I have boating friends who tell me they love visiting Salt Spring Island and staying in Ganges Village. Some come every summer from the BC Lower Mainland, Washington State and California, either by sail or power boat. Friends from Vancouver Island are here several times a year, calling it their “home port” away from home! When I ask them why they love it so much, their answers are varied but a few themes come up over and over again.
Reason 1: Everything is in Walking Distance
The first thing they say is that pretty much everything that you need to make your visit to Salt Spring Island great within easy walking distance. Boaters can choose from one of 3 marinas offering 300 slips located in Ganges Harbour, yours to call home for a few days or a few weeks. Within a short walk are great restaurants, galleries, cafes, grocery stores, marine services and some of the best boutique shopping on the West Coast. You can find farm-fresh produce from Salt Spring and Vancouver Island, with great organic and gluten-free options all around you!
Reason 2: The Famous Saturday Market
Not too many people visit Salt Spring Island without planning a trip to the Famous Saturday Market, which is within a few minutes’ walk of the harbour. Everything is “made, baked or grown” on the island; a strict rule is in place for vendors. This market oozes with authenticity – you can feel it and taste it! Based on the time of year, the market changes depending on what farmers have fresh from the fields, often just picked the day before, and what artisans are making and working on. One thing that never changes is the smiles on people faces as they explore, discover and engage with the crafts people and artisan food producers. After you find that “made on Salt Spring” treasure, you can plan several days’ meals from one visit to the market. Here on a Tuesday? The Famers Market is open from June through October and features locally grown produce, fruit and specialty products.
Reason 3: The Foodie Scene
One of my friends is a “total foodie” and used to call Granville Island in Vancouver her favorite culinary obsession. Now she says it’s Salt Spring Island! “They do it - but you LIVE it” she said to me the last time she visited. And she is right – we do live it! With over 200 working farms on the island, producing some of the best garlic, greens, apples, lamb, mushrooms and tomatoes to be found anywhere, Salt Spring’s micro-climate is great for farming. The salt air from the sea is part of the terrior of the islands soil and you can taste the difference in the food and wine. Long a part of the organic food movement, our permaculture and sustainable practices have become a model that many places around the world follow and our local farmers have become leaders in Canada’s sustainable farming movement. This also spills over into several food trucks located in Ganges Village with a focus on local fare. We were recently featured on The Food Network on an episode of “Chuck and Danny’s Road Trip” where Salt Spring was the star of the show! You can see the show on saltspringtourism.com.
Reason 4: Local Breweries, Wineries and Cideries everywhere
If wine, beer, cider and spirits are something you appreciate as part of your visit, look no further! Salt Spring Island boasts 3 award winning wineries, 2 cideries, a brewery, and now a distillery. Within walking distance are Mistaken Identity Winery and Salt Spring Wild Cider. A short drive south gets you to Salt Spring Vineyard, Garry Oaks Vineyard, Salt Spring Island Ales, Salt Spring Apple Co. Cider and Salt Spring Shines Distillery. All offer great picnic areas, and some sell food to compliment your tasting experience and live music happens throughout the summer. There are 3 liquor stores within walking distance that offer local, regional and BC product along with other options.
Western Splendour Tour Company offers tours to many studios, food producers including the iconic Salt Spring Cheese, and the wineries. They have a Best of Salt Spring tour that seems to be a favorite and shows you in a few hours the highlights of the community. Public bus service is also available.
Reason 4: Access to nature everywhere
One thing my boating friends also love is the access to nature. Just a short walk has you in the woods either in Ganges Mouat Park (which also has great disc golf for those who partake) or along Churchill Road which takes you to a great hiking trail or to Churchill Beach, with oyster shells rather than sand beneath your feet, left there by early First Nations hunters and gatherers. There is great cycling from the village as well, with bike rentals at Salt Spring Adventure Company right at the Salt Spring Marina – or scooter rentals from Salt Spring Car rentals being another great option. Other outdoor adventures include kayaking, whale watching and now stand-up paddle board also available right in the village.
Reason 5: Yes, there's a golf course close by
If you are a golfer, don’t forget to bring your clubs (or you could rent…). Salt Spring Island Golf and Country Club has been a great course to play on since 1928. Arguably the best course on the Gulf Islands, the 9-hole course, offering an assortment of par 3’s, 4’s and 5’s, has a number of hills, long fairways and challenging greens. The course is great for beginners as well as seasoned golfers and offers a lovely restaurant and well stocked pro-shop. Close by are public tennis, pickle ball and squash courts and a running track.
Reason 6: Yoga, Wellness & Fitness Retreats
Yoga may be new to you but it is not new to us! The Salt Spring Yoga Centre has been here for 40 years and was one if the first yoga centres in North America. Their yoga retreats are attended by people from all over the world and they offer meals that are vegan with many ingredients grown on their on-site organic garden. There are many additional yoga and wellness options, including the new Salt Spring Wellness Centre, featuring a number of wellness services, and North End Fitness, featuring great classes, fitness equipment, great showers and an infrared sauna.
Reason 7: West Coast Artists
If you have an art lover on board, it won’t take them long to be gushing over the talent that is on display all around the harbour! Named as one of the best artist’s towns in Canada, Ganges has about a dozen galleries featuring artist from across the country with an emphasis on west coast artists. First Nations artwork is available as is the work from famous Salt Spring and Gulf Island artists. Priced for every budget, work goes from a few dollars for art cards to a few thousand for original paintings and sculptures. Don’t forget art for outdoors – amazing wind sculptures and outdoor art is here too!
Reason 8: Live Music & Performance Art
Live music and cultural performances are worth the trip all on their own! With the Tree House Café offering Music under the Stars, every evening June through September, nighty live music at the lovely outdoor patio oceanside at the Oystercatcher Restaurant and live music at Moby’s Pub, you are sure to be entertained. Along with that are performances at ArtSpring, our 265 seat community arts centre, brining talent from across the globe for music, dance and literary art. Outstanding is the only word that comes to mind…
Reason 9: Salt Spring offers accommodations for everyone
Another great feature is the range of accommodations options available nearby – for those who want to lose their sea legs for a few days or have friends with you who are staying on shore. Operators are passionate about this island and make your stay one to remember – with organic freshly made pastries, farm fresh eggs and hand-made preserves. We can also offer coffee roasted on the island and tea harvested on one of our tea farms – a real treat! Varying in budget and amenities, there are options camping through to cozy guest suites, B&B’s, cottages and cabins. There is also Hastings House Country House Hotel and the newly renovated Harbour House Hotel, both within walking distance of the harbour.
Reason 10: Year round events make off-season boating possible
One of my friends is not really keen on crowds so his preference is to travel in the off-season. Fortunately many of the things he loves about the island are on offer year-round, either in the early spring or late fall. We even have a great Christmas on Salt Spring celebration and the new February Festival – a month long arts and culture showcase including the Indoor Salt Spring Market. You can boat over but may prefer to have our friends at BC Ferries or Coho Ferries look after you or really visit in style and fly over via one of the great float plane operators including Salt Spring Air and Seair with flights from Vancouver and Victoria (with charter flights with Kenmore Air flying from Seattle).
So now I get why boaters love visiting so much. Seeing the island from my friend’s eyes is a good thing! Of course, since I work on Salt Spring, I get to live here and am proud to call this special place home. We love boaters – and we invite more of you to visit. Drop by the Visitor Info Centre in the heart of Ganges, where you will find a happy welcome, free information and a big smile from a local like me! To plan your trip, visit Salt Spring Tourism (saltspringtourism.com).