From seafood and craft beer to bookstores and historic mansions, Victoria, B.C. has all the elements for a refreshing Vancouver Island getaway.
Overlooking Victoria’s Inner Harbour, the upscale Inn at Laurel Point recently transformed its spacious lobby and Aura restaurant, completing plans by legendary architect Arthur Erickson that date back more than 30 years. At this environmentally conscious, 200-room hotel, executive chef Ken Nakano incorporates organic ingredients from the on-site garden into dishes such as squash soup and deep-fried sushi.
For motorhome owners, the nicely maintained Salish Seaside RV Haven offers West Bay harbour views, with 36 pads with full hookups, plus propane fire pits and bike rentals.
From either property, it’s a leisurely trek along the waterfront Songhees Walkway to Spinnakers. Founded in 1984, the homey spot was Canada’s first brewpub. Sip classic beers like Blue Bridge Double Pale Ale and Departure Pilsner alongside the likes of Nut Brown Ale-braised beef ribs and house-smoked salmon pizza. And don’t miss the beer pairings with handmade chocolate truffles.
Not far from the green-domed Parliament Buildings, Nourish Kitchen & Café serves vegetarian fare like smoked carrot lox and cashew cheesecake in an 1888-built heritage home.
Inspiration abounds at the Inner Harbour, and that goes beyond the grand facade of the Francis Rattenbury-designed Fairmont Empress Hotel. Next to the Royal British Columbia Museum, marvel at the awe-inspiring First Nations poles and traditional big house, created by Kwakwaka’wakw chief Mungo Martin and Haida and Gitxsan artists.
The Bateman Gallery, housed in the venerable CPR Steamship Terminal, showcases Robert Bateman’s award-winning nature paintings. For more active pursuits, Eagle Wing Tours and Prince of Whales launch their eco-friendly boat adventures nearby, with Pacific Ocean sightings including orcas, sea lions and cormorants.
A hearty brunch is the perfect kick-off for a full day in charming Victoria, B.C., whose metro population is nearly 400,000. Head to the funky Blue Fox Café on Fort Street, which marks its 30th anniversary in 2021.Fuel up on a gargantuan Spanish Flying Omelette with spicy pork chorizo, chased by a mango peach mimosa or caramel macadamia nut latte.
For a change of scenery and fresh air, drive 30 minutes west to Hatley Park. The National Historic Site in Colwood is home to Hatley Castle. Fans of superhero TV shows and movies will recognize the early-1900s Tudor Revival-style mansion from the Smallville, X-Men and Deadpool series. Enjoy a self-guided tour of the formal Italian, Japanese and Rose Gardens. Now the site of Royal Roads University, the 229-hectare estate faces the Esquimalt Lagoon Migratory Bird Sanctuary, where you can spot great blue herons and red-breasted mergansers.
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Take another 20-minute drive to Goldstream Provincial Park, one of B.C.’s best places to watch the salmon run. Between October and December, some 30,000 salmon (mostly chum, along with coho and chinook) return to this river to spawn, which creates a feeding frenzy for bald eagles. You can take it all in from a viewing platform or riverside trail. Year-round, hike through the park’s towering Douglas firs to view Niagara Falls—standing 47.5 metres, it’s almost as high as its world-famous Ontario namesake—or climb to Mount Finlayson’s 419-metre summit to gaze over the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Back downtown, there are plenty of ways to warm up. Grab a coffee at the 1956-founded Dutch Bakery, where beloved pastries include the Dollar Roll (marzipan-wrapped sponge cake and buttercream) and the Parliament (mocha, nougat, and shortbread, encircled by chocolate). Shop for organic tea and natural skincare products at Silk Road Tea. It’s next to the Gate of Harmonious Interest, which welcomes visitors to Canada’s oldest Chinatown.
For a relaxing dinner, check out the brick-walled comforts of Ferris’ Oyster Bar, which serves everything from fresh-shucked local oysters and clam linguine to crab mac and cheese and duck confit.
Victoria, B.C. is a book lover’s paradise, and Munro’s Books is a Government Street landmark. The award-winning shop was launched in 1963 by future Nobel Prize-winning author Alice Munro (The Lives of Girls and Women) and her husband Jim, but is now staff-owned. The curated selection of books is as beautiful as the neo-classical, 1910-built bank building it occupies. Just three blocks away on Fort Street, Russell Books opened a stunning two-floor location in 2019, with new, used and antiquarian titles.
With your literary appetite satisfied, satiate more physical cravings at Wharf Street’s Red Fish Blue Fish. The outdoor harbourside joint serves seafood lunches of tempura-battered B.C. halibut with coleslaw and chips or albacore tuna tacos with spicy spot prawn mayo.
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Or visit Market Square’s The Drake Eatery to feast on rotisserie chicken or a cheese board with aged English cheddar and herbed goat cheese. The rotating tap list features more than 20 craft beers from B.C., California and Oregon.
In Victoria, shopaholics flock to the independent stores and boutiques around lower Johnson Street, scoring funky clothes at Flavour and children’s toys at Kaboodles. Yet as you prepare to head home, what you’ll treasure most are your refreshing memories from this city of gardens and ocean breezes.
BLAZING NEW PATHS AROUND VICTORIA
By boat, bike, car or foot, here are four new ways to explore the island
• For a bird’s-eye panorama of the Gulf Islands and Mount Baker, follow an accessible spiral ramp to the top of the 32-metre-tall Malahat Skywalk. The attraction, which opened earlier this year, lies about 30 km northwest of Victoria, B.C.
• The 2.5-km, multi-use oceanfront path on Dallas Road—popular with joggers, rollerbladers and cyclists alike—marks its first anniversary in 2021. Check out kite-fliers and windsurfers near Clover Point, and enjoy a meal at the Breakwater Café + Bistro after strolling along Ogden Point Breakwater.
• Coming in 2022, Vancouver Island Expeditions debuts its guided Best of Vancouver Island Wine tour. It’s an opportunity to sip and savour the region’s history, from the growth of Duncan-area wineries in the 1980s to the recent emergence of Blattner hybrid grapes.
• Also in 2022, the Songhees Indigenous Marine Trail brings First Nations history to life with a 12-passenger boat tour along Victoria’s coastline. Learn about traditional trading practices, villages and burial sites in Lekwungen territory.
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