The Nanaimo Bar Trail

We all enjoy a beautiful day exploring a new trail. If you are up for something a little “off the beaten track” perhaps you might enjoy hitting the Nanaimo Bar Trail. A special, self-guided adventure full of sweet streets and tasty turns.

Nanaimo, the Harbour City, is known for many things; snorkelling with seals, a floating pub, but most importantly, as home of the famous Nanaimo Bar. A chocolately, creamy, no bake bar that for most, is only enjoyed on special occasions. For those lucky enough to visit Nanaimo, you can find the bar and other creative versions all year round.

The trail begins at the Nanaimo Museum where the history is revealed along with the original recipe. While memorizing the ingredients, rest up for a long, sugary day ahead on a Nanaimo Bar bench, specially made for the Museum. You’ll have to see it to believe it. The museum is located at 100 Museum Way inside the new Vancouver Island Conference centre. While inside you might have to sneak in a visit to the newly opened Coal Mine Exhibit and the history of the bathtub race to truly appreciate this amazing city.

The first taste highlight of the day will no doubt have to be the classic version of the Nanaimo Bar made as close to the original recipe as you’ll fine. Almost every café and coffee shop in Nanaimo makes their own traditional bar to enjoy. (Much to your disbelief),When indulging at any of the local coffee shops, you will actually see many locals snacking on the bar on their daily coffee breaks. But, because the trail would never end if you were to try every cafe’s bar, consider trying one of the two most popular choices in town. The first is adjacent to the museum at Serious Coffee, 300-60 Commercial Street. They follow the original recipe with one slight change, but you’ll have to try it to see if you can tell what it is. Ask the gal behind the counter to share her secret – you’ll find her very willing to share! Just up the way at 234 Commercial Street is Perkins Coffee Co, who make another great traditional version. They have a large following because of their generous portions and continuous supply.

By now you are probably feeling a sugar rush as the original version is described by many as “sickly sweet”. But you are in luck as the next couple of stops are a little less sweet and healthier – yes it is possible! Still on Commercial Street, a busy French café called Mon Petit Choux (120 Commercial Street) offers an organic version of the traditional bar with all natural ingredients and a little French flair. It’ll be hard to resist the many other pastries in the showcase, but stay focussed.


Finally, we are rounding the bend and nearing the end of the trail. This version is layered, sweet and sippable? Yes, it’s the Nanaimo Bar martini!

This next stop is one-of-a-kind and requires you to plan a visit to one of Nanaimo’s many Farmers’ Markets. Sarah Wallbank, a pastry chef with passion and creativity operates a portable bakery with a bike and a fridge freezer, called Parfait Gourmet Desserts. She travels around with her mobile operation, sharing her fabulous creations including her elite version of the traditional Nanaimo bar. It is the Elite bar made with all high quality ingredients, including pecans, real butter and organic, fair trade chocolate from Madagascar. Her philosophy is that if you are going to indulge, you might as well include some ‘good for you’ ingredients.

Another must see in Nanaimo is a little place called Pirate Chips located at 1 Commercial St, you can’t miss it, a life size pirate statue welcomes you in. The walls are covered in pirate memorabilia and you if you’re lucky, greeted with a mighty Yaaaar! They have perfected all things deep fried, including the beloved Nanaimo bar. Surprisingly it tastes really good, the sweetness is toned down with the batter crust and it’s served warm with an ooey gooey centre.

Let’s continue to Minnoz Restaurant & Lounge located in the The Coast Bastion Inn where they offer a melt in your mouth, perfect for sharing Nanaimo Bar Cheesecake. It is presented like a cheesecake but layered like the bar and is the perfect combination of two long time favourites.

We are past the half way point and picking up the pace to fit in all the sweet sensations. The next version is available at the Wee Cupcakery located in the Old City Quarter. Medina, the shop owner and chef has created a Nanaimo Bar Cupcake with a coconut base, like the bar but with a fluffy chocolate cake centre then topped with a creamy, custard icing and decadent piece of chocolate. You can get it to go or on a napkin and sit in the cute, beautifully decorated shop and people watch.

The next two options are best tried during the summer. The Tea on the Quay located along the waterfront walkway offers a Nanaimo Bar ice cream. Line-ups are common as this popular shop scoops up hundreds of cones every day. If you enjoy ice cream with all the toppings, visit Jakeob’s ice Cream (299 Wallace Street) and ask for the legendary Nanaimo Bar Sundae. The ice cream shop is in the back of New York Style Pizza and has the feel of a mom and pop milkshake shop.

Finally, we are rounding the bend and nearing the end of the trail. This version is layered, sweet and sippable? Yes, it’s the Nanaimo Bar martini available at the Modern Café (221 Commercial St). Their version is a mixture of crème de cacao, vanilla vodka, chocolate sauce, hit of espresso and topped with a coffee bean. There might be just as many calories as the bar but this version includes an extra caffeine kick and other side effects if too many are consumed!

You’ve made it, congratulations! You are among a very elite few to enjoy them all. Time to rest up but trying to sleep tonight might be tricky with the sugar and caffeine intake. Burn off some energy and calories by hitting the town for dancing and live music. If you are hopping on the ferry back to Horseshoe Bay and haven’t had your fill of the Nanaimo Bar treat, stop in at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and pick up a piece of Nanaimo Bar fudge for the trip home. Thanks for exploring the Nanaimo Bar trail, join us next time for other fabulous harbour city adventures. – by Chelsea Barr

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