Our inaugural Canada Travel Guide is of Salt Spring Island in British Columbia, where our contributor, Hannah Spray lives. I'll admit to some strong mountain and ocean envy and a longing to seek out the fairy doors with my boys.
Tell us a bit about you, Hannah. How did you end up in Salt Spring Island? Are you from there? Who do you live there with and how long have you been there?
I actually grew up in and around Calgary, Alberta – quite a bit different from Salt Spring! I met my hubby when we were attending university on Vancouver Island, and after a few years of living in the “big smoke” of Vancouver, we wanted to return to a slower and friendlier island lifestyle.
With my husband’s parents having moved to Salt Spring Island during our time in Vancouver, we fell in love with the place on our visits to see them. We’ve now been living here for 3 years, and I see no end in sight.
Tell us a few factoids about Salt Spring Island.
The population is most recently listed as 12,000, though it doubles during the summer with all of the summer inhabitants and tourists that come to soak in the natural West Coast lifestyle.
The island coastline adds up to 135 km. There are 3 ferry terminals: Vesuvius, Fulford, and Long Harbour. We even have our own currency here, the Salt Spring Dollar, but I’ve never held one as these are mainly for fun and mementos for the tourists.
Where to Stay on Salt Spring Island
There are a lot of places to stay on the island, but the majority of these are small B&Bs and offer some amazingly unique finds. I’d recommend you do some investigating of your own to take a peek at the many, many smaller lodgings available.
In the summer, places fill up quickly, so make sure you book well ahead of time. I’ve never stayed in any of these places, as we’ve stayed with family when visiting, but I’ve heard positive experiences from friends and family who’ve stayed at the following:
Seabreeze Inne – This one comes close to being the most typical hotel and is fairly cost-effective. It’s a little ways out of Ganges (the main town), but only a few minutes away if you’re driving. There is a lounge on site.
Harbour House Hotel – Right at the edge of Ganges, across from the local pub. The restaurant is currently going through some changes and is closed for the time being, but the location is pretty prime if you want to stay right in Ganges.
Cusheon Lake Resort – These little cabins each offer views of the lake, wood fireplaces, and cozy rustic stays. There are a variety of watersport equipment available for guests to use, and lots of beautiful outdoor spots to hang out while you soak in the view.
I couldn’t leave this part without recommending some camping spots, as Salt Spring’s outdoor environment is simply spectacular.
Ruckle Park offers phenomenal camping spots right on the rocks overlooking the ocean, as well as some more sheltered spaces and group campfire hangouts.
Garden Faire is a beautiful campground right at the edge of Ganges, where several of the guests at my wedding stayed (oh yes, this is a magical spot for a wedding, so we convinced my husband’s parents to let us get married on their property before we moved here). They loved that this campground was walking distance to all the local amenities, and the outdoor shower was a hit with my outdoorsy friends.
Where to Eat on Salt Spring Island
Don’t expect to find the restaurants you’re used to here. Salt Spring promotes local-owned and individual businesses, so there are no chain eateries here. Instead, feast on primary local meat and produce at most places and enjoy supporting locals.
Tree House Cafe – This is my top recommendation for eating out on Salt Spring Island. This unique eatery is built around a plum tree. Open air in the summer, there is live music every night under the stars, with cozy blankets offered to guests if you’re chilly. The food offers more than your typical meal, as this restaurant caters to gluten-free patrons, with a separate kitchen to ensure no contamination, and there are a variety of vegan and vegetarian options.
Salt Spring Inn – This quaint restaurant on the main level of a small inn (only a few rooms) offers a lot of space for groups small or large to eat a tasty meal. There are many traditional menu items here, like burgers, pizza and fish and chips, and even a children’s menu with several options. My toddler loves eating here, and we often go for weekend breakfast.
Barb’s Buns – This is our classic mommy-and-me lunch-date spot. There is a cafe side and a restaurant side, and both are very popular with the locals and tourists alike. My toddler’s go-to is a kids’ steamed milk with a healthy Trail Ball and a cheese stick, but there is a full kids menu in the restaurant with many more options. Amazing coffee, amazing juices, amazing bakery items, amazing food. Only open during the day (breakfast and lunch), Barb’s closes at 5 and is closed all day on Sundays.
Where to Shop on Salt Spring Island
Salt Spring Island is overflowing with amazing artisans who make and sell their unique products here. Much like with the lodging, I have to preface this with the advice to look around and tour the island and all the different artisans to see the wealth of what is available here. The Salt Spring Studio Tour is a fantastic resource for visiting different artisans and studios on your own schedule for amazing experiences and cool purchases. Glassblowers, doll stitchers, shoe makers, cheese and ice cream artisans…. The list is endless. And, of course, a trip to Salt Spring Island could not be complete without stopping by the Salt Spring Saturday Market that happens each Saturday during the warmer half of the year in Centennial Park in the heart of Ganges.
Hen & Chicks Clothing Co. is a fabulous kids’ clothing and accessories store run by a local mama, and while the items are mostly brand-name and higher end, it’s a great place to find those necessities like quality sunglasses, clothes, and shoes while you’re here. There are also a lot of interesting and fun things for the kids to check out while you shop.
West of the Moon is the local toy store, and it’s chock full of amazing finds. With a cozy book section and the train table set up, it’s a great place to duck inside and spend time perusing and playing when it’s too rainy or sunny outside, or when you’re looking for some new materials and toys to keep the kiddies entertained at home.
What to do on Salt Spring Island
Go play outside! Salt Spring’s finest asset is its amazing environment, and there are a plethora of beaches, trails, and parks to explore.
One of the best places to hike around is up on Mount Maxwell. Offering phenomenal views of the islands and the Pacific Ocean, you are sure to be wowed. This magical spot is actually where my husband chose to propose to me as we watched the sun set among the islands.
One of the best beaches to head to with the kids is Beddis Beach, on the ocean. It’s large, sandy, and you can always find a shady space to hide your snacks and lather on the sunscreen. I should also mention Vesuvius Beach (the warmest ocean swimming on the island, and the best beach to watch the sun set), and St. Mary’s Lake public access beach (small, but sandy and full of kids all summer).
While you may have to look a little bit to find out about all of the things there are to do and see with your family, there are some other great options out there, too. Read this post on my blog for 18 family-friendly things to do on Salt Spring Island.
Tell us about the famous Fairy Doors of Salt Spring Island.
Undoubtedly one of the most unique things to do on Salt Spring Island is searching for the Fairy Doors, Elf villages, and fairy houses that are hidden around the island. You can find some as accessible as downtown Ganges, and others off in forests and up on mountains.
These magical little mementos are a highlight for the children I care for in the summer, and often spark imagination and inspire creativity for building more fairy dwellings in the parks and homes of the children. Check out this post on my blog for a full run-down about the different places to find the Fairy Doors of Salt Spring Island.
What do you think is the most unique thing about Salt Spring that visitors miss but should see?
This is a hard one to answer, as there are so many unique things about Salt Spring Island and so many things you find out about by word of mouth and stumbling onto them yourself.
Something very “Salt Spring-y” that I encourage all of our visitors to check out is a small cafe in the South End, out of the way of most of the travellers, so it doesn’t get noticed as much as it should.
Kizmit Cafe and Galeria is a very unique place to visit and enjoy a cup of coffee, shop a plethora of consignment items, and enjoy the beautiful outdoor space. There’s even a sandbox and some toys for children to enjoy while they’re there.
Any other tips for a great visit?
Life on Salt Spring Island isn’t always documented. Some of the best things to see or do while you’re here might be found by chance, noticed on a local poster board (the original social network that still thrives on Salt Spring) or mentioned by someone you’ve bumped into as you walk around.
Most of the locals are amazingly friendly and helpful, and I fully encourage you to step out of the “city ways” of looking past the strangers who surround you. Say hello, strike up conversations, smile, and wave. Good things come to those who put themselves out there and engage with the community.
Thank you for the insider's tour of Salt Spring Island, Hannah! Salt Spring Island tops my list of places to visit in Canada.
Plus, while you are visiting British Columbia, plan a family friendly trip to Langley.
(Photo of Hannah with her daughter by Billie Woods Photography)
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