I’m not sure if it was complete luck, some ingenuity, or the power of positive thought, but I managed to find accommodation on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, with just one day’s notice for the August long weekend. The entire island was booked – literally. I later found out a friend had a reservation we could have used and when they called to cancel the hotel said no worries, as they had 25 people on the wait list.
After there was nothing available online I tried seven places to ask if they had any cancellations (we are still in a pandemic after all). After hearing nothing but no I got creative and tried to see if there were any rental options. I found a post on the local Salt Spring Exchange website for a furnished room available immediately. I inquired if a short-term weekend rental was an option if it hadn’t already been rented and voila; we found ourselves in a heritage house in a private room with an en-suite bathroom, just a 12-minute walk from the central island town of Ganges.
I wanted to go to Salt Spring Island because it is easy to get to with public transit from Vancouver (car rentals over the long weekend were $$$ and also hard to come by), and as the most populous of the southern gulf islands, it seemed like there were loads of things to keep us entertained for a weekend away.
13 things we did during a weekend on Salt Spring Island
1. Browsed the famous Saturday Market
Every Saturday from April through to October, artisans and food vendors line the oceanside at Centennial Park in Ganges for the Salt Spring Saturday Market. Salt Spring Island has a deep-rooted history in agriculture and the artisan movements that began in the 1960s, and the local vendors we visited were selling everything from handmade soaps to electric ukuleles. The Spanadian indulged in the pastries on offer from a couple of vendors and we walked away with bath salts and some of that famous Salt Spring soap.
2. Explored the island by scooter
As our trip was last minute, we had not done much as far as pre-planning. Since we were travelling without a car, I thought it might be fun to rent scooters. As luck would have it, Salt Spring Adventure Co had two single rider scooters available due to a cancellation. We grabbed them at 12:30 pm and opted for the 8 hour rental. I was a bit nervous at first, especially as some of the roads were 80 km/h, but they were easy to operate and navigating the island was simple.
3. Lunched at Fulford Harbour’s Rock Salt
We scooted our way across the island to Fulford Harbour and sat down for a bite with an ocean view at Rock Salt Restaurant & Cafe. A popular spot for those coming and going on the ferry to Vancouver Island, Rock Salt offers a grab and go café menu, as well as a full sit-down menu in their restaurant. We shared a lamb burger and a Bombay surf bowl, both of which could be made gluten free. Great meal – would absolutely recommend and dine at again.
4. Visited the Salt Spring Island Cheese farm
Salt Spring Island Cheese makes beautiful cheese. Pick any of their pure goat milk chevre, be it flower, garlic, or lemon, and you are guaranteed to have an artistic addition to any charcuterie board. A visit to the farm can include checking out the goats in the barn, picking up some goat meat from the self-serve freezer, taste testing products in the shop, or indulging in goat milk gelato or a pizza in the café. Sadly, the day we went they were almost sold out of all cheese. We snagged a couple and topped up our supply at the Thriftys grocery store in town.
5. Shopped local at a farm stall
As we rode around the island it felt like just about every resident had a wooden farm stall at the end of their driveway, or a sign indicating we could come in to visit their artisan or agricultural studio. (You can pick up a Salt Spring Studio Tour brochure at Visitor Information in Ganges). We rode past everything from fresh cut flowers, to soaps, to golden plums for sale. Many things are presented and sold on the honour system with a little box available to drop cash or make change. One stall we stopped at said we could ask for frozen lamb, so the owner graciously brought down a packaged of minced lamb for us. We grabbed a dozen duck eggs as well, gave her puppy a quick pat on the head, and were back on the road to continue our tour of the island.
6. Caught some afternoon rays at Beddis Beach
We rode our scooters to the end of Beddis road and walked down to the idyllic white-crushed shell ocean beach. I’m not a fan of cold water and one dip of my toe had me shaking my head ‘no thanks’ to an afternoon swim. The Spanadian braved the water and I got to enjoy the audible shock of his chilly dip safely from the shore.
7. Thrifted for vintage clothing
One of my favourite things to do on vacation is check out vintage and thrift stores, as I’m always looking for things to add to my personal wardrobe or make available through my side hustle Armoire Inspiration. I found some good vintage pieces at Transitions Thrift Store (although I thought the prices were a little high for a thrift store). I was impressed with the curated selection at The Getting Place, but it was a random stop at Thrift Shop Lady Mintos where I found gold in the form of a bright yellow, made in Italy vintage romper.
8. Climbed Mount Erksine
With a few hours to spare on our rental, we decided to park at the end of the Juniper Road and do the Mount Erskine loop. The 90-minute climb offered up some stunning coastal views and I was excited to find some hidden fairy doors along the way. It also gave us an opportunity to stretch our legs and burn some calories before dinner.
9. Dined at Al’s Gourmet Falafel and Fries Foodcart
We had walked by Al’s, apparently the island’s first food cart, early in the day and confirmed that the fryer was gluten free. We arrived shortly before closing and had time to order falafels, spiced fried cauliflower, and yam fries. A great thing about eating at Al’s is that the food cart is 99% garbage free and uses no single-use plastic. We ate every bite and happily composted our biodegradable packaging.
10. Listened to live music at the Tree House Cafe
The Tree House Café appears to be a very popular and beloved spot under the plum tree in the Ganges Harbour. Check the calendar, as many nights they offer music under the stars from the open-air café. When we walked by there were many people listening and dancing outside the fence of the café. On this laid back and sleepy island, this appeared to be the place to be on a Saturday night. Staff got on the mic explaining donations for the musicians from the crowd are welcome so it didn’t matter if you scored a seat inside or not; all are welcome to enjoy the music.
11. Indulged in a sweet treat
If you like ice cream on a hot summer day, then options are plentiful on Salt Spring Island. In Ganges alone you can choose from Salt Spring Soft Serve, Glad’s Ice Cream, or if you love gelato as much as The Spanadian does, Harlans Chocolate & Gelato. While we riding across the island I noticed goat gelato was available at the Salt Spring Island Cheese farm as well as from a food cart up the hill from Fulford Harbour, many offered dairy free/vegan options.
12. Picked blackberries (for free)
We did a lot of walking around and I was shocked by the volume of blackberries growing wild across the island. Since I had packed our dinner for the ferry ride over on Friday night, I had a container on hand to fill with blackberries before we made our way back to the mainland. My mother, who dragged me along to pick fruit through much of my childhood and youth, would have been so proud.
13. Soared above the Gulf Islands on a float plane
Originally, we planned on catching the afternoon ferry on Sunday back to the mainland, primarily because that was the only direct ferry of the day. As we were strolling through Ganges on Sunday morning we saw a float plane land in the harbour, and we popped into Harbour Air to find out if they had any last-minute deals. From the time we caught the bus in Ganges to head to the ferry, our bus-ferry-bus-metro option would take likely take close to 4 hours. When we learned we could take a 20-minute flight to downtown Vancouver for $125 each, we jumped on the opportunity. We sat right up front near the pilot and the quick trip felt like a sight-seeing expedition.
Our weekend in Salt Spring was a delightful and delicious escape from Vancouver. It may be small, but we found loads of things to keep us well fed and entertained on our mini break. A word of advice – book your accommodation for this laid-back Gulf Island far in advance.