AHAA Living City Guide: Victoria, BC
You’ve heard the clichés about Victoria – boring, old, bookish, rainy, hippie… Okay, that last one might have a little credence, but Victoria is anything but tame.
Fact is, Vancouver Island’s southernmost tip could convert even the most hardened city dweller with its medley of merits. It’s a fresh-air filled marine playground, but you’ll also find the unexpected – a spirited entrepreneurial oasis, showcased at every turn.
Those who call Victoria home have a vision for an urban utopia, fuelled by the better things in life (including great coffee and beer). This government town has a tremendous rate of volunteerism, a hyper-collaborative mayor (yes, her last name really is ‘Helps’) and vocal but polite protesters keeping corporate interests at bay on the lawn of the iconic legislature buildings. Everywhere you go, a lively, expectant vibe commingles with the smell of salt water and sublime tacos.
As for the rain, just time your visit well. Victoria actually boasts a Mediterranean climate from May to October, with the driest summers of all of Canada.
In town, kayaking and paddle boarding offer a great way to see the city from the water – and rental companies are in high supply. Southwestern-facing beaches – stretching from Oak Bay’s Willows Beach to Saxe Point Park in Esquimalt – offer a variety of landscapes, as well as stunning views of the Olympic Mountains across the Straight of Juan de Fuca. And daytrips abound. A short one-hour drive up the West Coast Highway to Jordan River (and further down the road, the legendary Sombrio) often yields waves (better in the winter months) and West Coast wilderness. Enter the Juan de Fuca Trail at China Beach and follow it for a few hours, or a multi-day journey.
(For an extreme Victoria workout, just try to spot and follow Olympian Simon Whitfield along the James Bay beaches – by land or sea, he’s an adventure to observe.)
Vegan, vegetarian, or just plain voracious, Victoria beckons. This is the land of the brunch line up, and the one at Jam on Herald Street snakes out the door and down the block, even on a Wednesday morning. Back-up plans include Mo:Le, and the Blue Fox Café. If you came for the fish tacos, the crowd on the Broughton Street Pier will attest that Red Fish Blue Fish is now officially a rite of passage. Victoria also has capital appeal for the meat-averse, with diverse offerings like Lotus Pond, ReBar and Café Bliss scrumptiously showcasing how tasty veganism can be. And for such a mellow town, everyone seems perpetually buzzed, with good reason. From coffee joints – from Habit, to Fantastico, to the in-surf-shop espresso bar at Sitka – to breweries like Driftwood (of the iconic Fat Tug IPA), Hoyne and Phillips (check out their new tasting room), craft culture is alive and well in Garden City.
Get Some Rest
Green Key Global’s list of Victoria hotels that meet eco standards is a great place to start when planning your trip. This city is losing its reputation as the ‘snore by the shore,’ but getting your Zs is always important. The Oswego Hotel’s prime location, close to the Inner Harbour (and Coho and Clipper Ferries, for those travelling on to Washington State) is appealing, as are its in-suite kitchens – great for cooking up a Farmers’ Market or seafood feast. Hotel Zed is new on the scene, with colourful, retro décor and VW buses that shuttle guests a short drive downtown. If Victoria is a once-in-a-decade experience, treat yourself to the serene opulence of the Oak Bay Beach Hotel, with its seaside mineral pools and old world-inspired décor.
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