Saratoga Beach, Vancouver Island
By Sheliza Mitha
Traditionally, for a great many Canadians, summer either begins with the solstice or the Canada Day long weekend. For our family of four, summer last year didn’t officially begin until the very end of August with our arrival at idyllic Saratoga Beach on Vancouver Island.
Greeted by a sandy beach and turquoise-hued water reminiscent of a faraway Caribbean island, it was hard to believe this vision was a mere ferry ride away from our Lower Mainland home.
Located about an hour and a half’s drive “up island” from Nanaimo, this little patch of paradise is surprisingly accessible. Step onto the beach, and you might as well have stepped back in time. Kids of all ages were found digging in the sand, building sandcastles and splashing in the water, while adults read magazines and books made of paper. It truly felt as though we had entered another time or reality, one without screens constantly competing for our attention.
Lucky for us, the sun shined brightly as we approached our beachside cottage – which was to be our accommodations for the next five nights. What Saratoga Beach might lack in commerce and commercialism, it makes up for with surf, sand and an array of beachside accommodations – particularly on Clarkson Avenue. Though technically this stretch of road is in Black Creek, it parallels scenic Saratoga Beach. From an RV Park with its own weekly farmer’s market and basic beachside cottages to grand, rustic-style homes with individual suites, Clarkson is dotted with options.
Our very own basic one-bedroom cottage (with sofa-bed) slept four, was equipped with the basics (think kitchen, coffee machine, cooking equipment, cutlery and wine opener) and was no more than a few hundred feet from the beach.
As the quintessential beach getaway, the surf is where we – like everyone else – spent much of our days. Digging in the sand, playing Frisbee, floating in the water.
Here, it’s also worthwhile to mention that Saratoga Beach is truly a small patch of space surrounded by the town of Black Creek and the larger town of Campbell River. So while some places referenced here might be in Black Creek and Campbell River, they are indeed only a short walk, bike ride or drive away from the beach.
And make no mistake, the beach is the main attraction for this area. While there may be little in the way of browsing, shopping or commercialism – the area has plenty to make your stay comfortable and memorable. For groceries, visit Discovery Foods – a short bike or car ride from the slew of properties on Clarkson Avenue. Next door, Forbidden Zone Pizza serves up piping hot pies and pasta dishes for take-away.
Once a week, the Pacific Playgrounds Resort & Marina RV Park at the northern end of Clarkson Avenue plays host to a local market where you might find anything from baked goods and preserves to hand-crafted candles, purses and knitwear. On the afternoon of our particular visit, we sampled some local goods before enjoying a spicy lunch of tacos from one of the local food trucks.
While here, the Black Creek Diner is also worth a try. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, it’s easy to be fooled by this modest restaurant attached to a gas station. However, inside you’ll find a charming restaurant with a handful of tables and quality ingredients.
A five-minute drive (or 10-minute bike ride) from the beach, the Shelter Point Distillery in Campbell River offers an interesting and worthwhile excursion. Established in 2011, Shelter Point sits on some 380 acres that has been farmed throughout generations.
Naturally blessed with fertile soil and remarkable geography, this home-grown distillery features a beautiful space to relax with its dark wooden panelling and oversized chairs – a sort of throwback to an old-fashioned gentlemen’s club or cigar room. During our self-guided tour, we sampled (and brought home) some of their finest – including gin, vodka and award-winning whiskey. Complimentary tours and tastings are available.
Our final afternoon stop before heading back to the beach was the charming By the Sea Apothecary, an approximate 10-minute walk (or a two-minute drive) from our cottage on Clarkson Avenue. The shop is a one-room wooden oasis. Owner and founder Tina Shapka has created a little shop of wonders with her all-natural, personally-crafted balms, salves, oils and moisturizers. As a skin care fanatic, I was in my element. My visit was intended to be just that: a simple visit. Instead, I walked away with an armful of oils and creams that I was certain that I could no longer live without, especially after hearing Tina’s own journey that led her to create this one-of-a-kind boutique apothecary.
Here, other than the occasional round of mini-golf at Miracle Beach Mini Golf near dusk, most of our days and all our evenings were spent beachside in the most idyllic and family-pleasing manner. Sometimes, just as darkness settled in, we felt as though we were only getting started: roasting marshmallows, gazing at stars and enjoying the thousands of lights bursting from the distantly passing cruise ships… for what seemed like hours.
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Our entire Saratoga Beach experience might well have been something out of a wholesome family movie or picture-perfect postcard – ready to be stamped and delivered. Here, it seems… all you have to do is show up.
For accommodations in this area and elsewhere in British Columbia go to travel-british-columbia.com
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Published: August 6, 2020
Sheliza is a freelance writer and editor who enjoys blogging about her family’s adventures throughout British Columbia. For the latest on food and travel, connect with her on Twitter via @shelizawrites or visit her at www.copyprose.com.