Friends from London who now live on the west coast of the U.S. travel to Victoria B.C. to get a little taste of home. It's true you'll find tea, pubs and British weather there, but Victoria has a personality all of its own.
It's a short and beautiful, but often choppy ride from Seattle to Victoria through the San Juan Islands and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, on the Victoria Clipper, a passenger-only ferry offering multiple trips per day. We happen to travel on a hot, sunny weekend and the voyage was half the fun. In less than three hours we traveled from downtown Seattle to the dock in Victoria, British Columbia within walking distance of the popular Inner Harbour, home to many historic sites.
What to Do
Afternoon Tea at the Fairmont Empress
The most notable hotel in Victoria is the Fairmont Empress, established in 1908 and host to many rich and famous guests over the century. Even if you don't stay here, a visit for the famous tea is a must. Afternoon Tea includes not only a selection of teas, available with milk and sugar of course, but such an array of food that most everyone ends up taking some of the treats away for later. Included are sandwiches, scones and a selection of desserts. Afternoon Tea is a time-honored tradition here and in this lovely, formal setting everyone is dressed to the nines for a taste of British culture.
There is a reason Victoria is known as "The Garden City". About 45 minutes away from Victoria in Brentwood Bay is a National Historic Site of Canada, Butchart Gardens. With over 50 acres of immaculately tended trees, plants and flowers, this is a place that has to be seen to be appreciated. Some of the sites not to miss are the Rose Garden with dozens of varieties of roses from around the world, the Japanese garden, and the Sunken Garden built in what was previously a quarry. There is something to see and do in every season, including a fantastic fireworks show in the summer, live concerts and various restaurants from casual fast food to formal dining and even picnic basket options to enjoy in the gardens.
Ogden Point Breakwater Walk
A unique walk, away from the crowded tourist center of town, is the Ogden Point Breakwater extending 1000 meters into the harbor. From about 25 feet above the water's surface you'll see divers (there is a dive center on site), ferries and ships coming into harbor as well as sea life. On a sunny Sunday, we walked the breakwater all the way to the lighthouse at the end and saw countless jellyfish and giant starfish in the clear water. A great morning exercise, so enjoyable it almost got me to go run it the next day. Almost.
British Columbia Parliament Buildings
If you spend any time at all near the harbor, you won't miss the parliament buildings. In the late 1800s, a young British architect won the bid for the design of the buildings and subsequently many other important commissions in Victoria. The huge grounds in front of the building offer a place to relax or play on a sunny day, but the building itself is stunning at night when hundreds of lights are illuminated, outlining the building against the dark sky.
Where to Shop
Victoria is full of unique, local shops with a special emphasis on sustainable and organic products. Here are just a few of many places to check out around town...
She She Shoes, 616 Trounce Alley, (250) 383-1883, www.sheshevictoria.com
She She Bags, 616 View Street, (250) 388-0613, www.sheshevictoria.com
Conveniently located across the street from each other.
Hip Baby, 560 Johnson Street, (250) 385-8020, www.hipbaby.com
Kids and baby clothes, toys and gifts.
Outlooks Menswear, 534 Yates Street, (250) 384-2848, www.outlooksformen.ca
Contemporary men's clothing and shoes.
Where to Eat
Two locations: Chinatown, 552 Pandora Avenue, (250) 294-1127
Atrium, 808 Yates Street, (250) 590-5953, http://habitcoffee.com/
Of course, the day has to start with coffee, so the search was on for the best espresso in town. After many tries, we landed on Habit Coffee. Great coffee, cool vibe. And we love their seed to cup approach (they care about every step in the process) to making the best coffee possible.
Red Fish Blue Fish
1006 Wharf Street on the pier, (250) 298-6877, http://www.redfish-bluefish.com/
Fish and chips, Fish "Tacones", chowders and sandwiches all made with sustainable seafood. Not only is the food great, but they run the place out of an old shipping container and practice a reuse/recycle system. What's not to love?
554 Pandora Ave, (250) 385-6653, www.molerestaurant.ca
Open for breakfast and lunch, this is the place for a late breakfast with lots of lunch options as well. The small restaurant focuses on using local ingredients and has quickly become a neighborhood favorite.
Where to Stay
500 Oswego Street, (250) 294-7500, www.oswegovictoria.com
Being only three blocks from the Victoria Clipper dock and a 15 minute walk to the inner harbor of Victoria, this boutique hotel couldn't be more convenient. Plus, all the rooms include modern kitchens, french press coffee and free wi-fi. The staff is helpful and friendly and the amenities like free newspapers, fruit and refreshments waiting for you when you check in are just a few of the details that make this an excellent option.
The Fairmont Empress
721 Government Street, Victoria B.C., (253) 384-8111, firstname.lastname@example.org
A beautiful, historic hotel, centrally located with a Willow Stream Spa and top amenities. A lovely place to stay for a special getaway.
Check out the Going Local Blog from Tourism Victoria for the latest happenings in Victoria before you go.
Clipper Vacations Blog offers some great suggestions when visiting Victoria.
The Times Colonist Newspaper has more details about Ogden Point and Inner Harbor points of interest as well as seven other great walks in Victoria.
The Seattle Times offers a laundry list of options for traveling from Seattle to Victoria B.C.