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Hwy. 19A becomes Cliffe Avenue as it enters Courtenay. It then crosses the Courtenay River and continues north toward Campbell River, bypassing the old town centers of both Courtenay and Comox. This is a comparative blessing, as it allows these commercial districts to quietly gentrify without four lanes of traffic shooting past. The new Inland Hwy. 19 bypasses the towns altogether; the Comox Valley Parkway exit will take you from the highway over to Cliffe Avenue.

Courtenay

Courtenay's town center revolves around Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth streets just west of the Courtenay River. It's a pleasant place for a stroll, with a number of boutiques, art galleries, and housewares shops to browse. It's also the heart of Courtenay's dining and coffee shop culture.

Stop by the Comox Valley Art Gallery, Duncan Avenue at Sixth Street (tel. 250/334-2983), a public contemporary exhibition space for local and regional artists. The gallery shop carries the work of more than 100 artists. The Artisans Courtyard, 180B Fifth St. (tel. 250/338-6564), is a co-op with more than 60 members. Next door is the Potter's Place, 180A Fifth St. (tel. 250/334-4613), which offers the works of 29 potters, ranging from porcelain to raku.

The Courtenay District Museum & Paleontology Centre, 207 Fourth St. (tel. 250/334-0686; www.courtenaymuseum.ca), tells the story of the region's First Nations peoples with a good collection of masks, basketry, and carvings. The museum's highlight is a 12m (39-ft.) cast skeleton of an elasmosaur, a Cretaceous-era marine reptile. (The Comox Valley was once covered by a tropical sea, and the area now yields a wealth of marine fossils.) With four departures daily June through August, the museum leads 3-hour fossil tours of its paleontology lab and to a local fossil dig for C$25 adults, C$20 seniors and students, C$15 children 4 to 12, or C$75 per family. Call ahead for reservations; tours also run on Saturdays in April and May. Admission to the museum alone is by donation. Summer hours are Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm and Sunday noon to 4pm. Winter hours are Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 5pm.

Comox

The old center of Comox is small, with just a few shops and cafes to tempt travelers. What's definitely worth exploring, however, is the marina area in Comox Harbour. Walkways offer views of the boats and the bay; rising above it all are the jagged peaks of Strathcona Park. Another excellent place for a stroll is Filberg Heritage Lodge and Park, 61 Filberg Rd. (tel. 250/334-9242; www.filberg.com). A full 3.6 hectares (9 acres) of lawn and forest, plus a petting zoo, surround a handsome Arts and Crafts-style home. Once a private residence, the lodge is now open for tours from 11am to 5pm on Easter weekend plus weekends in May and September, and daily from July to Labour Day.

Parks & Beaches

Continue past the marina on Comox Road to Gooseneck Park, a local favorite. Saratoga Beach and Miracle Beach Provincial Park are about a half-hour drive north of Courtenay on Hwy. 19. Seal Bay Regional Nature Park and Forest, 24km (15 miles) north of Courtenay off Hwy. 19, is a 714-hectare (1,764-acre) preserve laced with hiking and mountain-biking trails. Hours are from 6:30am to 11pm.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.