Even though I was born in Alberta and have lived here my entire life, there’s something magical about British Columbia that calls me there every summer. I usually get this itch to be in the mountains around June or July.
Our summer vacations have always been in BC. We’ve camped all around the Kootenays, stayed in condos in Kimberley, cabins in Invermere and resorts in Kelowna. Last summer (2017) we decided to have a “staycation”. That was a big mistake. It was a boring summer of yard and housework. We took a few day trips here and there, but it just wasn’t the same. We decided that Summer 2018 had to be better.
Neither of us had ever been to Vancouver Island, but we had always wanted to go. We decided Victoria would be really cool, and fun for the kids. I started browsing for Airbnb’s. We found a lot that would work for us, but as I searched for things to do around Victoria, I quickly realized that staying in a condo in the city was not what I wanted. We might as well just go to Kelowna again. Don’t get me wrong, I love Kelowna, but we had been there many times. I was looking for a completely different experience.
I wanted to be in the woods! The west coast is so beautiful, and I felt like we would miss out on that beauty if we stayed in Victoria. I really missed camping, which is something we hadn’t done since Rowyn was a baby. But I’ve gotten soft (diva-ish?) in my old age and am just not up for roughing it in a tent for 10 days anymore. And Robb is dead set against buying a trailer, so, camping was really out of the question.
I started to search other parts of the island. It was a bit scary looking for places to stay in unfamiliar territory. I had heard of Tofino of course but I thought maybe it would be too touristy or too expensive. I hit “search” on an area that was along the same coastline on the Airbnb map, and a little group of properties popped up in a town called Port Renfrew. Never heard of it. I zoomed in and to my excitement found the cutest bunch of cottages that overlooked the ocean. And they weren’t that horribly expensive (Robb would beg to differ).
We looked a bit more at Port Renfrew. It was about 2 hours from Victoria. It looked like it was close-ish to Tofino, but in actuality it would take 6 hours to drive there! I figured a day trip to Tofino was out. It didn’t look like there was a whole lot to do there, but the area looked beautiful and it did have a couple restaurants that looked great. I was nervous about staying in what looked like the middle of nowhere, but these cottages looked so beautiful! We really liked one called River Raven Retreat. It was small, but modern, and wow did it have a killer view. I knew this was the one.
We picked our dates and decided 10 days would be the perfect amount of time. I thought we should drive there. I love road trips through BC, but Robb thought it would be better to fly. This would be our kids’ first plane ride (yes, I know, they’re 6 and 9, but I have anxiety and have had no need to fly anywhere with them until this point!) It took some convincing, but I finally caved and Robb booked our flights.
Five months later, the day finally came. The girls were so excited to go on their first plane ride. We made the drive to Calgary and flew to Vancouver. I made it through with only mild anxiety. The girls were awesome on the plane. We had about an hour layover in Vancouver, and then a short 15 minute flight to Victoria.
We got in about 4:00 pm, we needed to rent a car and get groceries before we made the 2-hour drive to Port Renfrew. After that was done we wanted to find cool place to eat. We found a place called Wild Mountain in Sooke, a town just outside of Victoria and the food was amazing! Pretty much the best steak I’ve ever had.
When we were done, we made the long trek to our final destination. The road between Sooke and Port Renfrew was beautiful, but extremely windy and narrow. Eventually we made it there just after sunset. There is no service or GPS after Sooke, so we had to rely on our host’s directions which were emailed to us. Once we got there, we found that our cottage was part of a small community called Wild Coast Cottages. They were like little townhouses built into a cliff that overlooks the ocean. The whole little community reminded me of a cute campground. We opened door to a small cottage that seemed a lot bigger than it was due to the massive vaulted ceilings. The cottage was beautiful and modern. It was about 10:30 at night already and we wanted to get the girls to bed. Of course they were bouncing off the walls, and how could they sleep when they had this view to look at?
The view literally took my breath away. I could spend the next 10 days right there and be totally content. I was so excited to see what everything looked like in the daytime.
Those next 10 days ended up being the best family trip we’ve ever taken (so far). We hiked, walked on the beach, explored tide pools, swam in the ocean, swam in a lake, got lost in the forest, went whale watching and collected enough sea shells to fill a whole suitcase. It was such an amazing experience for the girls. I was surprised of how much there was to do for a family in such a small town! Here is a list of our favourite things to do in Port Renfrew:
Top 6 Things to do in Port Renfrew with Kids
1. Renfrew Pub
The day after we got to Port Renfrew we wanted to go out and explore the town, so we decided to have lunch down at the Renfrew Pub. I had seen pictures on Instagram and it looked really nice. It was about a 15-minute walk (with kids) down to the pub. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of pathways in the area, so we had to walk along the road. Once we got there though, we were not disappointed. It looked like a big hotel with a giant patio facing the harbor. We were seated outside of course. Kids were welcome here, thankfully, and we were happy to see an extensive wine and beer list 🙂 .
I was surprised to see such a wide variety of food. They had a great kids menu and vegan, dairy free, and gluten free options which is something I wouldn’t have expected in a small-town restaurant. I ordered the Tuna Poke with a glass of rose (of course). The food was fantastic, and so was the view. After lunch we walked down to the docks. Down here there was a gift shop and more cabins that were part of Wild Renfrew Seaside Cottages. The cottages were so cute, I would love to stay in those if we ever go back. We ended up eating at this pub 3 times on the trip!
We asked around for the best things to do when we first arrived, and everyone said Botanical Beach and Botany Bay. It’s about a 2km drive from Port Renfrew. You could probably walk there, but there’s no path from the town so we decided driving was best. We parked the car and started walking down to the beach, totally unaware of where we were going! There was a fork in the path where you could choose which beach to visit, we decided to try Botanical Beach, since it was low tide, and we really wanted to see tide pools. It was a bit of a hike and it was raining, but totally worth it once we got there.
We saw tide pools for the first time and the girls got to see the ocean for the first time. A few days later, on a day with nicer weather, we hiked down to try the other fork to Botany Bay. It was very cool as well! The girls climbed up rocks and we sat and watched the waves. I think we spent a good 2 hours there.
Robb decided this would be a great thing to do. It was totally out of my comfort zone, but I really wanted the kids to experience something cool. It was a little pricey, $150 for adults and $99 for kids. I was nervous about them being on a zodiac in the middle of the ocean. The office was just down from the Pub so we decided to talk to them first. They eased our minds about the kids and said they go all the time. We booked our spot and a couple days later we were putting on our floatation suits and getting on the Zodiac with about 10 other people. They had PFD’s and waterproof pants for the kids.
After a brief lesson from the captain about what to expect, we were boarding the Zodiac. Then they started handing out ginger candies. This should have been my first clue as to what was about to happen. I always thought sea sickness was a thing you saw in the movies. Wow was I wrong. The first part of the trip was fine, but as we got out into the open pacific, three out of four of us were vomiting into barf bags, and one of us was fast asleep.
Sea sickness is real, friends. Robb and I both got sick and so did Rowyn (who gets carsick easily) even though I gave her Gravol before we left. Elia slept through the whole thing didn’t really see anything. The captain told us after that it’s very common for kids that age to fall asleep. BUT, we got to see humpback whales. Wild Renfrew pretty much guaranteed we would so that was great. We also got to see sea lions. If you don’t get motion sickness, then I would definitely try this. The company that runs the whale watching tours are totally professional and I felt completely safe with our captain, who was awesome. But, if you are susceptible to sea sickness, I would skip it. It took away from the enjoyment of seeing the whales, and I didn’t like the fact that we paid so much to go barf in the ocean.
4. Avatar Grove
Another thing the locals told us about was a boardwalk called Avatar Grove. About a 20 minute drive from Port Renfrew, the grove is located in an old growth forest and is home to the World’s Gnarliest Tree. There is an upper and a lower Avatar walk. We decided to try the upper first since it was supposed to be the easiest. This area was beautiful, and the girls loved hiking though the forest and climbing over huge roots.
After we finished that hike, we tried the lower Avatar Grove. This had some pathways with a boardwalk, but it was not as clearly marked as the upper portion. We got very lost! But we had lots of fun and turned it into an adventure. We eventually made it back to the car after finding our way. I can’t believe how well the girls did on this hike. It required a lot of climbing and stairs. I was so proud of them at the end.
5. Lizard Lake and Fairy Lake
The locals told us that we had to visit a couple lakes that were on the road to Lake Cowichan. The first one we went to was Fairy Lake which had a beautiful campground surrounded with huge trees. The lake is famous for its tiny Bonsai-like tree that grows out of a log in the middle of the lake. There’s a small swimming area as well, but we didn’t have our swimsuits with us that day. If I was still into camping this would be my ideal campground!
Later in the week we took our swimming gear to Lizard Lake. Also located beside a campground, the lake has a small beach with a large dock. This was a nice area, although it was quite crowded the day we went, but the kids still had a fun and Elia even made a furry friend. A bunch of other kids were collecting newts and salamanders in a bucket. I’m guessing that’s why they call it Lizard lake??
6. The Beach and Marina
We spent most of our time in Port Renfrew on the Beach. Even though there aren’t a lot of pathways in the area, we did find some stairs and boardwalk next to our cottage. This led down to the beach and Marina which has a restaurant called Bridgemans West Coast Eatery. We didn’t eat here but we did go for drinks. We even got to see harbour seals at the marina. You can walk along the road past the marina until you get to a path that leads to the beach and the actual residential part of Port Renfrew. If you go to into the town there is a playground where the kids had fun playing. Before the town though, there is a small path that leads to a beautiful part of the beach. We walked down here almost every night. The girls loved collecting sea shells and playing in the waves. On our last day there, it was even warm enough to swim in the ocean (I don’t like being cold so I just suntanned on the beach!). This was my favourite part of our trip, walking along the beach every evening watching the sunset.
I’m sure I’ve missed some other things there are to do in Port Renfrew. Of course, this area is home to the start of the West Coast Trail. There are many other beaches to see and other day trips that you can take, although not all are family-friendly. We did go back into Victoria one day midway through our vacation. The kids had a great time checking out the Royal BC Museum and sightseeing around the city.
I could go on and on about all the things I loved about Port Renfrew. It gave me the “wilderness” I was craving, but with the comforts of home (a house, kitchen, and WiFi!). Port Renfrew is truly a hidden gem and I’m so glad I stumbled upon it. This trip took me out of my comfort zone and helped me get over my anxiety of flying with kids and traveling to places unknown. I watched our girls grow, experience new things, and become totally adventurous. It showed me that we can really handle anything as a family.
Shortly after we got back, we booked our next big trip to the U.K. next June. We’ll be spending a whole month in Scotland and Ireland, and I’m so excited to see what kind of adventures that will bring!