Article by Claudia Laroye, sharing her tips for planning a getaway in Parksville and Qualicum Beach.
The Parksville and 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. If you’re looking for a weekend getaway, or even a longer stay, it’s a great choice within easy reach of Vancouver. Our family has been holidaying in this gorgeous Vancouver Island location for over ten years, and every time we drive off the ferry, we immediately relax and enter into vacation mode.
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 tide is 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.
You’ll find Little Qualicum Cheeseworks at Morningstar Farm in Parksville. They produce excellent cheese, which you can sample seven days a week at their farmgate store. You can also take a self-guided tour of their farm, and get an inside view of the cheese-making process. Plus they share their space with MooBerry Winery, which produces a variety of unique berry wines. You can also sample – and purchase – those in their shop. Wine and cheese make the perfect accompaniment to any getaway in our book.
Just north of Parksville is Milner Gardens and Woodland. This garden oasis is the creation of one woman and is now administered by Vancouver Island University. 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. Vive la difference! Where else can you see the ‘Goats-on-Roof’ of the Old Country Market? It’s become one of the top tourist destinations in British Columbia, and the shopping at the Market and other unique shops is an experience in itself. The neighbouring ice cream parlour will be a hit with kids big and small – over 40 flavours to choose from, and huge cones!
Horne Lake Caves offers an experience unlike any other. 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.
For butterfly lovers, paradise can be found at Butterfly World and 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.
Planning Your Getaway
Tigh-Na-Mara is a 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.
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. The campground is family friendly with playgrounds, showers, hiking and cycling trails throughout, and a Nature House that was once the Rath family home.
From Vancouver, catch the ferry to Nanaimo, either from Tsawwassen or Horsehoe Bay. From Nanaimo, it’s an easy 40 minute drive north to Parksville. You’ll feel like you’re getting way, but thanks to the ferry ride you won’t be spending all day behind the wheel. This makes it an excellent getaway choice with kids who don’t do well on long car rides.
Vancouver-based mom and writer Claudia Laroye is passionate about family travel and about educating children through the travel experience. Her blog – The Travelling Mom – offers a modern mom’s guide of ‘how to’ travel tips and information, as well as destination advice for the new or experienced traveller.
Photo Credits: C. Laroye, Tigh-Na-Mara Resort.