Ask somebody if they know of the Gulf Islands, and chances are they don't. Nestled in Canada's southwest corner, below the 49th parallel, this exquisite archipelago is the unsung vacation hero of Canada (and maybe even North America!). It is, hands down, my favorite place to spend a summer. And I don't say that lightly: having lived, worked and traveled in 15 countries on 4 continents, this place still takes the cake. Perhaps it's because I came here as a child, spending endless hours building sand castles to the sound of eagle calls and running with wild deer through the islands' untouched coastal forests. You never forget things like that.