When you were in middle school, did you ever get to design your own fantasy island? I remember this assignment where we drew maps of our island paradise, complete with free amusement parks, candy mountains, lazy rivers of chocolate…whatever forms of happiness we could dream up. Well, the tourist map for Salt Spring Island looks pretty much like how I envision my dream island!
Salt Spring has been on my travel bucket list since I first heard about this laidback isle of yogis, artists, and organic farmers many years ago. I was excited when Chris and I finally made it over there last week for a 2-night getaway.
The island exceeded our expectations and we were mostly very happy with how we spent our time. While there is certainly more to see and do than what we were able to experience on our first visit, I would whole-heartedly recommend an itinerary similar to ours when you visit the island yourself.
The 30-minute ferry ride to Salt Spring Island is a great sight-seeing experience in itself. We didn’t see any marine life, but the Gulf Islands in the Strait of Georgia are really pretty.
After a quick lunch in Fulford Harbour, we drove south down a winding, tree-lined rural road to Ruckle Provincial Park. This park would be a lovely place to camp for a couple days. Instead, we did a 2-hour hike that took us over rocky shoreline, past many small coves with little beaches, through a grove of mossy Douglas Fir trees, and along green pastures. It felt like it was just us and the sheep in the whole park!
Salt Spring Island Cheese is a not-to-be-missed destination for anyone who loves cheese. (And who doesn’t love cheese?) You can learn how different varieties of goat cheese are made in a self-guided tour, which is kind of interesting, but the best part is the tasting room that has well over 20 different cheeses for sampling, along with crackers and many accompanying jellies and chutneys. It was so delicious and so hard to choose only a few to take with us.
At the nearby Garry Oaks Estate Winery, we sampled three whites and two reds and chatted with the host who was a former mortician from Saskatchewan turned Salt Spring Island resident and wine tasting host. She remarked that the customers she works with these days are much happier!
By 5:00 we were ready to check into our AirBnB. The Suite Retreat is a quaint guest cottage in the backyard of a family home. It was very comfortable for the two of us and we loved our happy hour with our wine and cheese on the cottage’s sunny little deck. It was not the first or last time on this trip that we talked about how quiet and peaceful it is on this island.
Moby’s Pub in Ganges was a completely unexpected delight. We thought we were stopping by for a pint and a bite to eat later in the evening, and we ended up joining in on a sing-along and playing instruments!
An older gentleman welcomed us and delivered the first lyrics of many songs to be sung throughout the evening. The middle-aged DJ encouraged the diverse crowd of young and old, local and visiting drinkers to sing along to classic songs spanning the decades. Then the instruments were passed out and Chris jammed on a tambourine while I got to shake a banana. (That’s right, I was given a banana shaker.) We chatted with a few of the other patrons, laughed a lot, and sang our hearts out.
The next morning we had a perfect breakfast on the patio at Barb’s Bakery & Bistro in Ganges. I want to rave about it but I have lots more to share with you, so I’ll just say this: You should definitely go to Barb’s for breakfast and you can’t go wrong ordering the Salish Skillet!
Driving to the summit of Mount Maxwell is worth the time and effort if you have a sturdy vehicle. The road up the mountain is steep and pot-holed, but the views from the top will take your breath away! A hawk circled right in front of me at eye level and we also saw a bald eagle on the hunt. We were struck by how quiet and still it was up there, and how cool it was that we had the area almost completely to ourselves.
On our last morning on Salt Spring, we took a drive to the north end of the island. Here we had another outdoor breakfast, this time at the tiny Fernwood Cafe with a lovely view of the bay. The owner agreed with me that he had found the ideal location for his cafe, and he and his staff seemed genuinely happy to serve us and just happy in general.
When we found the art gallery I wanted to see, tucked in on a home site in the woods, it was unfortunately closed. While sitting in our car looking at a map on this private property, we were approached by a smiling young man who explained that the artist wasn’t home, but offered to let us into her gallery so we could take a look around. The West Coast themed paintings are gorgeous and I’m so glad we loitered on the property long enough to be invited inside to see them! Check out the artist and her work: Gillian Gandossi
Other things you could do on Salt Spring Island that we didn’t get to this time around include camping, kayaking, paddle boarding, yoga, tour the plethora of artisans and art galleries, visit a Lavender farm, and of course, the infamous Salt Spring Island Farmer’s Market, if you happen to be there on a Saturday. We also recommend tastings at Salt Spring Wild Ciders and Salt Spring Island Ales; I didn’t describe them for length-sake and not because they weren’t good!
Know before you go:
- You definitely need a vehicle on Salt Spring. The distances are too great to walk, and you may not feel safe cycling on the narrow, winding roads.
- Don’t drive up Mount Tuom. Trust me, just don’t.
While there’s tons to do, Salt Spring still feels very rural. (We actually woke up to the sound of a rooster crowing!) At least when we went – a Wednesday to Friday in May – there were no crowds and many outdoor places were virtually free of people. The locals we interacted with seemed, without exception, genuinely warm and friendly. The nature is spectacular and even better because you don’t have to share it with throngs of tourists. It is a wonderful place to unwind and relax!