If you’re planning to visit beautiful Vancouver Island, you will want to hit up some of the beaches in Nanaimo while you’re there. Nanaimo is the birthplace of the delicious Nanaimo Bar, the only floating pub in Canada, and the Great International World Championship Bathtub Race.
The city of Nanaimo is a wonderful place to explore in the summer. The stunning landscape of the ocean and mountains never cease to amaze. For those who love the outdoors, there are many activities to keep you busy. If you don’t feel like watching bathtub races (but why wouldn’t you?!), you can spend time lounging and playing around on the Nanaimo beaches.
Most Popular Beach In Nanaimo
Departure Bay Beach
Departure Bay Beach is top of the list of the best beaches in Nanaimo and is located just 5 minutes from the city center. It is a horseshoe-shaped cove that is known for having the most sand to play in out of all the beaches in the city. When the tide is low, the sandy area becomes much greater and there are tons of crabs, starfish, and jellyfish to see.
Departure Bay Beach is one of the best Nanaimo beaches for swimming as the tides are warm and shallow in the summer. It is also a great location to launch kayaks and explore the neighboring islands.
There are picnic sites, washrooms, and many places to exercise. Alternatively, just spread your beach mat, lay on the grass, and take in the view.
The Quality Inn is a highly rated, newly renovated hotel that is just a few minutes drive from the beach. It is within walking distance to many great parks and the Nanaimo Museum.
Best Beaches In Nanaimo For Families
Pipers Lagoon Park
Pipers Lagoon Park is one of the greatest beaches in Nanaimo if you are looking to splash around with your little ones. You can either swim in the Page Lagoon where waters are warmer and shallow or venture out into the sea. If you head into the sea, note that it is colder with stronger currents so be careful and check the tides before you go in.
Springtime is great to watch for the seals and sea lions lounging around at Pipers Lagoon Park. It is also one of the best Nanaimo beaches for bird-watching year-round.
There are free showers and washroom facilities at Pipers Lagoon Park so you can get cleaned up here after your swim. If you would rather head to a hotel to get warmed up, the Coast Bastion Hotel is a great choice. It is just a two-minute walk from the city center and features rooms with ocean views.
While Rathtrevor Beach is not quite in Nanaimo, it’s only a 20-minute drive so it might as well be! It is a great place for a family outing to enjoy a day in the sun, and locals come here regularly.
Rathtrevor’s Beach features a huge sandy beach, trails, forests, and camping. Kids love to bring their sandcastle-building kit and spend hours indulging in their own creative world. It is one of the top beaches in Nanaimo that you will not want to miss.
Oceanside Village Resort is just minutes away from the beach. The cottage-style accommodations are the perfect place to cozy up with your family after a day at the beach. Just a short walk away you will find mini golf and bumper cars to really tire your kids out for the night.
Westwood Lake Park
Located in the foothills of Mt. Benson, Westwood Lake Park is one of the best beaches in Nanaimo to go for a swim in its refreshing waters. From June to August, there is even a lifeguard on duty who patrols the freshwater swimming hole.
Westwood Lake Park has a variety of trails, boardwalks, viewpoints, and even an off-leash area for your pup. So even if you are done with the beach, there are plenty more activities you can do.
The Best Western Dorchester Hotel is the perfect place for a nap after a long day outside. It is within walking distance of the waterfront for an evening stroll, restaurants, shops, or a night out at the casino.
Locals love having easy access to a sandy beach called Long Lake right in the middle of the city. It is a large lake perfect for boating, swimming, kayaking, and paddleboarding.
This is one of the most popular beaches in Nanaimo to set up a shady tent at and check out the abundant wildlife. Otters, geese, fish, birds, rabbits, and frogs are always around to make for a Disney-like setting.
If you want easy access to Long Lake, consider staying at the beachfront Inn on Long Lake. This Inn is close to the golf course, has shuttle access to the airport, and is less than a 5-minute drive from the ferry terminal.
Nanaimo Beaches For Scenery
Neck Point Park
This stunning park is 36 acres and home to not just one but four Nanaimo beaches. You can choose from Sunset Beach, Last Beach, Indian Beach, and Finn Beach.
Neck Point Park is also popular with scuba divers, and photographers who are looking for the perfect place to see some wildlife. You can bring your snorkeling gear for a shallow dive too. Every trail makes for spectacular sightseeing and it is a great place to see orcas or the friendly octopus.
With so much to explore, it’s a great idea to stay for a night or two. The Best Western Northgate is only a few minutes away and close to restaurants, bars, cafes, and a ton of parks.
If you’re looking for an uncrowded, hidden gem Blueback Beach is the place for you. Accessible by a long set of stairs to get there, it is worth it for the serene views of the mountains, the ocean, and some killer sunsets.
The beach is rocky when the tide is high so you can use some water shoes to walk around; but when it’s low, you’ll find a massive sandbar that is a great place to wade around.
After trekking back up the 300 stairs, you can head over to the Grand Hotel Nanaimo. Once there, reward yourself by relaxing at their on-site whiskey and wine bar. The Grand Cru restaurant is also located in the hotel and features a variety of different cuisines if you’re hungry.
Swy-A-Lana Lagoon is a unique man-made beach that connects to the ocean only during high tide. It’s one of the smaller beaches in Nanaimo but still a great place to spend a day.
There is no lifeguard here but the location is convenient. You can take a swim, catch crab, go fishing, sunbathe, or take a stroll in the marina.
Beaches In Nanaimo For Exploring
For an in-the-water kind of day, head over to Dolphin Beach, one of the best Nanaimo beaches for exploring underwater. This is a famous spot on the island for scuba diving and you will see plenty of colorful marine plants and animals. If you prefer to stay above the water, it is also a great place to swim, kayak, or fish.
The hot tub at the Pacific Shores Resort and Spa is the perfect place to warm up after a day in the cold ocean.
Another one of the best beaches in Nanaimo for scuba diving is Wall Beach. You may catch sight of sea lions, many species of fish, octopuses, wolf eels, and other small marine creatures. Wall Beach is a great spot away from the city to relax, enjoy nature, swim, and lay in the sun.
The Coast Parksville Hotel is close to Wall Beach and not far from Petroglyph Park. Petroglyph Provincial Park is famous for its ancient Indigenous carvings into the rocks from over 1000 years ago.
Best Beaches Near Nanaimo For A Day Trip
Saysutshun Newcastle Island Marine Provincial Park
A day trip to the Saysutshun Newcastle Island Marine Provincial Park is a must if you’re serious about finding the best beaches in Nanaimo. Only accessible by foot, passenger ferry or boat, it is an adventure just to get there. Once you’re there, you can camp, explore the trails leading to the many beaches or even kayak around the island.
If you don’t want to camp on the island, you can head back to the city and stay at the Buccaneer Inn. The Inn is only a few minutes away from Maffeo Sutton Park which is where you purchase the ferry tickets for Saysutshun Island.
Parksville Community Park
Parksville Community Park not only is one of the best beaches near Nanaimo but also one of the best along the coast. It is a huge beach that goes on for miles and you can find a lot of activities for families as you walk along the boardwalk.
For the sporty souls, there are volleyball courts, a skate park, a splash park, horseshoe pits, and a lot of dining options close by. You can imagine why this is a popular spot for locals as well.
The Beach Club Resort by Bellstar Hotels & Resorts is the perfect place to stay, being right on Parksville Beach. The views are amazing, and the hotel has all the amenities you could want, including a spa.
The 20-minute ferry ride just 5 km east will take you to more beaches near Nanaimo, on the neighboring Gabriola Island. Once you’re over there, you can explore Gabriola Sands Provincial Park, Sandwell Provincial Park, Whalebone Beach, or Spring beach.
Gabriola Island is a gorgeous place with a lush evergreen forest and sandstone bluffs. The beaches are just part of an array of highlights.
You will most definitely want to stay on the island for a few nights as there is a lot to explore. The Surf Lodge Pub is a great place to make a home base with its great rates and stunning views.
Just 40 minutes down the road, you will pass a few beaches near Nanaimo but keep going until you hit Qualicum Beach. There are over 4 km of picture-perfect sandy beaches here.
Along the coastline, there are many picnic areas, shady spots, and public washrooms. There is also a boat ramp for those of you who like to head out into the deep.
The Qualicum Beach Inn is located just across from the sandy beach. It has great views, is close to many parks, and is less than one kilometer away from the golf course.
Located on Hornby Island, Tribune Beach is just over 2 hours from Nanaimo and is a favorite among locals. Nicknamed “Little Hawaii ” for its soft white sand and warm turquoise waters, Tribune Beach is the perfect beach to spend a day or two. The island is accessible by Ferry from Denman but you can take your car across with you.
You probably won’t want to make the long drive back to Nanaimo so you can treat yourself and stay at the Kingfisher Oceanside Resort & Spa. This is a beautiful resort with its ocean views and cave-themed Pacific Mist Hydropath steam room.
Enjoying the Beaches In Nanaimo
The Nanaimo beaches are some of the best on Vancouver Island and offer more than just sand! The marine life you’ll experience and restaurants will make you never want to leave, except maybe to head to one of the beautiful beaches near Nanaimo!
With scenic drives and fun ferry rides to the nearby islands, you will find something that suits you in or outside of the city.