Gabriola Island, Sunshine Coast

Weekend Escape

A 25-minute ferry ride from Vancouver Island’s Nanaimo Harbour, Gabriola combines a laid-back “island time” vibe with a surprisingly diverse array of activities.

by John Lee

Photo by iStock.

Bring your car (hardy cyclists can also tackle the hilly roads) and start exploring soon after you dock at Descanso Bay. Need suggestions? Travel writer (and perennial Gabriola visitor) John Lee shares his carefully crafted itinerary for a weekend of island bliss.


3:15 PM   Wild Rocks

Upon disembarking from the ferry at Descanso Bay, take your first left from the dock and head for Malaspina Galleries. Gabriola has a vibrant arts scene, but this “gallery” is actually a dramatic shoreline rock formation created by centuries of ocean erosion. Curled like a sandstone wave, it’s a sight to see. Walk right through and keep your eyes on the water for wildlife.

Surf Lodge and Pub. Photo courtesy Surf Lodge and Pub.

4:30 PM   Twin Beaches

To see more of the island’s scenic shorelines, continue driving its forest-fringed main road to Gabriola Sands Provincial Park, where a narrow strip of grassy land separates two beaches. Enjoy the feel of the soft, white sand between your toes, or take a quick dip in the shallow waters. 

5:30 PM   Leg-stretch 

A 12-minute drive away, you’ll find the tranquil Sandwell Provincial Park. Embark on the 800-metre woodland walk; the trail’s final stretch is steep, but the payoff is a curving ribbon of sandy shore overlooking Lock Bay. 

7:30 PM   Sunset Dinner

Satisfy your hunger at Surf Lodge and Pub, which serves classic comfort dishes (try the fish and chips) in its log-lined dining room. But its patio is the place to be for gazing at sunsets over the water. Nearby Orlebar Point offers additional Instagram-worthy views of the Entrance Island Lighthouse. 

Growers and Makers Market. Photo courtesy Gabriola Agriculture Co-op.


10:00 AM   Arts & Crafts

Dive into artisanal Gabriola at Agi Hall’s Growers and Makers Market (May to October), where everything is locally handmade or homegrown. Then head to nearby Paprika Jewellery Studio & Gallery, where owner Nina Turczyn often creates pieces behind the counter. (Around the island, look for yellow roadside flags, which denote art studios open to visitors.)

11:30 AM   Local Tales

Pop into the tiny Gabriola Museum, which relates engaging island stories from its ancient Coast Salish beginnings to the hippy dippy 1970s — this was one of the places to explore free-spirited lifestyles back in the day.

12:00 PM   Lunchtime

A five-minute walk away, The Kitchen answers hunger pangs with its hearty Kitchen Burger or one of many hot sandwiches (try the pork belly B.E.L.T). The bustling GABE Shop thrift store is also close by, complete with its own summertime outdoor ice-cream stand. 

1:15 PM   Creative Curds

Book ahead for a Make Cheese with Paula workshop and you’ll soon be chatting away with your friendly host in her comfy home kitchen. The taste, touch and feel-based classes are a fun and accessible 101 introduction to making your own feta, brie and more.

Paradise Island Alpaca Farm. Photo by Dave Turrie.

3:15 PM   Farm Stop

Make a quick stop at family-friendly Paradise Island Alpaca Farm to hang out with a keen-eyed gaggle of these inquisitive creatures — save time for the horses and goats, too. There’s also an on-site store selling soft alpaca-wool accessories.

5:30 PM   DinnerTime

Opt for an early dinner at Woodfire Restaurant. There’s a tempting array of gourmet pizzas here, but the seasonal Seafood Grill is the way to go, especially alongside a lip-smacking beer from Nanaimo’s Longwood Brewery. 


10:00 AM  Coffee Stop

Start the day with breakfast at Mad Rona’s Coffee Bar — the moniker is a play on the word madronas, which is a name for the island’s ubiquitous arbutus trees. This is where locals love to gather and chat over java and breakfast sandwiches. On balmy days, the café’s outdoor seating is highly sought-after.

11:30 AM  Apple Magic

Centered on a gabled barn, Ravenskill Orchards & Gabbie’s Premium Cider is a perfect fruit-lovers pit stop. Hit the rustic tasting room for cider samples and be sure to try the crisp and citrusy Groovin’ Granny Smith — and buy some bottles for home. 

Pier Gallery Artists Collective. Photo by Yvonna Noyon.

1:30 PM   Artsy Finale

Before your ferry journey back to Nanaimo, return to Gabriola’s creative side for a locally made souvenir or two. Pier Gallery Artists Collective offers everything from jewellery and textile creations to pottery and wooden carvings. From there, head to Whalebone Studio (but call ahead first) to discover Pam Tempelmayr’s richly dramatic nature-based watercolours.