We went to Nanaimo, Vancouver Island in British Columbia to visit the sweetest trail in Canada. And just between us, the entire city of Nanaimo has a sweet tooth.
It’s a spectacularly quirky city in general, with annual bathtub races, a famous former pirate mayor immortalized in a town statue and, of course, more versions of your favourite Canadian dessert, the Nanaimo Bar, than you can possibly eat in a four-day visit. Still, we had to try.
The eponymous dessert—the triple-layered threat of coconut, chocolate and custardy cream—has its own entire self-guided trail—the Nanaimo Bar Trail—with 39 stops in and around the city that pay homage to it in various forms, including many bars, a cheesecake, a museum exhibit, a martini and even a spring roll.
We hit the trail in the name of journalism and discovered a city packed with fun and flavour. Here are our highlights from the Nanaimo Bar Trail, the sweetest trail in Canada.
Stop 4: Nanaimo Bar Fudge from Cabela’s
Not to be left out of the action, Cabela’s outdoor outfitters have tried their hand at (and basically mastered) a Nanaimo bar fudge. Head here to pick up that crucial piece of camping gear you forgot and a package or two of this while you’re at it.
Stop 6: Nanaim-o-mite Chocolate from Bernard Callebaut
Of all the stops on the Trail, Bernard Callebaut offers the most portable, edible option. Bring their bite-size Nanaim-o-mite chocolates back to your family members or colleagues who couldn’t come along. Or just eat them on the flight home—no judgement here.
Stop 7: Nanaimo Bar Cake Pop from Coco Café
All the deliciousness of the Nanaimo bar with none of the mess, and just the right size. Okay, so we don’t need to inform you of the virtues of the cake pop, but we will mention that you can pick up a wicked Nanaimo bar version at Coco Café. It’s cute and delicious, and you buying it helps support the café’s mission of providing opportunities for people with developmental disabilities within the community.
Stop 10: Peanut Butter Crunch Nanaimo Bar from Hearthstone Artisan Bakery
Hearthstone Artisan Bakery does a delectable classic Nanaimo bar (and some great, rotating seasonal versions), but our top pick is the Peanut Butter Crunch Nanaimo Bar, which delivers on the name with a satisfying crunch to go along with the creamy texture and flavour of the peanut butter.
Stop 11: Nanaimo Bar Soap from Island-ish
Don’t accidentally put one of Island-ish’s (a décor/fashion/art boutique) Nanaimo bar soaps on the dessert plate, because someone may actually mistake it for a comestible. It isn’t…though it will get your chocolate-covered hands pretty clean.
Stop 19: Nanaimo Bar Cheesecake from Minnoz Restaurant & Lounge inside Coast Bastion
This is one of those dishes that, once you taste it, you wonder why you haven’t been eating it for years. It just makes sense. If you’re the type who needs dinner before dessert, they’ve got plenty of comforting options for that too, like a decadent lobster ravioli with wild mushrooms and prawns.
Stop 20: Nanaimo Bar Martini from Modern Café
Sometimes the best desserts come in liquid form with a boozy kick. Pencil the Modern Café into your island itinerary and try the Nanaimo Bar Martini, made with vanilla vodka, crème de cacao, chocolate sauce and a shot of espresso.
Stop 22: Nanaimo Bar Benches at the Nanaimo Museum
Even the local historians are getting in on the action with some Nanaimo bar benches (for sitting, not eating) and a display of the first published recipe, which dates back to 1953. If you ask most locals, however, they’ll tell you that their grandma or great grandma was making them long before then.
Stop 24: Nanaimo Bar Spring Roll from Noodlebox
This is worth it for the Facebook post alone. The creative culinary minds at the Thai eatery Noodlebox fill their Nanaimo bar spring rolls with chocolate and serve them with a coconut cream custard dipping sauce. Big points for creativity and taste.
Stop 26: Deep Fried Bar from Pirate Chips
If three layers isn’t enough for you, head to Pirate Chips (we told you the city had a penchant for pirates) for the deep fried version of the bar. Are they delicious? Yes, they rrrrr. Plus, it’s a pirate-themed restaurant, so that’s awesome. Bring the kids.
Stop 29: Not Your Average Nanaimo Bar from Riso Foods Inc.
Riso Foods Inc. is all about authentic, Italian-inspired food made from scratch, like pastas and wood-fired pizzas, but we had to have the gluten-free Not Your Average Nanaimo Bar, too. While we’re not yet sold on gluten-free pizza, we didn’t miss it at all in the bar. A+.
Stop 35: Nanaimo Bar Tea Latte from Tea Desire
It’s colourful. It’s layered. It’s Nanaimo bar-inspired, but not at all what you’re expecting. Tea Desire’s hot or cold take on the modern classic is fresh and tasty. Get one to go and take it on the road to the next stop.
Stop 37: Nanaimo Bar Cocktail from The Nanaimo BAR
Have a Nanaimo Bar (cocktail) at The Nanaimo BAR (drinking establishment). Sounds redundant, but is totally delicious. It’s layered the same way the bar is, served in a rocks glass full of ice and a cherry on top for good measure.