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62km (39 miles) N of Qualicum Beach

Facing each other across the Courtenay Estuary, Comox (pop. 12,500) and Courtenay (pop. 20,000) are twin towns that provide a bit of urban polish to a region rich in outdoor recreation. Because they're north of the Victoria-to-Tofino circuit that defines much of the tourism on Vancouver Island, these towns are refreshingly untouristy. Comox has a working harbor with a fishing fleet; Courtenay, a lumber-milling center, has an old downtown core where the shops have largely transformed into boutiques, but which still seems homey. Which isn't to say that these towns lack sophistication: You'll find excellent lodging and restaurants, as well as the new and opulent Crown Isle Golf Resort. Depend on the pace of change to quicken even further: The Comox Valley is the one of the fastest-growing regions of Vancouver Island.

Courtenay and Comox are also stepping-off points for adventures in the Beaufort Mountains, just to the west. From Mount Washington Alpine Resort, trails lead into the southeast corner of Strathcona Provincial Park. There are also adventures to be had at sea level: The shallow Courtenay Estuary is home to abundant wildlife, particularly birds and sea mammals, and is a popular destination for sea kayakers.