BC and the Sunshine Coast

I’m spilling the beans on one of Canada’s best kept secrets, Gibsons, British Colombia. Gibsons or Gibsons Landing is only a short 40 minute ferry ride away from the city of Vancouver but it feels like a world away.

This quiet little fishing village is the beginning of Canada’s Sunshine Coast. Often referred to as the Gateway to the Sunshine Coast, Gibsons is the first town you come to after the Langdale ferry terminal, where the BC ferry drops off cars and passengers.

Gibsons Landing Sign 1

The town of Gibsons is nestled on a sloping coastline along the Howe Sound, a network of fjords between Vancouver and Vancouver Island.

Although the Sunshine Coast is part of Canada’s lower mainland and isn’t an island, it is only accessible by boat or plane. If you’re wondering why you can’t drive to the Sunshine Coast of Canada, it’s because of the rugged mountain terrain. No access roads have been built on or around the Howe Sound that separates this coastline from the rest of Canada because rocky inclines and deep water create logistical challenges.

Since the water in the Howe Sound is usually calm, people mostly use boats or the BC ferry to get here. There is nothing but mountains and 2 provincial parks between the Sunshine Coast and the Sea to Sky Highway that connects Whistler to Vancouver. So geographically speaking, the Sunshine Coast is literally hidden from the rest of Canada.

Canada always ranks high on the British based Rough Guide’s “Most Beautiful Country in the World.” And Gibsons has additional awards to brag about. It is a popular tourist destination, but is also a great place to stick around and live.  It has was named the “Most Liveable Community in the World” for under 20,000 population by International Awards for Liveable Communities. (This award is endorsed by the UN.) And Gibsons also won the Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting Contest, for having the best-tasting water in the world in 2005. So normally I travel to places and warn travelers not to drink the water, but not in Gibsons. Drink it up!

Gibsons is most famous for being the filming location for a Canadian TV comedy called The BeachCombers. The show ran from 1972 until 1990 and was the CBC’s longest running Canadian drama. The filming location for the fictional cafe in the TV show was once a hardware store and now is a restaurant called Molly’s Reach, which sits near the pier in the middle of lower Gibsons.

Canada Day George Gibsons

If you’re wondering who decided it was a good idea to travel to this hard to reach corner of the world, it was man named George Gibsons. The town is named after the first white settler to the area. George Gibsons was an ex-British Naval officer. He built his homestead in 1886 and invited people to come enjoy the Howe Sound and live near him. Prior to George Gibsons, the Sḵwxwú7mesh or the Squamish Nation lived in a nearby village called Chekwelp. The town of Gibsons is still a very welcoming place encouraging visitors to come see the gorgeous landscape.

Built on a steep coastal hillside location, Gibsons has an Upper Gibsons at the top of the hill and a Lower Gibsons, down by the water. Upper Gibsons is more of a traditional town with grocery stores, and normal day to day businesses, while Lower Gibsons is the idillic walkable fishing village. Built on a slope, Lower Gibsons is stadium seating for the show that is the beautiful Howe Sound.

Lower Gibsons 2

WHERE TO EAT

While only a town of less than 5,000, Gibsons has captured the eye of travel foodies by offering a selection of noteworthy restaurants and breweries.

I highly recommend you start your day with craft coffee in a cone from Beachcomber coffee. If you’re wondering how the coffee doesn’t leak out the bottom, it involves a generous portion of chocolate fondant at the bottom. Beachcomber also frequently carries the legendary Deadly Donuts, which are super sweet treats that are creative both with their flavors and ingredients. Donuts like vegan lavender earl grey, gluten free mint brownie donuts or a vegan churro donut.

Cone of Coffee
Cone of coffee from Beachcombers coffee

 

While in Gibsons, grab a delicious sweet or savory crepe from Clever Crepe a crepe shed on the main street. The friendly duo that runs this restaurant have masterfully created a small menu of crepes packed with fresh ingredients. While they stick to the classic crepe options, they offer a daily crepe special to show off their creative culinary side.

There is a great bakery in Lower Gibsons, right on the Main Street near the Clever Crepe called Sandy’s Bake Shoppe. It’s not a sit down place, just a small shop with a counter and delicious pastries.

Smoke on the Water BBQ is literally BBQ served over the water on the dock. A very casual restaurant with only a couple of tables. It’s an order at the window kind of place, but they have delicious BBQ that is locally sourced meats smoked with real hardwood.

Persephone Brewing Company – More on this award winning beer farm below. But for eats, you can grab a pizza at the Farm to Feast food truck on property while you meander through hop vines and coastal Douglas fir forest or sit at outside tables. Gibsons Trivia: Persephone was the name of the tugboat in The Beachcombers TV show that was filmed here.

 

DSC08135 Cinnamon in bottle

Lunitas Mexican Eatery – This colorful and casual water view restaurant is a must. Innovative Mexican dishes served in a happy restaurant. And the location is like getting box seats for the harbour view. They pay attention to the little details, like serving water with cinnamon or herbs in it. (Lunitas is my favorite restaurant in Gibsons.)

Drift Cafe and Bistro – With a great view of the harbor and right on the main road, this restaurant is a solid choice for lunch.

Buono Osteria – Excellent restaurant to grab a hearty Italian dinner.

Blackfish Pub – Definitely worth the stop if you’re looking for a pub in Upper Gibsons.

Smitty’s Oyster House – Right on the waterfront, this is a great local haunt for oysters and fresh seafood.

Molly’s Reach – Molly’s Reach is an institution. While the food is just your average pub food, it has the historical noteworthiness of being the filming location for The Beachcombers and a view of the pier and water. It is a great stop if dining with children.

After dinner, you can walk to Mike’s Place on the Main Street for ice-cream.

And for adults, Gibsons is known for craft beer. With multiple award-winning craft breweries, Gibsons has the most breweries per capita than any other city in British Columbia.  At Tapworks Brewing Company you can soak up the amazing view while you grab a growler or try the new Wildberry Kettle Sour.  The 101 Brewhouse + Distillery offers Shingleroof Hefeweizen which won first place at the BC Beer Awards.  And Persephone Brewing is a beer barn serving amazing farm to counter beer. Right next to the barn you can walk past where they grow the hops to make their selection of beers that have raked in multiple awards from the BC Beer Awards to the Vancouver International Craft Beer Awards to Canadian Brewing Awards.

WHAT TO DO

Soames Hill Park or “the knob” has a great kid-friendly hike to get a fabulous view of the Howe Sound.

Check out the Walking Tour of Gibsons Landing with a local history buff.

From the main pier in downtown Lower Gibsons, you can walk along the beach to Armours Beach which has a small park and swimming area. Georgia Beach is also a local beach to see the rocky coastline.

Armours Beach sign

Rent a scooter or bike from Scotty’s rentals to scoot around Gibsons.

If you have a bike, Sprockids Bike Park in Langdale is a great place to mountain bike. Even though it has kids in the name, it’s not just for children. And Roberts Creek Trail is a substantial trail network available for more advanced mountain bikers with 3 double-black, 13 black, 74 blue and 24 green trails.

Nicholas Sonntag Marine Education Center (NSMEC) is inside the Gibsons Public Market. This community aquarium is in a perfect location in Gibsons Landing, it is only a few yards away from the Gibsons marina and the waters of the Howe Sound or Atl’kitsem. This aquarium is one of three in Canada that operate under the collect-hold-release system, where the aquatic life is released back into nature. Inquire about release days if you plan a visit.

Stroll through Gibsons Public Market right next to Gibsons Marina to get a sense of the community, and a variety of fresh artisan foods. They have everything from a butcher to ice-cream to artesianal cheeses to fresh breads at Crazy Reds Breads. They also offer events and classes in this location, like yoga, cooking classes and night markets.

Sunshine Kayaking offers Kayaking and paddleboard rentals and boat tours – Easy flat water makes Gibsons and this area of Howe Sound great for paddle boarding and kayaking. (Note: This location will not rent to you if you plan to go out alone, not even if you have been paddleboarding for years, own your own paddle board and have competed in multiple SUP races. They will only rent 2 or more kayaks/paddleboards. So I only recommend them if you are planning to go out with a group, otherwise, bring your own SUP board to Gibsons.)

And stop by the Gibsons Visitor’s Center right next to the George Gibsons statue. They are helpful and informative with tourist information not just on the Sunshine Coast, but all of British Columbia.

GIBSONS WITH KIDS

In addition to all of the above being kid-friendly activities in Gibsons, Dougall Park has a small playground and is a great place to let kids run around.

There is a great day Camp, YMCA Camp Elphinstone not far from the ferry terminal in Langdale. I recommend this day camp. They have buses that can pick up your children every morning right by the Dougall Park and take them to camp and return them back to Dougall Park every afternoon.

Persephone Brewing Company has a lot of outdoor space for kids to run around.

BEST PLACES FOR WIFI

Not all fun and game while visiting the Sunshine Coast? Digital nomads can find a space to call home here, too. If you have to work while in Gibsons, here are the best places with wifi to hang out with your laptop during the day – Gibsons Public Market, Driftwood Cafe, and Beachcombers Coffee. Note: Beachcombers coffee can get very busy during the mornings in the summertime.

WHERE TO STAY

If you want to stay in Lower Gibsons (which I recommend), your only options are Bed and Breakfasts and Airbnbs. I highly recommend this brand new modern coastal Airbnb which has a 1 bed studio and 2 bed Airbnb options on the property. It has amazing views of the water from here and is walkable to almost everything listed above and the hosts are very friendly.

If you can’t find a place to stay in Lower Gibsons, there are hotels nearby like Bonniebrook Lodge. If you book a hotel, make sure it is actually on the Sunshine Coast. Some booking sites will pull up hotels all the way in Vancouver because it’s a mere 10.5 nautical miles away.

BC ferries at Horseshoe Bay CROPPED

HOW TO GET TO GIBSONS, BC

The closest international airport is Vancouver, British Colombia (YVR). From Vancouver, you can drive to Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal in West Vancouver and catch the BC ferry to Langdale. After you get off the ferry at Langdale, Gibsons is a short 10 minute drive. No matter where you are staying on the Sunshine Coast, this is the ferry you have to take to get there if you are coming from Vancouver.

The ferry allows cars. It’s best to schedule your BC ferry ahead of time on their website, as the space for cars fills up during rush hours and busy seasons. The BC Ferries are the nicest public ferries I have ever been on and the short ride is beautiful, especially on a clear day.

There is no where to rent a car near Gibsons, so you’ll need to take a car with you on the ferry if you want to have one while on the Sunshine Coast.

Taxi in Gibsons, BC

There is currently only 1 cab in Gibsons or at the Langdale Ferry terminal. There are listings for 2 cab phone numbers on a sign at the ferry terminal parking lot when you get off at Langdale, however one of them is further up the Sunshine Coast and doesn’t normally come all the way to Gibsons. And as of 2019, there are no Uber or Lyft drivers in Gibsons.

Sign at Ferry for CAB

Transportation on the Sunshine Coast

There are BC Transit buses on the Sunshine Coast that are available, and the Sunshine Coast Connector is a shuttle/bus service that transports people up and down the Sunshine Coast. Also Harbor Air Seaplanes offers a Sunshine Shuttle service for the Sunshine Coast area.

Although Lower Gibsons is an easy walkable area, I recommend taking a car with you to see the whole Sunshine Coast and without having to wait around for the only cab in town. Maybe even meander up the coastline to Sechelt, Smuggler Cove Marine Provincial Park or Powell River.

Actually, if you really want to explore coastal BC and have the time, you might want to do the coastal circle drive where you can travel up the Sunshine Coast all the way to Powell River (Powtown), and catch the BC Ferry to Comox, then drive down to Nanaimo, and maybe even stop along the way to walk the boardwalk at Qualicum Beach near Parksville, BC.

If you want to get out of the loop, you can hang a right at Nanaimo to drive west 3 hours to Tofino, which is amazing, the best surfing in Canada. Yes, that’s a thing, Canadian surfing. Don’t drive from Nanaimo to Tofino at night because it’s curvy mountain roads, but more importantly, you’ll miss the absolutely stunning landscape and old growth forests. To get back to the mainland, you don’t have to go all the way back to the Sunshine Coast, just drive back to Nanaimo and catch the BC ferry to Horseshoe Bay to get back to West Vancouver (West Van). Or if you need to get near the Vancouver airport from Nanaimo, you can take the Tsawwassen ferry, which is south of Vancouver.

Or maybe you want to keep exploring BC and head north to visit Whistler. OR, if you don’t want the fun to end on Vancouver island, from Nanaimo you can drive down to Victoria, BC, then catch a 3 hour ferry to Seattle…. Of course then you’ll also want to hit Portland, then Hood River, then Bend, Oregon, then make your way down the California Coast…

 

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SOMETHING MISSING?

If you feel like there’s something amazing in Gibsons that travelers need to know about that was missed, please add it the comments below and I will check it out next time I am in British Columbia. Thanks so much for reading!

 

 

 

 

 

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