The best thing about Bowen Island is that it is incredibly close to Vancouver, but it is nothing like Vancouver.
An easy 20-minute ferry from Horseshoe Bay pops visitors out on this small Howe Sound island municipality, instantly resulting in a decelerated pace from the hustle of the big city. Here, life is quintessentially West Coast island: laid back, tight knit, and friendly.
Those visiting Bowen will find lots to discover right on the Snug Cove strip beginning at the ferry docks, including local institution The Snug cafe. Grab an Americano and a crunchy chocolate chip cookie and wander along, checking out the community of people hanging out on patios or walking their dogs. When ready for something a little more substantial, one of the noted restaurants on the island is Rustique, a French-inspired bistro with Pacific Rim influences that has a great outdoor space complete with small garden and even a vintage Volkswagen Beetle. Order a glass of chilled white wine and perhaps a Niçoise salad with albacore tuna: hearty, fresh, and generously portioned.
Perhaps then it’s time to check into accommodations, if one wishes to spend the night (really, the best way to get the full experience). There are a slew of accessible vacation rentals, such as the Lazy B Waterfront Suite: a studio space with charmingly retro raised bed covered in sea foam greens and blues. There is a wood-burning stove, and a selection of movies on VHS (this is an island, after all). The real showstopper here is the view, which is full-on ocean: enjoy it from every window, or the large deck. A short walk down the path is an essentially private dock that rocks with the waves and is the perfect place to sit and simply watch the world go by. There are hikes aplenty too, of course, and pretty much any edge of the island has shockingly beautiful vistas. Even a few steps from the side of the road can make visitors feel as if they are in the deep wilderness, picking salmonberries fresh from the bush.
In terms of dinner, one option back in Snug Cove is Barcelona Tapas & Wine Bar. Covered in warm woods, the rustic room is as warming as the food. Order plates to share, of course, including the flavourful Merguez con Garbanzos: spiced lamb sausage made in-house, served with smashed chickpeas and harissa. Or there is Doc Morgan’s Pub & Restaurant, with a fabulous patio overlooking perfectly manicured lawns. Unpretentious and unassuming, this place is good for a light snack (if one doesn’t care about calories, that is). The Mexicali Dip with refried beans, jalapenos, guacamole, salsa, cheddar, and sour cream, and served alongside tortilla chips, is as comforting as it sounds.
Before heading home the next day, park in the ferry lineup and then wander over to Branch 01 and Branch & Butter. The two neighbouring concept spaces, created by the husband and wife team behind the furniture studio Gamla, offer something unique to Bowen. At Branch 01, home wares and artisanal goods are delicately displayed—everything from East Van Jam to Lindsey Hampton ceramics. Next door at Branch & Butter, indulge in genius, simple, and delicious toasts. Using Birds and the Beets bread, Branch & Butter offers an array of topping combinations, both savoury and sweet. Save room for a scoop of Earnest Ice Cream, also sold here. Sure, these two offerings are undeniably Vancouver-influenced, but they show the next generation of Bowen: a young, growing creative community.
Time slows on this island. It’s the soft wind rustling the trees, the pleasant nods from the locals. For a day trip or a long weekend, Bowen is the not-so-secret getaway that is easily accessible from Vancouver but still feels worlds apart—literally and figuratively.