Gabriola Island (often referred to as the Isle of the Arts) is the place to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of the city. A short trip from Nanaimo, Gabriola is a rural Gulf Island with a diverse creative culture, vibrant community and an abundance of natural beauty.
While it is easy to relax on Gabriola, make no mistake, there is plenty to do, see and experience whether you are visiting for a day, a week or more! Plus, the island has all the amenities you need to enjoy your stay no matter what time of year you visit.
With a population of about 4,200 residents, the island is home to a high density of artists, with a diverse community that welcomes visitors throughout the year for festivals, weekly events, workshops, classes, retreats and outdoor adventures.
No matter when you visit, you can bet that you will leave the island more relaxed than when you arrived. Take a yoga class, learn how to make cheese, enjoy a pampering massage, spend a day beachcombing, de-stress along the moss-lined forest trails, or cozy up with a good book by a warm woodstove.
If you want to play, head outdoors! With a temperate climate where extreme weather is rare, it is easy to enjoy the great outdoors 365 days a year. Rent a kayak and explore Gabriola’s 98 kilometres of coastline; challenge yourself at the 9 hole golf course; rent a mountain bike or head out on foot to explore over 170 kilometres of hiking trails; discover world-renowned diving spots; book a salmon fishing expedition; or visit the dozens of diverse beaches and parks on Gabriola. Visiting in the off-season, you will likely get the beach to yourself.
If you are looking to stimulate your mind and get inspired by the unique arts and culture cultivated on Gabriola, there are over 70 artist studios to visit and a full calendar of thought-provoking live performances, art shows, hands-on workshops and community events to keep you entertained, educated and engaged.
Local food is another significant part of island culture that you can enjoy year-round at Gabriola’s restaurants, cafés, farm stands and farmers markets. Purchase a wide selection of fresh, Gabriola-grown vegetables, fruit, baked goods, eggs, meat, and beverages from local stores, and directly from the island’s farmers and producers.
Ready to find yourself surrounded by Gabriola’s goodness? The easiest way to access the island is a scenic 22 minute ferry ride from downtown Nanaimo. Standing on the deck of the Quinsam is an exhilarating introduction to Gabriola, no matter the time of year. As the ferry moves closer to the island, smell the oxygen-rich air and observe the thick wall of evergreen trees, towering sandstone bluffs, eagles and coastal birds soaring above, and a shoreline dotted with the iconic West Coast arbutus trees.
Once docked, you will be greeted by what is locally known as the “ferry hill” and the landmark Skol Pub. Halfway up the ferry hill is access to a key Gabriola roadway, Taylor Bay Road, which leads to a host of popular island destinations.
A short distance down Taylor Bay Road is The Descanso Bay Regional Park and Campground, which has an excellent kid-friendly swimming beach and picnic area, as well as tent and recreational vehicle camping. Connected to the campground is an extensive trail network including the Yogi Trail, which is marked by a giant boulder that is seasonally decorated throughout the year.
As Taylor Bay Road turns into Berry Point Road, you will find Malaspina Galleries, Gabriola Sands Provincial Park (aka Twin Beaches), an international centre for personal development, a beloved local event venue, and a tranquil spa.
Malaspina Galleries or “The Galleries” is a stunning curved sandstone cliff carved out by a millennia of crashing waves. It is a popular swimming spot and a beautiful place to watch the sunset during the summer.
Gabriola Sands Provincial Park or Twin Beaches features two family-friendly sandy beaches facing opposite directions for striking views of British Columbia’s spectacular mountain ranges. It is a wonderful place for picnics and soaking in the island vibes during the warm months.
Berry Point Road leads to the laid-back Surf Lodge & Pub, and the famous Orlebar Point, which offers expansive and picturesque views of the Strait of Georgia. Here you will find nature’s intricately carved sandstone shores are the perfect place for watching orcas, sea lions, coastal birds, and marine life play against a backdrop of the everchanging ocean and distant snow-capped mountains. You can also enjoy the view of the Entrance Island Lighthouse, a popular photography subject and home to two Instagram famous cats.
Back where the ferry docks, North Road leads to the top of the ferry hill where the island’s primary shopping and service district begins, and where North Road and South Road intersect. North Road and South Road are the island’s two primary roadways and form a loop that takes approximately 35 minutes to drive.
At this junction, you will find the Agi Hall, home to the busy Gabriola Farmers Market that runs from May until October. This is a must-visit attraction to experience the best of the island including locally produced food, art, jewellery, fashion, and curiosities from over 75 vendors.
A short distance from the Agi Hall is the Gabriola Visitor Centre, run by the Gabriola Chamber of Commerce; The Gabriola Museum, run by the Gabriola Historical Society; and The Gabriola Arts & Heritage Centre, home to the Gabriola Arts Council. These local organizations are responsible for numerous popular events throughout the peak tourism season and offer a wealth of information for island visitors.
Head down North Road to find an array of locally owned and operated shops and businesses that cater to locals and visitors alike. You may also encounter an amusing source of Gabriola’s rare traffic jams: the roaming wild turkeys that frequently cross North Road in this area!
On North Road, you will find Folklife Village (often referred to as “the Village”), a structure from Canada’s famous Expo 86 that was brought to Gabriola in the early nineties to house local shops and services.
Next door to the Village is Huxley Community Park that includes a playground, outdoor tennis courts, and coming soon in 2021, a skatepark! The Gabriola Commons is next to the park and is 26 acres of community land governed by a council that supports local wellbeing of the land and residents. The Commons is home to the Cultivate Festival, a fun and engaging theatre, music, and art event hosted by the Gabriola Arts Council.
As you move along North Road, you will pass Barrett Road, the only access to another vital area of the island colloquially called “Whalebone”. Sandwell Provincial Park, Joyce Lockwood Community Park, and numerous public beach access points are found in the Whalebone area.
North Road passes through what is known locally as “the tunnel”. This stunning stretch of road passes through mature forest with green canopies that nearly envelop the road.
In the tunnel, you will find multiple access points to the 707 Community Park and the entrance to Elder Cedar Nature Reserve, an ideal spot to forest bathe among old growth trees.
Heading east on North Road and exiting the tunnel, you will be in Gabriola’s pastoral and eclectic “south end”, which is home to Drumbeg Provincial Park, Gabriola Island Community Hall, Brickyard Beach, and the spectacular mariner destination of Silva Bay. Page’s Resort Group, The Silva Bay Marina & Shipyard, Gulf Island Seaplanes, and the island’s popular fishing charters are all located in Silva Bay.
Whether you are visiting solo, as a couple, as a family, or in a group, Gabriola is the ideal place to unplug and experience the best of the West Coast.
For more information on where to stay and what to do on Gabriola Island, refer to the Gabriola Visitor Guide.