Touring Around Victoria
On the walkway around the harbour, joggers run, parents wheel strollers, jugglers and drummers entertain, and visitors eat fish and chips as they watch the passing parade. On the water, sailboats tie up at the wharves, kayakers and canoeists poke into coves and marinas, float planes come and go as ducks bob in their wake and harbour seals poke whiskered snouts above the waves. At Thetis Lake Regional Park, sandy beaches entice swimmers and suntanners in the summer and there's year-round hiking on many nature trails. The Galloping Goose Regional Trail runs for 42 kilometres (26 miles) through View Royal to Colwood, Langford, Metchosin and Sooke.
SOOKE AND BEYOND
Highway 14 continues west to the village of Sooke and then Port Renfrew. It’s a quiet area of winding roads, long beaches and challenging trails. East Sooke Park, tucked between the Sooke Basin and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, is the Victoria region’s largest park, consisting of 1,435 hectares of wilderness crossed by trails.
Just before the Sooke River, the Galloping Goose Trail crosses Highway 14, headed towards the Sooke potholes. A winding narrow road also leads to this park; for decades, young bathers have flocked to the potholes, deep round erosions in the rock. Sooke is a thriving outpost of its own, with subdivisions going up in and just out of town.
Home for years to the Sooke Harbour House, regarded as one of the world’s best small hotels, Sooke now has an increasing number of other restaurants, from diner-style to sushi. Among the attractions here: secondhand stores, including a bookstore; craft shops; a fall fair and summer farmers’ market; Whiffen Spit, a narrow mile-long spit that protects Sooke Harbour and provides easy walking and good birding; and, west of town, llama and organic farms, and an apiary that is Vancouver Island’s sole producer of mead.
Vancouver Island’s shoreline is beautiful and unique in this area. Surfable waves crash on rocky beaches, adorned with forest and wildlife and here you are able to try a new activity - spearfishing on the coast of Vancouver Island.
The highway leads west to Jordan River and Port Renfrew. The tiny community of Jordan River attracts surfers and RV enthusiasts who camp by the beach year round. The Juan de Fuca Marine Trail leads 47 tough kilometres (29 miles) along the water and through the forest from China Beach, west of Jordan River to Port Renfrew, where it ends at Botanical Beach.
The old logging and fishing community of Port Renfrew is seeing something of a revival, with the opening of luxury accommodation, new restaurants and a pub. This is the end of Highway 14 – but the start of the West Coast Trail. Hikers start the famed multi-day trek north to Bamfield from here, most taking a boat from Port Renfrew’s wharf to the opposite side of the inlet. Drivers must backtrack to Victoria, or take gravel roads that circle back to the Island’s east coast.
Once known as being more British than the British, Oak Bay is now a vibrant welcoming pocket of Victoria known for its spectacular seaside, vibrant village centres, tree-lined boulevards and exquisite Edwardian architecture. Unhurried and tranquil, Oak Bay is the perfect place to relax and explore at your own pace.
The villages of Oak Bay Avenue, Estevan and Cadboro Bay are reminiscent of the British High Streets of days gone by, but with a very modern twist of high style and culinary cool. People come from all over Victoria to shop here for fashion and gifts, to visit the galleries, and to dine on the mouthwatering creations of our charcutiers, chefs and bakers found throughout the whole area. And yes, the tradition of afternoon tea is still a local favourite!
Oak Bay is home to many reknowned local artists and is quickly finding its place as a vibrant arts and culture district with seasonal public art, a high concentration of galleries and studios, year-round performances, exhibits and events. A variety of guided tours offer a great way to experience our history and learn how our culture has evolved over time. For those seeking to unwind, the beautiful Boathouse Spa and Pools and quiet beaches await you. From downtown Victoria, Oak Bay is a leisurely ten-minute drive, or take the hop on hop-off services departing frequently from the Inner Harbour.
Some 360,000 people live in the Capital Regional District, and close to one third of them live in the district of Saanich, which stretches north from the borders of Oak Bay, Victoria and Esquimalt.
With some 20,000 students and 4,000 staff, the University of Victoria is busy year-round, but it also contains quiet places. The university’s Finnerty Gardens are famed for their rhododendron collection, and the trail system winds through woods and Mystic Vale, a forested ravine that leads towards Cadboro Bay. Below the university, Cadboro Bay Village contains an eclectic mix of shops, coffee bars, a restaurant and a pub. The beach itself, with its whimsical concrete sculptures of sea beasts, including the famed and possibly mythical creature Cadborosaurus, provides a safe and entertaining place for children. Above the university, roads and trails lead to the top of Mount Tolmie with views of Victoria and the surrounding waters and trails that criss-cross the park.
Some stalwart Saanich residents walk up Mount Douglas every day of the year, reaching the 213-metre summit by way of the road, or one of the many park trails. Trail map signs have been erected at intervals around the park, helping visitors who may find the intersecting pathways confusing. One of the nicest hikes climbs Little Mount Douglas, on the north side of the park, which offers broad views of the straits and bays around Victoria. On the east side of the park, otters cavort along the shore while Mount Douglas Creek, now under restoration, flows into the ocean.
The oceanside road travels north into the Cordova Bay area, with splendid views out over the water to the volcanic peak of Mount Baker in Washington State. Mattick's Farm Country Shopping Centre was started by Saanich pioneer farmer, Bill Mattick, and has grown into a series of sophisticated shops. The shops showcase the work of local artisans and others, as well as featuring a tea room, mini-golf course, produce market, garden centre and a wine shop that specializes in British Columbia wines. The tea shop, Adriennne’s Restaurant & Tea Garden, provides a welcome breather for walkers and cyclists on the adjacent Lochside Regional Trail. The trail travels 29 kilometres along a former railbed, from its intersection with the Galloping Goose in Victoria to Swartz Bay, north of the town of Sidney. On the other side of Saanich, walkers can follow pathways and sidewalks along the Gorge, the tidal inlet that cuts deeply into the municipality from the Upper Harbour.
Saanich is home to several splendid freshwater lakes and bogs. The largest and most used among its lakes are Beaver and Elk, which form the heart of a 442-hectare park that offers a 10-kilometre walking, jogging and horseback riding trail. Not all the attractions in Saanich are rural: the district also contains The Centre of the Universe. The public interpretative centre at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory, off West Saanich Road, invites visitors to tour the 1.8-metre Plaskett Telescope.
The best way to visit the farm stands, plus all of the other attractions, is by taking a leisurely drive along the roads, which parallel the east and west sides of the peninsula, and cut through and across its farm fields and population centres. West Saanich Road leads from Royal Oak along the west side of the peninsula. Just off the road near its beginnings, the Glendale Gardens and Woodland – formerly known as the Horticulture Centre of the Pacific – provide two hectares (five acres) of demonstration gardens, which are filled with 10,000 plants focusing on landscaping for the West Coast. In Central Saanich, a drive along West Saanich Road passes quaint old churches and farms, punctuated by stands of oak, arbutus and cedar, as well as roadside fruit and vegetable stands.
Off East Saanich Road, John Dean Provincial Park offers trails through forest to a viewpoint that overlooks the waters east and west. North of where the Lochside Trail crosses Island View Road near the highway, the Saanich Historical Artifacts Society maintains a collection of working steam engines and agricultural with occasional live demonstrations and a working model railway.
Brentwood Bay is a thriving little community with shops, coffee bars, restaurants, marina facilities and a clutch of new condominium developments. A small car ferry leaves from Brentwood Bay, chugging three nautical miles across Finlayson Arm to Mill Bay in 25 minutes, providing one leg of a circle tour north from Victoria and an alternative to the mountainous Malahat Highway.
For many, nearby Butchart Gardens is synonymous with Victoria: its half-dozen theme gardens and hectares of seasonal displays – flowering bulbs and rhododendrons in spring, roses and bedding plants in summer, colourful foliage in fall, thousands of twinkling bulbs and illuminated displays in winter – bring in many thousands of visitors each year. Just up the road, the Butterfly Gardens is where hundreds of iridescent butterflies flicker among the indoor pathways of the tropics recreated. They share the space with tropical fish, birds and orchids.
Sidney has come of age in a big way. The town, 26 kilometres north of Victoria, dates back 150 years, and now it is a vibrant, dynamic community on the grow. Its accessible waterfront, exciting new developments, an increasing population of mid-life retirees, a burgeoning shopping scene, and routes for walking and biking are helping to make it a favoured place to settle and visit.
The area around the community, the northern part of the Saanich Peninsula, has long been home to the Wsanec people. Non-native settlement began in 1859, when would-be farmers bought 100-acre parcels of land from the Hudson’s Bay Company for a dollar an acre. Some twenty years later, the pioneering Brethour family purchased 500 acres; in 1891, they incorporated the Township of Sidney, named for the offshore island of the same name, which was in turn, named for a British naval officer.
Visitors can stroll that waterfront along a seaside walkway that runs three kilometres from the town’s southern boundary to the far side of the Port of Sidney marina. The walkway continues to the wharf at the end of the town’s main thoroughfare, Beacon Avenue. At the wharf end, it has become the town’s focus, anchored by the redevelopment of what was once a small park at the waterfront into a major hotel, the 55-room Sidney Pier Hotel and Spa. The Pier’s restaurant, Haro’s, is renowned for providing spectacular food, warm and friendly service, and seaside vistas. Also onsite is the very popular Haven Spa, a rejuvenating sanctuary for inner and outer beauty.
The Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre provides a window into the living marine life of the Salish Sea. The tanks at the centre hold more than 87 tonnes of seawater for their living displays that explain science and reveal mysteries of the sea for all ages.
Sidney owes its existence as a town to the port. The Customs House building that once marked Sidney as the main port of entry for this area has been transplanted inland and is now the info centre just off Beacon Avenue near the main highway. The big blue building at the end of the wharf houses a fresh-fish market, while the Pier Bistro building houses a cozy bistro where patrons can take advantage of house binoculars to search the surrounding waters for wildlife, or watch the progress of a sailing race. The many visitors and Sidney’s active and affluent residents support an exceptional diversity of retailers, including high fashion, specialty chocolates, pottery, fine art and antiques.
Also on Beacon Avenue is the town’s museum, with displays that recreate the turn-of-the-century on the Saanich Peninsula. Not far away, at the Victoria International Airport, the British Columbia Aviation Museum presents aircraft and artifacts from the history of air traffic in British Columbia. There is even a whale watching company, Sidney Whale Watching housed near the foot of Beacon Avenue, near the water.