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.
Parksville was a sleepy little town in Canada 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 more fun things to do in Parksville and neighboring Qualicum Beach. These picturesque beach towns in British Columbia are all grown-up!
Here’s what to do in Parksville and Qualicum Beach today.
Things to do in Parksville and Qualicum Beach, Canada
Located on the east coast of Vancouver Island, Parksville and Qualicum Beach are only seven miles apart.
They hug beautiful beaches and are surrounded by nature, which is why we keep going back over the years to enjoy mini-getaways in late spring or summer.
It’s easy for us, as we live in Victoria, a little less than a two-hour drive away.
If you’re doing a Vancouver Island road trip, we suggest building in a stay in Parksville or QB. You won’t regret it!
Things to do in Parksville, BC
Let’s start with the town of Parksville, which is particularly well-known for its large sandy beaches.
Home to more than 13,000 people, it’s an excellent vacation spot for anyone looking to enjoy beaches, nature and family fun.
1) Walk Rathtrevor Beach
Despite the passage of time, some things stay the same.
That’s true of Rathtrevor Beach, a three mile-stretch of beachfront that’s famous for its warm shallow waters.
When the tide rolls out, the ocean recedes more than half a mile, leaving sun-baked sand and warm tide pools in its wake.
Located on the edge of town, this Parksville beach is one of the best beaches in Canada – certainly one of the top beaches in BC. And it continues to hold huge appeal for family holidays in British Columbia (and adult getaways too).
The first thing we did after arriving the most recent time we vacationed in Parksville 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.
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 water playground for kids.
But, no, you can actually swim when the tide comes in.
Yep, enjoying Rathtrevor Beach is one of the top things to do in Parksville. We could have spent our whole getaway on this beach in Parksville!
We have beaches where we live too: Check out the best swimming holes, lakes and beaches in Victoria, BC
2) Soak in the Grotto Spa
A more indulguent experience for adults awaits at the Tigh-Na-Mara Grotto Spa.
Tigh-Na-Mara is a seaside spa resort in Parksville. Its 20,000 sq. ft. spa was named one of the top 10 spas in Canada (2021) 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.
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.
3) Enjoy endless tapas in your bathrobe
The only restaurant of its kind in Canada, the Treetop Tapas & Grill restaurant is reserved exclusively for robed spa guests.
You can only dine there as part of Tigh-Na-Mara’s “Dip and Dine” package.
It makes for a very relaxed evening to go from soaking in the spa to showering to having dinner in your bathrobe with still-wet hair and no makeup!
The menu is fixed – a selection of some 16 tapas, all made to order and creatively presented and served, one after the other. (The menu changes, but here’s a sample.)
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. (Alcohol is an extra cost.)
You should allow three hours for the whole “Dip and Dine” experience.
4) Stroll the Parksville boardwalk
The Parksville boardwalk is the perfect place for a stroll, no matter the time of day.
This 1,450-foot boardwalk offers easy access to Parksville’s downtown beaches and is a must-do for anyone visiting the area.
5) Sample cheese at Little Qualicum Cheeseworks
Another one of the best things to do in Parksville is to visit Little Qualicum Cheeseworks, located on the picturesque Morningstar Farm. (The heritage farm has “Qualicum” in its name but it’s actually in the Parksville area.)
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, Swiss-style raclette, blue and other Little Qualicum cheeses.
The cheese tastings are free. They’re so delicious that chances are you’ll buy something.
Outside, it’s fun to pet the rabbits and other farm animals on a self-guided tour of the farm (also free).
6) Visit the Parksville Museum
Step back in time at the Parksville Museum, another one of the top places to visit in Parksville.
Located in Craig Heritage Park, the Parksville Museum has eight heritage buildings (from an 1885 log house to an old school) housing historical artifacts and archive documents.
The museum aims to preserve and promote the history of the city of Parksville and offers a window into the life of the area’s early settlers.
In July and August, check out the popular Summer Friday Night Farmers Market held at the museum. Sample baked goodies and stock up on fresh produce. Listen to live music and enjoy other local Parksville entertainment too.
7) Play at Rathtrevor Provincial Park
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 vacation in Parksville and Qualicum Beach.
The beach is only one part of Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park, however.
In the park itself, there are shady picnic tables on the lawn. (For shade 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 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.
8) Follow the Central Vancouver Island Bird Trail
Break out those binoculars for a spot of bird watching!
Parksville is part of the Central Vancouver Island Bird Trail trail situated on the Pacific Flyway.
The area supports more than 250 bird species, including owls, migrant swallows, shorebirds and other waterbirds – even occasional Trumpeter Swans.
You’ll find viewing areas and short walking trails at the Englishman River Estuary at the end of Shelly Road. The estuary is an important habitat for the Pacific Brant Sea Goose.
Things to do in Qualicum Beach, BC
Let’s now turn to what to do in Qualicum Beach, home to about 10,000 residents.
The small laid-back town has stunning views, beautiful beaches, golf courses, seaside restaurants and picnic spots.
9) Taste craft beer at Love Shack Libations
You’ll want to pay Love Shack Libations a visit.
Blink as you’re driving along the Island Highway and you could miss it. It’s a teeny spot.
Victoria is BC’s craft brewery capital (and home to Canada’s first brewpub). Love Shack Libations is probably the smallest craft brewery in BC.
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.
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 beer creations.
It was fun tasting the different beers from an eclectic assortment of martini, sherry, highball and other glasses.
The beer is great, and word has spread about his Vancouver Island brewery.
Restaurant demand for his beer is more than Dave wants to produce. So you can only buy his beer at his microbrewery.
Officially, the shop and tasting room is open to the public Wednesday evenings (from 5 pm to 9 pm), Saturday afternoons (from 1 pm to 5 pm) or by appointment. But even though he was “closed” except for our appointment, people still trickled in to buy his hand-bottled creations.
Interested in wines? Check out the best wine clubs in Canada that we’ve sussed out!
10) Smell the flowers at Milner Gardens
Stop and smell the flowers at Milner Gardens.
A seaside garden, it comprises 28 hectares of unspoiled natural beauty.
The grounds are covered in old-growth Douglas firs, cedar trees and beautiful gardens with more than 500 varieties of rhododendrons, hostas, honeysuckles and hydrangeas.
Looking for more gardens? Nearby Victoria has some of the most famous and spectacular gardens in British Columbia, including Butchart Gardens
Things to do near Parksville and Qualicum Beach
Let’s now take a look at some recreational activities available in and around both the Parksville and Qualicum Beach areas.
11) See the goats on the roof, Coombs
Remember we started with the Coombs goats on the roof? Let’s fill you in on what you see now.
The teeny community of Coombs is less than a 10-minute drive from both Parksville and Qualicum Beach.
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 – open daily from March to December.
It packs people in with its popular local market, buzzing Italian trattoria, expansive ice-cream parlor, 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. The market – with its goats on the roof – is one of the most fun QB and Parksville tourist attractions.
12) Walk with giant trees in Cathedral Grove
Cathedral Grove is one of the most outstanding forests in North America.
Located in MacMillan Provincial Park, just off the Alberni Highway to Port Alberni (a 20-minute drive from Qualicum Beach), Cathedral Grove is a lush old-growth forest of towering Douglas fir trees and Western red cedars.
Some are estimated to be more than 800 years old!
Breathe in the fresh air. And don’t forget to look up at the tree canopy overhead as you explore the 301-hectare park.
Wander on the north side of the park and you’ll find yourself standing in the shadows of Douglas firs 250 feet high.
Stroll along the south trails and you’ll be amazed by the groves of Western red cedars that surround Cameron Lake (see more on Cameron Lake in #15 below).
13) Go whale watching
From tall trees to mighty mammals… Parksville and Qualicum Beach are also two of the best places on Vancouver Island to go whale watching.
The Salish Sea offshore is home to a variety of marine animals, including orcas (killer whales), humpback whales, seals, sea lions and sea birds.
Head out on the water and see whales spy-hopping and slapping their tails, maybe even breaching! Watch playful seals twisting and darting through the water too – and enjoy hours of family fun.
Based in Parksville, Ocean EcoAdventures offers different ½-day whale watching tours on open vessels that carry a maximum of 12 passengers.
You can choose between a high-speed Zodiac or a vessel equipped with a hydrophone to listen to the whales’ songs underwater.
Tours depart from the French Creek Marina, about a five-minute drive from Parksville (10-minute drive from Qualicum Beach).
14) Explore Horne Lake Caves
One of the more adventurous Parksville and Qualicum Beach activities we were keen to check out on our last visit was Horne Lake Caves.
There are more than 1,000 caves on Vancouver Island.
But the caves at Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park are the only ones safely accessible to the public.
It’s possible to explore one of the caves on your own.
But its crystalline rock formations aren’t as pristine as those in the 1/4-mile Riverbend Cave, which can only be entered on a guided tour.
An easy two-hour Riverbend Cave Explorer tour is offered year-round and is suitable for ages 5 and up.
From the small visitor education center, we crossed a suspension bridge to meet our enthusiastic cave guide, Alex, for this cave tour.
As soon as we stepped through the gated entrance, our world became inky black except for the lights on our headlamps (provided for the tour).
There are no electric lights, handrails or ladders in this particular part of the 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, eyes following our guide’s flashlight beam, our jaws dropped as we took it all in.
Everywhere we looked, there were glistening crystalline ice “draperies,” thin delicate tubes and stalactites.
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 tiny cave pool.
It’s probably just as well we didn’t see the other cave critters – cave crickets, beetles, spiders and bats – which all co-exist here in total darkness.
Other Horne Lake cave tours are also offered, including a three-hour “Multi-Cave Experience” (for ages 8 and up).
This tour includes walking along underground stream beds, cave sliding, climbing up an underground waterfall and navigating ramps and ladders.
15) Swim in Cameron Lake
This 477-hectare lake has Mount Wesley to the north and Mount Arrowsmith to the south. And Cameron Lake is a great place to stop for a swim, picnic lunch or to spend the afternoon catching your next meal.
It’s one of the most unique lakes in British Columbia because the surrounding mountains create a wind funnel on the water’s surface, making it ideal for sailing and windsurfing.
Its crystal-clear waters are also inviting for freshwater divers.
Whether you choose to swim, windsurf or explore what lies beneath the water, keep an eye out.
Legend has it that the lake is home to Cammie, the Cameron Lake cryptid that weighs 30 lbs. and is 10 feet long.
16) Marvel at butterflies at Butterfly World Coombs
Butterfly World Coombs is home to hundreds of species of colorful butterflies from all over the world.
But don’t get too distracted by their beauty.
Other creatures also live here, including koi fish, tropical birds and finches, along with a collection of tarantulas (don’t worry, they’re behind glass).
You’ll also want to keep an eye out for Samson, a 25-year-old African Sulcata Tortoise who roams the grounds and has been known to browse the gift shop.
17) Visit bears and bald eagles
For animal lovers, the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre is another one of the nature-focused Parksville and Qualicum Beach attractions you’ll want to visit.
A non-profit sanctuary just outside of Parksville, this world-class animal rehabilitation center takes in injured or abandoned animals, like birds with broken wings and orphaned black bears.
Set on eight acres of manicured grounds, it lets you enjoy local wildlife in their natural habitat.
The center also has Canada’s largest eagle flight enclosure and a Museum of Nature dedicated to the animals of Vancouver Island.
18) Paddle a kayak or SUP board at Spider Lake
Pack up the car and head to Spider Lake!
About 10 miles west of Qualicum Beach, this 57-hectare lake in Spider Lake Provincial Park has a small sandy beach. Its warm waters are excellent for swimming, kayaking and canoeing.
More into fishing? Well you’re in luck. The lake is stocked with smallmouth bass and is open for fishing year-round.
Spider Lake has a great picnic area too, so don’t forget your lunch.
19) See Englishman River Falls
Grab your camera and head out to trek the trails in Englishman River Falls Provincial Park.
Nestled along the Englishman River, this beautiful provincial park is a short drive south of Parksville.
With old-growth forest of Douglas fir, cedar, hemlock and maple trees, it’s one of the prettiest parks on Vancouver Island.
It’s known for the Englishman River Falls – a set of spectacular waterfalls that crash along the riverbed.
On a hot summer’s day, you’ll definitely want to take the plunge into the crystal-clear pool at the base of the lower falls. You can either step in or get your heart pumping by jumping off the adjacent 15-foot cliff.
20) Play a round of golf
Parksville and Qualicum Beach are two of the best places to tee off on Vancouver Island. Thanks to the area’s mild climate, golfers can enjoy a round almost any time of the year.
With seven courses to choose from, these local golf courses offer something for golfers of all ages, levels, budgets and styles.
Qualicum Beach Memorial Golf Club, for example, is a fun seaside 9-hole course. Don’t hit the deer that like to roam the greens!
Then there’s the 18-hole oceanfront Fairwinds Golf Club, designed by Les Furber.
With water features on 11 holes and some 70 sand bunkers, it’s more a “thinking course.”
So, whether you’re looking for a casual nine or the chance to play for your (L)PGA card, the towns of Parksville and Qualicum Beach are where you can enjoy a great game of golf.
21) Hike in Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park
Calling all outdoor enthusiasts! Lace-up your boots and hit the trails in Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park.
Located off Highway 4, Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park has four miles of trails ideal for all levels – and two cascading waterfalls.
The park straddles Little Qualicum River and stretches to the southern shores of Cameron Lake.
On this Qualicum Beach hike (a one-hour easy loop hike), you’ll see both the lower and upper falls and enjoy views of the steep mountain peaks that frame the park.
It’s the perfect destination to enjoy quality time outside in nature with the family.
22) Go skydiving
Get your adrenaline pumping by soaring up to 12,500 feet up in the air and launching yourself out of a plane at 125 miles per hour!
For thrill-seekers, skydiving is one of the most exciting things to do around Parksville and Qualicum Beach.
You can sign up for a tandem jump with Skydive Vancouver Island, where you’re attached to an instructor. Pro-video footage is an optional extra.
You’ll get bird’s eye views of Parksville and Nanoose Bay as you float back to earth, landing less than a mile from the coast. Talk about bragging rights!
23) Eat at Cuckoo, Coombs
We ended our last 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.
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 downtown Parksville) and Tigh-Na-Mara (in the Parksville area on the edge of town). We can recommend both – they’re the best places to stay in Parksville and Qualicum Beach.
Beach Club Resort
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).
Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort
Surrounded by forest, the Tigh-Na-Mara resort is more woodsy than the Beach Club Resort, 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.
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.
How to get to Parksville
On Vancouver Island’s east coast, Parksville is a convenient location for a multi-day trip.
From Victoria, it’s a little under two hours driving north along the Trans-Canada Highway.
Popping over from Vancouver and the BC mainland?
You can take the ferry from Vancouver to Victoria, and then drive up from there. The ferry ride takes 1 hour and 40 minutes and crosses the Strait of Georgia.
Alternatively, take BC Ferries from Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver to Nanaimo. Parksville is just a 30-minute drive north from Nanaimo along the Trans-Canada Highway.
You can have a great holiday in Parksville and QB
Now you know our choice of the most fun things to do in Parksville and Qualicum Beach!
If we’ve missed something or you’ve scouted out other ideas, let us know in the Comments below.
You can also check the Parksville Qualicum Beach tourism website to see what QB and Parksville activities are covered there.
Inspired to visit Parksville + Qualicum Beach? Then pin this!
Photo credits: 3, 5, 9, 16, 17, 40, 42 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase