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UPDATED: Summer 2019
Prince Edward Island is the perfect beach vacation! It is Canada’s smallest province and is situated in the Northeast near New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Plus, up until now it was our families’ beach vacation secret!
Prince Edward Island is famous for “Anne of Green Gables’, potatoes, and ceilidhs. If you don’t know what those things are then read on to find out the magic of PEI.
Many people would assume that the beaches so far north would be cold, rocky, and a kind of a side note. But they haven’t seen PEI beaches! Beautiful red and white sand beaches punctuated by red rock cliffs and farmland that seems to reach to the very tip of the land. 500 miles of beaches to be precise. And the water is warm!
Due to the Northumberland Strait’s shallow depth the beaches are the warmest north of the Carolinas. The summer water temp is around 70 degrees!
A good portion of the beach on the North Shore is under the protection of the National Park system. That is great news, because preservation efforts are continually occurring. There is a fee assessed to visit the National Seashore. For information about prices and times of year that you need a pass click here.
All that remains is to decide what kind of beach experience you like.
If you like walking along the shore and enjoying nature you must visit North Cape or Seacow Head.
If you want the red sand and calmer waves head to the south shore.
If you want some time alone and a sandbar for the kids to play on go to North Rustico (my family’s favorite).
If you want white sand to build sand castles and sunbathe visit Singing Sands Beach.
For gentle waves and whiter sand, Brackley Beach is for you.
The most popular is Cavendish with a lifeguard, bathrooms, camping nearby, easy waves and long stretches of beach.
Thunder Cove Beach
This beach is all over instagram and you may have seen it without having any idea it was in Prince Edward Island. This is one of a few beaches on the North Show that is not part of the National Seashore, so it is free to park. The red sand beach stretches out for over a mile and at the east end of the beach are some amazing rock formations. The most famous one is a rock that appears to be balancing on a small pedestal.
Brackely Beach is both a town and a beach. So don’t go to the town of Brackley Beach and think the shore will be right there, however signs will point you the way to the beach as soon as you enter town.
The shore here is less red, the waves are a little gentler and the water a little colder. This looks like a more traditional beach, with sandy dunes and lots of beach goers. This is one of the closest big beaches to Charlottetown so it stays busy even in the later part of the season.
The beach is part of the National Seashore so you will need to pay for a pass or go after 6:00 pm.
This is one of the most popular beaches on the island, mostly because Cavendish is the center of “Anne of Green Gables” attractions and thus one of the busiest tourist towns. Despite the fact that it is so popular it rarely feels overcrowded. The beach has really red sand (don’t wear a white suit or it might be permanently stained) and decent sized waves. There is a swimming area cordoned off with a lifeguard, making it a great place to take your kids.
We prefer to go to this beach in the late afternoon, to avoid any crowds and make sure we can find parking. Plus the sunsets are spectacular here.
There is also wheelchair ramp that goes down to the seashore.
There are restrooms and shower facilities.
Walk over the “Lake of Shining Water” or “MacNeil’s Farm” in the twilight to see lighting bugs glowing over the water.
This is our favorite beach. It is just a few miles down the shore from Cavendish and has a very similar feel, but without the crowds! The parking lot at North Rustico is small and yet we can always find a spot. And on many occasions we are the only one on the entire length of beach.
North Rustico has a beautiful red cliff on one side and if you walk east you will end up at North Rustico wharf. The beach is close to the parking lot making it a great place to visit for those who are physically unable to walk too far. It is also a great place to launch kayaks. (We have brought ours with us a few times.)
It is part of the National Seashore so there is a fee to park at the beach.
The best gentle bike ride of your life is down the bike trail within PEI National Park. Beach after beach is ahead of you, dunes, grass, and a straight paved road. Start in Cavendish and it is almost all downhill to North Rustico or go a long way down to Brackley Beach. Go around 6:30 in the evening in the summer and when the sun hits the tops of the dunes and you are in for a glorious view.
Tip: There a number of bike rental places near Cavendish. However, we always take our own bikes. If you are driving, it is worth the small hassle.
Once upon a time the Trans Canadian railroad went from one side of PEI to the other (the long way). Part of me wishes it was still around so I could see the whole island from the train. When it was deemed unusable in 1989 it was made into a biking and walking trail. 435 kilometers of mostly level gravel trail will guide you on your way to the quaint towns of PEI.
Deep Sea Fishing
There are lots of deep sea fishing companies in wharfs all along the North Shore of Prince Edward Island. We have found they are all pretty similar in price and activity but our favorite view are from New London wharf so we would recommend New London Wharf Deep Sea Fishing. You need to call and reserve your spot a few days in advance. Try to reserve a spot early on in your trip, so if it needs to be rescheduled due to weather, you have some wiggle room.
The adventure begins as you power out of the harbor into open water. The boat stops just off the coast and you begin to fish for mackerel to use as bait for the cod. These guys are fairly easy to catch even for the youngest members. Captain Wade distributes rods and demonstrates the best way to get the fish to bite. After some mackerel are caught, you will go further out to sea and use the mackerel to catch some cod. This is a little bit trickier, but my kids have lucked out every time we have gone.
You will boat back to shore, and the catch is divided up between the sailing party. Cook the cod that night for the freshest and most delicious meal.
A ceilidh (pronounced “cay-lee”) is a traditional Scottish or Irish folk music evening with singing and dancing. You must find one and go. I dragged my reluctant husband and kids to one on our past visit and by intermission my husband was buying CD’s of the group performing. There are many fabulous ceildhs on PEI, but I enthusiastically recommend the Ross Family in Clinton Hills. A more entertaining group would be very hard to find, and they have real musical chops. A brother and sisters group, they play the violin, guitar, and piano. They sing and dance and often do everything at the same time. It has been fun to watch them mature as a group over the years. They are more and more professional every time I see them.
Every time we go to Prince Edward Island we go to the drive-in in Brackley Beach. It is such a fun thing to do with the family. A double feature is shown every night! There is a really decent snack bar that goes beyond popcorn and candy. My favorite is a freshly fried churro. There are a fair number of Adirondack chairs available to sit in, but bring your bug spray because the mosquitoes are bad when dusk hits.
The Most Beautiful Places in Prince Edward Island
The charming town of French River is north of New London on Rte 20. Just before you reach it there is a nice parking lot/overlook that is perfect for a picture of the charming town. We take a picture here on every trip.
Few towns are as beautiful as New Glasgow with its rolling hills, lakes, and beautiful farmland. There is a toy factory in the center of town and a small park directly across from the toy store. Beautiful picture.
PEI national park, Gulf Shore Parkway
There is an amazing overlook of Cavendish beach here. Come when the sun is beginning to set and you will be rewarded with amazing pictures of the beach and the greenery surrounding it.
A local favorite! Every time we have been here (I won’t admit the number of times) we run into locals who come weekly or monthly, and who can blame them? For C$37.95 you can have delicious homemade rolls, chowder, all you can eat PEI mussels, salad, a one pound lobster, and as many desserts as you can eat! The standout desert is the lemon meringue pie which has the highest meringue I have ever seen! There’s one other lobster supper on the island in North Rustico. We have been to it, but we keep going back to New Glasgow for a more relaxed atmosphere and superior food.
Tip: Come early at 4:00 pm. If you don’t you will pay for it with a very long line. We went at 6 this year and didn’t sit to eat until 7:30 and it was a weeknight!
Voted the best ice cream in Canada! Our family is a big fan of this place, so much so that our kids expect to have this every day we are on vacation. We like it so much we get it for them! Fresh and creamy ice cream in a large variety of daily flavors. Plus they offer t-shirts with cow parodies on them, which make great souvenirs.
Tip: our favorite flavors: Wowie Cowie, PEI Apple Crisp, Chocolate Monster, Chunky Chocolate Mint, and Gooey Mooey.
Very reminiscent of a Five Guys but with poutine! And the poutine is gluten free! An inexpensive and delicious meal a little off from downtown Charlottetown. Across the parking lot is a Cows Ice Cream shop and an Anne of Green Gables chocolates, so we haven’t been able to do one without the other!
Blue Mussel Cafe
This is one of the most popular and delicious eateries on the island. On the wharf in North Rustico, the cafe serves their food on a screened in deck overlooking the water. Blue Mussel Cafe serves seafood like many surrounding restaurants, but their creative choices make them a must eat.
The Seafood Chowder Poutine is exactly what it seems! Fries, cheeseacurds, and chowder over the top and it is sooo yummy. The other great choices are the seafood bubbly, the haddock sandwich and the lobster roll. Kids would be welcome, but prices are on the higher side, so keep that in your vacation planning.
Tip: Once again, show up early or wait in a long line. I recommend being there by 11:30.
The Best Time to Visit PEI
The best weather for PEI is June-August but that doesn’t mean the island isn’t beautiful at other times. Our favorite time for our family is to visit the very last week of August as a last hurrah before school begins. Most of the tourists are gone and we feel we get our favorite island to ourselves. I have heard from many people that September on Prince Edward Island is simply beautiful, so we will have to check that out some year.
Weather on PEI is notoriously changeable, but generally you will have temps in the low 70s-mid 80’s during those months. We have seen temps in the 90’s in August but only once. Make sure to bring a sweatshirt for the cool evenings even in the summer.
Places to Stay in PEI for Families
We generally stay in an Airbnb when we travel to PEI, but if you don’t have a full week to spend on the island (most Airbnb’s only book a week at a time during the summer) here are some of the most family friendly hotels on the North Shore.
This hotel has a few different options for travelers. You can stay in traditional hotel rooms or you can choose to rent a cottage with a kitchen and have a little more privacy. Stanley Bridge is a 5 minute drive from Cavendish and one of the most beautiful spots on the island.
I hope this information has inspired you to travel to this little appreciated island and make your own family adventures.
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