The beauty and accessibility of British Columbia’s 200 Gulf Islands, located in the Salish Sea between Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland, is unparalleled. Tall arbutus trees and Garry oaks line the rocky cliffs, overlooking kayakers, sailors and sea creatures playing in the calm waters of this unique ecosystem.
One of the most beautiful and idyllic Southern Gulf Islands is Pender Island, which are actually two islands linked by a small bridge but referred to simply as Pender. Friendly and laid-back, Pender Island is a perfect romantic or family escape to nature. Whether you choose active adventures on land or sea, or plan to just kick back and relax on a deck or beach, we’re sharing where to eat, stay and the best things to do on Pender Island.
Things to do on Pender Island
Get on the water
Pender Island is surrounded by the Salish Sea, so enjoying aquatic activities is almost a necessity. Rent a kayak, canoe or go stand up paddleboarding to enjoy the water and search for wildlife. Or go on a guided sea kayaking tour with Dog Mermaid near Otter Bay (where the ferry docks) on North Pender Island. A Pender Island kayaking tour will take you through secluded coves and around rocks covered in playful seals, followed by lunch, a hike or even a yoga session.
Near the bridge that connects North to South Pender, the waters are calm and great for kayakers learning the ropes, or paddles, from Pender Island Kayak Adventures in nearby Port Browning.
Wildlife spotting is best done on the water, where you may spot seals, eagles, ducks, birds and fat, purple starfish. You can also arrange whale watching tours further out into the Salish Sea. There are no bears or cougars here, but you may see deer and rabbits.
Pender Island beaches
Pender has some gorgeous beaches that are perfect for beachcombing. In fact, Pender Island offers the most public beach access points of any of the Southern Gulf Islands. Explore the waterfront, skip some stones, and simply enjoy the ocean views while seated on driftwood at Medicine Beach, Bricky Bay, Beaumont Marine Park and Mortimer Spit.
Pender Island hikes
There are more than 60 walking and hiking trails on Pender Island, including many in the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. Walks range from short beach strolls to long winding treks, such as the hike up Mount Norman (best for amazing views).
Enjoy a stroll in Brooks Point Regional Park and follow the trails through the woodlands and grasslands to the rocky bluffs of Gowlland Point, where you can enjoy spectacular views of the sea, wildlife, the San Juan Islands and Mount Baker.
Taste local wine and cider
Pender is home to an award-winning winery, Sea Star Vineyards. You can do tastings (in non-Covid times) or take my advice and purchase a box of Blanc de Noir rosé to take home. Sea Star vintages are very hard to find off island, so take advantage of your visit and purchase some while you’re there.
Twin Island Cider is a family-based cidery that makes cider and perry pressed from apples grown in local century-old orchards. Cider owners Matthew Vasilev and Katie Selbee are hands-on makers in this farm-based cider and may be the ones pouring your tasting glass when you visit.
Go to the spa
Poets Cove Resort & Spa offers relaxing massage and body treatments that are perfect, post hiking or kayaking. Their Susurrus Spa also has a eucalyptus steam cave which aids in relaxation and detoxification.
Pender Island Farmers’ Market
There’s a lively Farmer’s Market every Saturday in summer. Held outside the Community Hall, you’ll find stalls selling locally grown produce, flowers, freshly baked treats (including for dogs), crafts and works by local artisans.
Swim at Magic Lake
The southern end at Swimming Hole Park is best for dipping your toes in the warm waters of Magic Lake on North Pender. There’s a swimming platform and picnic site in the park.
Golf on Pender
Pender Island has a well-kept nine-hole golf course at the Pender Island Golf & Country Club that’s very popular with locals and visitors. Prefer to fling a frisbee? There’s a 27-hole disc golf course for you to play on.
Visit Art Galleries
Pick up a Pender Islands Art Guide to discover the creative talents of the many artists who make Pender their home. There are blue Artisan signs located along the roadways to mark spots to pull over and visit artists’ studios. Or pop into the Red Tree Gallery in Hope Bay, a cooperative featuring more than a dozen local artists’ work.
Pender doesn’t actually have a downtown, but it does have Driftwood Centre. Near the middle of the island, Driftwood has a variety services, restaurants, an ice cream parlor and shops for both residents and visitors to pick up supplies.
Where is Pender Island
Pender Island BC, or The Penders, are Southern Gulf Islands located in the Salish Sea, also known as the Gulf of Georgia. There are actually two islands – North and South Pender – which are connected by a small bridge.
Pender is an idyllic island. It teems with wildlife, natural beauty and coastal activities, and has protected land pockets that are part of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve; an ecological preserve of land pockets on 15 islands, including small islets and reef areas.
How to Get to Pender Island from Vancouver
Pender Island is accessible by the Southern Gulf Islands BC Ferries route from Tsawwassen. There are regularly scheduled runs 2-3 times daily, with stops at Galiano and Mayne Islands. The ferry takes about 2 ½ hours from the Lower Mainland, and it’s highly scenic as you sail between the islands.
How to Get to Pender Island from Victoria
You can get to Pender Island from Victoria via the BC Ferries route departing from Swartz Bay. There are hourly ferries to Otter Bay on Pender, some are non-stop while others also stop at Galiano, Saturna or Mayne Islands. The non-stop ferry takes about 40 minutes.
Once you’re on Pender, having a car on Pender Island is ideal for getting to some of the many beaches, hikes and attractions on the island.
Pender Island Weather
Pender Island enjoys a mild, sub-Mediterranean climate that can heat up quite pleasantly in summer. There’s always an ocean breeze to ensure it doesn’t get stiflingly hot, and it’s rarely humid. Like many of the Southern Gulf Islands, Pender is dry and receives little rainfall, even in winter.
Pender Island Accommodations
A variety of Pender Island hotels and resorts offer everything from swish modern camping in nature to luxe cottages and short-term rentals.
WOODS on Pender
An ideal home away from home on Pender Island, WOODS on Pender is a unique, modern camp experience offers retro chic in its variety of renovated and fully kitted out Airstreams, Retro Trailers, Rustic Cabins and a Lodge.
Located in a beautifully forested site on North Pender, WOODS has all the comforts of home, alongside hammocks, firepits, BBQs, private hot tubs and Muskoka chairs: everything you need to enjoy a natural escape in this bucolic wooded enclave.
The property is just minutes from the Otter Bay Ferry Terminal, and close to walking trails, beaches and just about everything that Pender has to offer.
WOODS has its Coffee + Kitchen restaurant, serving up freshly made coffee, pastries and delicious lunch and dinner items to take back to your Airstream or enjoy on the patio or lawn.
Find a short-term rental on Pender Island
Poets Cove Resort & Spa
With lodge rooms, cottages and villas to choose from, Poets Cove Resort offers a variety of luxury accommodation choices for romantic retreats or family vacations. The cottages and villas have full kitchens to prepare your own food, but if you prefer, the Resort also has several restaurants with great food and lovely sea views.
The Resort is home to Susurrus Spa, providing a variety of massage and body treatment services, as well as tennis and pickleball courts, a swimming pool and a marina in Bedwell Harbour.
Camping on Pender Island
Pender has several lovely campsites that are managed by Parks Canada as part of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. These include Shingle Bay, Prior Centennial Campground and Beaumont Marine Park Campsite. You can reserve campsites on Parks Canada’s site.
Where to Eat on Pender Island
Aurora Restaurant at Poet’s Cove – Pender’s fine dining restaurant, featuring a West Coast-inspired menu alongside great views
El Faro – At the Pender Island Golf & Country Club, serving up fresh and delicious bowls, salads, tacos, and Mexican-influenced fusion cuisine.
Jo’s Place – Serving a variety of burgers, wraps and other comfort foods.
Pender Chocolates – Decadent, artisanal hand-made chocolates and espresso drinks in Hope Bay.
Syrens Bistro & Lounge at Poet’s Cove – an upscale pub atmosphere serving comfort food and local produce for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Coffee + Kitchen at Woods on Pender – Serving up great coffee and freshly-baked pastries for breakfast; signature cocktails from the bar; and sublime farm-to-table West Coast cuisine for lunch and dinner, including pizzas, burgers, pastas and vegan dishes.
Southridge Country Store – Locally owned specialty grocery store with dry goods, a deli, and pre-made foods to go on North Pender.
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Photo credits: Claudia Laroye, Destination BC