You don't have to go to Parksville to find sandy beaches! Nanaimo has beautiful beaches but most of them are only sandy at lower tides. (It's easy to Google the tide tables and plan your trip accordingly.)
In particular, the Dover Bay area of North Nanaimo has an awesome 2.5 km stretch of beach that is a real phenomenon at low tides. You'll be amazed at how few people are here - it's a well kept secret. And the views, looking northward across the widest part of the gulf...
It's a great place on a hot summer day at the lowest tide. You'll love the wide, flat sand/mud beach with its many creatures, stepping in the warm shallow waters, and swimming in big waves.
Or, you can plan a beach hike: Start at either end of the beach (Sealand Rd or Seabold Rd) and walk the length. Be mindful of tides. The walk will be easier if you go at lower tides, because at higher tides you're restricted to a rocky landscape with driftwood obstacles.
How many people do you think would be on this beach, if Nanaimo was a bigger city?!
Down on the beach, it's easy to forget about the streets and developments above, as there is a thick belt of forest clinging to the steep terrain above the beach. There are some huge trees here, with eagles' nests up top.
I have never heard of a good all-encompassing name for this long beach - some people call it by the name of their favourite access point (e.g., Blueback, Invermere) or it is often just called Eagle Point or Icarus Point for the headland that is followed by Icarus Drive.
Where to Park
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