If Canada was ever on your radar for places to visit, or even if it isn’t, Victoria is a great place to start! Not only featuring some great eateries, activities, and beautiful scenery, Victoria is a historical and cultural landmark as the capital of the British Columbian government.
With a multitude of places to eat and see, you might feel a little squeezed trying to fit it all in a weekend. However, we were able to fit all of the following into our trip, so there’s no reason you can’t either. Here is a quick run down for travelers wishing to explore the beautiful Victoria.
Let’s start in Port Angeles
Red Lion Port Angeles
Since we live in Tacoma, which is about an hour south of Seattle, we needed to find lodging in Port Angeles to make the most of our trip. Rather than waking up at 5 in the morning to get to the ferry by 8, we decided to begin our trip nestled in the heart of downtown Port Angeles right on the harbor and only a five minute walk to the ferry terminal. The Red Lion Hotel in Port Angeles is not just a perfect spot to stay for anybody preparing to go to Victoria, it’s the spot to stay when visiting Port Angeles at all.
Rooms provide plenty of space and two beds with extreme comfort, plus a large television with a mini fridge. The bathroom is separated in two rooms, one with the sink and the other with the toilet and shower so that anyone can use the bathroom privately while another can use the sink.
A small balcony overlooks the beachfront and ocean, with stunning views and ability to catch the ocean breeze on hot days. Outside on the opposite end next to the parking lot there’s a full pool and mini spa, perfect for relaxing in to cool off or heat up.
Apart of the hotel is a lovely restaurant called the Crab House. Want a dinner on the ocean with delicious ocean food on your plate? Look no further. The Crab House is a seafood themed restaurant on the beach that will satisfy any pescatarian inclined eater.
We started with the Timberline Caesar salad, a typical yet solid collection of greens, croutons, parmesan cheese, and dressing. Our seafood dish was a deep fried shrimp, paired with a delicious cocktail style sauce and tartar. It was absolutely spectacular to taste, and even if you’re not into deep fried shrimp, the fried outside could easily be picked off leaving the delicious shrimp underneath to eat. But for any non seafood eater there’s the old delicious standby burger with fries, which contained a great tenderness inside that left us satisfied.
Along with the food is a full bar with a neat selection of drinks. Our first choice was the sugar rimmed lemon drop, a personal favorite of ours for its sweetness. We also liked the ‘Sex on the Beach,’ which delivered a strong vodka and peach alcoholic flavor, yet it didn’t overpower the tastiness of the drink. Plus, it was a beautiful pink and orange color that made it nice to look at.
The next morning we woke up comfortable and energized and headed to the ferry to start our adventure in Victoria. >> www.redlion.com/port-angeles
Black Ball Ferry
One of the most beautiful things about Victoria is that it is on Vancouver Island, making it only accessible via water transport. Most people who live in Seattle and travel to Victoria take the Clipper, who little know there is another option, the Black Ball Ferry Line, that is a bit more affordable and can be very convenient if you are visiting Victoria from California, Oregon or even South or Western Washington.
The Black Ball Ferry Line has the beautiful MV Coho which zips over from Port Angeles to Victoria in ninety minutes, while providing ample indoor space for those needing a place to sit down, and astounding views of the ocean and mountainous coast line.
Quite like other ferry lines, the MV Coho allows both walk on and drive on passengers, has a cafeteria, maps and itineraries available for travelers and can have up to four travel times for your convenience during the peak season. Upon arrival you are deposited right in front of the beautiful legislative building next to downtown, prime territory to go wherever you please in town. >> www.cohoferry.com
Here is our roundup of how to have the perfect Victoria getaway in a weekend!
Where to stay in Victoria
Swans Hotel and Pub
We had the privilege of staying in Swans, a beautiful historic cream-white brick building in the heart of downtown. Within walking distance of Chinatown, the business district of Douglas street, and the waterfront, Swans is the ideal place to stay if ease of access is your priority.
The room was two floored with a kitchen and living room area on the first, and two bedrooms and the bathroom on the second. It may not have been much square footage but the builders knew how to make the most of the space they had. Two televisions are accommodated, one for each floor, allowing for multiple parties to watch what they like without interruption. The kitchen has a full fridge and oven, so even with small size it’s a perfectly easy place to prepare meals for single stays, couples, or large families.
The pub and bar featured some fabulous dining options. We both are more partial to cider than beer, so from the drink menu we tried two kinds. The Left Field Cider Co. makes a great dry cider, with a slightly bittersweet taste of apples from the Okanogan. For a sweeter cider, try the Tod Creek variety, a canned type with full fermentation and added apple juice for the off dry flavor.
From the food menu we had plenty to choose from. There’s nothing like good old fashioned pub grub and just because it’s Canada doesn’t mean they can’t compete with the best. From burgers to seafood to pizzas to deep fried pickles, you won’t leave hungry. We found interest in the grilled chicken burger and the buffalo chicken sandwich, a fabulous combination of chicken, hot sauce, and ranch. Not to mention, most of the items come with fries, soup, or salad. >> www.swanshotel.com
What to do and see in Victoria
The gardens were established by the Butchart family in the early 1900’s. Since then the property has remained in family hands and grown to become one of the largest private gardens in Canada. For flower lovers or enthusiasts of nice-looking things, it’s a beautiful place to visit. The garden began as the home of a quarry, where a cement plant mined and processed the limestone beneath the earth. When the limestone eventually ran out, the matriarch of the family, Jennie, decided to beautify it by converting it into a giant garden. Over the years the garden grew in size and variety as new wings representing otherworldly floral varieties popped up, like the Japanese Garden.
The entrance leads to the former home of the Butcharts, a large beautiful mansion with older German style architecture. The flower styles were all imported from other countries the Butcharts had visited or knew people who had visited. The flowers you see in bloom will depend on the time of year you visit, so if you are a flower aficionado, plan your visit accordingly.
In addition, on the outer edge of the garden is a small dock with tour boats that take a ride around Tod inlet, open from May till September. The boat is piloted by one of several captains, who provide running commentary on the history of the garden along with explanations of the wildlife you see. We had the privilege of spying on a bald eagle as it perched on top of a gigantic tree. We wish we had brought binoculars! Our captain and guide Mark, was extraordinarily kind and informative as the journey was full of things to see and talk about, whether it be the history of the garden, the flora and wildlife about, or the motivation of the low speed signs. Ask for his boat if you get the chance to take the tour. >> www.butchartgardens.com
First of course, if you need to get anywhere not on foot, CVS has you covered. The tour bus is double decked so you can climb to the top to get a better view! On our ride to the Butchart Gardens we were treated with a running commentary by our driver who explained not only the history behind the gardens, but also a great sightseeing guide for what we were driving past in the city.
They have affordable prices and many tours you can take, from the popular Butchart Gardens to a Peninsula Tour. Plus they make it easy so that when you purchase the tour you get your ticket to the activity the same time, that way no standing in line for tickets at the venue, just one purchase from CVS Tours and you’re all set! Check them out, I’m sure you will find they got you covered! >> www.cvstours.com
Eagle Wing Tours
Head on out into the open waters of the ocean and get ready to see some whales! This tour company has a great staff that and a beautiful boat that accommodates about fifty. The best time to go is when the weather is good, but the whale sightings are guaranteed.
The boat is varied depending on the style of tour you choose. For the larger boat, there’s room for about twenty people and there’s an indoor area underneath the captain’s position large enough to accommodate everybody. The boat motors out into the ocean after only about an hour, and the guides are extremely helpful in describing anything whale related to enhance your enjoyment of the tour.
When the boat is ready to head out in the morning, the captain looks in popular areas where whale sightings are more likely. When the boat stops, the Captain and his crew members take the passengers to the deck and look out together as they narrate what the whales do, where they typically are, and what migration habits they have.
Even if you’re tired of the outside, the indoors offer several books worth picking up, including the always memorable Eyewitness series. In particular the Whale version, which gives anyone only mildly aware of whales a fantastic overview of their kind. >> www.eaglewingtours.com
This exhibit is a treat for anybody who played with small toys as a kid, like legos, lead soldiers, or made models. Inside you’ll find a vast amount of specially made miniature displays of various things. From war torn Europe to late eighteen hundreds Canada to Camelot, and beyond, you’ll be amazed at what they have to offer.
The first exhibit predominantly displays scenes of war. There are battle spreads that vary from the aerial plane dogfights of the first world war to a bombed out French village in the second world war to the clash at Gettysburg in the American Civil War. The representation is accurate and somewhat grim, but also humored by the use of cotton for the wisps of smoke exiting the guns.
For all lego fans who know the fun of building a set, village, or vehicle, this second exhibit shows off a very similar passion for setting up an entire community of miniature people. Even better, it does that while combining it with another childhood passion of mine, the railroad. Stretching from one end of the room to the other and winding through little streets and tunnels, it shows off a beautiful display of the craftsmanship of the figures and buildings while also delivering some interesting history on the use of the Canadian railroad. There’s even an alternating light to simulate day and night.
The latter section goes in to a fantasy style with recreations of some of the most famous fairy tales, like Snow White and Jack and the Beanstalk, and the legend of King Arthur and Camelot. The figures here are rendered somewhat bigger and more cartoonish than the previous, a welcome change for anyone detail oriented or any children who want something less realistic and more fantastical. >> www.miniatureworld.com
Royal BC Museum
Spread across three floors of exhibits to explore, the Royal BC Museum is a can’t miss. The natural history exhibit covers the diverse types of animals that roamed the British Columbian landscape a few thousand years before now, including a life size reconstruction of a wooly mammoth! It also includes the modern day animals and environments, including a memorable forest room containing very lifelike trees, deer, and Moose.
The IMAX theater on the bottom floor has a massive forty foot tall screen and on the hour shows nature or science related films. In the evening they show big releases, in case you want to see a more conventional movie on an unconventional screen.
The big showcase though, is the Egyptian exhibit. Including hundreds of artifacts on loan from several museums around the world, this is the big show for the museum for the next few months. Inside you’ll see actual artifacts from numerous Egyptian tombs, including figurines, burial items, sections of walls, and even sarcophagi. >> www.royalbcmuseum.bc.ca
Where to eat in Victoria
Q Restaurant at Empress
When you’re ready to end your day with a hearty meal, Q is the place to be in Victoria. Located on the bottom floor of the historic Empress Hotel, the furnishings inside are absolutely stunning. The walls and ceilings are covered in handcrafted wood carved art and it almost makes you feel like you’re onboard the Titanic, or one of those luxury steamships from the early nineteen hundreds.
The starters are full of great choices but we in particular liked the oysters, and loved the honey butter they offered with their bread. The drink menu offered a cavalcade of great options but we were amazed at the gin they used in their cocktails, ‘Empress 1908.’ It was suitably strong and contained a pretty purple hue that made the drinks attractive to look at. The gin was so good, we bought a bottle for home.
As for the main courses, you can’t go wrong with the Sirloin steak. It’s cooked to whatever specifications you wish and comes with a side of potato squares and vegetables, nestled in a mustard sauce. We were enticed by the salmon, but ended up deciding on the duck as the other meal. It was also cooked to perfection, and contained a nice berry sauce that complemented the flavor well.
As for dessert, we were treated to two items. First the tasty Empress Cake, a chocolate hazelnut sweet with a beautiful carved crown in hard chocolate on top. The other, the Hazelnut Chocolate Pie, a delicious hazelnut dish topped with whipped cream (You can tell we like chocolate and hazelnut, can’t you?). These were both paired with a special dessert wine from Fort Berens Estate Winery, ‘Late Harvest Riesling,’ with a flavor reminiscent of sweet fruit and honey. The combination is delectable, so make sure you save room for it! >> www.qattheempress.com
Shanzee’s Biscuit Cafe
If you’re looking for fabulous biscuits and gravy to eat, Victoria might not have struck you as the prime place to find it. However, if you’re lucky enough to be in the neighborhood then we can’t recommend this establishment enough.
The bulk of the menu includes dozens of variations on the classic biscuits and gravy recipe, so even if that doesn’t suit your fancy, there’s so many additives you can include in your order that by the end it can be transformed into whatever you like.
For the breakfast minded, there’s biscuits and eggs style dishes that deliver on the southern style meal one would expect early in the morning. For others, there’s less expected combinations like bacon, grits, cheese, avocado, tomato pesto, maple peanut butter, or jam. We had the ‘Tailgate Chicken,’ a meal of biscuit, gravy, pulled spiced chicken and jalapeno pepper. If you can’t handle the spice it might be one to avoid, but for those who can it just might be the best item they have. Absolute bliss!
In addition to the food, there’s typical drink options like soda, but we were intrigued by the mixed smoothie style drink. The ‘slushie’ was great, the perfect cold concoction you’d want on a hot day. It’s fruit flavor was delicious and had no equal.
The cafe itself has a positive atmosphere, with teal and pink colors on the walls and appliances. The menu is hand written on a chalkboard with red and teal print and doodles, making for a unique display and something nice to look at while waiting for your meal. >> www.shanzeesbiscuitcafe.com
Don’t pass up what Victoria can offer. There’s no shortage of food, sightseeing, and entertainment options that by the end of your trip, you’ll already be prepared to have another visit lined up.
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