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Canadian Connection
Savouring British Columbia On A Budget
Joanne Sasvari
British Columbia offers great beauty, great dining and great experiences — and for travelers wanting to explore the province without blowing the budget, it has some great bargains, too.  Here's how to experience the best of BC's regions without breaking the bank.

In Vancouver: BC's biggest city is known for its rugged outdoor adventure, sophisticated urban culture and, above all, for a terrific local food scene based on exceptional ingredients and affordable prices.

Start your journey at Granville Island, where you can stop at the bistro Edible at the Market for a glass of vino and their famous duck fat fries. From there, pick up picnic nibbles at the Public Market, then hop on board the Aquabus and take a cruise around scenic False Creek for only $8. Goodies in hand, head to one of the nearby beaches or to Stanley Park, one of the world's biggest and most beautiful urban parks.

If you're going to a gallery or museum, plan your visit for Tuesday night when most offer discounted admissions — half price at the University of British Columbia's Museum of Anthropology, for instance, or by donation at the Vancouver Art Gallery. While you're at MOA, swing by the Galley Patio and Grill at the Jericho Sailing Centre, located on Locarno Beach, between Spanish Bank and Jericho Beach, for one of the best (and cheapest) burgers in town and a view that's simply priceless.

Still feeling hungry? Then time your visit for the annual Dine Out Vancouver, Canada's largest restaurant festival. In 2011, 55,000 people enjoyed discounted three-course meals at 215 restaurants across the city and even more are expected for the festival's 10th anniversary, January 20 to February 5, 2012.

In Richmond: This bustling suburb is home to some of the best Chinese restaurants in the world. Go in the morning and enjoy Chinese dim sum — dumplings and other savory snacks — on Food Street (Alexandra Road) for a fraction of what you'll pay for dinner.

While you're here, visit a spectacular Buddhist temple, explore the historic fishing village of Steveston, rent a bike for a cycle along dikes and be sure to stop in at the Flying Beaver Bar & Grill to enjoy a pint while watching the floatplanes take off from the Fraser River below. And if you're in Richmond during the 15 days of Lunar New Year festivities that start with the dawn of the Year of the Dragon on January 23, check out the free lion dances and other celebrations throughout the community, available during the first week of the festival.

On the North Shore: The mountains that tower over Vancouver beckon locals and visitors alike across the Burrard Inlet for skiing, hiking and other outdoor activities. Just getting there is half the fun, whether you drive across the magnificent Lion's Gate Bridge or take a "cruise" on the SeaBus (public transit) to Lonsdale Quay.

With three ski hills and countless trails to explore, the North Shore offers plenty of winter activities without the price of a lift ticket. Snowshoe on Mt. Seymour, cross-country ski at Cypress or just explore the trails in Lynn Headwaters Regional Park. Then refuel on honeyed cookies in Little Persia at the top of Lonsdale Avenue or fish and chips at the Dundarave Fish Market.

In the Valley:The fertile Fraser Valley is BC's breadbasket. See what the farmers are up to by taking one or more of the five self-guided Circle Farm Tours. Explore local markets, wineries, gardens, restaurants and farmgate shops like The Farm House Natural Cheeses or Canadian Hazelnut. Be sure to stop in at the Chilliwack Airport for a slice of legendary pie.

Vancouver Island
Around Victoria: BC's capital city is a place of historic charm and vibrant, youthful energy — not to mention an exciting and evolving food scene. In fact, some of the best meals in town are also its best bargains, whether it's the overstuffed pulled pork sandwich at Pig BBQ Joint, true Neapolitan pie at Pizzeria Prima Strada or casual fare at the city's countless pubs. And when you're not noshing on local fare, there's plenty to see and do for only pennies.

While in the province's capital, it seems fitting to take in the sessions at the Legislative Assembly, which offers free guided or self-guided tours year-round. Afterwards, take a stroll through the scenic Inner Harbour, or journey just beyond the waterfront into one the city's eclectic neighborhoods. Victoria is also famous for its gardens, and many of them are free (or almost free), including the Finnerty Gardens at the University of Victoria and St. Ann's Academy National Historic Site. Just outside of town, a number of draws are sure to lure (at minimal admission cost), including Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site, the Fisgard Lighthouse Historic Site and the Hatley Park National Historic Site.

In the Cowichan Valley: Head north up the Island Highway and just past the breathtaking turns of the Malahat you'll come to the bucolic Cowichan Valley, often known as Canada's Provence for its mild climate and exceptional home-grown cuisine. Explore the wine route, dropping in at Merridale Cidery on Cobble Hill, where you can take a free self-guided tour with complimentary tasting. When the weather warms, pick up picnic fare at Hilary's Cheese, True Grain Bread or one of the local farm markets in Cowichan Bay, then bring your gourmet goodies to Averill Creek Vineyards, north of Duncan, where you can enjoy them with a glass of Pinot Gris on a patio with a spectacular view.

Up Island: Nanaimo is considered a hub on Vancouver Island, and its museum is a great place to get a sense of the region's fascinating history for minimal admission cost. Nearby Qualicum is home to the scenic seaside Milner Gardens & Woodlands (admission by donation on Sundays throughout February and March), as well as the Little Qualicum Cheeseworks at Morningstar Farm (free admission), where kids will get a kick out of visiting the animals year-round and you'll get a kick out of the award-winning Island Brie. (Tip: Take in a free tasting at MooBerry Winery, also at Morningstar Farm.) And up in the postcard-pretty Comox Valley, nature lovers will bliss out in the lush and historic grounds of the Filberg Heritage Lodge and Park (free admission to the park; lodge by donation).

Around Tofino: The best things on Vancouver Island's ruggedly beautiful west coast are free, like walks on the beach, storm watching or sitting by the fire with a good book. And it's easy to enjoy the best of the rest — like the quirky Tofino Botanical Gardens — for relatively little cost. For instance, you can nosh on delectable Tacofino fish tacos for under $5, or if you want to experience the award-winning cuisine of the legendary Wickaninnish Inn, go at lunch when you can take in both the view and a gourmet meal at a much more affordable price than dinner. Overnight? Waterfront motels and a host of B&Bs offer affordably comfy options.


Around Kamloops: Although what's been called "B.C.'s friendliest city" is known for its outdoors lifestyle, it offers plenty of reasons to get out of the cold, too — including the many art galleries and the self-guided walking brew tour in the city's historic downtown. If you're visiting in December, be sure to hop aboard the Spirit of Christmas Heritage Train, a restored antique locomotive and cars that will take you on an unforgettable ride through history. And in January, the Winter Okanagan Wine Festival takes place at nearby Sun Peaks Resort, one of the most affordably family-friendly ski hills in BC.

Around Kelowna: Many wineries stay open for tastings throughout the year, but why not try something a little different? The Okanagan Valley is becoming known for its artisanal spirits as well, so stop in at Urban Distillers for a taste of lavender-scented gin and at Okanagan Spirits for a sip of their award-winning absinthe. Then see what cocktails the "Liquid Chefs" are concocting with them at nearby RauDZ Regional Table.

Near 100 Mile House: Swoosh along the 150 kilometres (93 miles) of cross-country ski trails, snowboard at the terrain park, dine on healthy gourmet food, enjoy sleigh rides and bonfires, indulge in spa treatments and take advantage of terrific accommodation and spa and fitness packages — all at the Hills Health Ranch. Whether you need a weekend of rejuvenation or a major wellness overhaul, this is the place for you, and the bargains have never been better.


Around Prince Rupert: The Museum of Northern B.C. is one of the best places to learn about the West Coast's First Nations heritage. For the small price of admission, discover the fascinating stories of the province's original residents. And be sure to check out the gift shop, where artwork by First Nations carvers is available for far less than what you'll pay in the big city. Prince Rupert is also an unsung dining destination, with terrific (and affordable) restaurants like the northwest-flavored Opa Sushi, the Waterfront Restaurant at The Crest Hotel and charming Cow Bay Café, where guests never know what creative delights chef-owner Adrienne Johnston is going to cook up next.


Around Nelson: This beautiful small city is filled with historic buildings, so it's easy enough to spend a day just wandering the streets and checking out the scenery. When you want to come inside and warm up, there's Touchstones Nelson: Museum of Art and History, a state-of-the-art cultural facility housed in the former post office and city hall. Drop by on a Thursday evening; admission is by donation only. And if you're feeling hungry — really hungry — hop in the car for a relaxing drive to local fave The Colander in the nearby community of Trail, where you can dine on all-you-can-eat pasta for about $15.

Near Nakusp: Known for its soothing waters, Nakusp Hot Springs promises a steamy soak with discounted admission on Winter Wednesdays (until the end of March). Nearby Halcyon Hot Springs also offers "Lunch and Dip" as well as "Dinner and Dip" deals. For $22 or $27 respectively, you'll get both a swim in the mineral pool and a meal at the Kingfisher Restaurant, known for its gourmet comfort food and spectacular view.

While you're checking out the hot springs, be sure to visit Ainsworth Hot Springs Resort near Kaslo, and Fairmont Hot Springs Resort and Radium Hot Springs, both near Invermere. And while in the Columbia Valley, you can take in more than healing waters: if you pack your own gear for the trip, you can indulge in free skating, ice fishing, tobogganing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and geocaching — and that's just for a start.

For more information on special offers in BC, visit For more on British Columbia's destinations and travel information, call (800) HELLO BC® (North America) or visit

Jericho Sailing Centre: (604) 224-4177,
The Galley Patio and Grill: (604) 222-1331,
Tourism Vancouver: (604) 683-2000,
Dine Out Vancouver:
Tourism Richmond: (877) 247-0777,
North Shore Tourism Association: (888) 999-6169,
Fraser Valley Guide:
Tourism Victoria: (800) 663-3883,
Discover Cowichan:
Tourism Nanaimo: (800) 663-7337,
Parksville and Qualicum Beach:
Discover Comox Valley:
Tourism Tofino: (888) 720-3414,
Tourism Kamloops: (866) 372-8081,
Sun Peaks Resort: (250) 578-7232, (800) 807-3257;
Tourism Kelowna: (800) 663-4345,
Hills Health Ranch: (800) 668-2233,
Museum of Northern B.C.: (250) 624-3207,
Visit Prince Rupert: (800)-667-1994,
Discover Nelson: (250) 352-3433,
Nakusp Hot Springs: (866) 999-4528,
Halcyon Hot Springs: (888) 689-4699,
Ainsworth Hot Springs Resort: (800)-668-1171,
Fairmont Hot Springs Resort: (800) 663-4979,
Radium Hot Springs: (888) 347-9331,
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