Take a short 30-minute drive north of Nanaimo and you feel like you have escaped into a secluded ocean getaway. The small, oceanside communities of Parksville Qualicum Beach are famous for their long stretches of white, sandy beaches and calm, warm waters that make it a popular family summer destination.
These coastal communities boast small-town charm with mountain views in the distance. Here you get a true feeling of what Vancouver Island is all about. We are excited to spend a weekend of adventure, exploration and relaxation on these shores.
We decide to start our weekend off with a bang and head into Extreme Eatery to try one of their famous “extreme” Caesars. We order one King Caesar which is more than enough to share between the two of us — a huge Caesar is poured into a glass beer mug, then topped with a beef slider, mini poutine, onion rings, chicken wings, and dry ribs.
And it’s not just for show. This food is made from scratch and with love.
This is a family-run business that began as a local food truck and turned brick-and-mortar in 2019. And their very appropriate tagline — “You’re gonna need a napkin” — proved true as the food was literally finger-licking good! Their homemade milkshakes, burgers, poutines, and tacos will leave you wanting more.
We are fueled up and ready for an epic adventure so we drive 30 minutes northwest of Parksville to explore Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park. Here they offer the public a chance to explore some of Canada’s best caves through daily guided tours. The tours range from easy to difficult. We choose the moderately challenging Multi-Cave Experience, which has a waterfall climb, cave slide, and lights out session.
We head off on our cave adventure with our incredibly knowledgeable and entertaining guide, Curtis. The tour begins with a one-kilometre uphill hike to get to the first cave entrance. This gives our guide a chance to teach us about local geography and how the caves came to be formed.
We squeeze, crouch and crawl our way through Riverbend Cave and Main Cave, which both sit at a chilly 8º C year round. The formations we see inside are truly mind blowing and we learn all about the cave’s crystal formations, ancient fossils, and geology.
The Multi-Cave Experience is a 2.5-hour tour and is rated as appropriate for ages 8 and up. We highly recommend this tour — it is a must-visit if you are in the area. But remember, don’t touch the calcite.
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After our thrilling cave experience, we drive back into Parksville to indulge in some local beer and great food.
Mount Arrowsmith Brewing Company is a true local gem. The brewery is owned by two born-and-raised Parksvillians who have created a popular brewery and welcoming west coast-style tasting room.
The brewery’s friendly staff greet us and run through their menu of mainstay beers and experimental flavours. We decide to try the Jagged Face IPA and a pint of the award-winning Arrowsmith Blonde Ale, which is bright, fresh, and extremely crushable.
We choose a seat in one of their three outdoor spaces and decide to order an appetizer: Garlic Breadsticks made with their Jagged Face IPA pizza dough.
While we enjoy our beers we chat with some staff members and regular patrons who tell us some more about the history of Mount Arrowsmith Brewing Company. We learn that the brewery opened in 2017 and due to its popularity, has expanded every year since.
We can see why this is such a favourite spot among locals. The combination of crisp craft beers, homemade New York-style pizzas, cozy tasting room, sunny patios, and live music make it the perfect place to gather.
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On the way back toward our hotel we pass by the Black Goose Inn, so we decide to stop in for some traditional British food.
The Black Goose Inn is a British-style pub that was constructed within a stunning estate built in 1921. Over the years, this building has been home to multiple families, a bed and breakfast, and a restaurant.
As we walk inside we find a grand space with cozy “snugs,” fireplaces, and antique art on the walls. We look outside and realize this beautiful home also sits on an incredible property with a huge outdoor beer garden that looks right over the ocean.
The Black Goose is famous for its pies and fish and chips. Good thing, because we are in the mood for some comfort food. We order the shepherd’s pie and steak and mushroom pie and accompany them with some more local craft beers. A perfect way to end the day.
After a day’s worth of beer, food and adventure we are looking forward to relaxing in our cottage at the Oceanside Village Resort. This resort is perfectly located near Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park, which is a must-see when visiting Parksville. This area is known for its stunning beaches and Rathtrevor really delivers.
If you are looking for accommodation that has it all, make sure to check out the Oceanside Village Resort. It has tons of amazing amenities, including an indoor pool, hot tub, salon, day spa, cafe, and even a mini-golf course.
Our cozy two-bedroom cottage comes with a loft for extra space and privacy and is the perfect place to decompress. We pop on the fireplace and chat about what we will be getting up to tomorrow.
We wake up to a gorgeous fall morning and decide to spend the day exploring the quaint community of Qualicum Beach.
The first stop is coffee and we choose the best the area has to offer. French Press Coffee Roasters roasts their own beans on-site and the smell is absolutely intoxicating. Their coffee is a must-try and their Ethiopia Kilenso Moconissa bean even won a gold medal in the Golden Bean North America competition.
They have a beautiful menu of specialty coffees, fresh baked goods, and a unique, fresh and colourful food menu. We order some lattes, a Sunriser, and a breakfast bowl to start our day off on the right foot.
In the mood for some outdoor adventure, we head over to Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park. This park is perfect for all skill levels and most of the main trails and viewpoints are easily accessible.
Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park features old-growth Douglas firs and spectacular waterfall views. This is where Cameron Lake empties into the Little Qualicum River, and the water takes on a beautiful deep blue colour.
We hike out to see the lower and upper falls, which is an easy loop trail. As we walk along, there are multiple bridges and viewpoints that give us different perspectives of the waterfalls below. In under three kilometres, we are able to see the most stunning views of the blue river cascading through huge, rocky canyons. We can’t believe this magnificent view is just off of Highway 4.
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We’ve heard great things about Q Burger in Qualicum Beach, and have even seen its “Mad Chef” appear on Food Network’s You Gotta Eat Here!, so we head over there for a hearty lunch.
This cozy burger joint is absolutely bustling with locals and is brimming with life and personality. Their menu has a huge selection of homemade burgers, which are all served up with their homemade, skinny french fries.
We know we have to order one of their burgers since they were voted one of “Canada’s Top Five Burgers” in Canadian Living magazine. So we order up a True Canadian Classic with a wedge Caesar salad and pair it all with some local craft beers. As we drool over our plates we begin to understand why this restaurant has such an amazing reputation.
I think next time we will have to try their famous Burgeritto, which is a burger wrapped in beer cheese and a tortilla and baked in the oven for a crispy shell. A true masterpiece!
Completely stuffed, we decide to wander around Qualicum Beach and check out its shops and beachfront.
We are lucky to catch the end of the Qualicum Beach Farmers Market, which runs every Saturday from 8:30 am till noon all year long. This outdoor and indoor market has a huge variety of local produce, baked goods, and products from local artisans. It gives us a better idea of what this area of Vancouver Island has to offer.
The downtown area is also full of charming boutique shops that you can stroll around for hours. We’re happy to get some early Christmas shopping done and are thrilled to be able to shop and support the local businesses here.
The sun is still shining high so we wander down to the Qualicum Beach Waterfront. This town is made even more special by its four kilometres of sandy beachfront looking out onto the Strait of Georgia and the mainland’s snow-capped mountains. It’s hard to imagine a more picturesque scene.
After a full day of exploring this town, we are looking forward to sitting down to enjoy a local craft beer. We head over to Love Shack Libations for a truly unique brewery experience.
As we walk inside we realize that this brewery is truly a one-man show. The owner, Dave, runs the whole production, and one single room serves as the nano brewery and tasting room.
Dave turned his beer-making hobby into a business and he has created something really special. He opened his doors in 2017 and has created a welcoming space for people to gather and meet new friends.
We sit down at a large community-style table that has been carved out of a local tree and immediately begin chatting with some locals who are raving about the brewery and its beers.
We order some flights and our favourite brews are the Killer Kolsch and the Crafty Cream Ale, but our absolute favourite wasn’t even on the menu that day. Dave snuck us a taste of his personal favourite, the Juicy Juice, which is a New England-style Hazy IPA, and its smooth flavour and subtle fruitiness make it our top choice as well.
This is a definite must-stop and worth the trip over to the Old Island Highway.
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Over the past few days here, we’ve been given multiple recommendations to check out Fern + Cedar Brewing. When we learn that it is owned by the same folks as Mount Arrowsmith Brewing we know we are in for a treat.
This gastropub serves an incredible west coast-inspired food menu full of local and fresh flavours. The indoor space truly represents Vancouver Island’s outdoor scenery and, as its name suggests, is covered in ferns and cedar wood. It is a truly stunning space with an open-air concept leading to a huge outdoor patio.
We are seated right beside a local musician who is filling the air with chilled-out sounds. The menu’s buttermilk fried chicken tenders and the chicken wings speak to us and they do not disappoint!
We pair our meal with a flight of Fern + Cedar’s craft beers to try a selection of their mainstays and seasonal flavours. Their juicy Green Mountain State NEIPA and crisp Oceanside Lager are our favourites.
The space is so warm, welcoming and fun that we sit here for hours chatting and watching the locals enjoy their night. It’s an easy place to love.
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As we leave Qualicum Beach and head back toward Parksville, we pass by the Cedars Restaurant and Lounge at the stunning Tigh-Na-Mara Resort and decide to stop in for a quick nightcap.
We are happy to order a few appetizers from their late-night menu and enjoy a meatball trio, some bacon-wrapped sirloin bites and a margherita flatbread created by their incredible chef, Eric Edwards. We say cheers to a spectacular day with a refreshing mojito and white cranberry margarita.
The gorgeous restaurant and high-quality service make us want to book some time here to truly enjoy this resort and spa. It’s a Vancouver Island favourite for good reason!
Coombs & Nanoose Bay
After a full night’s rest in our cozy cottage, we head back out for one last day of exploring Parksville Qualicum Beach.
First stop is the Qualicum Beach Cafe to start our day with some tasty coffee and breakfast.
The Qualicum Beach Cafe has an elegant, stunning circular dining room with a wall of windows overlooking the ocean. Their menu focuses on west coast flavours and supports local farmers and suppliers. We are drawn toward their homemade biscuits and focaccia so we make sure to order the BLT Benny and Caprese Avocado Toast to try out both of their freshly baked bread. The dishes come out almost too beautiful to eat, but we dive in anyway.
This is the place to come if you are looking for an amazing dining experience across the board.
Before leaving the Parksville Qualicum Beach area we head to one of our favourite little villages on the island.
Coombs is a must-see and is super popular among tourists. This truly unique village is packed with funky shops, an ice cream store, a donut hut, and an incredible Italian restaurant (our absolute favourite!).
It is also home to the Old Country Market, which is quite an icon on Vancouver Island due to the most adorable goats that live on the roof. The inside of the market is just as impressive — you can find imported foods, wooden children’s toys, and tons of freshly baked treats here.
Make sure to save a few hours to explore all the nooks and crannies of this awesome town.
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The last stop of our Parksville Qualicum Beach trip is definitely worth the wait.
Rusted Rake Brewing just opened its doors in July of 2022 and it is an instant hit. As a “farm-to-tap” craft brewery, they grow the barley for their beer on the very farm the tasting room and restaurant sit on.
The setting here is serene and laidback. They have a modern farmhouse-style indoor tasting room, as well as a covered patio and picnic tables in the yard overlooking this beautiful Nanoose Bay farm. We promise, when you visit, you will want to stay here for a while.
Every single item on their menu is to die for and we order a bunch of shareables so we can try as much as possible. The Chicken and Pickles (with house-made pickles), Brisket Burnt Ends and Chips and Grana Padano Dip are absolutely delectable.
And their beer is just as good. We love their Rosa the Rebel, which is an easy-drinking Mexican lager that was perfect on this warm and sunny autumn day. We also love The Rusty Angler — it packs a punch with its notes of resiny pine and tropical fruit.
We are thrilled to learn about this new spot and it will definitely be one of our go-tos on the Island.
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No matter how much we explore Vancouver Island, we are always surprised by something new. We are so blessed to call this island home and hope that many people can come to experience the magic that is here.
Spending more time in Parksville Qualicum Beach was an absolute treat for us. It is a small community with a big heart and lots of life. It truly does have something to offer every person and we are thrilled to call it one of our favourite places on the Island.
Produced In Collaboration With
Parksville Qualicum Beach is where memories come to life; the smells and sounds, tastes and textures that bring you back to a time when the world was a little smaller, people were a little nicer, and time wasn’t a big worry.
While Parksville Qualicum Beach may be best known for amazing sandy beaches that stretch for nearly a mile at low tide, there’s much more to the region than saltwater and sandy shores.
Start your next story with ‘there were goats on the roof’ or ‘we slept in a suspended treehouse,’, and see what kind of a reaction you get from your friends. Discover crystal formations and ancient fossils while sliding through Horne Lake Caves. Explore the ancient forests of Cathedral Grove, raging Englishman River and Little Qualicum Falls – enjoying the scenery and serenity, connecting with the Earth in a way that isn’t possible in the busy city. Visit rescued black bears, eagles, falcons, and other forest creatures, or paddle a kayak to discover sea lions and seals, watching from a respectful distance as they observe you, too.