The Old Island Highway, also known as the Oceanside Route, runs parallel to the Island’s shores and features fantastic views of the Salish Sea. This scenic route crosses through the communities of Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Lighthouse Country, Royston, Courtenay / Comox, Black Creek, and Campbell River.
Although it’s a much slower way to travel from Parksville to Campbell River, the unique communities you pass through and the ocean views splayed out beside you, make the Oceanside Route more than worth the trek.
This article attempts to highlight our top picks of what to see and do along the way. You should be able to find a little something that everyone in your vehicle, young and old, will enjoy.
Consider it a mini-road trip along the scenic Oceanside Route of Vancouver Island!
The Best Things to See and Do Along the Oceanside Route
Parksville – Where the Oceanside Route begins
Parksville is where you’ll want to head to the beach!
At low tide, Rathtrevor beach stretches nearly a kilometre out into the Strait of Georgia. This makes it the best beach for young children still learning how to swim, and the perfect location to build sandcastles.
Speaking of sandcastles, if you happen to be visiting the area during the summer (mid-July to mid-August) then head to the Parksville Community Beach. Each year this where a world-famous Sand Sculpting Competition happens. It is a fabulous event and brings in thousands of people from all over the world.
The Parksville Community Beach is also home to a huge playground, water park, picnic tables and shelter, skateboard park, tennis courts, outdoor exercise equipment, and more!
For a bit of extra fun, Parksville has two great mini-golf courses to choose from.
Riptide Lagoon offers two mini-golf courses, plus laser tag bumper cars, an arcade, and an ice-cream and snack shop.
Paradise Fun Park offers two 18-hole courses, plus water bumper boats, game pavilion, sweet shack, ice-cream shop, motel, and an RV park attached to the property.
Beautiful Natural Gardens
Milner Gardens is the perfect spot to stretch your legs and a great place for the kids to run and explore!
This seaside garden in Qualicum Beach offers 70 acres of unspoiled natural beauty. Stroll through the winding pathways lined with old Douglas Firs, or meander through 10 acres of woodland gardens filled with rhododendrons and trilliums. End the afternoon with High Tea at the Historic Milner House, while taking in the panoramic ocean views.
Food with a View
Qualicum Beach (that actual beach) is a great place to stop along the way. It’s where you can take in the magnificent ocean views…while eating ice cream! The recently renovated Shore Restaraunt (formerly called the Beach Hut) has a great patio, is licenced, and offers delicious food and beverages (cold and hot)…and sells ice cream too.
The Shore Restaurant’s official address is 2831 Island Hwy West.
Another great waterfront dining option is at the Shady Rest. Opened in 1924, this casual waterfront fixture offers a seafood-centric pub menu and a great patio with spectacular ocean views. Make sure to try the clam chowder, as well as the deep-fried pickles! (My mouth is watering as I am typing this).
The official address of the Shady Rest is 3109 Island Hwy W, Qualicum Beach.
Within the coastal community called Lighthouse Country, are the villages of Qualicum Bay, Bowser and Deep Bay. The area offers miles of shoreline on the Strait of Georgia with numerous beaches for swimming, and some great walking and hiking trails.
A few of our favourite trails in the area are Rosewall Creek Falls and the Lighthouse Trail.
Rosewall Creek Falls is a more strenuous hike that requires at least a few hours of your time, but it’s a spectacular sight. For a shorter walk, choose the beautiful Lighthouse Trail (which actually has nothing to do with lighthouses).
Deep Bay Marine Field Centre
In the same Lighthouse Country area, you can find the Deep Bay Marine Field Centre.
This unique green research facility has been designed to host a wide variety of public education activities. You can take a guided or self-guided tour around the facility while viewing a variety of local species in the aquariums and touch tanks. While you are there, research scientists are hard at work in their labs which you can view from the mezzanine. You are also able to explore the wetland habitat adjacent to the station.
Important Information: If you are expecting an aquarium experience much like those found in many larger cities around the world, you will be disappointed. This is a research station first and foremost.
Location: 370 Crome Point Rd., Bowser. The facility is only open to the public from 10 am – 4 pm Monday to Friday.
Restaraunt and Spa
If you are following all the recommended stops along the Oceanside Route, by now you are probably feeling a bit peckish. We suggest heading into the King Fisher Resort. There you can enjoy delectable delights at either AQUA Bistro & Wine Bar or Ocean7 Restaurant, both with incredible views and beautiful surroundings.
And, of course, if you planned ahead, a spa treatment while there would be an amazing bonus to your trek! (We recommend the Hydropath for a truly unique experience.)
Just down the way at the end of Hilton Rd., there is a great trail. Royston Seaside Trail offers a picnic area and shelter, viewing platform, and an accessible path for those with mobility issues.
Make sure to check out the shipwrecks (viewable from the beach at the end of Hilton Road). At least 14 twice-retired ships were sunk to make a lovely rusting breakwater in this Comox Harbour.
Courtenay / Comox
The Courtenay and District Museum and Palaeontology Centre is open year-round and provides fossil tours throughout the year. Known for its late Cretaceous marine fossils such as the 13-metre long elasmosaur and the new species and genus of mosasaur, Kourisodon puntledgensis, the museum welcomes visitors from around the world.
The Courtenay Museum is located at 207 Fourth Street.
40 Knots Winery
For free samples of delicious wine and opportunities for a guided or self-guided vineyard tour, head to 40 Knots Winery. Grown with traditional farming methods and green tourism practices, 40 Knots produces fruit-forward elegant wines that are both vegan and gluten-free. With no chemicals or unnatural preservatives used anywhere on the vineyard or during production, the wines are a full step above what is considered organic in the industry.
Enjoy a self-guided interpretative 20-minute walk through the kid-friendly vineyard. Or take a guided tour as you sip and savour wines produced from the very same vines you are walking through.
Grand Nature Park
The spacious Seal Bay Nature Park features forested trails with wildlife and waterfront areas perfect for bird and sea life viewing. The park is one and half times the size of Stanley Park in Vancouver, protecting 642 hectares (1,585.6 acres) of biodiversity and treasured wildlife habitat.
It is accessed off of Bates Road.
Seaview Game Farm is a working farm that provides fun and entertainment for the whole family. Your one-hour farm tour includes a tractor-pulled cart ride, hands-on visit to the Mini Farm, and tour through the greenhouses. The tours are suitable for children and adults of all ages.
As a family holiday destination, few locations can beat Miracle Beach Provincial Park. The park offers a vast sandy beach, spacious private campsites, a playground for the kids, a large picnic area overlooking the water, and a series of beautiful trails winding through lush forest. At low tide, the beach features rich tide pools, perfect for observing a variety of marine life.
Saratoga Speedway is a family entertainment facility offering go-karts and monster truck rides to all ages. Take a ride around the 3/8 mile oval track where the champions race.
Children 7 years and older ride on their own. Under 7 ride for FREE, when accompanied by an adult. The Speedway is open every day from noon to 4:00 pm for go-kart and monster truck rides.
If you are visiting on the weekend, make sure to watch the professionals race around the track. Depending on the schedule, you might see Monster Trucks, Crash to Pass, Mad Max Extreme Racing, Hornet B Cars, Figure 8 cars, and much more. It happens rain or shine, so bring an umbrella and definitely some earplugs and settle in for a fun evening.
You have arrived at your final destination! Surrounded by a spectacular seaside setting, Campbell River offers a variety of interesting places to visit and explore.
A few notable highlights are:
- Fishing Pier – Canada’s first saltwater fishing pier is located next to the Government Wharf. It extends 150 feet from the shore and is 600 feet long. (655 Inland Hwy).
- Discovery Passage Aquarium – Located next to the Campbell River Fishing Pier, the aquarium offers opportunities to see, touch and explore.
- Museum at Campbell River (470 Island Highway at 5th Avenue) – This museum features theatre rooms showing the film footage of the legendary explosion of “Ripple Rock” in 1958. An interactive exhibit showcasing the First Nation culture, as well as a logging steam donkey, logger’s cabin and replica of the Willow’s Hotel.
Further inland you’ll find Strathcona Park, a beautiful remote area full of great hiking trails and camping.
Have you travelled along the Oceanside Route? Where are your favourite spots? Let us know in the comment section below.
For those that are unfamiliar with the area, use this handy map overview: