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9 Crazy fun things to do in Parksville & Qualicum Beach

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9 Crazy fun things to do in Parksville & Qualicum Beach

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Once upon a time, when our son was much younger and so were we, there was a quirky, one-building grocery shack in Coombs – with goats nibbling on its grass roof.

We used to vacation as a family in Parksville.

It was a sleepy little town then, with not much more than the goat-topped store in nearby Coombs and a couple of rustic resorts with cabins on the beach.

How times have changed!

Now there are many fun things to do in Parksville and neighboring Qualicum Beach.

These picturesque beach towns in British Columbia, Canada, are all grown-up!

Things to do in Parksville and Qualicum Beach

We visited the two resort towns recently for a sunny getaway.

The towns are about seven miles apart (a short 12-minute drive away from each other).

Wondering where to stay in Parksville?

Scroll down to Parksville resorts.

But don’t miss reading about the Coombs goats and where to eat in Parksville (hello Cuckoo) and Love Shack Libations (you’ll love their beer!) and…

So here’s what to do in Parksville and Qualicum Beach today:

1) See the goats on the roof, Coombs

Since we started with the Coombs goats on the roof, let’s fill you in on what you see now.

The country store (which started as a fruit stand back in 1973) still sports a trip of goats mowing the green grass roof.

But today, that store is now a full-blown visitor attraction – the Coombs Country Market.

And it packs people in with its popular local market (shades of Whole Foods), buzzing Italian trattoria, expansive ice-cream parlour, garden center, clothing boutique – and even a furniture gallery.

Many other stores and cafés have also cropped up around the Coombs Old Country Market.

You could easily spend half a day at this delightful market and not get bored. It’s one of the most fun places to see near Parksville and Qualicum.

(Indeed, Coombs makes for a great stop on a Vancouver Island road trip.)

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Coombs Market

Season:  The Coombs Country market is open seasonally from March to November.

Hours:  In season, it’s open daily from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm.

More information:  See the Coombs Country Market website.

2) Walk Rathtrevor Beach

Some things stay the same though, despite the passage of time.

Located on the edge of Parksville town, Rathtrevor Beach is a three-mile stretch of beachfront famous for its warm shallow waters.

It’s one of the best beaches in Canada – certainly one of the top beaches in B.C. And it still holds huge appeal for family holidays in British Columbia (and adult getaways too).

Rathtrevor Beach is one of the best beaches in British Columbia for swimming
The water at Rathtrevor beach is warm, making it one of the best beaches in British Columbia for swimming

The first thing we did after arriving was to ditch the flip-flops and walk out onto the beach. The tide had rolled out almost as far as the eye could see.

We relished the pleasure of squishing our toes into the soft grey sand, amazed at all the tiny sea critters.

Zillions of little grey and red crabs scuttled about as our feet sloshed through the bathtub-warm water; tiny harmless jellyfish floated by.

Walking Rathtrevor Beach is one of the many fun things to do in Parksville
When the tide rolls out, it’s fun to walk barefoot on the wet sand and look for little sea critters

Later in the evening, the tide came in right up to the shoreline. As we sat on our balcony over a glass of wine, watching the sky turn pink, a swimmer caught our attention.

Parksville boasts the warmest ocean swimming in Canada.

How did we miss actually swimming in the water all those years ago? Somehow back then we mistakenly thought the beach was just an ankle- to knee-deep playground for kids.

In the rocky tidepools, you might see some colorful sea stars

We could have spent our whole getaway on this beach in Parksville or looking at the beach from the deck…

Are you a beach baby? You’ll love these cool beaches in Cabo San Lucas (read next)

3) Explore Horne Lake Caves

But of course, we were also keen to check out some of the area’s other attractions too. Like Horne Lake Caves.

There are more than 1,000 caves on Vancouver Island. (You can read about some of them here.)

Horne Lake Caves, BC
The Horne Lake caves are the only Vancouver Island caves that are safe to explore if you’re not an experienced caver

But the caves at Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park are the only ones safely accessible to the public.

From the small visitor education centre, we crossed a suspension bridge to meet our enthusiastic cave guide, Alex, for the “easy” Riverbend Explorer tour.

Helmets are provided for the guided tours of Horne Lake Caves
Helmets are provided for the guided tours of Horne Lake Caves

It’s possible to explore one of the caves on your own.

But its crystalline rock formations aren’t as pristine as in the 1/4-mile Riverbend Cave, which can only be entered via a guided tour.

The caves in Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park are the only caves in BC safely accessible to the public
It’s a whole other world inside this wondrous Vancouver Island cave system

As soon as we stepped through the gated entrance, our world became inky black except for the lights on our headlamps.

There are no electric lights, handrails or ladders in this wilderness cave system, and we scooched down (our butts sometimes the recommended “third contact point”) to scramble over boulders and squeeze through narrow openings.

When we gazed up, following our guide’s flashlight beam, our jaws dropped as we took it all in. Everywhere you look, there are glistening crystalline ice “draperies,” thin delicate tubes and stalactites.

Horne Lake Caves
Stalactites, stalagmites, white crystal waterfalls – so many different cave creations…

One sparkling white formation looked just like a Buddha.

Surprisingly, there’s life in this netherworld. We noticed a tiny bug, the size of a speck of dirt, swimming in a palm-sized cave pool.

It’s probably just as well we didn’t see the other cave critters though – cave crickets, beetles, spiders and bats – which all co-exist here in total darkness.

Horne Lake Caves

Gear:  Helmets with headlamps are provided for guided tours.

“Riverbend Explorer” tour:  This two-hour guided tour is the easiest and most popular tour, offered year-round. It’s suitable for ages 5 and up.

Other cave tours:  Several other tours are also offered, including a five-hour “Extreme Cave Rappel” (for ages 13 and up), which includes rock- and ladder-climbing and rappelling to get you to the end of Riverbend Cave.

More information:  For details and to book, see the Horne Lake Caves website.

4) Soak in the Grotto Spa

A decidedly different grotto experience awaits you at the Tigh-Na-Mara Grotto Spa.

Tigh-Na-Mara is a seaside spa resort just outside Parksville. Its 20,000 sq. ft. spa was named the top spa in Canada for 2018 by Spas of America.

The large warm mineral pool with gentle waterfall is designed like a natural stone grotto, but with a high ceiling and windows.

The Tigh-Na-Mara spa is the best Parksville spa
Spas in Parksville? The best is Tigh-Na-Mara’s Grotto Spa

If you’re looking for a Parksville spa for a little “me” time, you’ll naturally want to check this grotto spa out!

After soaking in the Tigh-Na-Mara spa pool until we were as mellow as milk, we slipped on white bathrobes and headed upstairs to the intimate Treetop Tapas restaurant.

5) Enjoy endless tapas in your bathrobe

Enjoying endless tapas at the Treetop Tapas restaurant in Tigh-Na-Mara resort
So this isn’t us, but we also delighted in the endless tapas

The only restaurant of its kind in Canada, the Treetop Tapas restaurant is reserved exclusively for robed spa guests. And it makes for a relaxed evening to go for dinner straight from the shower with wet hair and no makeup!

The menu is fixed – a selection of 16 tapas, all made to order and creatively presented, one after the other.

The "dip and dine" package includes an assortment of 16 different tapas after soaking in Tigh-Na-Mara's Grotto spa
Some of the tapas that tempt you after soaking in the Tigh-Na-Mara spa

Gazing out through cedar-framed windows at the serene forest, we oohed and ahhed over fresh crab meat wrapped in zucchini slices, and duck with camembert polenta and mustard greens.

And, yes, wine can be ordered too.

Treetop Tapas

Dip and dine:  Tigh-Na-Mara’s  “dip and dine” package includes entry to the Grotto mineral pool and a seating of endless tapas. (Wine and alcohol is extra.)

Menu:  For the Grotto Spa tapas menu, see here

Time:  Allow 3 hours for the whole experience.

6) Taste craft beer at Love Shack Libations

You’ll also want to pay Love Shack Libations a visit.

Blink as you’re driving along the Island Highway and you could miss it. (The map below should help you find it though.)

Victoria is B.C.’s craft brewery capital (and home to Canada’s first brewpub). Love Shack Libations is probably the smallest craft brewery in B.C.

The story? After moving to Qualicum Beach from Whistler in 2005, Dave Paul lived in a tent while building a “love shack” for his family.

Along the way, the veteran bartender started brewing beer at home, then learned how to make all-grain beer – which he says is like switching from making Betty Crocker cakes out of the box to baking à la Martha Stewart.

Love Shack Libations is probably the smallest Vancouver Island brewery
It may be teeny, but Dave Paul’s Qualicum brewery produces some killer craft beer

He now shares his tasty concoctions at his 12 ft by 16 ft, one-man shop – Love Shack Libations.

Sitting on bar stools around a cedar plank tasting bar, we sipped his four mainstays – Killer Kolsch, D.P.A. (Dave Paul Ale), Crafty Cream Ale and Precious Porter – as well as other seasonal products, from an eclectic assortment of martini, sherry, highball and other glasses.

Love Shack Libations is one of the best Vancouver Island breweries
No standard beer glasses here; beer is poured into wine, champagne and other different glasses

The beer is good, and word has spread about his Vancouver Island brewery.

Restaurant demand for his beer is more than Dave wants to produce. And even though his “microbrewery” was officially closed except for our appointment, people still trickled in to buy his hand-bottled creations.

Love Shack Libations

Beer:  See the selections here.

Hours:  Wednesday from 5 to 9 pm and Saturday from 1 to 5 pm.

More information:  See the brewery’s website.

Interested in wines? Check out the best wine clubs in Canada that we’ve sussed out!

7) Sample cheese at Little Qualicum Cheeseworks

It's fun to pet the animals at the Morningstar Farm
Hey there! We love the cheese made from your milk

Another fun stop is Little Qualicum Cheeseworks and the MooBerry Winery, both located on the picturesque Morningstar Farm.

Watch the team of cheesemakers make artisan cheeses from milk from the farm’s dairy cows.

You can also taste some of the popular brie, feta, blue and other Little Qualicum cheeses, as well as various fruit wines. (We thought the gooseberry wine would go well poured over vanilla ice-cream!)

Taste the cheese at Little Qualicum Cheeseworks
Complimentary cheese tastings are offered at Little Qualicum Cheeseworks

The wine-and-cheese tastings are free. (The cheeses, in particular, are so good that chances are you’ll buy something.)

Outside, it’s fun to pet the rabbits and other farm animals.

It’s fun to pet the farm animals at Morningstar Farm
Small (and big) kids like to the pet the cows and rabbits at Morningstar Farm

Morningstar Farm

Hours:  Open 10:00 am to 5:00 pm daily.

More information:  See their website.

8) Play at Rathtrevor Provincial Park

Rathtrevor Beach at low tide

We’ve already mentioned Rathtrevor Beach.

Of all the Parksville attractions, it’s probably the most popular – and the main reason flocks of families like to spend a summer holiday in Parksville and Qualicum Beach.

The beach is only one part of the Rathtrevor provincial park, however.

In the park itself, there are shady picnic tables on the lawn. (To sit on the beach, you’ll need to bring your own umbrella to stick in the sand.)

A circular, two-mile walking trail – the Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park Loop – also winds through the park’s old growth trees and along the edge of the beach.

In spring, the park is a kaleidoscope of color from all the wildflowers.

Love to hike? Then you’ll love the Joffre Lakes trail near Whistler (maybe you’ll see bears?)

9) Eat at Cuckoo, Coombs

Cuckoo, Coombs, is a wonderful Italian trattoria
The Cuckoo trattoria in Coombs is the closest thing to dining in Italy (without actually being in Italy)

We ended our mini-trip with a bang-up dinner at Cuckoo, the Coombs Italian restaurant at the Coombs Country Market.

We could have sat inside the authentic Italian villa at tables set with white linens.

But it was a lovely warm evening. The outside terrace overlooked a dry forested riverbed; mini-lights were strung overhead in leafy trees. Of course, this setting won us over.

Pastas at the Cuckoo restaurant are home-made, and the rich and creamy spaghetti carbonara hit the spot – as did our Parksville and Qualicum Beach getaway.

The wood-oven pizza at Cuckoos is also very tasty!

Cuckoo trattoria

Season:  Like the Coombs Market, Cuckoo is open seasonally from March to November.

Hours:  Cuckoo is open from 11:00 am to 9:00 pm.

Menu:  See the Cuckoo restaurant menu.

More information:  See Cuckoo’s website.

Parksville resorts

Where to stay in Parksville? Parksville is bigger than Qualicum Beach, so it has more accommodation choices.

We stayed at the Beach Club (right in the center of Parksville) and Tigh-Na-Mara (just outside Parksville). We can recommend both – they’re the best places to stay in Parksville and Qualicum Beach.

Beach Club Resort:

Where to stay in Parksville? The Beach Club is right on the beach in Parksville
The best rooms in the Beach Club face the ocean

The Beach Club is newer – with bigger, more modern accommodations.

Situated right on sandy Parksville Beach, it has contemporary studios and large one-bedroom units with full kitchens, air-conditioning, gas fireplaces and large balconies.

Tip: Ask for an oceanview-facing unit; they’re worth the extra cost. Some units have no view (they face other buildings).

The view of the boardwalk along the beach from our balcony

See reviews of the Beach Club on TripAdvisor.

Beach Club Resort: Check rates and availability here

Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort:

Where to stay in Parksville? Tigh-Na-Mara
Where to stay in Parksville? Tigh-Na-Mara is one of the top Parksville resorts

The Tigh-Na-Mara resort is more woodsy (surrounded by forest), with nicely gussied up rooms, cabins and suites.

Families might like the self-contained cabins. (But the cabins don’t have ocean views.)

Couples, however, should definitely book one of the beautiful ocean-view suites.

Book a seaside suite at the Tigh-Na-Mara hotel for great ocean views
Seaside guestroom at the Tigh-Na-Mara hotel

There are other Rathtrevor Beach accommodations (duplex-style units), but Tigh-Na-Mara is the signature full-service resort – with a spa, restaurant, swimming pool and other amenities.

Book a seaside suite at Tigh-Na-Mara resort for wonderful beach views
View of the beach from the balcony of a seaside suite at the Tigh-Na-Mara resort

See reviews of Tigh-Na-mara on TripAdvisor.

Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort: Check rates and availability here

For more Parksville activities and things to do in Qualicum Beach, see the Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism website.

Pssst! Don’t miss our BC guide! Our British Columbia Travel Guide is packed with lots of great travel information on British Columbia

Ready to book your trip to Parksville?

See the following helpful services:

Our Travel Resources Guide | Get airline booking tips! Discover great travel, tour and car rental companies! Read useful trip planning info!

Booking.com | Score a “wow” hotel – or at least a decent one!

Vrbo | Get your own apartment or cottage, instead of a hotel.

GetYourGuide | Check out local tours and book “skip-the-line” tickets to attractions.

Our Travel Shop | Find the best travel gear.

Pssst! If you make a booking or purchase through our site, we’ll earn a small commission (at no cost to you). Thanks!

Visiting Vancouver too? See our review of the Pinnacle Hotel at the Pier (an affordable-luxury place to stay)

Our newspaper travel article on Parksville

We first wrote about all the crazy fun things to do in Parksville and Qualicum Beach for a local Canadian newspaper. Here’s our newspaper story.


Photo credits: 2, 3, 13, 21 and 22 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | Photos 1 and 17 Tigh-Na-Mara | Photo 4 Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism | Remaining photos courtesy of the respective Parksville attractions


Our media visit to Parksville and Qualicum Beach was arranged by Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism. All views and words are our own, however. As professional travel writers, we can always report freely on our travel experiences without influence.


About the authors:
Janice and George Mucalov

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George are the owners and founders of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents.

Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, luxury hotel reviews, insanely useful travel tips and more!

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Wendy

Thursday 23rd of April 2020

Parksville and Qualicum Beach look like nice places to visit. Rad video too. Thanks for this=)

Janice and George

Friday 24th of April 2020

Glad you like the post and video!

mark chandler

Friday 24th of May 2019

Thanks for coming to our area and letting people know about what we have to offer. Parksville, Qualicum Beach and all other areas known as the Oceanside region are happy you visited.

Mark Chandler - City of Parksville Councillor

Janice and George

Friday 24th of May 2019

We had a lovely visit! Thank you for taking the time to comment :-).

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