If you’ve never heeded the siren call of Salt Spring Island, here’s the lowdown: it sits salt-kissed in the Salish Sea, an off-the-beaten-path escape that draws visitors away from big city life. Yet this Gulf Island is just a quick hop by ferry, boat, or floatplane from Vancouver on the mainland or from Victoria on Vancouver Island.
The moment that you disembark, you might sense it. The island has something about it, even if it’s hard to quantify. But if you had to choose a word, it might be this: nourish. There’s a kind of anticipation about a visit to Salt Spring, because of all it has to offer–a bounty of farm-to-fork food, an abundance of raw natural beauty, a profusion of art. Many people come to the island starving for something and leave sated.
A Guide To Salt Spring Island
One of the best ways to experience Salt Spring Island is to treat it like you would a fine meal with wine pairings. Pick a theme du jour and seek out food and activities that complement it. Go slow and take a few days or a week to really savor it all. Here are some ideas for the ultimate Salt Spring Island vacation to get you started.
Photo by Jamie Sterling
Camp By The Sea
If the crush of urban life has given you the blues, the best antidote is to escape into the wilds of Salt Spring Island. Spending a few nights sleeping under the stars in a tent perched on a hill next to the sea is a powerful remedy.
To get there, take the ferry from Swartz Bay to Fulford Harbour and stock up on provisions at the Salt Spring Mercantile. They sell all kinds of sundries, from books to coffee and everything in between. Then hit the road–and yes, you might want to bring a map. “The Deep South” (as this remote area is affectionately known to locals) has spotty cell phone reception, but that’s part of the charm. Don’t underestimate the pleasure of driving down quiet country lanes with the windows down. This is a place with zero stoplights, and the only congestion you might hit is the infamous gaggle of turkeys in Ruckle Park that often stops traffic.
But first, take a couple of detours on the way. Salt Spring Island Cheese is the perfect place to craft your dream picnic. Not only do they have homemade cheese, but their little shop has crackers, chutneys, smoked salmon, and other glorious goodies. Then head over to the Salt Spring Island Bread Co. to visit a bakery that is a destination in itself. It has a hilltop location with such stunning views of the sea that you could be forgiven for eating their wood-oven baked loaves right there on the spot at one of the picnic tables.
After that, your journey’s end is Ruckle Provincial Park. Part heritage farm, part campground, it is one of the jewels of the Southern Gulf Islands. Set up camp in one of the meadows on the wild coastline and sit for a spell. Watch the ferries and boats drift past or take in the glorious nature show that can include sea lions, orcas, deer, and other birdlife. And you can hike to your heart’s content along the many trails that run through the forest to private blue-water coves that are perfect for swimming.
Photo by Stephania Jean
This route is best done in the quiet of the early morning, on the sunrise ferry run from Tsawwassen to Long Harbour. It’s worth getting up before dawn to arrive in time for breakfast at Francis Bread, in order to grab a warm croissant and bread from their wood oven. It’s a dream of a place, where locals can go for their pain quotidien, but also for delectable lunches, pizza nights, pop-up dinners, and other events that draw the tiny island community together.
You could say that the owners are some of the culinary dreamers of Salt Spring Island.
In recent years, there’s been an influx of these young artisans moving to the island who have perfected their craft in the area of food + beverage. Their focus on utilizing island-grown ingredients is in line with the burgeoning locavore trend in many communities throughout Canada and shouldn’t be missed. These are unconventional innovators with a dynamic vision of using traditional methods like wood ovens and heritage produce melded with modern design aesthetics.
Next, go meet the powerhouse duo behind Dos Amores Tortilleria. The owners construct authentic tacos out of items that are locally grown or produced on SSI and are almost exclusively organic. A good example of their artistry can be found in their tortillas that are made with hand-ground Tooxi corn and then lovingly paired with toppings like mushroom pibil or carnitas. You can also find specials like chilaquiles, tamales, tortas, and more in their ever-evolving menu.
You might want to make the next stop your last one if you’re headed to Salt Spring Wild Cider House. Tucked away on five sun-drenched acres dotted with apple trees, the cider house is in a renovated horse barn, and the tasting room is located in an old mule stall. This idyllic orchard is easy to get stuck in, once you grab a tasting flight of cider and some apps and settle down at one of the picnic tables. The proprietors spent years perfecting their cider recipes that are all made from local apples and other fruit, so it’s worth taking the time to savor the offerings. In addition to their classic apple blends, they also produce wild cards like Bitter Orange Rosemary, Hopped Apricot, and Pear Cider. Try those with their cambozola stuffed poached figs, or local lamb sausages while watching flocks of quail pass by and forget about time and rushing off anywhere. You’ll be glad you did.
The art scene on Salt Spring Island is legendary and for good reason. Far from the bustle of the city, on-island artists have the freedom and breathing room to create. Whether you want to be an observer, and spend a day gliding quietly from studio to studio or immerse yourself in a class or an art experience, you are free to do so.
But first: meet the greatest artist of all, Mother Nature. Get a bird’s eye view of the natural art that is the island by traveling to Salt Spring on a Harbour Air floatplane. The short trip in the air might feel even shorter as you catch a glimpse of whales swimming below in the emerald water highways winding between the islands.
Art is not limited to paintings on Salt Spring Island, and one of the best ways to explore it is on the Salt Spring Island Studio Tour, which has been around for over 25 years. This self-guided tour explores pottery, jewelry, vineyards, and even a lavender farm. Many of the studios offer interactive experiences where you can learn and try a craft alongside the artists. Want to get more hands-on and create? Try classes with the likes of island photographic artist Amy Melious, or a pottery session with Tracy Harrison. Book a private floral class or group lesson at Bullock Lake Farm. Or become your own work of art and have a boudoir session with local photographer Ramona Lam.
If you’ve worked up an appetite after all of that, head over to Buzzy’s Luncheonette, the island’s authentic Jewish deli. This pocket-sized eatery offers a rare treat: true Montreal smoked meat sandwiches, latkes, bagels with schmear, and rugalach. The owner (otherwise known as Buzzy) dishes out bon mots with the sandwiches in a way that makes you feel like you’ve stumbled into the coolest joint straight from a Hollywood dream.
Then take a leisurely walk up the road to Hastings House Country House Hotel, to check in and then check out some of their art. This 22 acre Relais & Chateau resort has beautiful sculptures and other fantastic local and regional art on the property. Wake up to a basket of muffins delivered to your door, and enjoy drinks on their seaside terrace, afternoon tea in the Manor House, and an exquisite dinner in the Bistro made from house-grown produce and other locally sourced items.
Photo by Stephania Jean
Renew and (Re)create
If you’ve been in dire need of some rest and relaxation, consider recharging on Salt Spring Island. When you are ready to hit the reset button, Salt Spring (despite being a trim 74 square miles) is bursting at the seams with healers.
There’s something profound about sailing away from your problems on the mainland. So if you want to get to the island in a less traditional way, charter a sailboat with some friends to kick off your wellness retreat. The Ganges Marina is waiting to welcome you and give you a place to drop anchor and stay awhile. After a good night’s sleep on your boat, you can wake up and begin your regeneration journey.
Start your self-care program with a restorative acupuncture session at popular Kokoro Care in the heart of Ganges. When you’ve finished, Spa by Lenice is just a stone’s throw away for facials, massages, and other relaxing services.
Or head down south to Solace Organic Spa for more treatments in a zen garden, and a soak in their forest hot tub. You can even book a Spa & Dine package so that you don’t have to leave the property for nourishment. Grab a nutrient-packed smoothie at the Beachside Cafe on the way back into town, or sit under the branches of a plum tree at the Tree House Cafe for a healthy meal and live music.
Finish unwinding at one of the most beautiful outdoor saunas in the Gulf Islands at The Salty Pear. You can steam out your stress with a DIY session there. And when you’re done, sit on the deck and daydream while listening to a symphony of frog song, and the wind going through the fruit trees. If you can’t bear to leave, the Salty Pear has a B & B and Camping Casita so guests can experience staying on their farm.
Explore Salt Spring Island
Create your own treasure hunt, with a north-to-south journey that encompasses the whole island. Whatever riches you are searching for–unique food experiences, unparalleled art, rejuvenating wellness treatments, or all three, Salt Spring can provide it. It offers a wealth of other activities, too, from hiking, kayaking, biking, and paddle-boarding. The possibilities are endless, so start planning your trip today.
Corporate Office: 357 Old Scott Road, Salt Spring Island, BC V8K 2L9
We are grateful to live on and visit the Southern Gulf Islands and acknowledge that the lands and waters that encompass these islands have been home to Indigenous peoples since time immemorial, part of the traditional unceded territories of the Coast Salish Peoples, including W̱SÁNEĆ First Nations and Hul’quimi’num Treaty Group.