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13 Coast writers on their favourite beaches in Nova Scotia

Where to swim, sun, stroll, ponder, bask and remember forever

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Bayswater Beach, looking good - @JOEYCHAPMANPHOTOGRAPHY
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  • Bayswater Beach, looking good

Bayswater Beach
4015 Highway 329, Bayswater (one-hour drive)
Never have I loved a beach more than I love Bayswater. I went there for the first time with my friend and her mom when I was a kid and after that, my family also frequented the spot. In my experience, the farther you're willing and able to drive from the city, the better your beach experience will be. Fewer Haligonians want to get up early and make a trek when there are beaches just a hop, skip and a jump away. Located near Hubbards, Bayswater Beach is a happy medium. An hour-long trip will get you to a generous stretch of white sand, and although it can hardly be called a hidden gem anymore, it's not as tough to get a spot at as HRM's swimming holes. The water is stunning—and pretty calm, as far as oceans go. There are toilets and change rooms onsite, too. —Rebecca Dingwell

No name beach, Blanford
Across from Dr. Deanie's vet clinic, 377 New Harbour Road, Hubbards (one-hour drive)
This is not a beach for sandcastles or sunning. It's for brooding and mourning. In the years I lived in Hubbards I never saw this little beach sunny or warm. I never saw another person here. It's dark. The sky here is dark. The sand is dark. Wear long pants. Bring a large Thermos of creamy sweet coffee and maybe an old sleeping bag–one from your childhood with an old familiar flannel lining, for wrapping yourself in while you sit on the sand and scrunch down to escape the bitter wind and sad memories. At the far end, a dark cabin in the trees: My dream house. Across the way is the site of the Blandford whale factory. It's gone now but the huge concrete ramp remains. As a child I was there while they winched up whales. The ocean water was blood red. Sometimes it still is. —Jane Kansas

Melmerby Beach
6480 Little Harbour Road, Merigomish (one-hour, 50-minute drive)
Great beaches are secrets for unlocking the ocean, but there's nothing covert about Melmerby Beach. It's an inviting destination, practically a theme park, featuring loads of parking, flushing toilets, sand that runs in a gentle curve for two kilometres. Melmerby is such a draw, it even has a nickname. If this sounds unappealing, make your first visit a late side jaunt, like when you're returning from a wedding in deepest Cape Breton. Have lunch with the newlyweds, and spend the bulk of the afternoon driving to New Glasgow, then on to The Merb. The Northumberland Strait water is even warmer than they say, plus it's surprisingly shallow. You can go out as far as you need to float the world away, then enjoy the easy trip back. —Kyle Shaw

Crystal Crescent Beach
220 Sambro Creek Road, Sambro (39-minute drive)
On a sunny day, Crystal Crescent Beach has a power to transport you. Its azure waters and white sandy shores are reminiscent of a much warmer place: One with palm trees, balmy breezes and cut-off shorts. Even in April, if you squint a bit and manage to slough off that you're wearing a jacket, this is possible. The beach can be so powerful, in fact, that it has convinced some to strip on impulse and plunge into the waves. As if its tropical vibe wasn't enough, Crystal Crescent is also a trailhead for a 10-kilometre hike to Pennant Point. Bored of chilling in paradise? Hike in paradise then, you fool! It's a one-stop shop for both lounging and exercise, with a lil' splash of magic. —Ashley Corbett

Rushtons Beach
723 Hightway 6, Brule, Northumberland shore (two-hour, 17-minute drive)
At the end of an incredibly long boardwalk, past marsh and field, lies the perfect sand and warm water of the Northumberland Strait. A narrow band of beach at high tide makes for a rush for prime towel space but when the tide goes out you're looking at an endless expanse of wet sand and tidal pools perfect for meandering along or sitting in waist-deep with a curious toddler. Many a hermit crab and shell have been puzzled over and collected here, a summer day wiled away. Priorities change with kids in tow, but being 10 minutes from the Tatamagouche Brewing Co. and an ice cream or two certainly doesn't hurt either. Worth the drive from just about anywhere. —Lindsay Gloade-Raining Bird

Tea Lake
Purcells Cove Road, just before Battery Drive (20-minute drive)
The thing about Tea Lake, is that it isn't actually called Tea Lake. Purcells Pond, as it's labelled on most maps, is known best by its rumours. Some folks will tell you it gets its moniker from the orangey hue of the water, others will say it's because it's always just a little warm. I'd heard both by the time I found myself under the sweltering July sun, hiking along a gurgling creek on my way to a lakeside picnic with friends. The climb in is a little rocky and a little steep; the lake leads into some excellent hiking trails in the Herring Cove backlands, after all. It was the kind of day where skinny-dipping made sense, and the water in the little quarry seemed to live up to all the talk: Inexplicably reddish and refreshingly mild. I think it stained my new white swimsuit. There's a short rock face over the water that's perfect for jumping—I recommend leaping hand-in-hand with a loved one, at least the first time. —Julia-Simone Rutgers

Rissers Beach
5366 Highway 331, Petite Riviere Bridge (one-hour, 30-minute drive)
My first memories of Rissers Beach exist only as fragments—watching the tide clock, opening a cooler of cucumber sandwiches, packing damp sand into buckets. As a kid growing up with family on the south shore, Rissers' expansive stretches the ice-cold waves of Green Bay scratched every beach itch in my body. These days, it feels both colder and farther than the more popular beaches within municipal limits. But a few extra minutes on the road gets you more room to play, a marsh boardwalk for off-sand adventures and campsites for overnighters. On the perfect day, the right beach can feel as special as a perfect piece of sea glass—and at Rissers, there's sea glass aplenty. —Brennan McCracken

Margaree Harbour Beach
Margaree Harbour, Cape Breton Island (four-hour drive)
A fading hand-painted sign promising a Sandy Bathing Beach might as well read "Keep going." Through the pipsqueak of a village where the Cabot Trail and the Ceilidh Trail meet, after the pavement turns to gravel, past the breakwater, over the dunes you'll find this, the best place on earth. Plunk down your stuff on this sprawling stretch without ever worrying about being too close to the person next to you. Watch fishing boats putter their way back from a long day at sea and bald eagles swoop overhead while mooing cows, squawking gulls and a tall, rock-face cliff dull the sound of travellers and motorcycles on the highway above. The air is salty with a hint of wild roses. And even the most tentative swimmers can take the plunge in these waters—dotted with sandbars—because west coast Cape Breton's Gulf of St. Lawrence waves are warm enough for bathing, basking. —Allison Saunders

Stoney Island Beach
Cape Sable Island (two-hour, 40 minute drive)
Being the southernmost tip of Nova Scotia, Cape Sable Island is a lengthy drive from Halifax, but there's nothing better than a beach-hopping road trip in the dead of summer. Cape Sable Island is famous for its abundance of rugged, white-sand beaches. While any one of them will do, my personal favourite is Stoney Island Beach—a secluded stretch of coast where driftwood and seabirds reign. I've spent many days scanning the shore for sea glass, dipping my toes into the surf and crashing through the waves on dollar-store boogie boards. It gets even better at dusk, just as stars begin to peak out of the orange and pink hues of sunset. In high school, I would drive my dad's flatbed truck straight onto Stoney Island for late-night star gazing. Stay for awhile and tend to a beachside campfire, or stop into Dan's Ice Cream Shop for a brownie crumble sundae. There are no wrong choices here. —Haleigh Atwood

Thomas Raddall Provincial Park
529 Raddall Park Road (two-hour drive)
Thomas Raddall Provincial Park is really quite nice. Its campsites are humble and quiet; it's a treasure trove for bird-watchers. But the best part is the beaches. With white sand that shines in the sun, the kind of waves you can spend hours jumping over and echoes of shouting seals basking in the sunset on Herring Rocks, the Sandy Bay beaches— situated across the harbour from Keji Seaside and minutes from Port Joli bird sanctuary—are so worth the drive from Halifax. A weekend away on this part of the south shore will fill your lungs with life-giving sea air and your shoes with an appropriate amount of sand. (Secret: If you stay at the walk-in campsites, there's a third beach nearby that's more protected from the wind but still will treat you to white sand and good bird-watching.) —Caora McKenna

Conrad's Beach
Conrad Road, off Highway 207 (35-minute drive)
The perfect place for a cold and salty swim
Is the beach where my boyfriend asked me to marry him
There’s dogs running free, cute as can be
playing and splashing like seals in the sea
Take a right after West Lawrencetown
There’s way fewer of those surfers around
You might see a horse along the road
Park on the shoulder and tote your load
Walk down the boardwalk flat and pleasant
And count the piping plovers present
There’s no bathroom around except for the ocean
Don’t forget to pack your suntan lotion
Bring your own snacks, there is no canteen
And sit in the sand that is soft, warm and clean
So next time you have a case of the sads
Go to the best beach around: I’m talking Conrad’s
—Stephanie Johns

Pomquet Beach
432 Pomquet Beach Road, Antigonish (two-hour, 20-minute drive)
Every summer my parents would load us five kids into our worn station wagon and drive to Antigonish county for the summer. We'd go to the beach three times a day. But there was one, just beyond our town, we never visited. I first went to Pomquet Provincial Beach as an adult: Picturesque does not do justice in recalling the drive through Paq'tnkek First Nation. Tiny bunnies hop as if animated through the beach parking lot. Deep royal blue waves roil up, shifting into impossibly tropic shades, evoking Bermudian postcards, the white sand hot underfoot.
"Why didn't you ever take us to Pomquet?!" I demanded of my mother, after the trip. "Because the undertow is too strong," she replied, plainly. She's right. The surf crashes in and out, currents cut gorgeous angular lines against the coast. Still, it is a perfect, sparingly attended piece of heaven for hardy swimmers. —Maggie Rahr

Hirtle's Beach
Hirtle's Beach Road, Kingsburg (one-hour, 30-minute drive)
Hirtle's Beach is the best beach in the province. It embodies Nova Scotia: Ocean, sand, woods and secrets. A pleasant 90-minute drive south from Halifax will bring you to a tiny town in the dunes called Kingsburg. Then you get to the beach, which lays languidly along the ocean. Sit down and enjoy the panorama, the sand, or wade into the relatively warm water and surf some waves. If you're restless, walk to the end of the beach and enter the woods. The trees muffle the sound of the waves crashing. It's a different world. Stepping over the mossy rocks and up through the rough brush will bring you to an elevated point where you can look back on the whole beach. You can see so much ocean your eyes might drown. Explore a little more and you might find the secret beach. —Andrew Bethune

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