When you picture yourself island hopping, you might not immediately imagine a Canadian destination, but Vancouver is precisely the jumping-off point for excursions to the Pacific Coast islands just offshore. To help you organize your adventures to British Columbia’s isles, we’ve put together three island explorations that make great day or weekend trips from Vancouver.
Savor Salt Spring
Long known as an artists’ haven, Salt Spring Island, the most populated of the Gulf Islands, has become a destination for food and drink lovers as well.
Start in the town of Ganges at the popular Saturday Market, which runs from Easter weekend through the last Saturday of October. Market vendors must make, bake or grow everything they sell.
Salt Spring has three wineries that welcome visitors to their tasting rooms: Garry Oaks Winery, Salt Spring Vineyards and Mistaken Identity Vineyards. The island is also home to a microbrewery, Salt Spring Island Ales, and to Salt Spring Wild Cider, a new craft cider maker. For locally produced cheeses to pair with your beverages, visit the Salt Spring Island Cheese Company or Moonstruck Cheese.
To mix art with your snacking and sipping, follow the Salt Spring Studio Tour, a self-guided excursion that takes you to the studios of more than two dozen local artisans and craftspeople.
Where to stay
The best base for your food-focused holiday is the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Hastings House Country House Hotel. Overlooking the gardens and grounds, the hotel’s formal dining room serves seasonal multi-course menus, while the more casual bistro lets you choose from dishes like west coast seafood chowder, schnitzel with spätzle and wild mushrooms, or Pacific prawns paired with organic greens.
For a more intimate B&B atmosphere, consider a stay at the three-room Hedgerow House — where co-owner Jayne Lloyd-Jones operates a yoga studio and welcomes guests to join in her classes — or at the luxurious Stonehouse B&B, an elegant retreat set on four acres of waterfront property.
Getaway to Galiano
A short one-hour ferry ride from the Vancouver mainland brings you to Galiano Island, a laid-back forested locale for a quick offshore escape.
Feeling energetic? Hike the 50-minute trail through the trees up Mount Galiano. The expansive views across the Gulf Islands from the top make it worth the moderate climb. If you’d rather drive, follow Bluff Road to the top of the Bluffs, another island high point, for similarly scenic vistas.
One of Galiano’s more popular beaches is at Montague Harbour Marine Provincial Park. Rent kayaks or canoes for some active sightseeing. At secluded Morning Beach, a short path through the rainforest leads to a sandy cove.
Surprisingly, this small island is also home to a restaurant that’s been earning top marks across Canada. In a petite wooden cottage surrounded by evergreens, Pilgrimme Restaurant serves inventive, hyper-local dishes that might include grilled Pacific octopus with pickled tomato, smoked rutabaga with parsley farro, and albacore tuna with smoked eggplant. Reserve in advance.
Before you board your ferry back to the mainland, stop for a bite at a longstanding island fixture near the dock: the red food truck known as Max & Moritz Spicy Island Food House. The owner was born in Indonesia and raised in Berlin, and her menu, served at seaside picnic tables, is a German-Asian hybrid. Try the nasi goring (Indonesian fried rice) with peanut sauce or tuck into a traditional currywurst (sausage with curry ketchup).
Where to stay
The island’s most upscale accommodations, the waterside Galiano Inn, are located a few minutes’ walk from the ferry terminal. Notice the unusual mural in the front lobby and check the schedule for “pizza days,” when fresh-from-the-oven pies are served out on the terrace.
Venture to Vancouver Island
You don’t have to give up urban amenities for a B.C. island holiday. A getaway to Victoria, British Columbia’s seaside capital, on Vancouver Island, lets you combine city pleasures with outdoor activities.
Stroll the Inner Harbour and check out the buskers who mime, sing and otherwise entertain visitors along the waterfront. Grab a bite at Songhees Seafood and Steam, a new First Nations-run food truck that serves creative dishes using traditional aboriginal ingredients. You’ll find wild salmon burgers topped with fresh sage and cranberry-orange chutney, or portabella mushroom with roasted corn and red pepper salsa on housemade bannock (flat bread).
For something more active, take a cycling tour with The Pedaler. Among its leisurely guided rides are Eat.Drink.Pedal., a four-hour food tour, and the Hoppy Hour Ride, a three-hour pedal to several of Victoria’s craft breweries. If that doesn’t work for you, head out on a whale-watching cruise; numerous operators offer full- or half-day trips.
Overlooking the Inner Harbour, the venerable Fairmont Empress has revamped its dining room, reopening it as Q at the Empress with a Pacific Northwest menu. This landmark property has updated its ever-popular tea lounge as well, but the classic afternoon tea remains unchanged.
Other Victoria eateries generating local buzz include Agrius, a contemporary French-inspired bistro, and Part and Parcel, a neighborhood storefront cooking up unexpectedly adventurous fare, from gnocchi paired with kohlrabi and apple puree, to beef tongue and farro risotto.
Where to stay
Of Victoria’s numerous properties, we’re partial to Four-Star The Magnolia Hotel & Spa. This 64-room boutique property is small enough to provide personalized service, and it’s located just a couple of blocks from the Inner Harbour action.