Dotting the ocean off the southwestern shoreline of mainland BC, the Southern Gulf Islands feel far-removed from the demands of urban living. On these five islands, day-to-day existence has an overall vibe that is different from just about anywhere else in the province, yet each island also has its own micro-identity that’s discernible as soon as you leave the ferry.
Wondering which island fits your personal style and getaway preferences? Find out more with these theme-based guides to each one.
For Artistic Inspiration
With many of the conveniences of mainland living, the archipelago’s most populous island is home to a great variety of friendly bistros, independent boutiques and farmstead producers. The arbutus-studded hot spot is also the island that many vacationers choose to visit first. Especially if they’re into art.
Here on Salt Spring, creativity seems like second nature. Throughout the island, you’ll find a rich collage of unique studios and art spaces to explore and relish, including that of Gillian Gandossi, whose whimsical paintings are inspired in large part by the beauty of the island’s natural surroundings.
If you go…
Stay at Hastings House
Photo by Ernest von Rosen.
A handsome 1939-built wood-and-stone manor overlooking the water, Hastings House has an array of cozy quarters, plus some excellent on-site dining options. Dramatic art installations dot the grassy grounds as well as many of the hotel’s interior walls. hastingshouse.com
Visit the Saturday Market
Photo by Michael Wheatley/ Alamy Stock Photo.
Located in bustling Ganges village, Salt Spring’s signature attraction is much more than a great place for produce and bakery treats; it’s also jam-packed with the work of many island artists. Arrive early to browse the 140+ stalls, and take your time chatting with the friendly vendors. Afterward, check out the eye-opening installations tucked among the trees at nearby Duthie Gallery Sculpture Park. (The market is open from April to October.) saltspringmarket.com
Take the Studio Tour
Artist Gillian Gandossi at work in her studio. Gandossi’s studio and gallery are part of the Salt Spring Studio Tour. Photo by Kim Jay Photography.
Download the free Salt Spring Studio Tour map and use it as your guide for a weekend of leisurely exploring. Dive into a variety of eclectic stops on this weave around 26 studios and workshops, which showcase everything from original paintings and driftwood carvings to beach glass jewellery and artisanal edibles. saltspringstudiotour.com
Dine at Café Talia
Photo by Two Stones Creative Co.
With its paint-peeled shabby chic exterior, this delightful island favourite serves fresh-made breakfasts and lunches (go for the frittata) alongside an ever-changing array of works by Salt Spring artists on its interior walls. cafetaliaonsaltspring.com
Shop at the Waterfront Gallery
A one-stop shop in Ganges for creative browsing and buying, this highly inviting collective features the work of more than 100 local artists and artisans. Here, you’ll find rustic pottery, hand-blown glass, gorgeous textiles and much more. waterfrontgallery.ca
For a Restorative Retreat
A slender streak of bays and beaches dotted with tangles of wild, wind-sculpted trees, Galiano — named for a Spanish explorer who visited the area in the 18th century — fuses a hub-like southern end with inviting pockets of true tranquility.
The deer-friendly trails of Bluffs Park and the Garry oak-fringed panoramas of Mount Galiano are a big part of what makes this island an idyllic, retreat-like escape. But immersive nature is only one way to pamper yourself here. Other ways include relaxing with locally inspired spa treatments, soaking your cares away in an oceanside hot tub, or picnicking with a page-turner, purchased from the island’s beloved bookstore.
If you go…
Visit Galiano Island Books
Photo by Kris Krüg.
Turn off your phone and lose yourself in a good, old-fashioned book. There’s a wide selection at this family-run book shop, where the staff always have plenty of intriguing BC author suggestions. galianoislandbooks.com
Pamper Your Body at Galiano Oceanfront Inn & Spa
One of the island’s most popular places to stay also has its own spa.
A soothing spot for restoring your spirits, Madrona del Mar Spa has a long menu of treatment options to choose from — many of which incorporate the healing properties of British Columbian and Canadian ingredients. No matter which experience you choose, follow it up with a scenic soak in the spa’s seaside hot tub. galianoinn.com
Revel in Nature at Montague Harbour Marine Provincial Park
Take a refreshing swim in the park’s crystal-clear waters, or plan for a full day of rejuvenating nature-dwelling: a picnic on the sand, a wander on a white shell beach and gentle hikes between the lichen-draped trees.
Paddle with Gulf Island Kayaking
Photo by Frieda Weinert.
If swimming in the ocean isn’t enough time in the water, go for a paddle with these local experts. Gulf Island Kayaking guides will show you how to use your kayak (if you need instruction), then tell you all about Galiano’s natural side while you navigate your craft through calm waters. If you really want to treat yourself, book ahead for the magical Bioluminescence Night Tour. seakayak.ca
Please Your Palate at pilgrimme
Make time for an unforgettable dinner at pilgrimme, one of BC’s most celebrated restaurants. Tucked among towering cedars and exuding a cabin-like feel, this spot offers masterful, seasonally focused dishes by award-winning chef and co-owner Jesse McCleery. Most of the ingredients in pilgrimme’s tiny kitchen are sourced locally, and, while the menu changes regularly, you can expect culinary masterpieces such as Galiano potatoes in kelp oil, with salmon roe, buttermilk, and smoked and pickled bull kelp. pilgrimme.ca
For a Romantic Escape
With its rolling meadows, tree-framed lakes and multiple small beaches dotted by wave-worn logs, Pender is one of the archipelago’s most scenic islands. Actually two islands — North Pender and South Pender — connected by a slender bridge, the bucolic terrain here is a fitting backdrop for starry-eyed visitors who might be craving an idyllic couples’ getaway.
It’s not hard to find romantic picnic spots (complete with island-studded ocean panoramas) on Mount Norman, Pender’s highest point. But if you’re looking for an ideal location to pop the question, North Pender’s Roesland is one of BC’s dreamiest destinations. At low tide, follow an easy trail within this seaside park (part of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve) and you’ll soon reach Roe Islet, a grassy, sunset-hugging spot where arbutus trees encircle a lovely promontory.
If you go…
Raise a Glass at Sea Star Vineyards
Photo by Reuben Krabbe.
Surrounded by scenic views of the ocean and Mount Menzies, this vine-sloped charmer is a Pender must-see. Check ahead to ensure that its art-lined tasting room is open and, once you arrive, be sure to sip a glass or two of sweet Poetry dessert wine. An on-site food truck serves delicious food in an adjacent picnic area — and selections on the menu are designed to pair perfectly with Sea Star’s wines. seastarvineyards.ca
Take a SUP Tour
Photo by Ashlee Rioux/French Press Photography.
Pender Island Kayak Adventures offers several tours, but one of the most enchanting is its evening stand-up paddleboard option, where you’ll slide over the glassy briny and take your time gazing at pyrotechnic sunsets from the water. kayakpenderisland.com
Cozy Up at WOODS on Pender
Photo courtesy WOODS.
WOODS has rustic cabins and modest motel rooms on offer, but it’s the property’s gaggle of shiny, refurbished Airstream trailers — complete with outdoor private hot tubs — that make this one of the Gulf Islands’ coolest spots for a sleepover. There’s also a restaurant there, where you can toast your visit with craft cocktails. woodsonpender.com
Embark on a Guided Hike
If you and your partner are first-time visitors to Pender, seeking out the island’s many scenic nooks and crannies is especially thrilling. Book an accompanied wander with the friendly folks at Dog Mermaid, and perhaps scope out a few romantic spots to revisit alone. dogmermaid.com
Dine at Jo’s Place
Enjoy the warm and welcoming atmosphere at Jo’s Place. Chat with each other, and with friendly locals, over perfectly prepared breakfast dishes (the Smoked Salmon Eggs Benny is highly recommended). Alternatively, if your passion extends to great burgers, there’s a host of mouth-watering winners here, many prepared with Jo’s special sauce. josplacepender.com
For a History-Rich Trip
Though Mayne is known as one of the quietest of the Southern Gulf Islands, this wasn’t always the case. During the late 1800s, at the height of the gritty Gold Rush era, it was a prime pit stop for rowdy, northbound prospectors. And it’s this roiling, boom time past that many visitors love to explore.
Radiating from Miners Bay village, yesteryear buildings create a walk-through living-history ambiance. There’s the shingle-sided 19th-century church St. Mary Magdalene, with its graveyard of old stone crosses; the 1892-built Springwater Lodge hotel — one of BC’s oldest — where locals now gather for fish and chips; and the tiny, 123-year-old wooden gaol that now houses a community museum. Its displays sometimes spill over into the nearby Agricultural Hall, recalling the days when islanders gave up chasing gold and a thriving farming sector took root. Indeed, Mayne’s many-chaptered history is rich with stories that extend well beyond the Gold Rush.
If you go…
Visit the Active Pass Lighthouse
Photo by LJ Brown Photography.
Located at Georgina Point — where Captain George Vancouver once camped — this red-capped landmark is the third lighthouse to be built on this site (the first was in 1885). The heritage-protected site also has a 1940s lightkeeper’s residence to see.
Toast the Past at Mayne Island Brewing Company
Photo by @jaspergarrattphotography.
With its distinctive map-insignia labels, this gable-roofed nano brewery is a must for visiting beer fans. History-lovers should try the Little Hell strong ale, which echoes the nickname Gold Rush pit-stoppers had for the boomtown later known as Miners Bay. mayneislandbrewingco.com
Stay at Mayne Island Resort
Complete with a shoreline spa and seafood-focused bistro, this chic resort in Bennett Bay is centered on a century-old building that was originally constructed as accommodation for local brick factory workers. Later transformed into a hotel, it has a colourful history that includes dozens of owners and long-forgotten names such as Hollandia Lodge and Arbutus Lodge. mayneislandresort.com
Pay Tribute at the Japanese Garden
Photo by LJ Brown Photography.
Mayne was home to many Japanese farming families until Canada’s Second World War internment policy forced these residents off the island. This manicured, blossom-studded garden in Dinner Bay Park was planted to commemorate these former locals. Check out the site’s historical plaque for the full story.
Browse the Farmers’ Market
Held around the Agricultural Hall on Saturdays from the May long weekend until Thanksgiving, this is the place to go in the summer. It often seems like everyone on the island is here exploring the stalls, chatting to vendors and tapping their toes to the live music. This is also the site of mid-August’s legendary Fall Fair, which is fast approaching its centenary year.
For an Outdoorsy Getaway
Nature-based tranquility is the norm on Saturna. Almost half its craggy landmass is within the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, creating a triple haven for unfettered wildlife, 350 serenity-loving locals and the kind of visitors who crave immersive get-away-from-it-all escapes.
Here, there’s plenty for active, outdoorsy types to do, from challenging cycling and shoreline kayaking to incredible wilderness hikes. Among those hikes is the Mount Warburton Pike summit (the highest in the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve), which offers sweeping panoramas of Plumper Sound, framed by the spectral visage of distant Mount Baker.
If you go…
Take a Guided Kayaking Excursion
Photo courtesy Ocean River Sports.
Hop in a kayak at Ocean River Sports in Lyall Harbour for a guided paddle around some of Saturna’s most scenic spots. While paddling, look out for nesting raptors, rare wildflowers and curious harbour seals. Prefer to stay on dry land? Ocean River also offers guided hikes. oceanriver.com
Embrace Self-Guided Cycling
Photo by age fotostock/ Alamy Stock Photo.
Bring your own wheels on the ferry or snag a rental from Saturna Cycle near the Lyall Harbour dock and you’ll soon be hitting the roads — just watch out for the wild turkeys that cross these roads as if they own the place.
Stay at Saturna Lodge
This fully updated 1920s boutique property overlooks beautiful Boot Cove and features lovely gardens, replete with bamboo groves, aromatic rose bushes and vibrant raspberry plants. Butterflies abound in the summertime, and the friendly hosts have plenty of local hiking suggestions. saturna.ca
Unwind at Saturna Lighthouse Pub
Photo courtesy Saturna Lighthouse Pub.
Satisfying your hunger after all that hiking and kayaking is easy at this local favourite, especially if you dive into a hearty plate of crisply battered fish and chips. Add a restorative side-order of breathtaking Navy Channel views and a refreshing BC craft beer and you’ll never want to leave. saturnapub.com
Walk the Brown Ridge Trail
Photo by age fotostock/ Alamy Stock Photo.
If you prefer hiking and want to dive deeply into Saturna’s natural edge, check out this dramatic, view-hugging trail. You’ll spot abundant birdlife (listen for woodpeckers) as well as some of the hardy wild goats that make this area home.