A retreat to Galiano Island is like none other in British Columbia, maybe in the world. One of the Gulf Islands sitting between Vancouver and Vancouver Island on British Columbia’s Southwest coast, Galiano is like a whole other world, seemingly detached from the hustle of Vancouver. And it is one of my most favourite places in the whole world! While I want to write about Galiano Island and tell the planet how great it is, you all have to promise that when you go there you won’t go all at once and destroy the chilled out vibes and island serenity… Ok? We’re good? Alright, moving on!
Galiano Island: A West Coast Wonder
I feel like I basically grew up on Galiano. Not that I did, but it’s just so entrenched in my heart that it feels that way. My family spent two weeks every summer at a basic cabin on Galiano’s southeast coastline, starting from the time I was a wee child. Our cabin had a view of the ocean and just steps across a meadow was the sheltered sandy beach. Deer would graze in the meadow and the stars were incredible at night.
Not that I gave a crap about any of that when I was a kid! My brother Aaron and I basically ran wild for two weeks, my Mom and Dad made us mac and cheese, hamburgers, and tacos way more frequently than at home, and we both took some pretty impressive bails off of bikes and ponies.
Actually to clarify, I bailed off my bike coming down a massive hill and Aaron literally threw me over a pony. The pony was small and strong arm Aaron took the task of boosting me on far too seriously.
I also almost drowned kneeboarding once and Aaron had to save me. I recently described time at Galiano as all the good parts of Lord of the Flies, though thinking about it, I think I had a rougher time than Aaron did…
In and out of the ocean constantly, swimsuits may have never been totally dry. It was thrilling to finally swim all the way out to the boat in the bay that never seemed to move, (a solid 75 metres, I know, I’m basically Katie Ledecky). Aaron, me, and all of the other kids we holidayed with buried each other in the sand to a dangerous depth.
It was on Galiano where I developed my fascination with turning over rocks on the beach to find out how many crabs I could scoop up before they all scurried away. This is still something I do when I’m on a beach and I’m with someone who I know will be scared of the crabs. And then inevitably a “You’ve got crabs” joke is made. #mature.
When we were older teenagers, one of our last summers at that cabin (it was starting to get pretty run down), Dad bought us a 12 foot aluminum boat with a 7.5cc engine on the back end. We went through more gallons of petrol than you can imagine. Mainly because Aaron found a 4 foot piece of plywood, drilled a hole in it, and then drug it behind the boat by a rope like a wakeboard that we laid down on. The fun was thrown into high gear when we figured out how to point the board into the water and we would hold onto the board while being towed underwater. This scared the shit out of my mother. Especially when I actually hit the bottom of the ocean. Oops!
Why visit Galiano Island?
But enough of my childhood memories, Galiano is actually still very similar as it was when I was young. High volume tourism has never taken off, probably because locals have never gone for it themselves, and development on the island is pretty minimal. No banks (thought there is one ATM), few shopping outlets, no major attractions of any kind beyond the natural beauty, no mega hotels, no rental car agencies, and no chain restaurants of any kind.
What is there? A gas station, a library with wifi (my Mom sits in the parking lot and gets online when the library is closed), and a very active community life mainly centred around the South End Community Hall and the elementary school. Different events like authors readings, the Galiano Wine Festival, the Canada Day Jamboree Parade (People join in the parade as they wish, decorating bikes, strollers, and cars galore. At the age of 2.5, I marched in the parade and because I couldn’t ride a bike yet, my Mom just decorated me and I won a ribbon!)
Everything about Galiano has remained local, small and personal. Any cafe or shop is owned and operated probably by the person sitting behind the cash box, and many of Galiano’s residents are self employed or retired, artsy folk who appreciate the quiet of the island. Also, tons of vegetarians and hippies! Galiano is in the electoral riding that elected the very first Green Party representative into the Canadian federal government. That should tell you a lot!
Natural Beauty and Wildlife of the Pacific Northwest
One of the best examples of that famous West Coast beauty, Galiano has remained very physically pure, mainly through the preservation efforts of it’s environmentally aware citizenry. Great swaths of the island are protected as provincial parks and building has been sustainable and natural. Rainforests, old growth, and beaches collide on a relatively small island, meaning a stop on Galiano allows you to explore so many different kinds of ecosystems you might actually get overwhelmed. It’s basically like hiking the West Coast Trail but with much less exertion. Which means you just need to go sit on your deck and drink some wine. That’s what I do.
And of course, being an island, there are several different beaches and places to explore the coastline. Some beaches are sandy, some rocky, all will have cold water. It is the Pacific Ocean after all! But in the summer I believe the sun heated water is just fine for swimming, and then at night, perfect for skinny dipping! Not that that is ever something I would do or encourage… what? Is my phone ringing? Hello?
Anyways, speaking of animals that are naked, deer, bald eagles, beavers, otters, and marmots can all be seen on the island, not to mention a ton of birds, especially Great Blue Herons, depending on the season. And yes I know bald eagles are birds, but they’re like, big birds. If you’re into smaller delights, dragon flies and hummingbirds are frequent visitors
But looking out from Galiano, that’s when the fun begins. Seals can regularly be seen sunning themselves on hot flat rocks when the tide is out. Passing pods of orca whales can be seen from a number of lookouts (especially Bellhouse and Bluff parks), or you might chance out and see them from the ferry before you even dock. And I can spend all day searching through tidal pools for whatever little creatures are dwelling in for the day: mussels, crabs, anemones, tiny fishes, and who knows what else kept me busy literally for hours as a kid. I was also the proud proprietor of a “Crab Hospital” for one summer. Few came out alive.
Hiking and Exploring Galiano Island’s Parks!
Mount Galiano, Bodega Ridge Provincial Park, Bluff Park, and Bellhouse Park are just some of the areas where there is fantastic hiking, amazing ocean views, picnic spots, and the chance to view some amazing wildlife. Dionisio Point Provincial Park is accessed only either on foot or by boat, so it is truly a place to get away from everything. You can enter on foot near Bodega, and walk through some absolutely beautiful and deserted coastline. Check out this locally produced site for the latest in hiking trails around the island, because there are new trails all the time: The Galiander.
Galiano Island Camping Opportunities
Montague Provincial Park is probably the busiest place on the whole island in the summer. Montague is a marina as well as a major campground, so it is truly hopping with both boaters and campers. Montague is a top BC campsite, with a real community atmosphere, as many people come for long stretches of the summer. Montague is where we had to go to get fresh drinking water that didn’t smell like sulphur back in the day.
First Nations History and Culture of the Gulf Islands
3000 years ago, the First Nations people of British Columbia gathered on one of the beaches of Montague. We know this because the beach is made completely of picked apart oyster and clam shells from centuries ago, making it a midden, a proven Aboriginal meeting place. So not only is the beach a stunningly beautiful and pure white, but wow, history! And this midden is only one place on the island that archeologists have taken interest. Abandoned villages, excavated plank houses, and other middens have been discovered all over the island, marking Galiano as an important seasonal home of Aboriginal people for thousands of years.
Galiano Island Art Galleries
If there is one thing Galiano has a lot of (besides deer and vegetarians), it is art galleries. Many artists reside on Galiano, and many of them might open their doors at certain times of the week for exhibitions. There are also formal galleries throughout the island, as well as frequent exhibition days where many artists come together for collaborative shows. Much of the art to be found is West Coast and First Nations inspired, hence why the artists choose to live on Galiano!
Galiano has the Most Unique Golf Course Around
The Galiano Golf Course is… an adventure. An 9 hole course, some holes require a climb up the side of a cliff to get to the tee and you never know when you will contend with deer on the fairway. My Dad taught me to golf on this course, you can ask him how fantastic I was. The family golf aficionado Uncle Doug hates this course, probably because it’s the only course where my Dad has beaten him. I will expect a comment from him below…
Pacific Ocean Water Fun!
No you don’t need to hang onto a piece of plywood being towed underwater to enjoy the waters of Galiano. The Gulf Islands are famously perfect places for canoeing, kayaking, sailing, and however else people spend hours on top of water. We had a canoe when I was growing up, and the waters at dusk are so calm, and I was so exhausted, that I more than once fell asleep in the bottom of the canoe. We would also set crab traps and go and check them with the canoe, I don’t remember getting great hauls, but then again I didn’t eat crab back then so I couldn’t have cared less.
Galiano Island Restaurants: Best Places to Eat!
What Galiano lacks in quantity it more than makes up for in quality. The most famous eatery on the island is the Hummingbird Pub, an absolute institution with cold beer, great eats, music on weekends, and most notably: The Pub Bus! What used to be an old bright red bus, has been replaced with a retired school bus that shuttles patrons between Montague marina, the campground, and the pub. Safety first when it comes to no drinking and driving! Not that there are many cops on Galiano, but still, those roads are winding and there are very few streetlights!
Other restaurants on Galiano include Scoops Ice Cream and Burger Bar, the Trincomali Bakery & Deli (fresh baked everything, nom nom nom), the Grand Central Emporium, and the Harbour View Grill. The Harbour View is new, and I haven’t been there yet, but really, nothing bad lasts long on Galiano, so it’s survival really does speak to it’s quality.
Meanwhile, Pilgrimme Restaurant on Galiano is actually famous! Named one of Canada’s Best new Restaurants in 2015, Pilgrimme serves only locally sourced, fresh products and has allegedly created a beautiful experience for the discerning palate. Located near Montague Harbour in a log cabin in the woods, Pilgrimme is every bit a West Coast restaurant.
Getting to Galiano Island: Riding the Gulf Islands Ferry!
For such a remote feeling place, Galiano is actually pretty easy to get to from Vancouver. You can drive, bike, or walk onto the BC Ferries from Tsawwassen Ferry terminal and the direct trip is only about 45 minutes. Getting to Galiano from Victoria, the voyage is typically a bit more complicated, as the route often stops at several other Gulf Islands. The cheapest way to go is to walk on, but note, there is no public transportation on Galiano, nor are there sidewalks, so getting around on foot isn’t too easy itself.
It really is a good idea to have a car on Galiano Island. Some people cycle, but a) that is kind of difficult and b) the roads are really not the safe for this. Getting around Galiano is tough without a car, though to be real, hitchhiking is common and as safe as it can be. Have I done it? What do you think?
Galiano Island Accommodations: Best Places to Stay!
Galiano Island accommodations are largely privately owned Bed and Breakfasts and holiday rentals, with quite a few options on AirBnB. Camping on Galiano is of course very popular (see section above), as is mooring the sailboat off the beach. For those of us without boats…
Galiano Island Hotels include:
Bodega Ridge (A cozy log cabin on the North End near Bodega Park)
Driftwood Village (Comfortable cabins on the South End)
Galiano Oceanfront Inn (High class ocean views my friends!)
The Cliffhouse and Treehouse (Come on, it’s treehouse on the ocean!)
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