There are so many places named after Queen Victoria all over the world. A settlement, known briefly as “Fort Albert”, was renamed Victoria in 1843, in honor of Queen Victoria, and then it’s incorporated as a city in 1862. I was only aware of this city when I planned my trip to Vancouver and didn’t expect much of it – but then I fell in love the moment we drove into the city and found that the city is filled with historic buildings. The fresh air, the sunshine, the resorts, the food, the layback vibe, and the friendly faces made me feel so welcome and this is what a vacation is truly about. While Victoria may not have a world-famous attraction in the area, we spent a few days in the city just driving around, enjoying food, and sailing in the Salish Sea.
How to get there: The BC Ferries Connector
There are a few ways to get to Victoria from Vancouver: By plane, car ferry, or bus and ferry. Flight services are offered by Harbour Air (day trips & adventures to Victoria cost about $439 per Adult). The day trip includes a two-way scenic flight ride from Downtown Vancouver to Victoria, and passengers are free to explore the city or may add on a whale watching experience before heading back to Vancouver in the evening. I didn’t take the flight to Victoria, but I signed up for a classic panorama experience and the view was stunning. The quintessential Vancouver tour offers spectacular aerial views of the city’s busy downtown skyline and iconic landmarks including Stanley Park, English Bay, the Lions Gate Bridge, and the North Shore Mountains. Personally, I recommend this experience and even to the locals, because this is a great way to actually see the entire cityscape of Vancouver, plus – it was my first time on a seaplane. Next time I would probably do it in Sydney. To check out more about the photos and experience, go to Exploring Vancouver: 4-day Itinerary and City Walk.
Let’s go back to Victoria, the most common way to commute between Vancouver and Victoria is by ferry. We had a rental car, so we headed to Tsawwassen directly; If you don’t, the BC Ferries Connector offers a bus connection departing from the Pacific Central Station to Tsawwassen. There are 6 ferries a day in Spring/Summer and 4 ferries a day in Fall/Winter.
Once we arrived at the pier and put our car in the line, we got out of the car and there is a small building at the pier with some restaurants and convenience stores. It was a bit cold in October and I needed some hot drinks to warm up. But even if you don’t get anything at the pier, there are quite a lot of options onboard and the cafe is filled with people once the cruise is departed – and don’t worry, there will be an announcement about 20 minutes before boarding and drivers should be ready to drive into the ferry. The car ferry is very big that could basically accommodate (maybe a hundred cars?) each ride, we followed the line and parked the car. Some passengers may simply stay in their cars with their phones, or lie down; we decided to stretch our legs and headed to the cabin for some dinner. The WhiteSpot cafe on the ferry has quite a food selection, On the date that I was there, they offer Nat’s Original Beef Dip, West Coast Salmon Burger & Salad, Teriyaki Chicken Rice Bowl, and Dipping’ Chicken & Caesar Salad. For snacks, they offer poutine and sweet potato fries. The food quality is quite good and the dining area and sitting area were spacious. I was traveling at night, but I thought the view on the deck would be nice during the day.
Where to live? Oak Bay Beach Hotel
We stayed at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel and immediately it became my absolute favorite. The resort is about 5.5 kilometers away from Victoria’s Downtown but the rooms are all facing east towards Oak Bay. We were upgraded to the Garden Suite with an ocean view, and our rooms are connected to the Spa and Bath. The Garden area is fully equipped with a fitness center, a bathhouse spa, a warm pool, and two hot therapeutic mineral pools with a panoramic view of the ocean by the cliff. I woke up two days in a row with a cup of coffee and I saw the perfect sunrise on the horizon with a cup of hot coffee in the garden. (and there were people grabbing a soak in the thermal bath at 6 am already!) It was really refreshing and I thought – that’s how people should start their day every day! The inside of the hotel is gorgeous with a modern “Victorian-style”. After all, the most amazing thing is, with all the luxurious qualities that I mentioned, the room price is not expensive at all! I am sure there are a lot more extravagant and luxurious resort hotel chains all over the world, but this hotel has my praise as my favorite because of its quality and reasonable pricing.
The incredible view: whale watching
Victoria is one of the best places in the world for Whale Watching – because the whales live here! Besides, all licensed tour operators here are very safe, professional, informative, and aware of environmental responsibility and sustainability. The guides onboard are truly passionate about what they do, they are knowledgeable and share what they learned and their experience. While we are sailing out to the ocean and enjoying the view, they kept us informed and entertained with interesting stories and fun facts about how they chased the whales, and the ocean’s lives’ habits and behavior. We may also catch a glimpse of the birds as well.
Here, there’s an over 95% chance of whale sightings in each outing, and we did see the grey whales a couple of times. Not only we were able to see whales, but we also met otters, northern sea lions, harbor seals, eagles, and dolphins. If you are lucky, you may even see a killer whale (orca)!
While they are called “killer whales”, orcas are the largest member of the dolphin family. Their distinctive black ad white pattern could be easily identified, even from afar. There are three populations of killer whales in British Columbia: Residents, Transients, and Offshore.
Victoria’s climate and its sunset
Southern Vancouver Island has a Mediterranean-type climate with warm, dry summers and moist, moderately cool winters. In July, the mean temperature is between 12-18 degrees Celsius, while in January it is between 4 and 6 degrees Celcius. Victoria is located in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains, which provides this area with less rain and more sunshine than other parts of the Pacific Coast. Victoria receives twice the sunshine and half the rain of Vancouver. Therefore, it’s such a glorious place to go outside, chill, and enjoy the sunrise and sunset. I have already mentioned the beautiful sunrise that I saw at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel; and for sunset, I recommend a few places: Clover Point Park, Fisherman’s Wharf Park, and the Breakwater. I recommended these two places simply because I was there. In fact, every open space in the city is capable of being your favorite viewing spot. The Breakwater at Ogden Point is a great place that many tourists may overlook. The walkway stretches to the waterfront which offers a breathtaking view of the sunset, and a panoramic view of the city skyline.
Douglas Street: Mile 0 and Terry Fox
Named after Sir James Douglas, the second Governor of the Colony of Vancouver Island, Douglas Street is a main road in Victoria that marks the west end of the Trans Canada Highway, known as Mile 0. I have been to a few “Mile 0”: and one of the most impactful was in Key West. The Mile 0 here in Victoria also impacted me deeply with the story of Terry Fox. There is a small monument of Terry Fox at the corner of the area.
Who is Terry Fox?
“Terry Fox was an active teenager involved in many sports who was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma (bone cancer) at the age of 18 and forced to have his right leg amputated 15 centimeters above the knee in 1977. While in hospital, Terry was so overcome by the suffering of other cancer patients, many of them young children, that he decided to run across Canada to raise money for cancer research.
He would call his journey the Marathon of Hope.
After 18 months and running over 5,000 kilometers to prepare, Terry started his run in St. John’s on April 12, 1980, with little fanfare. Although it was difficult to garner attention in the beginning, enthusiasm soon grew, and the money collected along his route began to mount. He ran 42 kilometers a day through Canada’s Atlantic provinces, Quebec and Ontario.
It was a journey that Canadians never forgot.
However, on September 1st, after 143 days and 5,373 kilometers, Terry was forced to stop running outside of Thunder Bay, Ontario because cancer had appeared in his lungs. An entire was stunned and saddened. Terry passed away on June 28, 1981, at age 22.
The heroic Canadian was gone, but his legacy was just beginning.”
I never stop tearing up reading this.
The other end of Douglas Street is also the city’s main street where shops, restaurants, and souvenir stores could be found. The intersection of Douglas Street and Belleville Street is considered the center of the city.
The landmark: British Columbia Legislature
Legislative Assembly Queen Victoria Statue, Cenotaph, Knowledge Totem
The Legislative Assembly (part of the British Columbia Legislature) is the political center of British Columbia, and the building is open to the public with a guided tour a few time slots a day. The guided tour introduces the history and native tradition – from the province’s symbol, the talking stick, the black rod to the mace. The building itself is magnificent. Check out the rotunda, and the Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee Window, which was created by Powell Brothers in England.
There are a few attractions and sculptures in the yard – like the Knowledge Totem, Cenotaph, and Queen Victoria Statue. I spent an hour or two there and I learned a lot. This is also why I love Victoria. When most of the commercial activities take place in Vancouver, I was glad to discover the history and native culture in Canada; I could truly step away from the hustle of our daily lives and indulge in something “foreign” and get inspired by a different perspective.
More places to see: Royal British Columbia Museum
Netherlands Centennial Carillon
It was not part of our plans or our itinerary. We had some time after visiting the Legislative Assembly, we had some coffee and then we wandered into the Royal BC Museum, which is right across from the Legislative Assembly. It is a history museum consisting of British Columbia’s natural and human history museum as well as the British Columbia Provincial Archives. The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions of different themes – We had an Egyptian exhibition while we were there, as well as an Imax movie featuring the history of the historic sites of Egypt. There is a Netherlands Centennial Carillon outside the museum. The 62-bell carillon is a tower given by the Dutch community in thanks to Canada’s role in the liberation of the Netherlands unveiled its cornerstone in 1967, Canada’s centennial year. So once again, there are so many monuments and landmarks in the capital city of British Columbia!
What to eat? BeaverTails, breakfast place, and something more than fish’n’chips
Wandering down Douglas Street towards Chinatown, It was about lunchtime and my Canadian said he has something in mind. There are quite a lot of Caramel Apples in Canada, but I was not exactly in the mood for something that sweet. We were outside the Old Victoria Custom House and the sun felt so nice. We parked our car in the car park at the Inner Harbour Causeway and this is where all the yachts are parked.
Going back to the out Whale Watching tour, we were first gathered at the Fisherman’s Wharf. The area is filled with water houses, shops, restaurants, and fun rides, and if you are interested to take a water taxi, (and they are adorable) this is where the Victoria’s Harbour Ferry starts. But there were none of those at the dock here, but only small seafood stalls that had a queue already outside the window. Red Fish Blue Fish opens seasonally and they are known for their creative, hand-roll style tacos. We ordered two classic fish and chips of cod and halibut, with an extra dish that I would never have ordered had my friend not recommended it – the deep-fried pickles.
Trust me, the deep-fried pickles here changed my perspective on pickles completely. How they enhanced the flavor and texture of a pickle, I could never explain; but it was a true conversion – converting me from a non-believer to a person who will definitely go back for more.
For breakfast, we headed to a local cafe for a typical breakfast – pancakes, waffles, french toast, bacon, and eggs. My favorite! There are a few popular cafes in the city and the place was packed with people the moment we got there in the morning. There are a few Jam Cafes in BC and we had breakfast there in Vancouver. So, we went to the Blue Fox Cafe in Victoria. the big breakfast plate has mushrooms, sausages, tomato, hash brown, and french toast, plus coffee and eggs it was a great way to start the day.
There’s another local chain that could be seen everywhere – it’s the BeaverTails. A BeaverTail is a fried dough (or I would say it’s a doughnut that’s flat) with different kinds of ingredients as toppings. Now, the chain has 140 franchises all over the country, including in foreign countries like the US, Mexico, France, Japan, and the UAE. A classic BeaverTail is a plain dough with cinnamon and sugar. For more, go for chocolate hazelnut, maple, apple cinnamon, banana chocolate, avalanche, coco vanilla’ Killaloe sunrise, or triple trip. It could be sweet for some people, but you simply have to try it and I think it’s a good snack for sharing.
Shopping in Victoria! Fan Tan Alley, Chinatown & Market Square
The Fan Tan Alley is the narrowest alley in Canada that runs south from Fisgard Avenue to Pandora Avenue at the block between Government Street and Store Street. The alley is located in Chinatown and is named after the Chinese gambling game Fan-Tan. It was really a gambling district but restored as a tourist destination with small shops including barbershops, art galleries, Chinese cafes, and more.
The shopping area has expanded and there are many cafes, shops, and galleries set up here. Some international brands opened here, but I always love to seek out and discover stores that have local designer’s products. We also went to the Market Square at Johnson’s Street and the mall was just what I was looking for – a charming restoration of a heritage building, with boutiques, home accessories, jewelry, and fun gifts made by locals. The open area in the center also hosts community events like Christmas Craft Fair, performances, and concerts!
Going to the outskirt: Goldstream Salmon Run
Another exciting and unique activity to do in the fall is watching the Goldstream Salmon Run in the Goldstream Salmon Park. Unfortunately, we visited the park just a little bit too early for the run; we still anxiously walked along the stream in anticipation, hoping to catch one or two salmon that may come early.
The wonderful spectacle happens from late October to early December, when salmon swim upstream to the upper reaches of rivers where they spawn on gravel beds. After spawning, most of the fish die, and the salmon life cycle starts over again. This is also the best time and place for grizzly bears, bald eagles, and humans like us to catch the fish as they jump up from the stream, sometimes down a fall. I heard about the life of salmon before in the book, but the emotion was 100 times stronger to be this close to the fish in action. It sounds a bit sad to know that the fish worked so hard, swimming upstream, back to where they were born, just to be dead after spawning.
Isn’t it ironic? It got me thinking about life… aren’t we trying to work so hard every day and hoping to achieve our goal, even though it could be for nothing? To me, I think the process gives life meaning, and every part of it is a great experience to move forward to something even bigger and greater. Never stop chasing your dream. 🙂
If unfortunately (like me) that you couldn’t see the salmon run, still, there are reasons to walk down Goldstream park. There are some hiking trails for the natural scenery, visit the nature house to learn about the wildlife in the park, watch a movie in the Goldstream Cinema, enjoy tea or coffee at the house, browse the book store, or sit beside a fireplace. But for those visiting the park at the right time, here are some tips about watching the salmon run:
- Walk slowly to the edge of the water
- Keep boots, rocks, and Go Pros out of the water
- Watch Salmon Spawning
- Ask questions if you see a naturalist or volunteer
- keep dogs on leash and out of the river
- Visit the nature house for more about the salmon