Prince Edward Island: Canada’s Family Vacation Hotspot

Confederation bridge

Confederation bridge

My husband and I fell in love with Prince Edward Island long before we said our matrimonial “I dos” in Brackley Beach twelve years ago. When we visited the island as a couple, we would read all day long on the many picturesque beaches and take in as many lobster suppers as we could. Now that we are parents, and St. Ann’s Lobster Suppers is no longer in operation, our trips to Prince Edward Island have changed to become more family oriented.

If you are planning on taking a family vacation to Prince Edward Island, I promise that you will instantly fall in love with the rolling hills, friendly locals and of course, the red sand and red dirt. Every one who visits the island has their own unique experience. For my family it is in a quiet, private cottage overlooking the sand dunes of Brackley Beach and includes a lot time on the beach and eating a lot of fresh seafood (so, maybe not that much has changed over the years). ;)

Based on my most recent trip to the island, here are some tips on where to eat, where to play and where to take pictures while in Prince Edward Island:

Where to Eat in PEI (in the summer)

Many restaurants on Prince Edward Island are seasonal (only open during tourist season), meaning their food is fresh and full of local flair!

I am a huge fan of Richard’s Fresh Seafood located in Stanhope within Prince Edward Island National Park. Their lobster roll is good, but so is their scallop burger and fish sandwich! And if you like local PEI potatoes – well, you get a lot of homemade fries with every order.

But if you are looking for mussels, I highly suggest the Blue Mussel Café in North Rustico. Their mussels are cooked to perfection! And their appetizers are delicious – especially their Seafood Chowder Poutine.

Our favourite lunch spot is the PEI Preserve Company in New Glasgow. Their homemade preserves and scones are second to none. Top that with a cute view of the Gardens of Hope and River Clyde and you will instantly fall into vacation mode. They also have 40 types of tea from all over the world – perfect if you’re a tea drinker.

Top left - me sipping beer from PEI brewing company at the blue mussel cafe; from bottom left to top right: pei preserve company, dorion's fisheries; olde village bakery in north rustico; richard's fresh seafood and a wall in blue mussel cafe.

Top left - me sipping beer from PEI brewing company at the blue mussel cafe; from bottom left to top right: pei preserve company, dorion's fisheries; olde village bakery in north rustico; richard's fresh seafood and a wall in blue mussel cafe.

While in New Glasgow, make a reservation (no really, MAKE A RESERVATION) for supper at The Mill in New Glasgow. The chef, Emily Wells, is award winning and her dishes are sure to thrill your palate – in particular the must-try Lobster Pad Thai. My daughter loved the views from this place as it too over looks the River Clyde.

You’re probably wondering when I am going to mention lobster suppers. I’m not. As I mentioned, my favourite was St. Ann’s Suppers, which was lobster supper served in the basement of a Catholic Church with incredible mile-high pie for dessert, but they have since closed up shop and while New Glasgow Lobster Suppers are popular, they are not for us.

Cooking lobster

Cooking lobster

Instead, I highly recommend heading to Doiron Fisheries in North Rustico and buying fresh lobster and cooking it yourself! It’s fun for the whole family! Or if cooking lobster is not for you, Doiron’s also sells it cooked. They also sell fresh fish, scallops and mussels.

Once you have your fresh PEI lobster, go to the Olde Village Bakery in North Rustico and pick up some homemade potato salad and buns (and pie) and then go back to your cottage and enjoy your own lobster supper in comfort. Seriously. You won’t regret it.

What to do

From golfing to kayaking, there is something for everyone in PEI, including spending a lot of time at the beaches (of course). Besides the beach, are a few family favourites:

Hiking or Biking

robinson's island, PEI

robinson's island, PEI

This year my family and I brought our mountain bikes with us. Every morning we ventured to the trails around the island’s National Park. Our absolute favourite is Robinson’s Island. A 5 km loop, there are moguls and obstacles for the young (and the young at heart) as well as gorgeous views of great blue herons, bald eagles, foxes and more! You can also walk or bike the old road that leads straight to the beach on Robinson’s Island where you may find big seashells and washed up treasures like buoys, seaglass and driftwood.

Green Gables

Anne of green gables

Anne of green gables

If this is your first trip to PEI then you have to visit the house at Green Gables. You just do. It’s full of history and of course everything Anne, but it’s also fun for the kids – especially because they may get to meet Anne herself!

Because it’s owned by the National Parks there is often fun programming taking place. This year when we visited they had a bilingual scavenger hunt for kids, which was a fun, interactive way to encourage the kids to read and learn about L.M. Montgomery and the island. When they are done the scavenger hunt, kids can hand in their books and receive a free memento from their time at Green Gables.

In addition to the house there are also trails to walk and explore. A perfect way to spend a good part of a day!

Shining Waters & Sandspit Amusement Park

If you are on the island for more than a couple of days invest in a weekly pass to Shining Waters and Sandspit. Shining Waters is the island’s water park and although it’s not as big as some of the monstrosities elsewhere in Canada, it is perfect for a fun filled day or even a couple of hours of cooling off and having fun. There is a roller coaster and rides for kids of all ages (although I would say 12 and under would probably have the most fun). The water slides are fast and guaranteed to make even the most over-tired of child smile (believe me, I know).

Sandspit is the island’s amusement park. There is a Ferris wheel, roller coaster and other fun rides. We spent a lot of evenings there just so my daughter and her friend could run around and eat cotton candy without getting sand in it.

You can purchase a weekly pass that covers both of these parks, which makes spending an hour or two there every day feasible, and believe me your kids will love it! After all, family vacations are about the kids having fun and making memories!

From top left: roller coaster at SandSPIT, BRACKley beach, brackley drive-in theatre and the ferris wheel at sandspit

From top left: roller coaster at SandSPIT, BRACKley beach, brackley drive-in theatre and the ferris wheel at sandspit

Brackley Drive-In

The Brackley Drive-In is the island’s only drive-in theatre, and it is a great one! It’s clean, well taken care of, and is easy to get in and out of.

Drive to the town of Brackley Beach and get ready to see some classic 1950s cars, listen to some classic 1950s tunes before the show and then get ready for one or two in-theatre movies! There is a playground at the theatre to occupy kids until the movie starts and of course there is a canteen on site as well – and treat prices are very reasonable! Gates open at 8 p.m. and there is a $1 off coupon on their website, oh and ticket prices include a soft drink! This is seriously my favourite drive-in theatre in Canada.

Where to take pictures

Beaches

Island crab

All of them, but if you’re looking for red cliffs try the Argyle Shore (south side of the island) or Cavendish on the north shore (go in the evening or first thing in the morning for pictures without people).

If you’re looking for sand dunes, try Brackley Beach near the Covehead Lighthouse or Greenwich Beach.

If you’re looking for waves crashing against sand, try Basin Head in Eastern PEI, en route to the town of Souris.

Scenary

The best road in PEI for taking pictures of the rolling hills is between the towns of Wheatley River and New Glasgow. If you are there the right time of year there are endless opportunities for fabulous pictures of potato fields in full bloom pretty much anywhere on the island. And if you’re there mid to late June – get ready for some amazing pictures of lupins!

Lighthouses

Covehead Lighthouse

My family’s favourite lighthouse is West Point because of the stripes, but Point Prim is the island’s oldest and is one of the few lighthouses made of brick constructed in Canada.

Covehead is the most photographed lighthouse on the island (pictured here with my daughter in a photo that was featured in the island’s tourism guide last year). It’s located in Stanhope.

For a complete list of PEI lighthouses, check out the Tourism PEI website.

Lighthouse at victoria by-the-sea

Lighthouse at victoria by-the-sea

My husband and I have noticed an increase in traffic during the summer months in PEI and even witnessed a traffic backup as we drove through Cavendish this year, but as busy as the island gets there is always a peaceful, welcoming place for every visitor to the island. I look forward to returning… again and again.

Have you been to Prince Edward Island? What are your favourite things to do as a family there?