Victoria, BC

June 23, 2015

A few weeks ago, we went to Victoria to celebrate the wedding of two great friends. In addition to the cheers and festivities, we enjoyed a few meals in some of our favourite restaurants, in between which we wandered around downtown, building up our appetite again. It's hard for me to find the words to express how much I love this place. I feel a peaceful joy being back, which happens only too rarely. I lived in Victoria for over 6 years, and loved life there. I met amazing friends, loved my job and all the opportunities that it brought me, and truly discovered a love for the outdoors. Sure the first few months were hard, when my poor brain was struggling to keep up in my second language, which was far from mastered, and trying to keep up with a demanding job, right after graduation. But slowly, over time, I became more comfortable, more confident, and started to feel like myself again, instead of this slow, idiot person unable to express herself. Coming from the east coast and straight out of grad school, I really learned to relax and enjoy life in the PNW. I found balance, became more active, and created amazing memories. Here is a glimpse of this city I cherish, a few ideas for a weekend or week long getaway.


How to get there

You have plenty of options to get to Victoria. From Vancouver, you can take the Tsawwassen-Swartz Bay ferry or Harbour Air's seaplane. From Washington, you have the Kenmore Air seaplanes from South Lake Union in Seattle, the Seattle Clipper for foot passengers, the Black Ball Ferry (a.k.a. the Coho) from Port Angeles, or the Anacortes-Sidney ferry, the latter two accommodating foot and car passengers. If I could, I'd hop on the seaplane every time, because it is so fast, and the views over the strait are stunning. A more affordable option though, which allows us to bring Noodle to visit his Canadian cousins, is to drive to Port Angeles, and hop on the Coho. If you're lucky, you might spot a whale or two during the crossing. The added advantage of the Coho, Clipper or seaplanes is that you arrive right in the downtown harbour, saving you the 30min drive from Sydney/Swartz Bay. Finally, if you are coming from further away, the Victoria International Airport is another option. 


Where to stay

There are a lot of hotels downtown Victoria, and you'll easily be able to get around by foot from pretty much any of them. We typically stay with friends, wanting as much time to catch up as possible, but this last trip, we decided to splurge. We stayed at the Inn at Laurel Point, a hard to beat location, although their more basic rooms definitely are due for an upgrade. The Oswego Hotel is another great option nearby, which my parents quite enjoyed a few years back. Amazingly, street parking is free in that area between 5pm Friday until 8am Monday, so if you don't mind walking a little, save the hotel parking fee and spend it on some delicious food. If you like the comfort and consistency of the big chains, another option is the Delta, right across the water, a great excuse to hop on the adorable water taxi.



Where to eat

There are a lot of great restaurants in Victoria, many that I haven't tried or that are slipping my mind right now, but here is a short list of a few favourites. One amazing thing for a city that size is the number of delicious brunch places. And shockingly, they are always packed. So, while you're there, embrace the local's way, and start off your day with a brunch.

Brunch

There are so many amazing brunch options in Victoria and not enough mornings in a long weekend to try them all. Jam Cafe is a newer locals' favourite, and can be hard to get into unless you show up early and are willing to wait in line a bit. If you do, trust me, it'll be well worth your while. We tried The Clay Pigeon for the first time, and would definitely go back, for the breakfast sandwich on a sesame bun and the daily fresh apple fritters. Other fav places are Rebar, Blue Fox Cafe, Shine Cafe, and I've heard great things about a new place, The Ruby.


Lunch

Rain or shine, a must is Red Fish Blue Fish, for the most amazing fish and chips and chowder. Expect a line, and expect the food to surpass your expectations of this little but well-organized stand by the water. If you venture out of downtown, I have a deep love for the BBQ salmon rolls from Fujiya, up towards the University. It's more of a take-out location, although there are a few tables outside and a bar with stools inside. Alternatively, drive up to Mount Tolmie or Mount Douglas, and enjoy lunch with a view. I lived just a few blocks from there when I first moved to Victoria, and would be looking forward to my weekly sushi meal.


Dinner

If you want to fancy it up and splurge, try Aura, at the Inn at Laurel Point. Since our intimate wedding dinner there a few years ago, they have hired a new chef, and although the menu description wasn't as inspiring as we remembered (which could be due to the lack of champagne consumed prior to dinner), every single bite was amazing. If you feel like sushi, try Ebizo Sushi, or if you prefer Italian, head over to Zambri's. A little further from downtown, every Saturday night, the Ross Bay Pub offers delicious pub food and music bingo, which guarantees a good night, at least in my books. Make sure to get there early as it's a popular evening!

What to do


Downtown

Downtown Victoria is a charming place to hang out, with lots of cafes, pubs, patios and restaurants. I love to start off with a great coffee at Habit, shop for clothing and jewelry on Johnson Street, explore Capital Iron, and then meander the oldest Chinatown in Canada, with quaint little alleys and stores. If you are still thirsty and it's too early for the pub, stop by Silk Road and try some tea, refuelling for more shopping and walking. Take a walk through the rose garden at the Empress Hotel, and depending on the weather, bring a book and lounge in front of the parliament building, or visit the BC Royal Museum. High Tea is a lovely experience, but for a perhaps better, and definitely more affordable time, try White Heather instead of the Empress, unless you want the harbour view to be part of your experience. Either way, reservation is a must.




Dallas Road

A classic on the weekend is to meet friends at the Moka House on Cook Street, grab a latte and walk down to Dallas Road. The path goes along the water, overlooking the snow capped mountains of the Olympic Peninsula, and is also an off-leash dog park, so you can bring your furry friend along. On the right day, you can see paragliders flying off the cliff. You can follow the path or go down to the beach, walk along the water or sit on the log, enjoying the peacefulness, just steps from downtown.



As you walk back towards downtown, you reach Beacon Hill park, worth a stop, stroll or picnic, and then Ogden Point, just before Fisherman's Wharf and the colourful floating houses. Some people complain that Victoria is too small, and that there isn't much to do. For me, trying out a variety of restaurants, picking a different park and beach to explore every day, shopping, reading a book, stopping for a chill glass of white wine is how I envision a perfect week. If you have a car, there are many hikes within a very short drive, which can add to your stay in Victoria. If you have more time, Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands deserve exploring. On my to-do-list is to put together a post of some of my favourite days trips and weekend trips from Victoria, which really just seems like the perfect excuse to go back and play for a few weeks, and of course take pictures. Some day soon, hopefully. 




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