Not Martha

Victoria, B.C. is a lovely place

Recently we took a short trip to Victoria, BC. We used a Clipper vacation package — you hop on a boat in Seattle which drops you off in Victoria two and a half hours later with, hopefully, your hotel van waiting just on the other side of customs. Most hotels are mere blocks away.

Victoria BC is a small town with a ton of stuff to do, with Butchart Gardens being the one everybody asks about. We did not visit Butchart Gardens because for this short trip the interest level/entrance fee/travel time (it’s about half an hour north of Victoria) didn’t weigh out with my goal of doing nothing much at all. If you are car-less you can get there via a tour bus or the regular public transportation bus.

Victoria is a very walkable/wanderable town, and the Victorian architecture and Canadian-ness of it all make it charming. I was a little worried about the size while looking at the map, but ten blocks in any direction from the hotel had us where we wanted to go so there was never any desire to rent a car or scooter to get around.

On Saturday we rented bicycles and discovered the Seaside Touring Route doesn’t allow them on the path, so you have to ride in the street. We got as far as Clover Point and turned back. The tide was low at Clover Point so we got to see a few sea creatures, and watch one very happy sea otter chew away at a still protesting eel. We were close enough to hear the chewing, it was fascinating and gross at the same time. Good thing the otter was cute. We came across an ice cream and burgers stand on Douglas along the West side of Beacon Hill Park, you can get a soft serve cone and wander back into the park. We watched a game of cricket and found an (albino?) peacock hiding out in some of the tall rocks.

If you want to bicycle in Victoria you’re looking for the Galloping Goose Trail, which we stumbled upon when we went over a train bridge to see what was on the other side. It is a rails to trails conversion and the site linked there gives a very good description. The trail is long, and I am eager to explore it. You can bring bicycles on the Clipper, this all seems ideal.

Saturday night I got a last minute reservation at Cafe Brio (thank you for the recommendation, Chowhound forums) which was excellent, and has a early chefs menu which is a fantastic deal. The restaurant was just as warm and wonderful as people say.

Afterwards we wandered over to the Empress Hotel and had martinis at the Bengal Lounge. The lounge is very cool, it has a colonial England hunting theme and is decorated in such a way as to be lavish and fun but not theme-y. It doesn’t have the same water view as the Veranda, but it does have a more relaxed dress code (by this I mean, you can wear jeans). I had the Victoria martini (I think, I forget the exact name) and can recommend it. But, order it with a twist instead of olives, the gin was smooth and lovely and delicate and the olives were a little distracting. The bartender mists the cocktail glass with orange blossom flower, and shakes the gin carefully, I bet he barely bruised the ice. We sipped and watched waiters come and go. I pretended that each one could have been the guy behind Waiter Rant.

Oh cool, look, the Victoria Gin from my drink is fairly new, it was released in May of 2008. It’s made by a Victoria winemaker on Vancouver Island. I’ll be buying a bottle on my next trip.

Sunday we nursed some hangovers and had late breakfast on the patio at Bon Rouge, which seems like it might be a bit touristy, but was very good. The food and service were perfect and our waiter was charmingly French. The bakery attached had the most fabulous looking pastries, and the menu lists a picnic basket, which sounds just about perfect. The patio has outdoor heaters so it would be a nice spot to eat even on colder days.

Somebody at our hotel recommended we take a look at the Government Street Sunday Market. It was a great little market with a lot of Victoria and Vancouver clothing makers. I was very tempted by a funnel neck sweatshirt made by a company I cannot remember the name of (Loden? Laurel? something like that) if only they had my size in a color I wanted. I’ll be back though. Here is a list of markets in Victoria on Saturdays and Sundays. I heard mention of a Thursday market as well, I wonder where that one is. We stopped in the original Smoking Lily store which really is tiny, like 10 square feet tiny, and fantastic.

We spent the rest of the day wandering along the streets. We stopped at Munro’s Books (I love this story about uncovering the 24-foot ceilings and original marble and hardwood floors, it’s like real estate porn). I bought some small puzzles at Interactivity Games and drooled over things at The Papery. Thanks to Emira at Domicile for recommendations on all these spots. We missed Trounce Alley and next time I’ll carve more space for myself to try on clothes at the various boutiques. We had nachos and beer with a view of the water in the afternoon before we had to head back to the boat. Perfect.

Victoria is a tourist town so you’ll find free (ad-laden) maps everywhere and you’ll never not know how to get to Butchart Gardens or take a whale watching tour. The typical souvenir stores can be found along Government Street. Along with Munro’s Books and a Lush shop there is lots of great architecture to be seen along that street, but the best shops are tucked away on other streets. Here are a few attraction type things we would have eventually gotten around to, but we’re happy to save for future visits when perhaps the weather won’t be so cooperative: Royal London Wax Museum with a chamber of horrors, Miniature World which is in the basement of the Empress, the petting zoo in Beacon Hill Park, Craigdarroch Castle, dining in the Parliament Building, Royal BC Museum, Undersea Gardens, seaplane tours, whale watching boat tours and kayaking tours.

The Clipper was ok, when it’s crowded it’s like being on an airplne. They have coffee and food (not great) and dramamine. In the evenings they have beer, and you can get a little bottle of champagne with breakfast.

Here is the one thing I wish we’d known about the Clipper in advance: when you pick up your tickets you’re assigned a group number for boarding (for both the inbound and outbound trips), the earlier you get your tickets the higher the group number you get, and therefore a better choice of seats. You can go and get your tickets up to seven days in advance at the Clipper office. So, it’s something to keep in mind if you’re able get your tickets early and you’re hoping for a low stress, romantic, take it easy sort of trip. We were in the last group for boarding and considered ourselves lucky that we got to sit together on the way over. So there, you’re in the know, making an effort to get your tickets early will allow you to stroll on board past all the poor souls who have visions of steerage in their heads.

You can also use the Clipper to take a day trip to Victoria. The couple sitting across from us on the way out were doing a trip that included a guided tour bus up to Butchart Gardens and back in time for the return boat that evening. It sounded like a good option for a family or group that wanted to take a trip but didn’t want to have to drive or worry about having a car. It’s something I’m keeping in mind for family visits as there is lots of time on the boat and at Butchart Gardens to talk, but taking the stress off of transportation.

· comments [23] · 07-14-2008 · categories:mumbling · seattle ·

23 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Laura // Jul 14, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    Oh how I love Victoria! I spent a couple of days there a few years ago- it really is a beautiful (and totally walk-able!) city! A highlight of the trip was having high tea at the Empress- kind of silly but very fun! I’m glad you had a good trip!

  • 2 Elizabeth // Jul 14, 2008 at 12:16 pm

    I love Victoria too. I was just there a few weeks ago myself. If it is relatively easy for you to get to Victoria, I highly recommend renting a car and driving up and across Vancouver Island to visit the west coast of the island, it is gorgeous and untouched!

  • 3 Shelley // Jul 14, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    I’m from Victoria, but haven’t been back for about 9 years now. I love Beacon Hill park – you have to go to the petting zoo. The last time I was there they had baby goats which were amazingly cute. I also used to love going to the museum when I was a kid.

  • 4 Kuri // Jul 14, 2008 at 1:00 pm

    Small town? LOL

  • 5 Rebecca // Jul 14, 2008 at 1:01 pm

    I was just at Butchart Gardens this weekend! It really was worth it–the gardens were incredible, especially the Japanese gardens with the sequoias and the sunken garden, which was inspired by an ugly hole in the ground left after they’d excavated all the limestone they wanted. I was amazed at the size of the begonias, which looked like roses. Here in Texas I would never even bother with them, they’re so puny, but everything was bigger and lusher than at home. What a climate.

  • 6 Michelle // Jul 14, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    When I was in Victoria several years ago I spent a day riding west on the Galloping Goose, and I hate to say it but I was unimpressed. With few exceptions, it felt like a typical bike trail through the suburbs.

    Then again, time constraints meant we had to turn back just before Sooke. So I guess my (unsolicited) advice would be to schedule plenty of time so you can enjoy the ride and really get somewhere.

  • 7 paola // Jul 14, 2008 at 1:48 pm

    Victoria makes me very homesick, it’s so exactly like an English seaside town. There’s even a really cute cricket pitch and pavilion near Beacon Hill park. The petting zoo BTW is really only worth it if you have a preschooler, though BH park itself is lovely and feels very English.

    I LOVE Munro’s books – thanks for that great link. Butchart Gardens is well worth seeing when you get the chance. The landscaping and everything is sublime, though they have too much of a thing for very garish bedding plants.

    Next time I see you I’ll tell my ‘Victoria Clipper awash with vomit’ story…

  • 8 Melissa // Jul 14, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    If you don’t mind saying – what hotel did you stay at? I’m thinking about running up there for a weekend this summer but have not had luck in personal recommendations for places to stay.

  • 9 seth // Jul 14, 2008 at 3:08 pm

    hey, some time ago you linked to a blog post about tiling a bathroom floor with round, colorful tiles. at least, i am pretty sure it was here that i saw it, or i have lost my mind. do you remember this? can you point me in the right direction?

  • 10 Karyn // Jul 14, 2008 at 5:36 pm

    Thanks so much for this post! My husband and I are planning to take the Clipper to Victoria for our anniversary this year. This is very helpful.

  • 11 Dorothy // Jul 14, 2008 at 7:13 pm

    I loved Victoris and Vancouver Island.
    Have been there twice. After you went
    to Munro’books did you make to to the
    Murchie tea store?Enjoyed reading your post.

  • 12 Daryn // Jul 14, 2008 at 10:31 pm

    Another really fun way to get to Victoria from Seattle is on a Kenmore Air float plane.

    It’s a bit more expensive than the clipper, but it’s a very cool experience. You fly low, so you have great sightseeing the whole time, and the flight from south lake union to downtown victoria is just under an hour!

  • 13 megan // Jul 15, 2008 at 8:39 am

    Michelle – Thanks for the note, I’ll have to read more about it if we decide to set off down it.

    Melissa – We stayed at the Chateau something something. It was ok, slightly dated but perfectly fine. It was located behind the Empress, and our room had an ok view out over the water. The staff was nice, the location was great for walking either direction. Write if you have questions about others, we considered a few.

    Dorothy – I did not make it to the tea shop, I’m sad I didn’t know it was there.

    Daryn – Thanks for the tip, that sounds like a whole lot of fun.

    Seth – You might be thinking about Splatgirl’s bathroom, the pictures are gathered here at Apartment Therapy.

  • 14 Sid // Jul 15, 2008 at 10:44 am

    As an Island (Sooke!) girl born and bred I have some less touristy recommendations for you.

    For food, check out the Noodle Box in Chinatown (everything is good, but I love the springrolls), the Dutch Bakery (if you like marzipan try the Flying Saucers) and Purdy’s Chocolates (Rogers gets more hype but they aren’t as good IMO). I also recommend grabbing a coffee or tea at Bean Around the World in Chinatown while you check out Fan Tan Gallery which has the neatest little kitchen/garden space in the back and great unique housewares. There are a ton of great local beers to try, one good brew pub I like is Canoe which is near Chinatown on the harbour with awesome patios.

    If you want to do the Galloping Goose, grab a double decker city bus with bike racks on the front and ride out to Sooke (Sooke River Road stop), then you’re a reasonable biking distance from the Sooke Potholes and Leechtown (old ghost town near the end of the trail). The rest of the trail from the city is very suburban, it doesn’t really get good until at least Metchosin/East Sooke.

    If you have a bit more time and a car (and decent weather), I also recommend hitting Aylard Farm in East Sooke Park with its beautiful beach and hiking trails to petroglyphs.

    Sigh, now I’m homesick again…

  • 15 andee // Jul 15, 2008 at 12:54 pm

    great minds and all that…

  • 16 megan // Jul 15, 2008 at 1:16 pm

    Thanks for the tips Sid, I’m looking forward to exploring more of the place now that we’ve had a chance to just hang out there.

  • 17 kathy // Jul 15, 2008 at 5:36 pm

    I wish I had seen this two weeks ago!

    We were just there on the last stop of our Alaska cruise. We only had a few hours, and we spent a chunk of it walking from the cruise ship dock into town. Almost everyone opted for tour buses, cabs, horse-drawn carriages, and rickshaws (in this day and age; human chattel!!!) to get into the city center. We went to a Scottish pub and shared a large table with drunk Canadian post grads! They were sooo nice to us and recommended something called a Crown Float — Guinness and apple cider. It wasn’t half bad. (I like Guinness.)

  • 18 Ana // Jul 15, 2008 at 9:05 pm

    Some more local tips for you! Skip Miniature World and Undersea Gardens. They’re tourist traps and not worth the time or $ spent there. The Wax Museum is OK, but just OK. For incredible chocolates, go to Chocolat on Fort Street (Corner of Douglas). Not only are they’re chocolates incredible but they also have delightful variations like rosewater or thai lemongrass (Both favourites of mine!). For good pub food and local brews try Swan’s or Spinnakers. Great beer and the food’s pretty good too. If it’s summertime make sure you get down to fisherman’s wharf to see the boat houses and eat Barb’s famous fish and chips. My absolutely most favourite tourist attraction (and something I’ve done many times) is the Ghostly Walks. Even if you don’t believe in ghosts the walks are fun, full of neat historical information, and give you a peak of what Victoria was like 100 years ago. Here’s the site:


  • 19 Emira // Jul 15, 2008 at 9:53 pm

    Lots of great victoria recommendations here, my others (to add to my Munro’s Books 2 cents) would be:

    – Big vote for the dutch bakery. They have the most awesome/frozen in time little diner counter in the back too. Very much diner food, but kind of rad in its way.
    – Shopping on Johnston Street (the block between Warf and Government). Great little independent stores (Rebel Rebel, Still Life, Addiction, Smoking Lily, etc.) all in one handy little block.
    – Another vote for Craigdaroch Castle. It’s particularly great at Xmas time (and I grew up just around the corner)
    – If you go to Beacon Hill Park & the petting zoo you must also go to the Drive In for a chocolate dipped icecream cone. Trust me on this.
    – As strange as it may sound, the Ross Bay Cemetery is one of my favourite places to take a walk/wander. They regularly do tours and it’s a pretty cool cemetery, with interesting layout/tonnes of great stones/carvings and markers and a really beautiful view of the ocean in some parts.
    – Dallas Road (the water near Beacon Hill Park and the Cemetery as well) always makes me feel like I’ve come home. Not a quaint little seaside walk at all, it’s big cliffs and open ocean. Wonderful.
    – Favourite restaurants (in no particular order and all located very near or in downtown): Rebar (vegetarian), Mo:le (veggie, raw and local organic meatiness), The Superior Street Cafe, Cafe Brio (pricey but beautiful food), Swans (brew pub).
    – Oh, and if you make an appointment ahead of time, the spa at the Empress isn’t cheap but it rocks. As a part of any treatment (Pedicures count) you get access to the full spa services which include a mineral pool and a sauna and steamroom. So carve out time ahead of time and bring a swimsuit.

    As for the Clipper. It sure is handy, but damn it makes me sick. I’m impressed you were able to handle the trip with such grace.

  • 20 Nellie // Jul 17, 2008 at 9:38 pm

    Cascadia bakery just outside of Chinatown is da bomb. You can get some of their treats at Rebar too (where I once saw Weird Al Yankovic!).

  • 21 Butchart Gardens Review and Attracions,Victoria BC // Jul 23, 2008 at 6:36 pm

    The Butchart Gardens are definitely the highlight of visiting Victoria BC. There are few other attractions in the world that even come close to its beauty and splendor. I can’t wait to go again.

  • 22 Steve Young // Feb 27, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    One thing many visitors to Victoria don’t seem to know is that there are lots of places to stay, other than just hotels, all around the City. We own several vacation rental apartments and there are many bed and breakfasts and boutique accommodations available.
    As for places to dine I would highly recommend Nautical Nellies, it’s a seafood restaurant that all of our guests absolutely rave about. I’m a vegetarian myself so I’ve never been there, but I’ve yet to hear a negative report from anyone.

  • 23 megan // Feb 27, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    Thank you so much Steve, I might come asking about your vacation rentals someday soon.

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