If you live on the west coast of Canada (or the U.S.), you’ve probably heard of Salt Spring Island.
Less well-known is Galiano Island. But it’s no less special.
And despite its miniature size – it’s only 17 miles (27 km) from tip to tip – you’ll discover plenty of enchanting things to do on Galiano Island.
Blanketed with forests, Galiano is paradise for hikers, walkers and nature lovers.
Bicyclists can ride the island’s entire length and back in a day, and water lovers will enjoy kayaking Galiano Island.
Dozens of beach access points also offer inviting places to swim, as well as breathtaking water and island views.
Intrigued? Let’s get to know Galiano better then.
Where is Galiano Island?
Like Salt Spring, the long and narrow island of Galiano is also one of the Southern Gulf Islands.
It’s located to the east of the British Columbia mainland and west of Vancouver Island.
The 1,300 permanent residents on the island are mostly a creative community of artists, sculptors and writers.
Galiano is sufficiently remote to feel like you’ve escaped the hubbub of everyday life. But there’s enough going on that you won’t run out of things to see or do on a Galiano getaway. Unless, of course, you want to.
Here’s help for planning your trip, along with details on the 10 best things to do on Galiano Island.
10 Fun things to do on Galiano Island
1) Go kayaking on Galiano
In the dark of night, boulders along the shoreline sparkled like undersea stars.
A fish suddenly streaked through the water, leaving behind a swath of light in its wake. Droplets of water from our raised paddles created silvery circles as they splashed down.
Kayaking the still quiet channel between Galiano and Parker Island was a treat even without the bioluminescence – but the glow-in-the-dark spectacle created by microscopic dinoflagellates (plankton) in the water made it downright magical.
It’s ironic, really, that we’ve traveled to the furthest corners of the world for new bucket-list experiences.
Yet just a short scenic ferry ride away from where we live in Victoria, Galiano was the place where we glided through fairy dust.
The glassy waters around the island are made for kayaking. And the bioluminescence night paddles are extra special. Don’t miss the chance to sign up for this – it’s one of the top things to do on Galiano.
2) Hike Bodega Ridge Provincial Park
If you’re up for some Galiano Island hiking, you’ll be tickled to know you can explore more than 45 miles (75 km) of trails.
One of the best Galiano hikes is the 90-minute roundtrip hike in Bodega Ridge Provincial Park.
Accessible via scenic Cottage way, most of the trail takes you gently uphill, through arbutus trees. Then it levels off as you walk along the cliff edge of Bodega Ridge.
At the top, some 1,075 feet (328 meters) above sea level, you come to a viewpoint overlooking the Trincomali Channel, where the white sails of boats billow out far below.
The park serves as a critical habitat for endangered peregrine falcons, providing a safe place for them to nest and raise their young. Keep your eyes peeled for them. You may also see bald eagles soaring overhead.
3) See the Kunamokst Mural
When planning what to do on Galiano Island, don’t miss viewing the Kunamokst Mural.
The mural – 11 ft (3.4 m) x 21 ft (6.4 m) in size – depicts a mother orca (killer whale) with her baby.
Interestingly, none of the artists knew what the “big picture” would be when creating their particular panels. All they were told was the color palette to use and that their creation should follow the theme of the wild west coast.
Kunamokst means “together” in the First Nation Chinook language, and it’s a wonder how all the different pieces (showing everything from starfish to raccoons to a person kayaking) work so well together in forming the whole mural.
You can view the Kunamokst Mural at the Galiano Oceanfront Inn and Spa (covered below in #7), just near the ferry terminal.
It’s without a doubt one of the most thought-provoking Galiano Island attractions!
4) Gawk at the views from Bluffs Park
Galiano’s oldest park, established in 1948, is found at the south end of the island, close to the ferry terminal.
There are a few short hiking trails within Bluffs Park. But the main reason for visiting the park is for the stupendous ocean view you get from the cliffs overlooking Active Pass.
On a clear day, you can see across the Southern Gulf Islands all the way to the snow-capped Olympic Mountains in the U.S. Orcas regularly feed in and travel through Active Pass, and a great place to see them is from the Bluffs Park cliffs.
5) Have dinner at Woodstone Manor
Treat your tastebuds to dinner at the Woodstone Restaurant and Lounge, one of the best Galiano Island restaurants.
Chef Katsuyuki Sekihata (Seki, for short) was lured to oversee the kitchen. He earned three Michelin stars for his culinary creations in Europe and Asia.
The food is sourced from local farmers and changes seasonally, depending on what’s fresh. If on the menu, start with the frothy prawn bisque with champagne, garnished with edible flower petals – pure culinary bliss!
We ate inside the elegant restaurant as the weather was cool, but some brave folks, wrapped in ponchos, huddled on the outdoor patio by the roaring fireplace.
Even though the restaurant is relatively new, word has gotten out.
Dinner guests often come in from yachts in the Montague Harbour – staff are happy to pick them up for the short drive to the restaurant for dinner.
6) Bicycle Galiano’s quiet roads
Go at your own pace and ride along the island’s quiet roads by bicycle. Pedal past yellow buttercups, lavender and magenta sweet peas, which grow wild along the roadsides. Be on the lookout for deer, also, as they often dart out when you least expect it.
To see the whole island, bicycle from one end to the other along the Porlier Pass Rd. This is the only road that takes you the full length of the island.
If you prefer a mostly flat terrain ride with ocean views, bike the approximately 6 miles (10 km) of the northern end of the island.
Much of the remaining island terrain is hilly, so consider renting an e-bike to make your ride easier on the thighs.
7) Get a spa treatment
While Galiano has a lot to offer outdoors, it also has spots to unwind. One of the most relaxing things to do in Galiano Island is to enjoy a spa treatment at the Madrona del Mar Spa, located within the Galiano Oceanfront Inn.
Natural and indigenous ingredients are used in the treatments, including native B.C. plants and fruits, as well as local seaweed and mud.
Try the 2½-hour Blueberry Bliss Experience. It starts with a soothing body polish with blueberry sugar, followed by a blueberry smoothie masque and delightful hour-long massage.
Treatments are given in different places around the resort – perhaps in a waterfall hut or a breezy cabana by the sea.
8) Explore Dionisio Point Provincial Park
Dionisio Point Provincial Park is a wild and rugged park on the remote northeast tip of the island.
Sandy and pebble beaches fringe the shoreline of the locally named Coon Bay. Weird and wonderful sandstone shelves, sculpted by the wind and sea, catch the sunlight and make inspiring art and photography subjects.
As you explore the shoreline, keep an eye out for otters, seals and barking sea lions. Also, look to the skies for gliding bald eagles and other seabirds. Inland, wildflowers add happy splashes of color to the otherwise green forest.
9) Browse the Galiano Island art galleries
For art lovers, one of the most pleasant things to do in Galiano Island is to browse the local art galleries.
The island has a thriving artistic community, and there are many art exhibitions and galleries to visit. You may even root out that perfect remembrance or gift to take home!
The open-air Cedar Grove Gallery is tucked away among majestic red cedar trees, just off the main island road.
You’ll discover ceramic wall pieces, sculptural vases, tea sets and various pottery pieces crafted by the internationally known artist Sandra Dolph. Each piece of her artwork blends the natural elements of the island, including colors, textures and forms inspired by the ocean shoreline and forest.
Also pop into the Art and Soul Craft Gallery. Take home gifts like locally-made scented loofah soaps, colorful clay heart necklaces, candles, original paintings and cards – even organic chocolates.
10) Chill at Montague Harbour Marine Provincial Park
Near the south end of the island sits Montague Harbour Marine Provincial Park, the first designated marine park in British Columbia.
Its sheltered bay is a popular mooring spot for yachters and boaters during the summer months. It also serves up a perfect sunset – the best on the island, according to the locals.
Take a stroll along the park’s unique 3,000-year-old white shell beach, once used as a “midden” (or refuse heap) by the Coast Salish First Nation people.
You can also hike a scenic 1.2-mile (2-km) loop trail, often touted as the prettiest hike on Galiano Island. We like spotting the graceful blue herons, bald eagles and black oystercatchers with their red beaks as they swoop low above the tidal lagoon.
Where to stay on Galiano
The relatively new Woodstone Manor, which opened in 2017, attracts attention with its elegant rooms (and Michelin-starred chef in the restaurant).
Individually decorated, the 12 rooms feature plank wood floors covered with Persian rugs, heavy silk drapes and crystal gas fireplaces. You’ll also find a bar fridge and waffle robes and slippers in your room.
The first thing we did upon checking into our king-bedded room was to pop open a bottle of wine and relax on our small patio.
Woodstone Manor isn’t located seaside, but its bucolic countryside views – rolling green pastures, where horses roam, against a backdrop of forested hills – are just as appealing as the island’s ocean views.
Woodstone Manor: Check rates and availability
Galiano Inn & Spa:
For an ocean-front setting, the Galiano Inn & Spa is conveniently located a 5-minute walk from the Sturdies Bay ferry terminal.
All of its 20 rooms have ocean views.
They include casual “Villa” rooms, each with a separate kitchen, small living room and bedroom, plus a wood-burning fireplace out on the patio. They’re a bit tired looking though.
Newer “Suite” rooms are fresher and brighter.
The inn’s Atrevida restaurant is the island’s only ocean-front dining spot – and dinner is very good here. (We were impressed to see the Blue Mountain Pinot Noir on the wine list; it’s one of our favorite Okanagan Valley wines.)
Galiano Oceanfront Inn & Spa: Check rates and availability
How to get to Galiano Island
Ferry to Galiano Island:
From Tsawwassen (near Vancouver on the B.C. mainland), BC Ferries offers non-stop vehicle-and-passenger service to Galiano (55 minutes). You can make reservations on this route (highly recommended).
You can also take BC Ferries from Victoria on Vancouver Island. On this route, however, most ferries stop at other Gulf Islands first before arriving at Galiano. In July and August on weekends, however, there is direct non-stop service (70-minute ferry ride).
See the BC Ferries website for schedules and to make reservations.
Related reading: Want to take the ferry from Vancouver to Victoria? See our guide (it covers the V2V passenger ferry option as well as BC Ferries).
Floatplane to Galiano:
Seair Seaplanes offers scheduled floatplane service from Vancouver to Galiano Island. The flying time is 10 minutes.
Now you know what to do on Galiano and how to visit
With plenty of outdoor and chill things to do on Galiano, don’t you think it’s time to make it your next vacation getaway?
Photo credits: 9, 10, 15 to 17, 21 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | 1, 4 Gulf Island Kayaking | 6, 7 Kunamokst Gallery | 12, 13 Art and Soul Craft Gallery | 20 Galiano Inn & Spa