Sending love from Victoria BC as I am currently writing from the Saanich area of this beautiful island city while on vacation.
The weather has been crisp and clear, blue-skied and sunny, and I am refreshed from walking, running, eating, writing, and sightseeing with family along the beautiful oceanside parks and waterfronts. I have been here about 15 times over the years (mostly fall, occasionally spring), as my family lives here and I come to visit from Ontario. I experience some continuity between feeling at home and yet still a visitor: I have the joy of coming back to a familiar place I love, and also seeing things through fresh eyes.
We wandered along the harbour yesterday, and by a choir singing on the Parliament Building lawn, colourful artisan displays down the stone steps along the water where V-i-c-t-o-r-i-a is spelled out in tiny pink flowers, white sailboats and yachts bobbing at the docks, a fresh breeze, huge bustle of people on Wharf and Government streets and in the foodie gatherings such as The Soda Shoppe, Dog Gone It (gourmet hot dogs) and Cafés/Bistros nearby, and a general morning-happy anticipatory chatter of line-ups waiting to head out on whale watching boat tours.
Since Victoria is such a popular place to visit, I have included here nine of my favourite places to visit. I would recommend these spots if you are visiting as a single person, couple, or with children. Each place title below has a clickable link, and I’ve written a few thoughts about why I love it, and why you might too.
Hope this helps you plan your next vacation, and bon voyage!
Want a delicious coffee while your spouse has a rootbeer float and your kids have gourmet hot dogs? This is the place to go, at 801 Government Street. Endearing and memorable, with a quaint soda shoppe counter on one side, and diner dogs on the other, you can get delicious drinks like grape or orange soda with vanilla ice cream, malted milkshakes, candy and more. My best memory is coming here in autumn with my niece and parents to have hot chocolate with whipcream, and enjoying the whirring of coffee and blender machines. On the hot dog side of the matter, menu choices like Canadian Huskey, Labrador Retriever, and Japanese Akita sound mouth watering, though, reconsidering for a moment, maybe you’d rather have the real dog than the food dog, if you are a dog lover like me?
Walking around Victoria Harbour is one of my favourite things to do. So many sailboats docked there, boats coming and going (for example the Victoria Harbour Ferry and Water Taxi), spectacular flowers arrangements, bright red peonies and tulips, and artisan displays of earrings, knitted clothing, paintings, and more. The Museum of Natural History and IMAX theatre are nearby (many Folkmanis puppets in the gift shop if you are a librarian looking for great story time props) and by the way, BC Puppets on Granville Island, Vancouver has the best collection. Whale watching tours (I got lucky once to see two pods of whales swimming and feasting on salmon at the same time), the Fairmont Empress Hotel (which actually sits on water), the Parliament buildings, delicious places to eat, all combined create hours and days of vacation relaxation.
I could see myself living on a house boat. However, I get motion sick easily, so maybe not the best idea. But the cheerfulness of yellow and blue clapboard houses bobbing beside their water-floating wood sidewalks and little window boxes of flowers is enough to make anyone want to settle down and make it home. Also, the seals in the water next to the french fries window, ice cream vendors, and shops reminds me a lot of San Fransisco’s popular Fisherman’s Wharf.
Thetis Lake hiking is spectacular. A long scenic trail circling Thetis Lake, with multiple lookout spots and views of the lake and rocks, and so many tiny off-shoot hillside paths to explore. This lake spot is wonderful for canoeing, refreshing swims, family picnics, dog walks, and also, exploring nature. With an amazing ecosystem, you will see many wildflowers, Douglas firs and Gary Oaks. Last year in hiking with my parents and 7 year old niece, we took about an hour to go around, and there were many easy-to-walk sections, places to rest, and a final bouquet of all my niece had gathered: leafy sticks, pine cones, and yellow and red wild flowers.
On the beautiful globe-maple-lined Government Street, where so many postcard, t-shirt, and touristy stores dot the sidewalks, a few blocks south of the Harbour, is Munro’s Bookstore, one of the places I visit every time I’m in Victoria. Originally owned by Nobel Prize winning Alice Munro’s then-husband from 1963 until recently, the store is both large and modern, and also antique and quaint: a door-bell-ringing, book-smelling, historic, bookstore-feel. Their section of Award winner books, Best Reads, children’s books, biographies, poetry, writers’ books, and history books, as well as local Victoria stories is delightful and comprehensive, and I left happily with some Annie Dillard, Mary Oliver and still longing after many other authors and poets and addictive red, blue and pink Moleskin journals.
Last night my family and I ate dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory for the third year in a row. Back by popular family vote. At a table for six, in the corner beside the windows and open doors to the patio, we had breezy fresh air, lots of bread with garlic butter, and then a huge choice of what we would eat. Discussions of clams, meat sauce, marinara, and types of cheese ensued. We ended up with delicious spaghetti with meatballs, spaghetti with spicy meat sauce, and for myself and my mom, the Browned Butter and Mizithra cheese (no tomato sauce)–a strong, salty, flavourful cheese that is unforgettable. I have yet to look for this cheese in Ontario, but when I do, you’ll want to come over for dinner.
Beacon Hill Park is downtown on the south shore of Victoria, at 100 Cook Street. A few years back, when my niece was around three years old, I remember her all dressed in red, chasing crowds of ducks along the pond, laughing and startled when they pecked food out of her hands, and petting docile goats at the Children’s Farm. The park is a little under 200 acres, with brightly coloured and manicured flower beds and footpaths, 150 species of roses, Gary Oak meadows, picnic areas, fountains, giant Sequoias waiting to be climbed, pink blossoming chestnut trees, weeping willows, cedars, gingkoes, flowering cherries, eucalyptus trees, and turquoise-green peacocks strutting freely around the gardens.
Walking along James Bay, we see so many runners, dog walkers, and cyclists. A beautiful walk to the pier takes you out to the lighthouse, which you can see red and blinking from the top of Mount Doug during a sunset evening. Cruise ships are often docked at shore, and a lone seal might be diving as you go by. The Breakwater Bistro/Café has a delicious menu for breakfast, coffee time treats or lunch, lovely outdoor patio for sitting by the water, and this week we ate delicious cheese herb biscuits and sausage rolls. I have not visited in the evenings, but I’ve heard they have poetry evenings, and other music events to be enjoyed by locals and tourists alike.
During last year’s visit in October, I was learning to run and this was my spot. With my running group in London, Ontario, I tried to keep up my training, and found the Gorge a stunning place to run. Paved walkways hugging The Gorge, with memorial benches, flowers draping edges of gardens, and tiny white fence posts lining the way, it is a walkers’ and runners’ dream.