Planning a summer beach holiday is an annual ritual for many of us. We’ve traveled with our kids to the Parksville Qualicum Beach area of Vancouver Island – or Oceanside as it’s also known – nearly every year since they were little. With welcoming beaches, calm waters and sunny weather, Parksville has a long history as a family-friendly summer playground, and our guide to 15 phenomenal and fun things to do in Parksville BC will help your family enjoy its charms too.
15 phenomenal things to do in Parksville
This bucolic region on the east side of Vancouver Island isn’t just another beautiful area of British Columbia. Parksville’s museums, amenities, natural attractions and wide range of accommodations – everything from camping at the beach to luxury cottage rentals – make it a holiday mecca for those keen to enjoy its laid-back friendly pace of life.
Whether you have a long weekend or an entire summer to plan a family or romantic getaway, our ultimate guide of things to do in Parksville with kids or without will remind you how life is meant to be.
Bulk up on beach time
The Oceanside beaches fronting the Strait of Georgia (Salish Sea) are prime areas of relaxation offering loads of outdoor activities. Whether you’re walking along the trails, rowing a dinghy, building sandcastles or flying a kite in the steady breeze, there’s hours of fun to be had on Parksville beaches, whether the tide is in or way, way out.
Enjoy sand sculptures? The Parksville Sand Sculpting Competition is held here 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.
Rathtrevor Provincial Park has two beaches, the sandy one being the largest and most popular. The tide on the eastern shore of Vancouver Island goes out for miles, allowing for space to spread out and enjoy an all-day beach set up before the water creeps slowly back to the shoreline. Rathtrevor’s rocky beach is dog-friendly in summer, but off-limits when Brant Geese are nesting in winter.
Commune with butterflies
Experience the beauty of butterflies at Butterfly World & Gardens, just west of Coombs. Children will love the colourful and gentle butterflies as they float around the warm indoor space and feast on fruit. There are also turtles, reptiles tropical birds, and an indoor orchid garden.
Get farm fresh at the Farmer’s Market
The bounty of the Island is available at regional Farmer’s Markets, where locally grown fresh fruit and vegetables grace farmstand tables. While the Qualicum Beach Farmer’s Market runs year-round, the Errington Farmer’s Market runs from May through October. Nestled among the trees at the “market in the park”, you’ll find fresh produce and plants, hand-crafted artisan goods, and locally prepared foods.
Find a short-term rental in Parksville
Paddle a kayak
Kayaking is a wonderful family adventure for nearly all ages. It’s a great physical workout (especially for teens), and you get up close and personal with sea lions, ocean creatures, and if you’re lucky, even whales.
We enjoyed a guided kayak tour from Adventuress. Our guide Jan has taken families on kayaking trips with kids as young as four years old (in a double or open kayak). It’s a must-do west coast experience.
Go spelunking at Horne Lake Caves
Are you afraid of the dark or confined spaces?
Well, even if you are, consider taking the family underground at Horne Lake Caves anyway. We know that caving may not be everyone’s cup of tea. It can be claustrophobic for a lot of people, children included. But descending into the earth and shining your headlamp on amazing stalactite formations made over thousands of years is pretty darn cool, and unforgettable.
The Horne Lake Caves are only a 45-minute drive from Parksville. Reserve a Family Cavern Tour or Rapelling Guided Tours if you’re really adventurous.
Bird watch at estuaries
Pacific Rainforest Adventure Tours offer the best of Western Canada birding through guided birding tours on Vancouver Island. The birding tours provide a chance to enjoy great views of the most sought after North American birds.
Field Ornithologist and birding tour leader Christopher Stephens provides a first rate and passionate Canadian birding experience for all skill levels, with the chance to see some of the most sought after birds on the west coast of Canada.
Check out Old Country Market in Coombs
Just west of Parksville, the Old Country Market in Coombs is a fantastically fun and funky place. The Market is famous for its Goats on the Roof, which are indeed goats who spend quality time munching on the buildings’ green roof. Don’t stand too close to the roof edge, you may get showered in goat droppings.
Inside, the Market has fabulous baked goods (jalapeño cheese bread!), a cafe, deli and lots of products from around the world. There’s a killer ice cream parlor and doughnuterie next door, as well as a surf shop, garden store, gift shops and restaurants. You can easily spend a few hours wandering through the eclectic shops or watching the goats while enjoying an ice cream cone in the sun.
Enjoy Rathtrevor Beach
Walking on the beach at Rathtrevor Provincial Park when the tide is way, way out, is one of our favorite activities for families in Parksville. It’s everyone’s idea of perfect fun. The beach is wide and long when the tide is out, with room for everyone to enjoy.
Kite-flying, sandcastle-building, crab racing and playing in the warm, shallow water make for a perfect summer’s day at the beach. Grab some chairs, a beach umbrella and a picnic, and enjoy a grand day out watching the tide creep ever closer on its way back to shore.
Visit Englishman River Falls
Situated along the pristine Englishman River southwest of Parksville, Englishman River Falls Provincial Park features two stunning waterfalls cascading along the descending riverbed into a deep canyon. It’s a picturesque destination with walking trails set amid a lush old-growth and second-growth forest of Douglas fir, cedar, hemlock and maple.
If you can’t get enough waterfall action, visit Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park is another popular recreation area and campground with hiking trails, swimming opportunities in Cameron Lake, and of course, impressive waterfalls.
Stroll through Milner Gardens
Qualicum Beach is just 20 minutes north of Parksville, and that’s where you’ll find Milner Gardens. The gorgeous grounds and Gardens showcase acres of west coast woodland forest that have been transformed into an incredible English Garden, including an extensive collection of more than 500 rhododendrons.
The walking trails are child-friendly and almost entirely wheelchair accessible. The natural environment of trees, flowering shrubs and quiet spaces is beautiful and peaceful. In June, keep an eye out for the 80+ tiny fairy houses that appear and then disappear again, as if by magic.
Sit down to tea at Milner House, which offers afternoon tea and baked goods in the Camellia Tea Room, with stunning views onto the grounds and the Georgia Straight.
Play mini-golf at Riptide Lagoon
Playing a round of mini-golf at Riptide Lagoon Adventure Centre or Paradise Fun Park. These pint-sized amusement parks are bound to bring out smiles and competitive spirits on the course. There are fun mini-golf courses to choose from at both parks, as well as bumper boats and games arcades. These family friendly activities are timeless in their appeal to kids of all ages.
Hug trees in Cathedral Grove
West of Parksville along Highway 4 towards Port Alberni, you’ll find the awe-inspiring world of Douglas Fir giants in Cathedral Grove. Cathedral Grove is located in MacMillan Provincial Park, and is home to one of the last remaining old growth forests of its kind in Canada. Some of these towering trees are over 800 years old.
There are walking trails on either side of the highway. Visitors can wander through the forest, gazing up to view the tops of trees, which is nearly impossible. Many of which are several meters in circumference, and while you can get up close and personal to some of the giant firs, visitors are asked to stay on the pathways to minimize damage to the sensitive forest floor.
Sculpt glass at the Robert Held Gallery
Parksville’s own Robert Held Gallery’s art glass collections range from classic to contemporary. From vases to bowls to hearts to paperweights, his designs are inspired by the work of famous artists such as Monet, Klimt and Tiffany. You can learn from the master and book a glass sculpting session with Robert, max 2 people per session.
Work one-on-one with this experienced glass blower to create your own one of a kind piece. Each experience lasts as long as it takes for you to complete your a beautiful piece of glass that you’ll be proud to show all your friends and family. DYK: Robert’s goblets were selected to grace the table of the Governor General and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s collection now houses Robert’s commissioned piece “The Northern Lights” – a stunning glass bowl created with gold & dichroic glass.
Buy delicious cheese at Morningstar Farm
Morningstar Farm in French Creek is home to well-known and loved Little Qualicum Cheeseworks. Choose from handcrafted, old-world inspired gourmet cheeses, aged raw milk cheeses, award-winning brie and more. Little Qualicum Cheeseworks also offers self-guided tours, festivals & events, lots of working farm animals to see and pet, a fantastic picnic area, and a trail to stroll around the 68 acres. New to Morningstar Farm is an online shopping experience including beach picnic-friendly Free Ranger charcuterie boxes.
Visit the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre
The North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre is a non-profit animal and bird rehabilitation facility that cares for injured animals with all kinds of needs. From birds with broken wings to orphaned black bears, the centre works to reintroduce animals back into the wild, and educated the public about wildlife and environmental issues. The Centre is open daily.
Stop and sip at Bespoke Spirits House
Bespoke Spirits House is a craft distillery located in Parksville, specializing in gin and vodka spirits. ‘Bespoke’ means ‘custom made to exacting specification,’ which is a fitting description for their handcrafted spirits featuring the best in locally-sourced ingredients. Their Virtue Vodka or signature Jezebel Gin can be picked up or ordered from their tasting room and lounge.
Where to Stay in Parksville
The Oceanside region has a great variety of resorts, hotels, VRBOs and campgrounds for families. Here are just a few of our favorites.
Beach Acres Resort
Beach Acres Resort overlooks expansive Rathtrevor beach. The resort features two bedroom cottages and townhomes with all the comforts of home. Including kitchens, wood-burning fireplaces, patios and BBQs. There are communal laundry facilities for extended stays, as well as an indoor pool, shared fire pits, and tennis courts.
When the cook wants a night off, the Black Goose Inn is located on the resort property. The Inn offers traditional English pub fare. Think tasty fish & chips, and some great local craft beers, ciders and IPAs. You can sit inside, but in summer, the Goose’s beautiful outdoor patio is the place to be. It’s dog-friendly and has a great view of the ocean.
Tigh-Na-Mara is the quintessential family friendly holiday resort, but with touches of luxury. Whether you want an ocean-view room or to rent a family-style cottage complete with a kitchen, the resort offers something for every traveling style. Don’t miss soaking in the Grotto Spa, voted as the best spa in Western Canada.
From the resort, it’s a short walk down to the beach, where you can spend the entire day on the sand, or enjoy an evening beach campfire BBQ.
Closer to downtown Parksville, the Beach Club Resort offers suites with ocean views, full kitchens and a heated pool.
Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park Campground
If you enjoy camping in British Columbia, Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park is a personal favorite. The Park and its campgrounds are well located between two beaches – one rocky, the other sandy, with a tide that goes way out into the Salish Sea. Reservations to camp at Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park campground are a must in summer.
The campground is family friendly with playgrounds, showers, hiking and cycling trails throughout. Campsites are generously sized and great for tent and RV camping. There’s also an educational Nature House that was once the Rath family home. On warm summer weekend nights, Park Rangers host nature shows in the campground’s amphitheater.
Parksville is located on the eastern coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia. It is situated in the Regional District of Nanaimo, approximately 37 kilometers (23 miles) north of Nanaimo, and about 147 kilometers (91 miles) northwest of Victoria.
There are several ways to get from Metro Vancouver to Parksville.
1. By car:
Take Highway 1 (Trans-Canada Highway) westbound from Vancouver to Horseshoe Bay. Board BC Ferries from Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay in Nanaimo. From Nanaimo, follow the signs for Highway 19 (Inland Island Highway) northbound towards Parksville. It’s about a 30-40 minute drive from Nanaimo to Parksville, depending on traffic.
2. By public transit:
Take a BC Ferries connector bus or public transit from Vancouver to Horseshoe Bay to board a ferry to Departure Bay. In Nanaimo, take a regional bus or shuttle to Parksville.
The weather in Parksville during the summer months is warm and sunny. Highs in July and August average in the mid-20s celsius, and can reach over 30 degrees. Temperatures will be cooler by the ocean.
Like many coastal areas of British Columbia, Parksville gets its fair share of rain. But the East Coast of Vancouver Island has the best weather year-round compared to nearby areas.
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Photo Credits: C. Laroye
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Disclosure: Our visit to Oceanside was sponsored by the Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism Association. As always, our opinions are honest and our own.