The Southwest Coast of Vancouver Island offers a whole new perspective on beach exploration, with every season bringing something new to explore, breathe in, and enjoy.
From family-friendly urban escapes to beaches boasting wild waves renowned with surfers, the 100-kilometre shoreline stretches from dramatic East Sooke Park to the shores of Port Renfrew. While good footwear is a must once the wetter weather arrives, the cooler temperatures and smaller crowds make fall and winter a terrific time to explore local forests on the way to some of Canada’s most celebrated beaches.
While there are far too many to list them all, here are eight local favourites. Find even more for your beach-bucket list here.
A beach for urban saltwater views: Billings Spit – With views of both the Sooke Basin to the east and the Sooke Harbour to the west, Billings Spit offers a unique view of Sooke’s diverse waterfront, especially during what can be dramatically low tides. Paddleboarders, sail and motor boats, and various wildlife are all frequently seen, making this an interesting place for a fall walk.
A beach to watch for wildlife: Whiffin Spit – With fall’s salmon run comes the gathering of seals and sea lions to the mouth of Sooke Harbour, plying the narrow channel for the day’s catch. Enjoy a stroll along this beautiful stretch of sandy shoreline – popular with locals and their dogs year-round – to take in the annual spectacle. You might even spot an orca or two as well!
A beach for close-to-town beachcombing: Ella Beach – A local favourite largely unknown among tourists, find Ella Beach just outside downtown Sooke. Beyond the spectacular rocky beach great for beachcombing, take a few minutes to observe the large Douglas fir and Sitka spruce dotting the shoreline. It’s believed they’ve adapted to not only tolerate the salt spray but actually benefit from the various minerals it provides.
A beach to view a famous waterfall: Sandcut Beach – Yes, you can actually walk behind a waterfall at this oft-photographed local destination. Part of the 187-hectare Jordan River Regional Park, enjoy a scenic view of the Olympic Peninsula and a dramatic waterfall flowing over a low cliff to the ocean. Because the cliff has been eroded by the sea over the years, it creates a gap that lets you stay dry as you walk behind the rushing water. (Note that the flow of water does vary with the seasons.)
A beach for early fall camping: China Beach – The first stop along the 47-kilometre Juan de Fuca Marine Trail stretching from the sandy China Beach to Botanical Beach, this is a spectacular spot for family outings and day trips, but you’ll also find the adjacent 78-site China Beach campground, open to Sept. 30 if you’d like to extend your visit. This fall, and again in the spring, watch for grey whales passing by during their seasonal migration. To camp through fall and winter, nearby options include Jordan River Regional Park and French Beach.
A beach to get away from it all: Mystic Beach – Mystic Beach, recently named one of the best in the world, this beach lives up to its name! Drive to the day-use area along Highway 14 or enjoy the 2 1/2 km hike from China Beach to this dramatic piece of coastal shoreline where towering cliffs meet a sandy shore. Highlights along the way include a hanging waterfall, suspension bridge, and often dramatic breakers.
A beach for surfing: Sombrio Beach – About an hour from Sooke, along Highway 14, you’ll reach Sombrio Beach via a 250-metre access trail and likely be greeted by numerous surfers riding the waves in this world-class surfing area. Part of the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, explore the expansive cobbled beach or hike east or west along the route to take in the views.
A beach for exploring tide pools: Botanical Beach – The westernmost point of the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, near Port Renfrew, Botanical Beach is a must-visit destination for families and anyone fascinated by the West Coast geography and marine life. After a short walk through the coastal forest, discover a colourful intertidal zone home to starfish and sea urchins, white gooseneck barnacles, blue mussels, green sea anemones, sea cucumbers, and more. Be sure to check the tide tables for Port Renfrew when planning your visit as a low tide of 1.2 metres or less is best for viewing these tide pools.
In all of these coastal marine environments, please practice the “Leave No Trace” principles: Don’t disrupt the flora and fauna, pack out all garbage, and take only photos.
Remember, too, that the entire Sooke to Port Renfrew region is a wilderness area – black bears, cougars, wolves, and other wildlife may be present, so it’s important to share their habitat safely and responsibly.
Learn more and plan your visit at sooke-portrenfrew.com