The beauty of British Columbia’s 200 Gulf Islands, located in the Salish Sea between Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland, is unparalleled. But with so much to choose from, it can be tough to decide on where to spend your island time. Our pick is friendly and laid-back Pender Island. It’s 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, our guide to 25 surprising things to do on Pender Island will have you relaxing, island-style, in no time.
25 things to do on Pender Island
One of the most beautiful and idyllic Southern Gulf Islands in British Columbia is Pender Island. But there are actually two islands linked by a small bridge that are referred to simply as Pender, or The Penders.
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.
Get on the water
Pender Island is surrounded by the Salish Sea, so enjoying aquatic activities is almost a necessity. And there’s no shortage or ways to do that. Rent a kayak, canoe or go stand up paddleboarding to enjoy the water and search for wildlife.
Go on a guided sea kayaking tour
Go on a guided sea kayaking tour with Dog Mermaid. Kayaks launch from the museum side of Otter Bay on North Pender. The company has a mobile service so daily tours and rentals can change location.
Enjoy a scenic paddle through secluded coves and around rocks covered in playful seals. Tours can include 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.
Lookout for wildlife
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 there’s a great chance that you’ll see deer and rabbits.
Explore 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.
Go for a hike on Pender Island
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 or Mount Menzies, popular for their amazing views.
Enjoy a stroll in Brooks Point Regional Park. Follow the trails through the woodlands and grasslands to the rocky bluffs of Gowlland Point. Here, you can enjoy spectacular views of the sea, wildlife, the San Juan Islands and Mount Baker.
Taste local wine at Sea Star
Pender is home to an award-winning winery, Sea Star Vineyards. Enjoy a visit to their tasting room to sip some vintages, or take my advice and purchase a box of Blanc de Noir rosé to take home. Sea Star wines are very hard to find off island, so take advantage of your visit and purchase some while you’re there.
Sip local cider at Twin Islands Cider
Twin Islands 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.
Find a short-term rental on Pender Island
Visit Gulf Islands National Park Reserve
Parks Canada maintains the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, a special place that is rich in nature and culture. There’s lot to do in the reserve, including boating, kayaking, camping, picnicking and hiking or simply enjoying the many sheltered beaches.
You’ll find frontcountry, backcountry, group camping, and overnight boat camping in the Reserve. Note that some camping reservations may be necessary.
It easy to be a birder on Pender. It’s on the Pacific Flyway and home to bird-friendly habitats of lakes, wetlands and estuaries. And miles of oceanfront. Keep on the lookout for popular birds like eagles, ospreys and owls.
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 to detoxify the body.
Visit 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.
Enjoy a picnic
Pack a picnic or get some goodies to go from WOODS on Pender’s Coffee + Kitchen. Then enjoy your lunch lakeside at Magic Lake or on one of the Island’s secluded beaches.
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. This is where locals and visitors get supplies.
Find a short-term rental on Pender Island
Buy some Pender Island Chocolates
You can’t – or shouldn’t – go to Pender without leaving with a ribbon-tied, light blue box of Pender Chocolates. They’re located on south Pender Island in tiny Bedwell Harbour, and offer a sweet assortment of decadent, filled chocolates.
Camp 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.
Visit another Gulf Island
Not that we want to take you away from the splendors of Pender! But each Gulf Island is different in their own way. Take a day trip to nearby Saturna Island or Mayne Island and explore their unique attractions.
Check out the Pender Island Museum
Located in a 1908 farm-resort homestead, the Pender Islands Museum tells local stories connecting past and present. The Museum is home to a collection of local artifacts and archives, and surrounded by the beautiful Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. Open weekends and holiday Mondays from Easter to Thanksgiving.
Take a scenic drive
Pender is pretty compact. A scenic drive between the two islands shows off its ocean views, hilly countryside and secret coves. Stop for photos at its scenic viewpoints.
Attend the Mosaic Arts & Culture Festival
The Mosaic Arts & Culture Festival is a lively summer celebration of art, music and culture that celebrates Pender’s community. It takes place in Hope Bay, and includes live music performances, youth performers, and lots of arts and nature-based activities and fun for the whole family. It takes places August 4-6, 2023.
Get more artsy
Visit the variety of art galleries on Pender, including the Blood Star and Renaissance Studio Galleries.
Go fishing with Fishes Wish
Take a fishing trip with Captain Robert Reinhardt on the Salish Sea on his custom charter boat, the Green Fish. You’ll spend a fabulous day on the water, fishing for salmon, halibut, or cod, plus opportunities for crabbing and prawning.
Support local at Island Grl Collective
The Gulf Islands are filled with artistic and creative people. Shop local at Island Grl Collective, where you’ll find clothing, accessories, and self care products for women, girls, and islnd gys too. Their collection is 85% Canadian and 100% quaint shopping experience.
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. The islands are connected by a small bridge.
The Penders are idyllic islands. They teem with wildlife, natural beauty and coastal activities. There are 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
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. Enjoy the highly scenic trip, it sets up a perfect Pender weekend. 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.
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.
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.
Where to stay on 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. Offering 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. Think hammocks, firepits, BBQs, private hot tubs and Muskoka chairs. There’s everything you need to enjoy a natural escape in this bucolic wooded enclave.
The property is just minutes from the Otter Bay Ferry Terminal. It’s close to walking trails, beaches and just about everything that Pender has to offer.
WOODS has its own 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.
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.
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
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 – 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 bar cocktails. 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. Dry goods, a deli, and pre-made foods to go on North Pender.
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Photo credits: Claudia Laroye, Destination BC