Note: there is currently no cell service past Sooke, and I tend to put my phone on flight mode as it thinks I’m in the States. However, cell service is coming! The highway between Sooke and Port Renfrew should have service by Oct. 31, 2021.
If you’re looking for a campsite that’s not far from either Victoria or the beaches along the Juan de Fuca trail (e.g. Mystic, Sombrio, Botanical), French Beach is a great option. It’s about an hour’s drive from both Victoria and Port Renfrew. It’s also car camping, which is a relief if you prefer to camp with a little more comfort than having to hike in with all of your equipment in a backpack.
The beach itself isn’t a sandy one, but it’s covered in smooth rocks that make for easy to lay down a towel for picnicing. There are also lots logs that become prime seating at sunset. In the early morning, we were treated to noisy shows put on by herds of sea lions. During the day, you might be lucky enough to spot whales! We saw a couple of orcas – the key is to keep an eye out for whale watching boats, and watch the spots where they stop. Like in any Vancouver Island setting, there’s a high chance of seeing bald eagles.
There’s a walking path that runs parallel to most of the length of the beach, and if you want to venture further, you can of course check out other beaches and trails in the area. Jordan River, just down the road, is also a popular spot for surfing and paddleboarding. I prefer to watch other people do those things, so the Cold Shoulder Cafe right across the street is the perfect way to meet both my people and caffeine needs!
If you’re not planning to cook all of your meals at your campsite, award-winning Shirley Delicious Cafe is just minutes away in Shirley. Heads up: it’s popular, so expect a line, especially with pandemic restrictions still in place. Their outdoor dining area is lovely, and their semi-covered waiting-for-takeout area doubles as a local art gallery! Stoked Wood Fired Pizzaria is close enough to French Beach to walk, and we saw lots of people bringing pizzas down for sunset. If you drive out to Port Renfrew, you can always grab lunch at the local, homey pub, and Sooke offers plenty of options in the other direction.
The campsites at French Beach are well-maintained and large (we had 2 tents per site, plus room to sit around a campfire, picnic table, etc.). Like anywhere else in BC, campfires may be banned or restricted depending on weather conditions and wildfire risk. There are cold water taps and pit toilets at the campground, and picnic areas in French Beach Park. There’s also a playground near the beach. Campsites are in the forest, not down on the beach. You’ll need to walk down a hill or steps to access the beach.
Overall, French Beach was a beautiful and comfortable place to camp, in a great location!