In my opinion Grand Manan Island is one of New Brunswick's hidden gems.
Before I met my good friend, Holly, I actually didn't even realize this island existed. She would talk about how beautiful, quaint and intimate the island was because of its small size, and I would listen and daydream about exploring it myself one day. The idea of having to take a ferry to get there made it feel so remote and intriguing.
My daydream came true three years ago when Holly and her husband, Ryan, invited us to go with them to the island for the first time. Since that first visit, we've been back every summer for a weekend of island air and relaxing to the lull of the waves. It's truly a unique place in our province and one that I think often gets forgotten or goes unnoticed.
But trust me when I say, you really shouldn't live in New Brunswick your whole life without making a visit to Grand Manan and getting a taste of the island life. The coastlines are surrounded by beaches and towering cliff fronts where the Atlantic tides move in and out, carving the rocks into rugged pieces of art. The streets are dotted with sweet little shops, owned by even sweeter people who are always happy to see you. Something in the air here instantly makes you feel peaceful and sleepy in all the good ways. Rain or shine, the island never loses her charm, so even if the weather is a bit wet, you should never let that stop you from exploring. It rained all day Saturday the last time we were there, and if anything it just made everything feel cozier.
I'll admit that at first glance Grand Manan might seem a bit unexciting, and if you're looking for a loud, bustling night-life experience you are most definitely not going to find it here. However, if you're ready for a relaxing weekend away, I've put together a list of our favourite things to do when we're in Grand Manan, and I've even put them in an itinerary so you can plan your whole weekend!
The very first thing you need to do is book your ferry ride. There are multiple time slots all day for you to choose from. Once you've decided, make sure you arrive at least 45 minutes early to ensure your reservation. If you don't show up, they may give your spot away to someone else in line. We tend to take the 3:30 PM ride so that we get to the island around supper time on Friday, and that's the lose schedule I've based this weekend itinerary off of.
1. Inn at Whale Cove
Once your ferry docks and you reach land again, treat yourself to a nice dinner at the Inn at Whale Cove. This tiny dining room is surrounded by colourful wildflower gardens and it's nestled at the top of Grand Manan's many cliffs, giving you an amazing view of the ocean. The menu changes daily and usually has three different entree options to choose from. Make sure you don't skip dessert either - last time we were there we had a blueberry peach crumble with homemade ice-cream and I could have happily had several helpings! The meals and prices here are a little more upscale, but there is a homemade touch to the food that makes everything both delicious and satisfying. Be sure to book ahead early as the seating is very limited and they tend to book up fast! They also have rooms and cottages here, too, if you're looking for a place to stay on the island.
2. Watch the Sunset at The Whistle
The Whistle has a reputation on the island for being the best lookout point to catch the sunset. Just a short drive from the Inn at Whale Cove, you can find the view at the end of Whistle Road. Finish your dinner and head here to experience a panoramic view of the pink evening sky and the sun dipping below the horizon line of the ocean. If you're lucky, like we were last time, you might even spot some whales playing in the water here as well.
3. Whale Watching with Sea Watch Tours
A few years ago Andrew and I went whale watching in Halifax, NS, and I was beside myself with excitement to see a whale... and then we didn't even see ONE. That being said, I was pretty skeptical about trying again in Grand Manan even though this company, Sea Watch Tours, say that they guarantee whales or they'll give you a full refund. Sure enough, on the day we went out we saw sixteen whales in total, plus a basking shark. It was absolutely incredible. The crew that took us out was friendly and knowledgable, teaching us facts about the whales and their habitats and supplying us with hot drinks and blankets to keep us warm in the crisp sea air. If you decide to go whale watching, I would highly recommend booking with these guys! A word to the wise, though: this is approximately a four hour tour, so plan to go at 8:00AM and arrive back to land around lunchtime. If you think you might be sensitive to the motion, be prepared and pack something to settle your stomach. Sea sickness is really common but there are lots of ways to combat it!
4. The Old Well House Cafe
This adorable little cafe is brand new to the island this year but it's already made a great impression. It's easy to fall in love with this place from the moment you step through the door. Inside it's painted in neutrals, with lots of fun nautical pieces like wooden oars and colourful buoys adorning the walls, but there are also cozy corners with old lamps, vases of dried flowers and squishy couches to cuddle up on next to an old fashioned wood stove. On the menu here you will find grilled paninis, hummus, chowders, and baked goods, as well as specialty coffees, teas and even Italian soda. There seemed to be lots of gluten free and vegetarian options as well. The staff was warm and friendly, and because the seating area is quite small (like many of the restaurants here), it wasn't uncommon to see strangers sharing a table. In fact, we shared our table with some locals, an older couple who we enjoyed chatting with while we ate our lunch and talked about living on the island. Whether you're hungry, or just looking for a cup of coffee, definitely make time for a stop here.
5. Marina Vern Collectibles
One of my favourite stops on the island has become Marina Vern's Collectibles. Marina is the sweetest lady, and her little studio is filled with beautiful handmade treasures that she pours her heart into. Her pieces are a rich teal, with delicate designs carved into them, and she says she gets her inspiration from the sea that surrounds her. I'm almost certain you'll find something special here that you'll want to take home with you. Every week I enjoy my morning coffee from my Marina mug!
6. North Head Bakery
Before heading to our next spot on the list, why not grab a coffee and a snack for the road? There's no better place to do that than at the North Head Bakery. This little gem is popular among locals and if you're lucky enough to find it while you're visiting you will be so glad you did. The pink walls and the smell of freshly baked goods make you feel warm and fuzzy from the moment you walk in. Admire all the different homemade breads, and take a loaf home with you if you can decide on one! It can be a bit overwhelming trying to choose which treats to try, but regardless of whatever else we order, we never leave without a chocolate croissant, and I hope you don't either! You're welcome in advance.
7. Swallow Tail Lighthouse
Take your snack and hop back in the car to head to one of the most popular sights on the island. You probably had your first glimpse of Swallow Tail Lighthouse on the ferry ride over, but it's even prettier up close. The walk isn't far from the parking lot and the views of the cliffs and the ocean are rugged and beautifully wild. The walking path eventually winds all the way up to the lighthouse, where you can explore around and even opt to climb to the top. On rainy days the lighthouse really brings her charm, glowing in the fog and letting out her long, deep horn to keep passing boats safe.
8. Post Office Pizza
One of the more unique restaurants in town is an old post office that has been refurbished to hold a souvenir shop and a pizza place. The man who runs it is originally from Boston and has a full menu of Boston-inspired "pies" that will satisfy anyone's craving. Take a box home or eat right there in the shop. They even have board games you can borrow and play while you eat. You can find them on Facebook.
9. South Head Cliffs
End your day at the opposite end of the island at the South Head Cliffs. This is another excellent spot to catch the sunset, but it's a pretty amazing view no matter what time of day you go. In my opinion, this is one of the most impressive places on the whole island. You'll get to see the enormous, rocky cliff fronts again while you stroll through the wildflowers that grow along the top. Just don't get too close to the edge because it's a long way down!
10. Stanley Beach
Start your last morning off with a walk along Stanley Beach and hunt for beach glass and sand dollars. Islanders love their beach glass and many will tell you that Stanley Beach is the place to find it. Although I don't personally bring it home with me, the hunt is pretty fun. Just make sure you go early in the morning so that you can have your pick of all the "rare" colours and best pieces.
11. Sunrise Seafoods
You can't leave the island without some good, old fashioned take-out seafood! Grab lunch at Sunrise Seafoods and enjoy a lobster roll, fish and chips, or the "gull's nest" - think onion rings, but sliced extremely thin and deep fried. So good! The portions are generous and the food is fresh from the sea. Take it to go or grab a seat at one of the picnic tables outside.
12. Hole in the Wall
Lastly, head to the Hole in the Wall Park and hike the trail by the same name. The path will lead you along the coastline and you'll see stunning views all along the way until you get to the end and finally see why the trail has earned its name. Be sure to carve out a few hours to do this hike and take a map or keep your eye out for the markers along the way so you don't get lost. This is another one of my favourite views on the island.
There you have it! I hope this gives you some inspiration for the next time you visit Grand Manan, and if it's your first time, this should give you a good start. We've been there the past three summers and we still always look forward to going back to our favourite places and finding new ones as well. Let us know your secrets! Where are your favourite places in Grand Manan? Where should we explore next time?
Adventure always & stay cozy.