British Columbia: A beach destination?
Western Canada may not be the first destination that comes to mind when one thinks of a beach holiday. Indeed, it is the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America that draw Canadians to escape their sometimes chilly climate.
In the summer months, BC’ers would rather be on their own beaches than any other in the world though. That’s because of their abundance and high quality, and the consistently agreeable weather during July and August.
So when the rest of the world comes to visit Canada, they don’t need to sacrifice their beach experience; they can make it a significant component of their experience.
So what are the best beaches in British Columbia?
Let’s start with Vancouver. Situated as two peninsulas protruding into the Strait of Georgia, the City is virtually surrounded with beaches. High on everyone’s list are English Bay and Kitsilano beaches.
English Bay is a quintessential urban beach, close to downtown and, as such, hosts numerous summer weekend events attended by hundreds of thousands of people. Top-most is the annual Celebration of Light fireworks display where three nations compete to win the competition. The luscious sand make it one of the best beaches for swimmers and sunbathers, who are serviced by countless vendors and amenities just across Beach Avenue.
Kitsilano Beach, on the other side of English Bay, is perhaps the most glamorous beach. It is where locals congregate to “see and be seen.” It is bustling with activity every sunny summer day (which is almost every day in July and August). Yet, it is also family-friendly, and boasts the longest outdoor swimming pool in Canada.
Other popular beaches close to downtown include Sunset Beach, Spanish Banks, Jericho Beach, Locarno Beach, and the imaginatively named Second and Third Beaches.
Off the beaten track, you’ll find the world renowned Wreck Beach, a clothing-optional beach that is equally acclaimed for its raw, natural beauty. The nudity attribution is truly optional, so long as you are comfortable in that environment. Not surprisingly, it requires some effort to reach; its access is via a short, steep hike.
Despite this cornucopia of options, much of metro Vancouver spills out on summer weekends into the beaches of the interior, especially the Okanagan Valley. Their attraction is the hotter temperatures from that of the coast, the non-tidal waters, and the escape from the urban environment.
Three fresh-water lakes, Osoyoos, Skaha and Okanagan, boast incredibly soft sand beaches and water sport options of every imaginable variety. Lake Osoyoos, the most southerly of the three, sits at the northern end of the Great Sonoran desert that starts in New Mexico. Beaches dot both sides of the isthmus that divides the lake and provides all the resort services sun-worshippers crave.
Skaha Lake boasts beaches at both ends of the Lake that is sandwiched by the communities of Okanagan Falls and Penticton, with the best beach at the Penticton end of the Lake. This region is also the centre of the world-famous Okanagan wine region, so a visit here usually serves the double purpose of wine-touring to bringing back a stock of some of the best wines of the world.
Penticton lays claim to being one of only two cities in the world that spans two fresh-water lakes, the other being Okanagan Lake. Between the two is the Penticton Channel that sees thousands of people floating on tubes down the channel every glorious summer day.
Okanagan Lake is the largest in the valley, with beaches dotted all along it lengthy shores. Half-way up the lake is the bustling City of Kelowna, the urban capital of the region, where water sports of every variety are available. Many celebrities make the Okanagan their vacation destination, Kelowna’s busy airport giving it convenient accessibility.
North of the Okanagan lies the Shuswap region. Shuswap Lake itself boast hundreds of beaches along its shoreline of over 1000 kms. Hundreds of houseboats dot Shuswap Lake in the summer, making it the “house-boating capital of Canada.” But other water activities abound, and vacation homes dot the most accessible areas of the shore. Shuswap Lake has, over the years, become “Alberta’s ocean shore,” as it is the primary beach destination for sun worshippers from this neighbouring land-locked province.
We finish back on tidewater, with Vancouver Island, where two beaches stand out among numerous ocean beach options. Rathtrevor Beach, on the Inside Passage, features a two-kilometer-long stretch of sand that, at low tide, reaches almost a kilometer into the Strait of Georgia. Besides its vast stretch of sand and shallow water at higher tides, it is renowned for the consistent warmth of its water and for its kids-safe atmosphere. The beach is popular year-round.
In contrast to Rathtrevor, Long Beach is Canada’s #1 surfing and adventure beach. Appropriately named, the beach is a 16-km stretch of coastline on the open Pacific Ocean side of the Island. As the local Tofino guide states: “Long Beach’s expanse of sand stretches the mind’s boundaries of what a beach walk should feel like.” On hot summer days, the beach is filled with eager surfers, beginners and experts alike. But, beware: outcroppings of rocky islands (at high tide), make for crashing ocean swells and dangerous riptides. Numerous hiking trails along and behind the beach attract another kind of adventurer, but families can also enjoy the massive quantities of sand, or scavenging among the washed-up shore flotsam that may have originated from as far away as Asia.
Don’t be tricked by Botanical Beach in Port Renfrew though. Although it is amazing you will not find the soft sand and be tempted to take dip in the water. Botanical Beach is rich in tide pools with a shoreline full of life and fantastic geological features. Instead of flip flop sandals you will want good walking shoes or even hiking boots to fully enjoy natures class room. Keep your eyes sharp for any number of wildlife sightings on land or in the water, including killer whales and grey whales.
Variety, opportunity, and perhaps even surprise, characterize your numerous beach options in British Columbia. Nearly all of these areas are visited on West Adventures’ BC tours.