Photo: Basin Head PEI
Before packing up the kids and schlepping your necessities to the beach, here's a few tips to keep in mind: Find out if your beach offers kayaking and canoeing lessons for young novices before heading out. Beaches located within provincial parks may charge a daily vehicular entrance fee. Remember to pack some extra goodies in your picnic basket for those post-swim munchies. We recommend granola bars and chopped veggies.
And don't forget sun safety! Did you know that you can burn after only 15 minutes in the sun, depending on the UV index value? If the UV index is between 3 and 7, you need protection. Use a “broad-spectrum” sunscreen with UVA and UVB protection.
Parksville Community Beach When the tide is out at this lifeguard-supervised, saltwater beach, you can walk out for a kilometre and explore tide pools. Check out starfish, sand dollars, sea birds and crabs, along with an array of beautiful shells. This free beach is lined with grassy knolls, so you can always find a bench, picnic table or spot of shade. Catch one of the many summer activities, from sandcastle competitions to outdoor movie nights. Family-friendly amenities include a large well-maintained playground and water park, skate park, 10-foot-wide stroller-friendly boardwalk, concession stand, changing stations and washrooms.
Corfield St. N. and Island Hwy E., Parksville. 250 248-5412
English Bay Beach While Vancouver has more than 20 beaches facing the ocean, there’s something for the whole family at this popular downtown destination. Whether you’re watching magicians perform, dragon boats zoom by, buskers strum their guitars or fireworks explode, you’ll enjoy it all with a jaw-dropping background of sweeping mountains. The Stanley Park Seawall, a popular paved path for cyclists and pedestrians, makes it easy to reach the sand with a stroller, and the whole family will enjoy munching on tasty concession-stand snacks or menu items from the Cactus Club Café, prepared by Iron Chef America champion Rob Feenie. It’s also a stone’s throw away from Denman Street, which has plenty of family-friendly restaurants and great sushi. Lifeguards are on duty from Victoria Day through Labour Day, to observe the tots who swim out to the raft and take a ride down the slide. On-site, there are public washrooms, an enclosed off-leash dog area, and even kayak rentals available. Parking is limited, so map out your route with the frequent city transit.
Beach Ave between Gilford St and Bidwell St, Vancouver. 604-873-7000
Lost Lake Park Whistler isn’t the first city that comes to mind when you think about beach towns, but there’s a lake hidden high in the mountains where families are welcome. Lost Lake has a sandy, dog-friendly beach (unsupervised), BBQs, washrooms, picnic tables and a grassy area where kids can run around. Parking is limited, so hop on the shuttle from Whistler and don’t forget to pack a picnic (the concession stand sells mainly ice cream and drinks). Little ones will love the beautiful, clear lake with floating docks, especially when they find out you can watch thousands of tiny tadpoles dancing around in one designated area of the beach.
Chesterman Beach Canada’s most popular beach for beginner surfers is also a natural wonder for kids of all ages. Less than a 10-minute drive from Tofino, this beautiful expanse of beach faces the Pacific Ocean (if you’re particularly lucky, you might even spot a whale in the distance), and at low tide offers the opportunity for little ones to spy sea stars, anemones and other creatures among the rocky tide pools. The southern half of the beach has smaller waves and is more suitable for families. This beach is dog-friendly, with washrooms and change rooms on-site.
Chesterman Beach Rd., Tofino. 250-725-3414
Sylvan Lake Located about 30-minutes outside Red Deer, there’s no shortage of activities at this family-friendly beach—from playgrounds to paddleboat rentals and a nearby outdoor water park, Wild Rapids Waterslides. The shallow, clear waters to the north and south of Sylvan are best for little ones, and lifeguards are on duty throughout the summer. Stroller-accessible washrooms, showers, picnic areas, change rooms and concession stands dot the one-and-a-half-kilometre-long sand and grass beach.
4505 Lakeshore Dr., Sylvan Lake. 403-748-3939
Grand Beach Drive an hour from Winnipeg and you’ll find three kilometres of freshwater, inland beach with soft, white sand backed by 12-metre-long sand dunes. With playgrounds close to the gently sloping shallow shore and a newly renovated stroller-friendly boardwalk, this is a popular summer family destination. There are plenty of food vendors and shopping options for when little explorers tire of catching frogs and splashing in the calm waters. Reserve in advance if you want a spot on the campground located inside this provincial park.
Entrance fee, $5 per car. Campsites available for an additional fee. PTH 12 and PTH 59, Grand Marais. 204-754-5040
Good Spirit Lake An easy 40-minute-drive northwest of Yorktown, this clear lake remains shallow for a long way out, making it ideal for wobbly little legs. The on-site hiking trails and geocaching (a GPS treasure-hunting game perfect for tweens) are sure to enthrall older adventurers. For the kids in between, there are playgrounds and a minigolf course along with a recreation hall with regularly scheduled activities. Pack a picnic, as the snack shack and convenience store are not located directly on the beach. Lifeguards are on duty June through August, and there are on-site showers and washrooms. The adjacent campsite fills up quickly, so book well in advance.
Entrance fee, $7 per car. Campsites available for an additional fee. Hwy 229, Canora. 306-792-4750
Sandbanks Take a two-and-half-hour road trip from Toronto to Outlet Beach at Sandbanks and let the kids run down the dunes, over the soft sand and into the shallow waters of West Lake. Washrooms and change rooms are available, but the beach is unsupervised. Pets and alcohol are not permitted. Camping supplies (for the campground next door), beach toys and light meals are available at the on-site store. The surrounding countryside is peppered with trendy restaurants, tourist-friendly farms and charming villages for kids and parents to enjoy.
Entrance fee, $16 per car. 3004 County Rd., Picton. 613-393-3319
The Beach This Lake Ontario urban beach area boasts a stroller-friendly boardwalk, playgrounds, and a wide expanse of beach and grassy picnic areas. Nearby Queen St. is lined with family-friendly restaurants that suit all tastes. The beach is staffed with lifeguards throughout the summer months, and a free public, outdoor, Olympic-sized supervised pool is also on-site. Washrooms, change rooms, paid parking and a concession stand are conveniently located nearby.
1675 Lakeshore Blvd. E., Toronto. 416-338-4386
Sauble Beach Lake Huron is mostly shallow and warm at this freshwater beach, with flat, white sand perfect for young families who don’t want to worry about rough waves. Avoid the crowds on hot summer weekends by heading to the northern shores. The boardwalk is lined with stores selling anything that you may have forgotten at home. Half the beach is dog-friendly, and bike and water equipment rentals round out the fun for everyone in the family. The whole family will enjoy the PG-rated movies showing outdoors each Tuesday night throughout the summer. Paid parking is plentiful, and there are lifeguards, change rooms and concession stands. Entrance fee, $20 per car (south side), price varies for parking (north side).
Main St., Bruce Peninsula.519-422-1262
Grande Échouerie Beach Located at the north end of Les Îles de la Madeleine, an archipelago in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and accessible via ferry from Prince Edward Island or a flight from Montreal, this is a true Canadian bucket-list destination. You can sometimes spot seals and walruses at this shallow, warm, golden-sand beach. Parking is close to the unsupervised shore, and there are change rooms, washrooms and a playground on-site. The picturesque windswept coastlines and rolling green hills of the islands (many are interconnected) are dotted with small multicoloured houses and lighthouses from long ago.
Old Harry Point, Grosse-Île, Îles de la Madeleine. 418-985-2510
Parlee Beach Families flock to the warm waters of this saltwater beach for its soft sand, pretty vistas and toddler-friendly shores. Lifeguards are on staff in the designated swim area in July and August, and on-site washrooms, showers, change rooms, canteen, licensed restaurant, playground and picnic area round out the conveniences. Daily scheduled sport and festival events, from sandcastle contests to musical performances, will entertain your older kids, while wee ones will be happy playing in the small waves or hunting for hermit crabs. A bike trail connects to the main part of town, and parking is close to the beach.
Entrance fee, $11 per car. 45 Parlee Beach Rd., Pointe-du-Chêne. 506-533-3363
Martinique Beach This crescent-shaped, serene white-sand beach never feels crowded and is worth the one-hour drive from Halifax (it’s the longest beach in the province). Lifeguards are on duty July and August, and washrooms and change rooms are available on-site, accessible by boardwalk. Pack a picnic or visit one of the nearby cafés, and stop at the nearby Musquodoboit Railway Museum on your way back to the city, especially if you have a tiny train lover in tow.
2389 East Petpeswick Rd., East Petpeswick. 800-565-0000
Salmon Cove Sands Most of Newfoundland and Labrador’s beaches are rocky, but this east coast gem is an exception with its smooth, grey sand. Lifeguards are on duty June through August, and there are washrooms, change rooms, a picnic area and concession stands. The beach area is accessible from the boardwalk, so bring your stroller.
Entrance fee, $7 per car. Beach Rd., off Route 70, Salmon Cove, Conception Bay. 709-596-0860
Cavendish Beach Little legs can run for miles on the seven kilometres of creamy sands enclosed by red cliffs and sandy dunes. You’ll find plenty of regularly scheduled kid-friendly programming, such as sand-sculpture lessons and dune exploring. There’s an adjacent campground, on-site indoor change room, showers, and a lifeguard-supervised swim area throughout July and August. Be sure to pack a lunch—the small store has limited offerings. Dogs are prohibited, and avoid booking your trip for the first or second weekend of July each year if you’re planning for a relaxed beach experience—a popular country music festival attracts big-name headliners and loud crowds.
Entrance fee, $19.60 per car. North shore, Cavendish. 902-963-2076
Did you know: PEI is well known for its red soil. The red pigment comes from the high iron-oxide (rust!) content.
Basin Head Beach This stretch of stunning seashore has been called Canada’s most beautiful. It takes about an hour to reach it from Charlottetown, and you won’t have trouble finding a spot on the squeaky sand (dragging your feet against the sand produces a “singing” sound, said to arise from the spherical quartz). Strong swimmers will get a kick out of jumping off the wharf into the crystal-clear currents below, while beginners can splash in the shallow waters, watch for crabs and gather shells. Plenty of on-site amenities include a gift shop, playground, ice cream stand, cafeteria, washrooms, change rooms, covered and open-air picnic areas, lifeguards (July through August) and a fisheries museum. There’s a stroller-friendly boardwalk and a wheelchair accessible drop-off point for access to the beach area.