We were in Victoria for a week without the kids this time, but we've gone several times in years past and will continue to go in years to come. It's a lovely city with an amazing climate, friendly people, local food, and gorgeous architecture. Not to mention, of course, that we have family there- and the ocean. The ocean is a big draw.
Without further ado: Here's the list of Things to Do! And these aren't in any particular order. Some are better for the kids so they will be marked accordingly. If we feel kids would be bored then we'll mark them "adult".
Bear in mind even if an activity is marked as a half day, at the very least you will need to plan on finding something to eat or drink after, and be flexible with your timing. We have learned the hard way not to make commitments to get somewhere right after a day trip- either it takes longer than we think or the traffic doesn't cooperate. When you're on vacation, just give yourself the freedom to take your time.
1. Butchart Gardens
-Plan for a day away! I went as a kid and hated it- got very bored very fast. (Adult)
2. City Tour, including Craigdarroch Castle
-Plan for a half day! (Adult)
-We went with CVS Tours, so that's who I linked you to. We enjoyed the tour so much- the bus was air conditioned and with tinted windows we could sit in comfort. The driver was fun to listen to, a good driver, and had so much to tell us. The Castle itself only takes about an hour/90 minutes or so to get through, so the half-day tour is mostly driving through interesting neighborhoods, hearing about the history of Victoria, and seeing places you probably wouldn't get to really see if you're focusing on driving.
-We highly recommend it as we learned so much about the city and saw so much of it.
3. Historical Food Tour
-Plan for a half day! (Adult)
-You start at the Victoria Public Market and explore the interesting local businesses, hear their stories, and sample their food...and then you walk. We enjoyed tasting everything from Olive Oil to Macarons to Peroghy.
-You will hear fascinating stores about Victoria- just like on the CVS tour- but from a street level. It was so much fun and we enjoyed the tastings tremendously.
4. The Bug Zoo
-Plan for a half day (Kids)
-The Bug Zoo is located downtown and housed in a small space with an amazing collection of bugs. If you and your kids like the wiggly and crawly, hairy, tiny, or huge bugs, this is the place to go. They offer tours- the staff will take small groups of people from habitat to habitat, often with the opportunity to touch and hold bugs.
-My kids were enthralled. It can take as short or as long as you like- we had to leave early once before my kids were ready, which resulted in an epic meltdown. Be sure to give yourself more time then you think you'll need.
5. Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea
-Plan for a full day (Kids)
-So much for adults as well, if you love the ocean as much as I do. The exhibits are phenomenal, so beautiful and so important. Like most aquariums, there is a huge element of education involved. They have worked hard to educate and teach the public about the Sea and all that lives within and depends on it to live.
-I've only been there once, several years ago, and we are definitely going to revisit when we return next time.
6. Willows Beach
-Plan for a half day- but be prepared for a full one (Kids)
-So much for the adults as well. This beach has easy parking, food, washrooms, and a playground. Lovely sand to play in and water easy to wade into. Hit up the dollar store to pick up some sand toys to enjoy and gift to another family when you leave :)
7. Gonzales Bay
-Plan for a half day (Adult)
-This is great for kids too, but with no on-site parking, washrooms, or food available it's less family friendly. You will definitely still find sand that's playable and ocean that's walkable, and the views are amazing.
8. Whale Watching
-Plan for a half day (Kids)
-Our tour was with Prince of Whales, so that's who I linked you to- but I think all the companies in Victoria are driven to promote respect for the ocean and its inhabitants. I know they work together to help watchers see whales. There's never a guarantee because ocean creatures are free to go where they want to, but we've now been on 3 different tours (one in Southern California, and twice in Victoria) and we have always seen whales- Humpbacks twice, and Killer Whales once.
-You never know what the weather will be like out at sea- it's best to bring a light jacket, a hat, and sunglasses. One whale watching tour we did in July when my second was an infant was so cold we almost needed a toque and gloves, so be warned- it's very different on sea then on land.
-If you think you or the kids might be prone to seasickness, it's best to bring Gravol (motion sickness medication) with you. You may also consider a day pack with bottled water for each, a battery charger for your phone, and a good camera that snaps pictures quickly. The whales will appear (often without warning) and then are gone, and if your camera takes its time to load you may miss capturing the experience on film.
-Many companies offer photographs taken by their staff during the tours, so ask about that option so you can just enjoy the day without worrying about what photos you may be missing.
I'm sure you'll enjoy Victoria as much as we did. Drop me a line and let me know what treasures you have discovered there!
After breakfast at our air bnb we joined in a Historical Food Tour (with samples!), starting at Victoria Public Market. It was so great! There will be more details about this in a future blog post. Suffice it to say if you enjoy sampling local food and hearing stories from the purveyors, this is an activity you want to take in.
For lunch we wandered up to the Irish Times Pub. I ordered a lamb burger with a side house salad while Mike ordered the Times Cheese Burger with an Irish Flight of beer. We sat outside under a big red umbrella and enjoyed the activity going on all around us. For dessert we shared a Guinness Chocolate Brownie.
The lamb burger was delicious. I wasn’t sure if the apple chutney would be too sweet for the burger but it was, in fact, a perfect complement, even though it was a bit messy and "slidey"- it kept sliding out of the bun. And I highly recommend their house salad. If you’re going for beer, the Smithwick’s Red Ale was the right pairing with the lamb burger out of those 4 beers.
Mike enjoyed his Cheese Burger but it was the different kinds of beer that he enjoyed sampling the most.
Dessert was another story, however. We were rather disappointed and didn’t even finish it. The brownie was good, absolutely, but the whiskey toffee sauce was so granular it felt like we were biting into chopped up sugar cubes, and there was so much of it (the sauce) there was no real way to avoid it. It could have been amazing, but it wasn’t.
This was our actual 20th anniversary, and we enjoyed some time walking along Willows Beach. I think I could stay there forever- in fact, I found my next house- just $2.5M! It’s going to take a little time to save for that, right? I would love to live right there on the beach and have that kind of day every day. Who’s with me?
For our anniversary dinner we enjoyed dinner at “Lure”, the Delta Ocean Pointe hotel in-house restaurant. The view from the windows was amazing, the staff attentive, and the tables large enough that none of us felt crowded in. We were able to watch the float planes fly in and see Victoria from an angle we don’t normally see it from.
We shared a starter of mussels with my brother and his family and I ordered the Columbia River Steelhead. What caught my attention (besides the fact that steelhead trout is my favourite fish) was the bacon jam and duck-fat roasted potatoes it came with. Mike ordered (halibut) fish and chips. For dessert we shared an ice-cream sandwich.
The mussels were delicious and the broth spicy. There wasn’t enough bread to soak it all up with though, and they happily provided more so that none of that goodness went to waste. It’s definitely a starter dish meant to be shared as there was a lot served.
Yes to the Steelhead! It came with corn succotash which was ok, and the duck-fat potatoes were nothing to write home about (I like my roasted potatoes way more, in fact). But the trout was cooked perfectly, a lovely crispy crust even, and the dollop of bacon jam was to die for. I actually put it on my list (well, my husband’s) to learn how to make.
Mike thought the fish and chips were good. They would satisfy anyone who doesn’t like a “fishy” fish because Halibut is nice and mild. It was cooked beautifully, not overdone and dry, and the fries were good as well.
I think we’d both say “no” to the ice cream sandwich again. I fully appreciated the level of imagination that went into creating it, but the cookie was so rock hard it was difficult to actually get a piece of cookie to eat with the ice cream, and I didn’t fall in love with the flavour or texture. I actually think I would have preferred the cookies my nephew and niece got to enjoy after their dinners instead.
Our last day of Island Life was spent wandering the beach in Gonzales Bay. We even got to see a Lion’s Mane Jellyfish that had washed up on shore. My absolute favourite thing about Vancouver Island is hanging out with the ocean. There is something magical about how the water pulls away anything negative and just replaces it with calm. I will always love the ocean- I'm pretty sure it's in my blood.
For lunch we returned to Bin 4. This time I ordered the “Chicken of the Sea” with house potato chips and Mike ordered the Pre-Season Favourite and fries. We ate at the location that’s right in Victoria. Same great service and food as the other we visited our first night.
Oh, for all that is wonderful and good, eat the Ahi tuna burger. It was so fresh, flavourful, and satisfying. I think I will probably go back to eat that burger every time we go to Victoria: it was that good.
My husband knew exactly what he’d order because he tasted my leftovers our first night there, and he was just as impressed with the Pre-Season Favourite hot and fresh as he was when it was day 2 leftovers.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my food adventures as much as I enjoyed eating and experiencing them myself. If you head to the Island, be sure to drop me a line and let me know where you ate and what you ate- and what you thought about it!
Next time I post I will tell you about some of the fun stuff you can do in Victoria. Until then, ciao, friends.