Coombs is synonymously known as “Goats on the Roof”. More than a million visitors arrive each year to see the goats who live on the roof of the Old Country Market. While some of these visitors stop only to marvel at the permanent four-legged tenants, others stay to immerse themselves in the many unique galleries, studios and shops that share the area with the famous goats.
No matter what draws you to this little country corner of Vancouver Island, stopping here is a must!
Coombs – A History
As part of the Salvation Army’s immigration period, nearly 250,000 Welsh and English civilians immigrated to Canada during the early part of the twentieth century. Under the leadership of the Salvation Army’s Ensign Cargo, some of these immigrant families settled in the Coombs area around 1910. The community was named after the Army’s Canadian Commissioner, Captain Thomas Coombs.
The original market was created by Kristian Graaten, who, along with his wife Solveig and children, emigrated to Vancouver Island from Norway in the 1950s. Inspired by the many Norwegian homes and farm structures that are built directly into the hillside, Kristian decided to design the market with a sod roof. With the help of his two sons, Svein and Andy, and son-in-law, Larry, he unwittingly began to build what would become perhaps one of the most famous sod-roof building in the world!
The Goats first appeared approximately 40 years ago.
It was the Coombs Country Fair weekend, and the grass on the roof of the market was higher than Kristian liked. Legend has it that after a few drinks, Larry suggested they borrow some goats to mow the grass and perhaps provide some entertainment to passing cars.
Needless to say, the goats became permanent tenants of the Coombs Old Country Market that day.
The eclectic mix of unique retail shops, galleries and restaurants is another great reason to visit Coombs.
Coombs Old Country Market
Yes, it’s well known for its family of goats grazing on the grass rooftop, but the Coombs Old Country Market is famous for what’s inside the store too! They carry international foods, fresh-baked goods, imported gifts from the far reaches of the world, and a superb delicatessen that specializes in a variety of international meats and cheeses. (Make sure to try the candied salmon!). There is also an onsite Market Restaurant (see details below).
Root Cellar Produce
Whether it is due to top quality products or the great prices, this open-air produce market remains one of the strongest produce stores in the area. The market supports many local farmers and producers along with top quality wholesalers.
Located behind the Root Cellar Produce you will find Chinese Antiques. This store brings you handpicked selections of refurbished Chinese antique furniture over from Asia, as well as a selection of fine elm wood tables and chairs.
This garden store carries an impressive selection of small and large garden pots, bamboo garden accessories, and a variety of seasonal plants and hanging baskets.
Wabisabi Surf Shop
This is the largest surf shop in the area, and where you will find all the top surf brands, including Roxy, Rip Curl, Quicksilver, Billabong, Sitka, and Toms (to name just a few).
Outside the Market Area
Located next to the Old Country Market, the Coombs Emporium is where you will find giant stone sculptures and quirky shops.
Coombs General Store
Established in 1912, the Coombs General Store has shelves of memorabilia and old photos, and a huge selection of penny candy.
The Other Side Artisan Collective
Across the road from the Market, you will find this great store featuring handmade island goods crafted by local island artisans.
Just down the road from the Market (towards Parksville), you will find this unique store full of deconstruction supplies, reclaimed lumber and building supplies, home decor, antique home furnishings, garden decor, and much more.
Where to Eat
Located inside the Old Country Market, this restaurant has menu options that suit the entire family. You will find everything from daily soups, salads and sandwiches to fish and chips, chicken fingers and burgers. And if you are eating outside on the patio, you may just get a goat or two staring at you from the rooftop!
Billy Gruff Creamery
With over 70 flavour choices, this ice cream shop has one of the best selections of ice cream, gelato, and sorbet found on Vancouver Island!
Something to note about the ice cream shop is that it’s cash only. If you don’t have cash, you can purchase a voucher from one of the cashiers inside the Old Country Market.
For an authentic made from scratch Italian meal, a great atmosphere, and beautiful surroundings head to this restaurant within the Market area. You can’t go wrong with their pasta’s and/or pizzas. And make sure to try their Lavender Lemonade too!
Located inside the Billy Gruff Creamery building, you will find this Mexican restaurant. They use their own tortilla maker to create an array of delicious tacos and other Mexican dishes perfected from recipes handed down for generations. Definitely try their tortilla soup with handmade chips! If you are there in the summer months, their frozen drinks are a welcome retreat from the hot sun.
Coombs is located on Highway 4A (Alberni Highway), approximately 9 km west of Parksville on Vancouver Island. Highway 4A is the main highway across the Island that connects the east and west coast. Which is why Coombs is a popular stop on the long drive to Tofino and Ucluelet.
Other Attractions in the Area
This tropical oasis will have you strolling among gardens filled with plants, flowers, and butterflies from around the world. The hundreds of butterflies of all shapes, colours, and sizes fly freely, and if you are lucky they will mistake you for a flower and land on your shoulder or hat! You will also have the opportunity to gawk at turtles and tortoises.
Butterfly World is located on the Alberni Highway (Highway 4A) just north of the Market on your way to Port Alberni.
Hamilton Hobby Farm
Right across the street from Butterfly World, you will find this hobby farm full of a myriad of animals, including horses, goats, potbelly pigs, chickens, ducks, rabbits, and many other critters. They also offer hayrides, as well as horseback riding lessons.
Trails leading from the parking lot allow you to meander around this natural habitat for marsh birds, ducks and geese. While viewing platforms allow for closer observation of the inhabitants. This area is particularly active in the Spring and Fall.
Hamilton Marsh is located approximately 4 km north of Coombs on South Hilliers Road, just off the Alberni Highway (Highway 4A) on the way to Port Alberni.
The Rail Trail
The new RDN Rail Trail follows along the south side of the E&N tracks (which are no longer in operation) between Coombs and Parksville. This 7 km hard-packed gravel trail is a great place for kids and adults alike to walk, run, or ride bikes. The trailhead in Coombs starts across from Station Road (just south of the Market), while the Parksville end starts at Springwood Park on Despard Avenue – (The trailhead is near the Springwood Park dog park area).
Tip: Park one vehicle in Parksville and the other in Coombs if you have little ones who won’t make it there and back.
What’s Close By
Tucked in the small farming community of Errington, you will find a world-class wildlife recovery centre. Since 1986 this eight-acre rehabilitation facility has cared for ill, injured or orphaned cougars, bears, wolves, and birds. Along with the care of these creatures, the centre takes great pride in providing the public with extensive education programs.
If you are looking for another great farm experience, your children will love getting up close and personal with the animals at this hobby farm. They are welcome to enter the pens and pet and/or snuggle baby goats, chicks, sheep, bunnies, and calves. The farm also has a llama, donkey, adult goats, horses, chickens, ducks and pigs to view.
Englishman River Falls
Located near Errington, Englishman River Falls features not only a great campground but two beautiful waterfalls to view as well. Even if you aren’t interested in camping, make sure to stop and take the short walk to the falls. During the summer a crystal clear pool at the base of the lower falls turns into one of the best swimming holes in the area. In the Fall the park becomes a prime viewing area for the return of spawning salmon.
This is by far one of the most beautiful parks on Vancouver Island. Here you will find impressive waterfalls cascading down a rocky gorge in a beautiful forested setting. Walking trails around the park offer picturesque views of the river and provide access to the upper and lower falls.
When you come to a mass congestion of cars along Highway 4A (towards Port Alberni) you know you will have arrived at Cathedral Grove. Located in MacMillan Provincial Park, Cathedral Grove is one of the most easily accessible stands of old growth forest on Vancouver Island. Trails on either side of the highway lead visitors through paths lined with giant Douglas Fir trees, some of which are over 800 years old!
Where to Stay
There are no accommodations available in Coombs. So if you are wishing to spend a few days in the area, your best bet is to find a hotel in Parksville.
You can, however, camp in Coombs at Coombs Country Campground.
With their heated pool and 2.5-acre man-made lake, it’s a popular spot in the summer months.
Have I missed any of your favourite attractions in the Coombs area? Let us know in the comments below!
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