15 Awesome Things to Do on Galiano Island, BC

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Galiano Island is the closest of the Southern Gulf Islands to Vancouver city in British Columbia. That’s right – day tripping distance!

Yet, this long and skinny island, with a mere population of 1400, somehow remains relatively crowd-free and far lesser known that Salt Spring Island and Vancouver Island. Galiano features crushed white shell beaches, hiking/cycling/kayaking opportunities, coastal bluffs with incredible views, local artists’ studios, deer that are practically tame, and super chill vibes all around.

I’ve been going to Galiano Island since I was a kid. In the 1970s, my grandfather built a small log cabin there. I’ve experienced the island as a child, teenager, and now, through the eyes of my own kids. On our mot recent trip, we took my grandmother, now widowed and living in Abbotsford, to Galiano to revisit the cabin her husband had built.

In this article, I’ll share our favourite restaurants, hikes, places to visit, and other things to do in Galiano Island.

Welcome to Galiano!

Some sailboats cruising between islands on the coast of BC
View of other Southern Gulf Islands from Mount Galiano

Galiano and the other Southern Gulf Islands are part of the Gulf Island chain between Vancouver Island and the BC mainland. They are part of the same chain that forms the San Juan Islands in Washington state.

Galiano Island has a long history of indigenous inhabitation, with shell middens on the island going back at least 3000 years. The island is named after Dionisio Alcalá Galiano, a Spanish explorer who passed by in 1792.

Galiano was never developed as much as neighborhing islands like Salt Spring. In the late 1800s, many Japanese came for fishing and other work – you can still see Japanese charcoal pit kilns on the island today.

Residents on the island have long opposed logging there. Today, Galiano is mainly known for tourism, artist studios, and its excellent marine parks.

Wildlife we’ve seen on Galiano Island includes deer, owls, bald eagles, sea otters, sea lions, orcas, crabs, jellyfish, and lots of sea stars.

A collage of animals: deer, sea stars, orcas, and owl
Wildlife I’ve photographed on Galiano

Galiano Island Map

Quick tip: pick up a free map of Galiano on the ferry ride over! Just look for a display of pamphlets. Here’s a photo of one we grabbed.

A detailed map of Galiano Island BC with list of businesses and attractions there
Right click and choose “open image in a new tab” for a larger view

And for those who prefer GoogleMaps, here’s a custom map of places I mention in this article. Just a heads up that some parts of Galiano have no reception (and make sure to turn off roaming on your phone, because ours sometimes connect to towers in the US!)

Getting to Galiano

A large ferry passing between two islands
A BC ferry in Active Pass between Galiano and Mayne Islands

From Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal, it’s a one-hour ride (check in 40-90 minutes before) to Sturdies Bay on Galiano Island. There are three sailings per day in summer and two the rest of the year.

Book your ferry tickets in advance here. If you plan to walk on, you can usually just show up and buy your ticket.

Sturdies Bay is the first stop before the ferry goes through Active Pass (between Galiano Island and Mayne Island) then stops at Mayne Island, Pender Island, Salt Spring Island, and ends at Swartz Bay (for Victoria on Vancouver Island).

Two kids leaning over the side of the dock at a ferry terminal
My kids waiting for the ferry at Sturdies Bay

Coming from Victoria, it’s going to take longer (2-3 hours), as there will be more stops (and possibly transfers) on the way. See here for the current schedule. On the plus side, it’s a beautiful journey between the islands!

There are also seaplanes from Vancouver Harbor to Galiano Island and water taxis from Ganges (Salt Spring Island) to Galiano (35 minutes).

Contact Galiano Adventures for moped (scooter) and ebike rentals on the Galiano Island.

Where to Stay on Galiano Island

A wooden balcony with two chairs facing the ocean
Cabin built by my grandfather on Galiano (sorry, not for rent!)

Hotels and guesthouses on Galiano are limited and not cheap. Galiano Oceanfront Inn & Spa (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor) is conveniently located near Sturdies Bay. Rooms have ocean views and it has an excellent restaurant (see “Best Galiano Restaurants” section at the end).

A more budget friendly option nearby is Driftwood Village Resort (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor).

For a very quiet stay, try Sticks and Stones Cottage (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor). It’s on Sticks Allison Road, which is where my family’s cabin is located. It’s just a short walk from the coast.

Further down the island, Serenity By The Sea Retreats (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor) is truly idyllic.

You can camp at Montague Campground in Montague Harbour Marine Provincial Park. The park includes some lovely beaches and trails, and is walking distance (15 minutes) from Montague Harbour, which has a restaurant and café. There are spots for boats to dock near the campground.

Galiano Things to Do

I’ll list the following Galiano Island attractions roughly in the order that you’d encounter them when arriving at Sturdies Bay.

Exploring the Coast

A group of kids kneeled down and exploring water pools on the coast
Kids (and adults!) will never get tired of this

Before I get to the specific sights, I must say that for anyone with kids, your children will NEVER get tired of exploring the coast of Galiano Island. The tidal pools are filled with all kinds of little creatures, like crabs and sea stars. This is what we did for hours and and hours when I was a kid, and my own kids now do the same.

Anywhere on the coast of Galiano will do – some especially good spots are Bellhouse Provincial Park and Montague Provincial Park, which I’ll cover below.

A hand holding up a small sea star, with coastline in the background
Mom, look what I found!

Sturdies Bay Shops

Shop signs and shops at Sturdies Bay in Galiano Island
There are a dozen or so businesses in the small Sturdies Bay community

Right off the ferry, walk off (or park your car) and explore the little cluster of shops just up the hill from Sturdies Bay.

These include Galiano Island Books, The Loose Leaf Galiano, Art & Soul Craft Galley, a gas station/liquor store, and a real estate office. There are a handful of restaurants and cafés (see the final section below).

A 3-minute drive or 20-minute walk from Sturdies Bay, Galiano Community Library has books and DVDs. Library membership is free.

If you drive 5 minutes from Sturdies Bay, there’s an intersection with a few more shops, including The Corner Store (the island’s main grocery & liquor store), The Market (for organic items), Galiano Trading Company (Hardware), and Hummingbird Pub. Just south of there, Galiano Soap Works sells specialty soaps.

Galiano Saturday Market

Some vendor tables with clothing and other items on them
Vendors at Galiano’s weekly summer market

Once per week from mid-May to mid-October, the Galiano Saturday Market is held at Galiano Lions Park from 10 AM to 2 PM. It is a 2-minute drive or 15-minute walk from Sturdies Bay.

The market isn’t anywhere near as large or popular as the one on Salt Spring island, or anything you’d find in Vancouver or Victoria – expect couple dozen stalls or so.  

Nevertheless, this is your best chance to chat with some friendly Galiano residents and buy locally made products like artisanal popsicles, woven goods, jewelry, jams, paintings, and more.

Bellhouse Provincial Park

A young girl walking on a coastline covered with seaweed at low tide
My daughter exploring the coast at Bellhouse at low tide

Bellhouse Provincial Park is one of four provincial parks on Galiano and the easiest to reach from Sturdies Bay (4 minutes by car, 20 on foot). It’s named after the former owner of the land.

The small province park is on the southeastern tip of the island facing Active Pass (you can’t miss the huge ferries going by). You’ll probably spend 20 minutes to an hour here exploring the coastline.

At low tide, you can usually see lots of sea stars here, though there have been far less of them on Galiano Island in recent years.

A young girl climbing a sandstone cliff with holes in it
Sandstone cliffs at Bellhouse

Bluffs Park

A woman and two kids from behind, as they face the view of a ferry passing between two islands
My wife and kids at Bluffs Park

Bluffs Park on the southern tip of Galiano Island offers one of the finest and most easily accessible views in the Southern Gulf Islands.

The park stretches for a couple kilometers along the coast, with views of ferries going through active pass and the other Southern Gulf Islands in the distance.

Don’t use GoogleMaps for directions, as it leads to the totally wrong spot and you won’t be able to access the park.

To reach the park, drive south on Georgeson Bay Road from the Corner Store, then turn left onto Bluff Road W – watch for it because there’s no sign at the turnoff. On GoogleMaps, it looks like this road abruptly ends, but it doesn’t. Follow it past the small parking lot for the Japanese Charcoal Pit Kilns (see below), then you’ll see a sign and gate for Bluffs Park on the right.

There is also a network of walking trails up to the park, so you can actually walk here from anywhere on the island, depending how much time you have!

Japanese Charcoal Pit Kilns

A round stone pit kiln in the ground built of stones with tree beside
Remains of a pit kiln

A few minutes before reaching Bluffs Park, you’ll see a small parking lot on the right for a couple cars. From there, a sign points to a trail down through the forest to the Japanese Charcoal Pit Kilns. The path is a little steep, but it’s only a few minutes down.

Japanese first came to Galiano in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In 1901, there were nine Japanese charcoal makers listed on the island. Here, you can see the remains of one of their pit kilns. There’s a sign explaining the kiln, with interesting photos of early Japanese fishermen on the island.

Although the spot looks close to Highland Rd. on GoogleMaps, don’t try to access it from there, which is private land.

Galiano Cemetery

A wooden entrance gate that says "Galiano Cemetery" on it
Entrance to the cemetery

The small cemetery on Galiano Island is one of the prettiest ones I’ve ever been to. Its nestled in the forest, with a perfectly situated bench offering views down at the ocean.

If you look closely, you can see Japanese characters on some of the older gravestones. The cemetery is here, just past the access point to Mount Galiano.

Mount Galiano

Nick Kembel standing on the peak of Mount Galiano overlooking islands in the distance
That’s me!

If you though the view at Bluffs Park was good, well the one from the top of Mount Galiano is even better. The 314-meter summit of the mountain is the highest point on Galiano Island and offers an unbeatable view of the adjacent islands. You’ll be looking in the same direction as Bluffs Park, but just from higher up.

After parking at the trailhead, it took me two hours return to hike Mount Galiano, including around 20 minutes enjoying the view at the top. I only saw a couple other people on the trail.

This AllTrails map is reliable.

A ferry passes between some islands in the distance, with trees in the foreground
View from Mountain Galiano

Montague Harbour

A row of colorful docks on a dock in front of a harbour building
Kayaks for rent at Montague harbor

Galiano’s second harbour is mainly used by private boats, but it’s a fun spot to visit. There’s a small shop/café, a restaurant (see “Galiano restaurants” section at the end), kayak rentals, and boat and scooter rentals.

When I was a kid, we used to find some really crazy sea stars under the docks here that had 15+ legs (see my old picture below), but we haven’t seen them in recent years. You can still see (and touch) sea anemones on the sides of the docks, and we saw some small jellyfish on our last visit.

Montague Harbour is a 10-minute drive from Sturdies Bay.

A man holding up an orange sea star with many legs and pretending to eat it
Pic from many years ago of my dad with a crazy sea star at Montague Harbor
A pint of hazy beer on the corner of a wood bar, with a view of a harbor in the background
Beer with a harbor view at The Crane and Robin (see “Galiano Restaurants” section at the end)

Montague Harbour Marine Provincial Park

Looking out at the sea from a white shell beach
Crushed white shell beach

Montague Harbour Marine Provincial Park is a top highlight of Galiano Park. There, a walking path (30 minutes) encircles Gray Peninsula, providing access to several serene, sand and white crushed shell beaches.

There is some ancient history here – the white shell beach on the north side of the park, where you’ll likely park if coming in by car, is an indigenous refuse heap going back 3000 years.

The campground on site is excellent, with regular, walk in, and group sites. Private boaters can dock nearby to access the campground.

Looking out at a rocky ledge sticking out into the sea
The coast at Montague Habour Provincial Park

Tapovan Sri Chinmoy Peace Park

A religious quote on a sign on a rock covered in green moss, with forest in the background
Spiritual quotes in the forest

Few visitors make it past Montague. You’ll find the following sights by driving or cycling northwest on Porlier Pass Rd, passing the turnoff for Montague.

First up, watch for the sign and small parking lot on the right for Tapovan Sri Chinmoy Peace Park. This is a walking trail set up by followers of Sri Chinmoy, an Indian spiritual guru who taught in the US.

Two short and easy walking trails loop through the forest, with spiritual quotes placed on signs in the forest. A more difficult trail goes steeply up the mountain to a statue of Sri Chinmoy and meditation spot with sea views. It took me 45 minutes return.

Pebble Beach

A small beach in the distance, with trees behind it, rocky coast in foreground, and a few people on the beach
Pebble Beach in the distance

Pebble Beach is, as the name suggests, a lovely beach of pebbles and swimming spot.

It’s an easy one-hour loop walk to the beach and back. You’ll need to turn off Porlier Pass Rd, park here, then follow this trail. In the square-shaped trail you’ll see on the map in the link, Pebble Beach is at the top right corner.

Bodega Ridge Provincial Park

A bench on top of a hill, with view of forest below, sea, and islands in the distance
Bench with a view

Just past the turnoff for Pebble Beach, there’s another turnoff for the 3rd provincial park on Galiano Island.

The road zigzags steeply past some cabins. Then park here to start the Bodega Ridge Trail, which is the best (or rather, only) way to enjoy the park.

The trail follows a mountain ridge down the middle of the island. Although it’s quite long (8.4 kilometers return), you only have to walk about five minutes before you get the first sea view, and another 15 minutes to get some of the best views on the trail.

In other words, you don’t have to walk the whole thing. There are stones on the ridge that make for perfect seats to enjoy the view.

Spanish Hills Dock

Nick Kembel doing a back flip off a tall dock, completely upside down in the air
My signature back flip

It’s quite a drive down to the Spanish Hills public dock in the tiny North Galiano community. This remote dock would be a fun place to launch a kayak. Personally, I have memories of jumping off this dock as a 20-something year old (see photo above).

Note that even though the road seems to lead to Dionisio Point Provincial Park just past Spanish Hills Dock, you can’t access the park from here. That would require cutting through Galiano Indian Reserve No. 9, which is not allowed.

Dionisio Point Provincial Park

A long stretch of gray sand in a bay on Galiano Island
Coon Bay, perhaps the best beach on all of Galiano

The 4th provincial park on Galiano is Dionisio Point Provincial Park, which faces Porlier Pass – famous among boaters for its powerful current that has caused many shipwrecks.

This park is supposed to be marine access only, which means that only private boaters/kayakers can stop and camp there.

It is difficult, but not impossible, to get there by land. To do so, you have to drive up Vineyard Way, which is just before the turnoff for Bodega Ridge, and turn left onto Bodega Beach Drive.

Right around here, there will be a gate blocking the road. You can park on the side and make the long (one hour each way, 2 hours return) walk along the road into the park. If locals or the park warden see you doing this, they may not be pleased.

If you take the chance, though, or if you come by boat, you will be rewarded with three exceptionally pretty bays. Coon Bay, just west of the peninsula sticking out into the sea, is especially beautiful, with its long stretch of sand.  

A rocky coastline and tree tilting down on the coast of Galiano Island
Dionisio Point Provincial Park

Local Artist Studios

Some glass artworks on display in an artist's studio
Beautiful glass artwork by Marcia DeVicque – visit her studio here

Several artists have studios which you can visit on Galiano Island. Their hours may be limited to weekends in summer or when they happen to be on the island, so it’s best to look them up before going if there’s a specific one you really want to visit.

Here’s a handy map of artist studios around the island, but it may not be updated.

Restaurants on Galiano Island

Closed up of seared tuna tacos
Seared tuna tacos at The Crane and Robin

At Sturdies Bay, right where cars line up for the ferry, Max & Moritz food stall does Indonesian and German food. If you plan to order food here before you board the ferry, as many people do, make sure to come at least 30 minutes early, as there’s usually a wait.

In the small Sturdies Bay community, Sturdies Bay Café & Bakery has delectable pastries, Babes in the Woods specializes at pizza, Oxeye is a nice lunch spot, and Atrevida (inside Galiano Oceanfront Inn & Spa) offers a fine-dining experience.

Close up of a plate of fish and chips with salad and lemon wedge
Fish & chips at the Hummingbird

On every visit, we never miss stopping at the Hummingbird Pub for a pint of beer and a fish & chips. The pub also offers a bus service around the island on certain nights.

Right at Montague Harbor, The Crane and Robin do tacos and super cold draft beer overlooking the habor. Nearby, pilgrimme offers a first-class farm-to-table experience.

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