A hidden gem in the Pacific Northwest, Salt Spring Island is the ideal spot for a relaxing getaway. For Vancouverites, it is close enough for a weekend away, yet there are enough things to do on Salt Spring Island to keep you busy for a week-long vacation. The island maintains a true community feeling and seems unaffected by today’s hectic society. If you are planning a trip to visit the city of Vancouver, a pop-over to Salt Spring Island is sure to provide some rest and relaxation during your trip.
Salt Spring Island sits in the Salish Sea between Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia. It is the most populous and popular of the Southern Gulf Islands. Spanning 74 square miles, it is the largest of the Gulf Islands, although you could drive from one end to the other in less than an hour.
The island gets its name from the salt springs at the North End of the island. These are still in existence today and can be found at the Salt Spring Spa Resort. Another historical fun fact is that Salt Spring Island boasts the oldest continuously used school in BC. The Little Red School House was built in 1885 and currently runs a pre-school.
Almost completely devoid of chain stores, save a Home Hardware and Fields, Salt Spring Island is proudly made up of locally-owned stores and restaurants. If you’re looking for a Starbucks, you’re not going to find one here. This is a place to support local, small businesses.
- 13 Best Things To Do On Salt Spring Island BC
- Getting to Salt Spring Island
- Grab Tasty Treats at Embe Bakery
- Purchase Local Wares at the Saturday Market
- Dine with Views of the Marina
- Tour a Winery or Three
- Enjoy Apples and Ales
- Sip Moonshine at Shine Distillery
- Tour Art Studios Around the Island
- Forest Bathe in One of the Island’s Many Parks
- Sample Salt Spring Island Goat Cheese
- Grab a Coffee at the Tree House Cafe
- Enjoy an Adventure Tour
- Purchase Local Goods at a Roadside Stand
13 Best Things To Do On Salt Spring Island BC
Getting to Salt Spring Island
The voyage to Salt Spring Island is where the fun begins. You have two options; you can either take a ferry or a float plane. Whichever way you decide, your trip is guaranteed to be off to a scenic start. The gulf islands are an incredibly beautiful area in the Pacific Northwest. If you’re lucky, you might even spot an Orca swimming alongside the ferry.
For a first-time visitor, or those staying longer than a weekend, driving your vehicle on the ferry is recommended. This enables you to explore the island at your own leisure. If you decide to fly, or walk on the ferry, there is a bus on the island, as well as a taxi service. There are also a few different tour groups that offer a variety of guided tours.
When arriving by ferry, there are three ferry terminals on the island: Long Harbour in Ganges, Fulford Harbour and Vesuvius. Plan your route in advance on the BC Ferries website. Whichever route you choose, be sure to make a reservation with BC Ferries to guarantee your spot on the ferry. Sitting at the terminal after missing a ferry is not how you want to start your vacation.
Grab Tasty Treats at Embe Bakery
No trip to Salt Spring Island would be complete without a visit to Embe Bakery. Open since 1978, this local treasure serves up savoury pies, delicious sweet treats and freshly baked bread. Make this your first stop in the morning or you run the risk of being disappointed by empty shelves later in the day. A hot commodity, this bakery’s treats go fast and rarely last the day. Before you head home, check the freezer section for pies that are begging to be taken home and cooked at a later date.
Purchase Local Wares at the Saturday Market
If you’re visiting Salt Spring Island between the months of April to October, you’ll definitely want to see the Saturday Market that takes place right downtown Ganges. During the summer months, it’s in full swing and the vendor tents wrap all the way around the park.
All of the vendors at the Saturday Market are locals. The market’s motto is, ‘make it, bake it, or grow it on Salt Spring.’ Every vendor must adhere to this. This mandate is the essence of the market. If you are in search of a unique souvenir or handmade gift, this is definitely the place to purchase it. You can find everything from jewelry to artisan soaps to craft jams.
Dine with Views of the Marina
There are lots of great restaurants on the Island, but if you’re looking to dine with ocean views, read on. A local favourite, Moby’s Pub, has spectacular views of the Ganges Marina. Their views are so good that the Salt Spring Exchange put up a live webcam feed right on their deck! While sitting on Moby’s patio you can watch the float planes come in. Late nights at Moby’s often include live music. Whether it’s lunch, dinner, late-night, or any time in between, there’s always something happening at Moby’s Pub.
If fresh oysters and seafood are what you’re after, then Oystercatcher is where you want to be. Known as the Island’s waterfront restaurant of choice, they serve sustainable and ethical meals. What they don’t grow or ethically raise on their own island farm, they proudly source from other like-minded, local farmers. You can feel good about the fresh and delicious meal you’ll be served here.
Tour a Winery or Three
There are currently three wineries on Salt Spring Island: Salt Spring Island Vineyards, Gary Oaks Winery and Kutatás Wines. The first two are conveniently located right next to one another, while the third is just a short drive up the island. You could easily sample wine at all three in one afternoon.
Salt Spring Island is part of the warmest growing region in Canada. As such, the island wineries are known for their aromatic west coast scents and fruity tastes. All three vineyards offer tastings, but you may wish to enjoy a wine and cheese tasting overlooking the duck pond when visiting Salt Spring Vineyards.
Enjoy Apples and Ales
Believe it or not, Salt Spring Island was once the largest producer of apples in all of British Columbia. There are over 450 different varietals that grow on the island, with many of the apple trees over a century in age. Pick one fresh off a tree for a crisp snack, or enjoy a glass of craft apple cider. Not just a thriving business, Salt Spring Wild Cider brings together the community as they gather over 250,000 lbs of apples from farms all over the island.
They help farmers and families manage their apples by paying them for their excess apples. They gather them, press them, then ferment them into cider creating a simple, honest product from one of the island’s bountiful fruits.
Another craft beverage you can find and sample on the island is beer. Formerly called Salt Spring Island Ales, an expansion of their offerings has prompted a name change to Salt Spring Island Brewing. They boast that they offer a brew for every palate. This craft brewery uses hops grown, you guessed it, on the island.
By now, you’ll note that there is a theme when it comes to Salt Spring Island — local. Nearly everything you’ll eat and drink during your time on the island will be locally grown, harvested or made. Our next stop is no exception.
Sip Moonshine at Shine Distillery
The newest addition to the island’s craft beverage scene is Shine Distillery, which opened in 2016. This small, family-owned artisanal distillery crafts its small-batch spirits with 100% BC honey. Stop by for a tasting of their Honeycomb Moonshine, Hive Vodka or Sting Gin, all of which are honey-based.
Created by former restaurant owners and chefs, the crew at Shine Distillery have applied the same passion they once had for food to their spirits. They also offer a variety of cordials and drink mixes to accompany their spirits. Complimentary tastings are offered on-site, but watch out for their Honeycomb Moonshine. At 65% alcohol, it packs quite the punch.
Tour Art Studios Around the Island
As soon as one arrives on Salt Spring Island, it is apparent that there is a thriving art community. A long-standing tradition, you can go on a self-guided studio tour. There are 21 studios in total and you can often watch the artists as they work. Some of the studios offer a one-of-a-kind experience, such as a workshop tour or even a hands-on demonstration of creating a work of art.
If you’re the type who likes to plan ahead, grab the studio tour map which outlines each studio and its location, helping you map out your route in advance. These maps are available for download online, as well as on the ferry. Don’t fret if you don’t have a map, it’s easy to spot the large black signs scattered all over the island noting each studio’s location. When you see one, simply pop in for a visit to see what the artist is up to.
Forest Bathe in One of the Island’s Many Parks
Salt Spring Island is home to seven parks with endless hiking trails and picnic areas. Ruckle Provincial Park and the heritage Ruckle Farm is the oldest continually operating farm in British Columbia. Ruckle Park also has the largest Gulf Island provincial campground with a trail that ends at a secluded beach.
Mount Erskine is known for its hiking trails, while the best views award goes to Mount Maxwell. Its lookout point offers sprawling views and the best sunrise and sunsets on the island. Those looking for added adventure beyond hiking should check out the Disc Golf course at Mouat Regional Park.
If you’re visiting during the summer months, you may wish to go for a dip in one of the island’s eight freshwater lakes. Five of them have public beaches and many are excellent for fishing.
Sample Salt Spring Island Goat Cheese
Family-owned and operated, Salt Spring Island Cheese Company makes artisan goat cheese. A visit to their farm allows you to say hello to the goats as well as watch the cheese being made through the viewing windows of their production facility. Open year-round, this is one visit the entire family will love.
To say their cheese is a labour of love would be an understatement. It took six years of trial and error before they sold their first cheese back in 1996. Their list of ingredients is short: 100% pure goat milk, sea salt, dairy culture, and rennet. They also offer a variety of cheese with delicious toppings including truffles, olive tapenade, garlic and more.
Grab a Coffee at the Tree House Cafe
One of the most unique cafes you’ll ever see is located right in the heart of Ganges. The Tree House Cafe is aptly named as there is a giant plum tree growing in the centre of its patio. During the winter months, they place walls around it, so the tree is quite literally in the centre of the restaurant. Open year-round, they are passionate about serving delicious, healthy food made from scratch.
The heritage cottage was built in the 1920s and has a varied history. Prior to being turned into a restaurant, it was the first electrical generating station on the island. It has also been a smokehouse, a crystal shop and even a music school.
Enjoy an Adventure Tour
No matter what time of year you visit, there is an outdoor adventure waiting for you. Salt Spring Island offers everything from bioluminescent kayak tours to horseback riding to whale watching and so much more. As an island in the Pacific Northwest, adventure truly is around every corner.
The season in which you decide to visit will determine what activities are available. June to September is whale watching season and you are almost guaranteed to see whales. Kayaking, biking and scooter rentals are available from April to October.
Purchase Local Goods at a Roadside Stand
Reminiscent of a bygone era, roadside stands are still very much alive and well on Salt Spring Island. Drive down nearly any road on the island and you will see stands selling everything from eggs to coffee to pork chops. No one is working the stands, they function based on the honour system. Simply pull over, take what you wish, and leave your money in the tin can. Honesty and trust are assumed.
Some of these roadside stands are quite high-tech. The larger ones have refrigerators in them, while others have email addresses for money transfers should you be fresh out of cash. If for nothing other than the nostalgia of it, and a story to tell friends back home, be sure to pick up a thing or two. And snap a photo, lest no one believe you that the honour system is still around in 2021.
Time spent on Salt Spring Island can restore your zen as well as your faith in humanity. From friendly passerby’s that greet you on a hiking trail, to farm stands that run based on the honor system, this is a place like no other. For a relaxing vacation that offers slower-paced days, Salt Spring Island is just what the doctor ordered.
There’s nothing like spending a Saturday evening curled up in front of a real wood fireplace in a cozy cabin to remind you of simpler times. Pair this crackling fire with a glass of local wine and cheese and you have yourself the perfect vacation evening.
Visiting other destinations in Canada? Check out our other guides:
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- Nova Scotia’s South Shore Lobster Crawl: A Sea-to-Table Lobster Adventure
- 8 Must-Try Salt Spring Island Restaurants
- Canadian Food Guide: The 16 Best Examples of Canadian Cuisine
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- 7 Must-Try Whistler Restaurants
- The Six Best Steakhouses In Vancouver, BC, Canada
Which of these best things to do on Salt Spring Island do you want to try first? Let us know in the comments section below!
Kathryn Anderson is a travel and wellness expert who runs the award-winning travel blog Coffee and Mascara as well as contributes to a variety of publications as a Freelance Journalist. This former Fitness Instructor shares expert advice on how to infuse balance into travelling so people can enjoy fun and fulfilling vacations without derailing their healthy lifestyle goals. She sits on the Board of Directors for the International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association as the Social Media Chair. Follow her adventures on Instagram.