Do not call these the Canadian San Juans. They are, thank you very much, the Gulf Islands. While the islands in southwest British Columbia share much in landscape and climate...

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Do not call these the Canadian San Juans. They are, thank you very much, the Gulf Islands. While the islands in southwest British Columbia share much in landscape and climate with the San Juan Islands just across the border, they have their own, distinct culture and name.

What’s different?

First, in a civilized godsend for travelers, you can make vehicle reservations for ferries to the main Southern Gulf Islands, including Salt Spring, Galiano, North and South Pender, Mayne and Saturna. That lets travelers avoid the hours-long lineups that San Juans ferrygoers face on summer weekends. (But do be ready for Gulf Islands ferries to run late because of the tricky interisland car loading and unloading).

Beaches? Thanks to public access/ownership laws, shorelines are more open to the public in B.C. You can walk the beach in front of the fanciest Gulf Islands homes.

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Lodging? Canada’s British heritage comes on strong, with a multitude of B&Bs and small country inns scattered among the Gulf Islands. There are only a few big resorts.

Development? More all the time, but the islands still feel pastoral. Scarce drinking-water sources and tough zoning limit it, and there aren’t as many high-tech millionaires fueling a second-mansion boom.

Parks? More and more, thanks to islanders’ yearslong campaigns. There are local parks; provincial parks, including marine parks for boaters; and the newly created Gulf Islands National Park, created last year to cement protection for wilderness islands among the 200-plus big and tiny Gulf Islands.


— Kristin Jackson