoria Island is fairly idyllic on the “places to live” scale, assuming you can find a decent job; so, I wanted to check it out.
See the tiny woman standing in front of the almost six story tall old growth pine? That would be Louise; she was the one who suggested we come here for lunch, to a local fixture restaurant her parents used to like to come to, the Rock Cod Cafe.
She had a bowl of fish chowder in a sourdough bread bowl, while I was forced to take the healthier option (during my last visit back to Chicago I got diagnosed with fatty liver, on top of my pre-diabetic status), so I went for the grilled Pacific Cod with prawns, with a side of veggies on a bed of rice pilaf that I could only “taste” since white rice is now verboten. Nothing about it was what I would describe as a meal worth making a special trip for, but it was simple fresh ingredients, cooked well at reasonable prices (for the area — cost of living on Islands is always a bit higher than on mainlands due to added costs for transportation and energy).
After our meal, we went directly behind the restaurant to check out the view
When I had to choose an Airbnb I was actually looking at this area and where I am — because I couldn’t find anything decent right in Mill Bay, where my friend lives. I thought the place I opted for would be a more ‘Mountain lake’ type thing cause that’s how it is advertised…but it isn’t. Apparently it’s a popular place for folks who live in Victoria to have their summer homes, but you can’t really see any mountains from Shwanigan Lake, and from my airbnb you can’t even see the lake. Add to that the fact that there’s only one semi-decent eatery in the place (and I judge places by how they eat)… Next time I come to visit Louise, I’m thinking I’ll try to get a place here.
Note added June 14th: There are in fact a few different restaurants, here, that I’m intending to try before I leave. One that I recently tried, I feel should be avoided at all costs; it is the Ocean View restaurant, which is on the top floor of a hotel with the same name. I went there initially to check it out as a place to take two of my friends who are coming in to town for a visit. Let’s just say what shows up on the plate doesn’t compare to what’s advertised on their web site… they actually served me burnt food, and the windows were all scratched up — like someone had taken a brillo to it. Pretty sure the view on their website was taken through an open window.