Victoria: The Ultimate Guide to Summer in the City
Oh beautiful, beautiful Victoria. This scenic BC town comes alive in the summer sunshine and erupts into a million vibrant colors. The city’s iconic hanging flowerpots are hung from every downtown lamp post, music rings through the streets, and bustling people spill onto patios as they enjoy the warmer summer evenings. We spent five days exploring all that Victoria has to offer this season, and we quickly found out that there is so much to do. We admit we’re a little bit biased when it comes to our love for this city, as Brie grew up in Victoria, but we consider ourselves Vancouverites after living on the mainland for over a decade. Now, every time we visit Victoria, we have a visitor’s perspective, and this beautiful island town never fails to amaze.
Surrounded by ocean on three sides, Victoria as a city is spectacular. Scenic drives along the sea, quirky neighborhoods, quaint cafes, and trendy shops – this town has it all. It can be difficult to narrow down your agenda when visiting, as there are endless things to do and see, so here are some of our best tips for your ultimate island adventure!
Table of Contents
Victoria - Your Guide to Summer in the City
What to do
The Butchart Gardens + Fireworks
Spend an afternoon at The Butchart Gardens, wandering amongst the brightly coloured blooms and taking in the peaceful scenery. Escape into the lush Japanese garden, descend into the Sunken Garden, and stop and smell the (280 varieties!) of roses in the famous Rose Garden. This isn’t your typical attraction – there’s something for everyone! Check out the beautiful carousel for kids, (or the young at heart), take an evening walk in the illuminated gardens, and make sure to catch the spectacular firework show that takes place on Saturday nights in the summertime.
Boathouse Spa & Baths at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel
If you’re looking for a little R&R, the Boathouse Spa & Baths at the Oak Bay Beach hotel could not have a more spectacular setting. The spa features three heated outdoor mineral pools overlooking the Pacific ocean, and tranquil treatment rooms designed for total relaxation whether you’re indulging in a massage or facial. Brie opted for a facial, followed by a dip in the mineral pools at sunset – the perfect combination.
Beacon Hill Children’s Farm - Running of the Goats
Those who grew up in Victoria will probably tell you that visiting the Beacon Hill Children’s farm was a pivotal part of their childhood. This sweet little farm has resident goats, llamas, peacocks, bunnies, and different varieties of chickens and ducks for you to visit. Bring your littles and come meet the animals! You MUST make sure you arrive before 10:10am for the daily running of the goats, or “goat stampede”. Every morning at the same time, the goats stampede into the farm in a mini herd, and it just might be one the cutest things we’ve ever seen.
Hikes, Beaches, and Parks
One of the most impressive things about Victoria is how easy it is to access nature from the city. You must be sure to enjoy some of the beautiful parks and green space in and around the city during your visit – go for a hike, have a picnic in a park, or watch the sunset from one of the city’s many beaches. We opted for a hike, and spent a morning exploring Mount Douglas Park in Saanich. This park boasts the largest urban forest on the Saanich Peninsula, and has more than 21 kms of trails to explore. We took in the views from the summit, which has an incredible 360 degree view of Victoria.
Parks and Beaches to visit:
Take me out to the baaaall game…summer isn’t complete without first catching a local baseball game to cheer on Victoria’s HarbourCats! Enjoy a hot dog, a slice of pizza or a cone from Phoebe’s Ice Cream, and don’t forget a $5 can of HarbourCats signature branded beer. You better hurry as the playoffs start August 13th…go Cats!
Explore the city on foot
Being one of the most walkable cities in Canada means that you can spend your days walking up and down the streets of Victoria exploring the quirky neighbourhoods, alleys, and hidden nooks and crannies. You’ll find amazing shopping with unique boutiques and shops full of local goods, art galleries, breweries, coffee shops and delicious cafes. If you’re exploring the downtown core, here are some fun things to see:
- Inner Harbour: the Inner Harbour is a bustling hub of activity. Watch the boats come in and out of the harbour, see the Harbour Air Seaplanes take off and land, admire the skilled captains of the Harbour Ferry taxis as they synchronize in their free performance of the Ferry Water Ballet. Be entertained by the buskers, wander through the Fairmont Empress Hotel gardens, or walk across the lawns of the Parliament Buildings. The Inner Harbour is quintessential Victoria, and it’s a super fun place to hang out!
- Beacon Hill Park: spend an afternoon wandering through Beacon Hill Park. With over 200 acres of park land, you can find playgrounds, picnic spots, beautiful flowerbeds, and even a putting green. Grab a soft serve cone from the famous Beacon Hill Drive In, wander in the gardens, and watch the ducks swim in the ponds.
- The Royal British Columbia Museum: We’ve been to a lot of museums, all over the world – some of which are famous or internationally renowned. But no matter how impressive they may be, the Royal BC Museum remains our favourite of all time. Showcasing both natural history and local BC human history, this museum is a feast for the eyes, and beloved by both young and old. Old town replicas complete with cobblestones, sound effects and tiny details, forests with wild animals and local artifacts – this is not your typical museum experience!
- Chinatown: take a walk through historic Chinatown, the oldest in Canada (and the second oldest in North America). See the beautiful Gate of Harmonious Interest, browse the shops and get some tasty baked goods to go!
- Fan Tan Alley: make sure to walk down this historic, brick lined alley, and the narrowest street in Canada. Originally a gambling district with restaurants, shops, and opium dens, Fan Tan Alley is now a tourist destination lined with local shops and cafes. Come here to snap some pics, pick up some local gifts, and grab an ice cream cone.
- The Victoria Bug Zoo: have kids who love creepy crawlies, or have an affinity for bugs yourself? Visit the Victoria Bug Zoo! Gawk at 50 different species of insects, arachnids and more – and you might even get to touch one or two…if you’re brave enough!
- Shopping on Johnson Street: Victoria never used to be known for its shopping, but that sure has changed! Johnson Street is one of our favourite places to browse, with its colourful shopfronts, unique boutiques and coffee shops. Make sure to pop in to Market Square, a bustling town square full of interesting shops and restaurants.
There’s no better way to see west coast wildlife up close than by taking a whale watching trip from Victoria’s Inner Harbour. Hop on one of Prince of Whales’ catamarans, or if you’re feeling adventurous, speed off in one of their zodiacs and prepare to experience the local orcas or humpbacks in their natural habitat. Prince of Whales has about a 95% year round whale sighting success rate, so your chances of seeing whales are pretty darn high! On the off chance that you don’t see any? Not to worry, Prince of Whales has a year-round whale sighting guarantee – jump on another tour for free.
What to eat
Nourish Kitchen and Café
Ah, Nourish. The brunch spot of our dreams. Being inside this beautiful little heritage house turned restaurant in James Bay is like a breath of fresh air. Sunlight streams through the windows, and sweet little accents adorn all the tables. It’s not often that you find a space that is as lovely as the food is delicious, but somehow Nourish does it all. The food here is outstanding – fresh, local and healthy with lots of dairy-free, gluten-free and vegan options, and so yummy that you’ll find yourself scraping your plate clean. Highly recommend the eggs benny with cashew hollandaise – it’s an abosolute favourite…although you can’t really go wrong!
Since first opening in 2009, the local bakery Fol Epi has become a fixture in Victoria. The attention to detail in their baked goods is astounding. From artisan breads made with high quality flour to delicious sandwiches, cookies and pastries, Fol Epi has the tastiest eats – the hardest part is choosing what to order! If we had to pick a fave, it would be the salted chocolate rye cookie. Still dreaming of it…
10 Acres Bistro
We dined at 10 Acres Bistro for lunch, and sat on their beautiful, plant adorned covered patio. (Seriously…so pretty!) The best part about 10 Acres Bistro besides their friendly service and yummy food is that the majority of their ingredients are grown or ethically raised on their 10 acre farm in North Saanich. Any leftovers or scraps from the restaurant are brought back to the farm to be composted and returned to the land. Love.
The Village (Oak Bay)
The Village has become a staple breakfast, brunch and lunch spot in the community. We brunched at the original location in Estevan Village, (there are now FIVE locations around Victoria!) and you can see why it really is where the locals eat. Real, wholesome, delicious eats with all local ingredients – you could taste the freshness. Reub enjoyed a burger, Brie had an amazing salad, and Ollie feasted on latke potato pancakes with apple sauce and fresh fruit. They were kind enough to give us a tour of their little garden behind the restaurant. Fresh herbs, edible flowers, veggies and fruits are grown here, many of which are used in their feature meals and to garnish their dishes and drinks.
Tea at the Empress
Tea at the Empress is a such a special, Victoria experience. Entering the tea room feels as though you’ve stepped into another era. A piano player accompanies you as you sip your perfectly steeped teas, (after much deliberating we opted for the Queen’s favourite and a delicious Sencha) and nibble on tiny sandwiches, warm Empress scones and delicious pastries. It’s definitely a memorable occasion.
Q at the Empress
Even if you’re not staying at the Fairmont Empress Hotel, the Q Restaurant is a great place to grab breakfast. (Or if you are staying at the Fairmont Empress Hotel, take advantage of their dine-in service!) Spend your morning in this historic hotel, sip almond milk lattes and eat tasty eggs bennies, buttermilk pancakes or yogurt with local granola…but do yourself a favour and please order the Empress scones with strawberry lavender jam and clotted cream.
The Roost Farm Bakery & Vineyard Bistro
If you’re looking for something outside of the ordinary, we highly suggest checking out the Roost! Located in North Saanich, this sweet bistro is situated on a farm that sources most of their food and baked goods, including wheat that is grown and milled on-site. Sit in their restaurant or on their beautiful back patio, grab take out from their deli and enjoy your meal on the picnic tables outside, or for a really unique experience, sit inside a remodelled old school bus! Make sure you take some baked goodies to go for later.
The Marina Restaurant is a great place for a date or a special occasion. With a lovely view over the Oak Bay Marina, beautifully plated West Coast dishes and creative regional cuisine, this spot is such a treat. All the seafood served at the Marina Restaurant is sustainably caught and Ocean Wise certified – even their sushi bar! (Major points from us for that one!) The fresh, local halibut is a must have.
Finn’s Seafood Chops Cocktails
Craving seafood? Finn’s has got a prime location and a beautiful space right on the water, and their menu featuress every kind of seafood you could ever think of. Fried oysters, shrimp tacos, ahi tuna, seafood linguini and fresh salmon – you can bet we had it all.
If you’re ice cream connoisseurs like we are, (or maybe just ice cream obsessed), you’ll want to make a special visit to Cold Comfort. Their ice cream sandwiches are out of this world, with original and inventive flavours as well as some old classics, and tons of dairy free and gluten free options. Try the Hoyne Dark Matter ice cream sandwich or the chocolate chip cookie with vanilla…actually, scratch that, just try them all. Oh, they also have delicious pints and cones…we just really love their sandwiches. 😉
Chances are if you’ve been to Victoria before, you’ve heard of Pagliacci’s. This cafe is bustling with locals all enjoying massive plates of delicious pasta, yummy sandwiches, cheesecake and Pag’s famous focaccia bread. You might have to wait in line, but we promise it’ll be worth it. Come hungry, leave happy!
Even if you’re not hungry, Fisherman’s Wharf is a fun place to visit. (But go hungry…especially if you love fish and chips!) This spot is super photogenic. Colourful, floating house boats line the dock, and happy locals and visitors feast at the different food kiosks for delicious fresh seafood, fish and chips, and other yummy eats.
Also check out
Grab a coffee
- Little June
- Fernwood Coffee
Where to stay
Fairmont Empress Hotel
Beautiful, historic, iconic. The Fairmont Empress Hotel in downtown Victoria is perfectly situated in the Inner Harbour, and is walking distance from almost every prominent tourist attraction in the city. With stunning views, beautiful rooms and a recent 60 million dollar renovation that preserves the hotel’s great history, this hotel will elevate your experience in Victoria to another level. Our room overlooked the harbour and the sparkling lights of Parliament after dark, and we spent hours exploring the hotel’s impressive pool, world-class restaurants and manicured grounds.
Oak Bay Beach Hotel
If you’re looking for a place to stay in Victoria that will knock the breath right out of you, well we have a recommendation for you! The Oak Bay Beach Hotel is a place of peace and tranquility. Located just outside the downtown core in a neighbourhood called Oak Bay, this boutique resort has a phenomenal setting overlooking the Juan de Fuca Strait. With its breathtaking ocean views, classic Manor House-inspired architecture, comfortable beds and exceptional service, you won’t ever want to leave. The best part? The hotel’s Boathouse Spa features three insanely beautiful heated outdoor mineral pools that sit right along the ocean. Hellooo relaxation!