Written by Mardi McNaughton @mmcnau
I am a proud born and raised Calgarian, but being the child of a Maritimer, I decided to attend Dalhousie University in Halifax to be closer to my east coast family for a few years. While the west eventually called me home, I return to Nova Scotia every few years to visit my east coast family and friends. This summer, my 13-month old son, Luca, and I made our first trip to Nova Scotia since he was born and we had a blast! This post focuses mostly on the area around Halifax and Dartmouth as we stuck with short day trips this time around but there is plenty more to see around the province and beyond.
The best way to experience Nova Scotia like a local is to stay in a house. Having a kitchen is absolutely key and affords you the ability to pick up fresh local seafood and prepare an east coast feast, and stock up on groceries to make packed lunches for beach days. A house rental will also provide things like beach towels, which would be a waste of precious suitcase space. There are a ton of options on VRBO and AirBNB and they are surprisingly affordable. A rental vehicle is also a must for getting around Nova Scotia (I had a van which was perfect for lugging all of our gear around).
The guide book hot spots like Peggy’s Cove and Lawrencetown Beach are beautiful, without a doubt, however having spent quite a bit of time on the east coast, now when I go back I explore new places, more off the beaten path.
Beaches – We visited Stoney Beach, a smaller beach down the road from Lawrencetown Beach. It is a hot spot for kite surfing, so we spent the afternoon playing in the sand and watching kite surfers flying through the air. Another favorite was Clam Harbour where Luca first dipped his toes in the Atlantic. Hit Clam Harbour at low tide (you can Google tide schedules) to find all kinds of critters in the tidal pools. If you want to brave the chilly water, Martinique Beach is a favorite for surfing and boogie boarding (as well as beachcombing for seashells and sea glass, for those who don’t want to get in the water). Last but not least, play on the red sand beach at Blomidon Provincial Park while enjoying an incredible view of the Bay of Fundy.
Swimming – We had some bad weather one day so we went swimming at the Zatzman Sportsplex in Dartmouth and I would highly recommend it for all ages. They just finished a multi-year remodel and it is fantastic. There are slides, a large pool, a smaller shallow pool, a splash pad, a hot tub, and the locker rooms are kid-friendly, with large bathrooms/changing stalls with floor to ceiling doors.
Hope for Wildlife – This wildlife rehabilitation organization, which is about 40 minutes from Halifax, is a great place to visit. They offer one-hour tours of the property to look at and learn about their animals – both rescued/surrendered animals that are looking for forever homes, and wild animals that are being rehabilitated at the centre.
Fish and Chip Boat at Masstown Market – About an hour’s drive from Halifax, this fish and chip spot is worth the drive! They serve the best fish and chips I’ve ever had (which happen to be gluten and dairy-free), fresh from the Bay of Fundy. It is next to a cool market that has lots of local food and crafts.
Boondocks Restaurant at Eastern Passage – Located just outside of Dartmouth, this restaurant is a must-visit. The food is awesome, the restaurant has a cozy Nova Scotia feel to it and the service was great despite Luca not being the greatest lunch date that day. There is a patio overlooking McCormack’s Beach and a nice (stroller friendly) boardwalk. McCormack’s Beach is popular for the birding community – when we were there for lunch, there was a handful of camo-clad photographers hiding in the brush getting shots of rare birds. One of them showed us her $18,000 camera lens which was bigger than Luca!
Stubborn Goat Gastropub – I couldn’t wait to go back to my favorite Halifax pub from when I was a student and was disappointed to find that they didn’t have high chairs. We wandered around and eventually found the Stubborn Goat, which saved the day. They had high chairs and there were a number of other kids there. While they didn’t have a separate kids’ menu, they brought Luca a few plates of orange slices (at no change) and he shared my lobster mac and cheese with me which was to die for. It is a short walk from the Halifax waterfront, which has a great boardwalk and lots to do (including getting a look at the iconic Theodore Too tugboat and playing on the Wave sculpture).
Grab fresh seafood like the locals – My favorite way to enjoy seafood on the east coast is to buy fresh and take it home to feast on. For the best prices, distributors are the way to go. We got lobsters from the Tangier Lobster Company and mussels and oysters from the AquaPrime Mussel Ranch. These are a bit of a drive from Halifax but it’s well worth it (Aquaprime supplies oysters to Halifax bars where they are sold for $4 each – if you’re willing to make the drive, they were selling them direct to consumer for $1 each). There are great beaches and towns to check out along the way so it’s easy to make a day of it. (Note: I was staying on the Dartmouth side – for those staying on the Halifax side and/or not wanting to make a day of it, there is a Clearwater Seafoods in Bedford that also has good selection and decent prices.)
Nova Scotia is a truly spectacular place to visit and my son fit seamlessly into my travel plans. I have found that traveling with a child can be stressful, however I did not feel that at all on this trip. Nova Scotians are so wonderful – we felt welcome everywhere that we went, despite Luca being at the age that any activity involves a lot of mess and a lot of noise. The fast-paced hustle bustle of big cities is nowhere to be found in Nova Scotia. I don’t often return from vacations feeling like I actually got any rest, but I returned from our trip feeling refreshed and re-energized. It is a great place to decompress and reset. Happy travels!