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.
About Gabriola Island
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.
Gabriola: Isle of the Arts
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.
Gabriola Island Eats
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.
Outdoor Adventures on Gabriola Island
If you want to play, head outdoors! 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.
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.
Gabriola Island Beaches
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 ever changing 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.
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.
Gabriola Island Shopping
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.
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.
For more information on where to stay and what to do on Gabriola Island, see Tourism Gabriola Island.
How to Get Here
Gabriola Island is approximately 5 kilometres from downtown Nanaimo and primarily accessible via a scenic 22 minute ferry ride aboard the Quinsam operated by BC Ferries.
Ferry: A 22-minute voyage from Downtown Nanaimo with sailings from early morning to late evening. Visit bcferries.com for details. Gabriola’s Ferry Advisory Committee produces a helpful guide on the best times to travel. Visit gabriolafac.com for details.
Float Plane: Gulf Island Seaplanes operates flights from Vancouver International Airport to Silva Bay. Visit gulfislandseaplanes.com for details.
GETTING AROUND ON GABRIOLA
Walking and Hiking: Walking is possible but be aware that there are no sidewalks on the island. Walk single file on narrow road stretches and practice pedestrian safety such as wearing reflective clothing and carrying a light at night. Locals are always keen to help you reach your destination too. A trail guide is published by the Gabriola Land and Trails Trust. Visit galtt.ca for details.
Community Bus Service: Ride GERTIE, the local community bus service that operates on a limited schedule Monday to Saturday.
Taxi: Gabriola Island Taxi operates on a limited schedule. Note that only one cab serves the island; it is best to pre-arrange pick-ups and drop-offs rather than call when needed. Call 250-247-0049 for schedule and availability.
Driving: Gabriola’s default speed limit is 50 kilometres per hour and there is a stretch of North Road and South Road with a speed limit of 60 kilometres per hour. Exercise caution on all roads because you are sharing them with cyclists, pedestrians and wildlife.
Bicycles & E-Bikes: Ride single file and be aware of narrow road sections, poor road conditions and uneven edges. Exercise caution as there are no dedicated bike lanes.
If you are cycling the North-South Road loop, consider heading down South Road first to go downhill on the steep Brickyard Hill unless you are up for a challenging hill climb.