I always find that my body relaxes when it realizes it’s on Vancouver Island. There’s an ‘Island time’ feeling for me, as soon as we drive off of the ferry. The pace of life is not as rushed as other places, such as in Metro Vancouver, that’s a welcome thing.
Travelling here as a family at least once a year, we appreciate and value this special atmosphere of relaxation and friendliness that we find every time we travel to Vancouver Island.
The Parksville & Qualicum Beach areas north of Nanaimo have been steeped in family-friendly holiday-making for decades. These towns and the area around them are described as “Oceanside” in tourism brochures, to indicate their truly spectacular location near the beaches and the calm waters of the Georgia Straight.
What to Do in Parksville
The Oceanside beaches and ocean are prime play areas for everyone who visits this area. Whether you’re walking along the trails, rowing a dinghy, or flying a kite in the steady breeze, there’s hours of fun to be had on these beaches, whether the tides in or way, way out.
Enjoy sand sculptures? The Parksville Sand Sculpting Competition is held annually from mid-July to mid-August in Parksville’s main oceanside park. This global event is one of the biggest sand sculpting competitions in the world.
Just north of Parksville is Milner Gardens & Woodland. This garden oasis is the creation of one woman. Vancouver Island University now administers the gardens. They also offer an English Tea service in the historic Milner House, with an unsurpassed view of the ocean.
A short, ten minute drive west of Parksville is the unique and quirky village of Coombs.
I just love this place. Where else can you see the Goats-on-Roof of the Old Country Market? It’s a top tourist destination in British Columbia, and the shopping at the Market and other unique shops is an experience in itself.
The neighbouring ice cream parlour offers large cones in over 40 flavours, including hometown fave Nanaimo Bar – yum!
If shopping is your bag, Qualicum Beach is a boutique treat, as the town does not allow chain stores. How fabulous is that?
[TTM tip: If you’re in Qualicum Beach on Father’s Day, be sure to spend some time admiring the over 200 classic cars in this annual Show n Shine, which made it onto Oprah’s list of the ten best things to do on Father’s Day.]
For update-to-date information about the Parksville Qualicum Beach area, visit the Oceanside Tourism website. Lots of great details to plan your visit, any time of year.
What Lies Beyond Parksville
Are you afraid of the dark or confined spaces? Then Horne Lake Caves is NOT the place for you. But otherwise, this breath-taking, underground wonder that you can only see when the headlamps are turned on is unforgettable. There are family tours of the caves, and more extreme rappelling tours for the super-adventurous. Don’t miss this! [TTM tip: Horne Lake Caves is approximately 45 minutes northwest of Parksville.]
For butterfly lovers, paradise can be found at Butterfly World & Gardens, just west of Coombs. Children will love the colourful and gentle butterflies as they float around and feast on fruit. There are also turtles and tropical birds, and an indoor orchid garden.
Where to Stay in Parksville
Tigh-Na-Mara is the quintessential family-friendly holiday resort, but with all of the luxuries. Whether you want an ocean-view room or rent a family-style cottage complete with a kitchen, the resort offers something for every travelling style, including the Grotto Spa, voted as the best spa in Western Canada. It’s a short walk down to the beach when you can spend the entire day or have an evening beach campfire BBQ.
Beach Acres is another traditional family resort with individual cottages and self-contained units with kitchen facilities, allowing for a more economical family vacation.
If you enjoy the outdoor camping experience, Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park is a personal favorite. Between two beaches – one rocky, the other sandy, with a tide that goes way out into the Straight. The campground is family friendly with playgrounds, showers, hiking and cycling trails throughout, and a Nature House that was once the Rath family home.
Photo Credits: C. Laroye, Tigh-Na-Mara Resort, Visit Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism.
Disclosure: For a portion of this article, the travelling mom received compensation in the form of reduced rates and gift vouchers for review purposes, as is standard in the travel industry. However, these compensations came with no strings attached, and the views herein are honest and my own.
Have you enjoyed some holiday time in the Parksville Qualicum Beach area? What was your favorite activity? Share your comment below.