Victoria - A Day Trip
notes from Dad
Activity:My friends tell me Victoria is a great place to take the family. I should know, I've been there a couple of dozen times over the past 20 years. The truth is I've never gone sight-seeing in Victoria (except for Butchard Gardens). You see my wife's parents own a flower farm in Victoria, so we inevitably end up in their living room talking about flowers or watching soccer on the T.V. This also explains why I've been to Butchard Gardens, perhaps one too many times.
I finally put my foot down this year and made a point of seeing Craigdarroch Castle. I enjoyed it, but the kids found it a little stuffy. Mary took Coleman (our curious two-year-old) for a walk and happened across the most delicious cappuccino she'd ever tasted at the Mocha House. The quality of foam there is, to the best of her knowledge, unsurpassed. Unfortunately, the caffeine must have gotten to her head, because she couldn't find her way back to the castle. After about fifteen minutes of patrolling the streets we found her and Coleman. She'd just finished walking in a gigantic circle!
We stayed overnight and the next morning did a whirlwind tour of the Inner Harbour, Parliament Buildings, Empress Hotel, Beacon Hill Park, and Dallas Road Seawalk. We capped it off with a soft ice-cream cone at the Beacon Drive-In. As Jen put it, "this ice-cream is out of this world."
Next time we go I want to see Miniature World and The Provincial Museum. Jen wants to take a ride on a horse-driven carriage, and Nathe wants to get a bigger ice-cream cone. Mary has her sights on the Mocha House (not unattended) and shopping. Apparently Victoria has shops we don't in Vancouver. Unfortunately, we won't have time to visit the in-laws.
If playing tourist isn't your idea of a good time, you can still go to Victoria and have a good time. Try swimming at Elk Lake or go for a bike ride around Beaver Lake. If you have your rods, Beaver Lake has a dock you can fish from as well. You can't miss Elk Lake as you drive in from Swartz Bay: it's about half-way into town, on the right side of the highway. Beaver Lake is connected to Elk Lake, but not visible from the highway.
Another option is to turn left off the highway at Sayward Road (big intersection just before Elk Lake) and follow the Scenic Drive along the coastline. Be sure to stop at Mattick's Farm along the way. It has mini- golf and some unique shops to browse.
If you like bike riding, you can back-track about half-a-mile to Lochside Park and take the Galloping Goose Trail. It follows an old railway line through the countryside. The trail actually passes by the farm Mary grew up on. When Mary was small the trail was totally overgrown, and they had to hack their own way through to build their secret forts. The golf course you see used to be a cattle farm, which got burnt down when Mary was a kid (about 35 years ago, give or take a couple).
If you stay on the Scenic Drive, you should pass a couple of public beach accesses at Cordova Bay and Mt. Doug Park. According to Mary, Cordova Bay is bigger and has more sand than Mt. Doug. Beyond Mt. Doug the drive becomes more residential, but it will eventually lead you to Oak Bay and Dallas Road, which is not far from The Beacon Drive-In and town.
Age group:I can't think of any age group that wouldn't enjoy Victoria. It's mild weather and slower pace have earned Victoria the reputation of being, "The Retirement Capital of B.C."
Expense rating:It costs our family (two adults, two children and a baby, plus our van) just over 50 dollars to take the ferry to Victoria. This is not a round trip fare, so you can figure on at least 100 dollars to get there and back. Whatever else you spend depends on how much food you eat and how many tourist attractions you visit.
:What I like about Victoria is that it's not too far away, but when you go back home you really feel like you've been someplace different. Victoria builds on its reputation of being "a bit of jolly olde Englande." Although the translation is pretty loose, Victoria still has a quaintness which is hard to resist. You will see double-decker buses, horse-drawn carriages, and Tudor-style houses and shops (particularly along Fort and Government streets). You can even have high tea at the Empress Hotel if you care to. What I also like about Victoria is the same reason Mary moved to Vancouver-it's a small town. It takes you only 30 minutes to drive from Swartz Bay to town.
:A visit to Victoria has one big drawback, the Ferry. You could spend hours waiting at the terminal if it's busy. If you're going to Victoria for the day and you miss the boat you'll be waiting 2 hours for the next one to arrive. What's worse is there's nothing to entertain your kids at the terminal except for cafeteria and a small playground (at Swartz Bay). Not exactly the way you want to start off your excursion. What we've resorted to (and it works like a charm) is booking ahead. For an extra $15 you are guaranteed a spot on the ferry. I remember doing this from Horseshoe Bay one Sunday afternoon in August. We must have driven by hundreds of cars waiting in the boiling heat to catch a ferry. Take my word for it, if you have small children, booking ahead can save you a lot of grief and time!
Details:Victoria is on Vancouver Island, so you have no choice but to take a ferry (or plane). The ferry normally leaves Vancouver from Tswassen every odd hour (with extra sailings during busy times, call 1-888-223-3779 or visit www.bcferries.bc.ca for ferry sailing information). The ride takes about 1.5 hours, and is, by the way, very very picturesque. On a fine day, could spend you the whole time on the outside deck enjoying the scenery as you wind your way through the Gulf Islands. The drive from Swartz Bay to Victoria city centre takes about half-an-hour. Just stay on the highway, and you can't go wrong.
Area:Southern most tip of Vancouver Island
Season:You can go to Victoria anytime of year. The weather there is similar to Vancouver's. My mother-in-law likes to rub it in that Victoria is slightly milder and drier (supposedly the banana belt of BC), but I think that's all a myth. This winter Victoria had a couple of snow storms Vancouver missed out on. Anyway Spring is my choice time of year for Victoria, because it has lots of blossoms and flowers. Victoria even has a flower count every year in early spring. The summer is great too, but then you take your chances on the ferries with all the other thousands of tourists.
Educational highlights:Mary tells me Mattick's Farm started out as a produce market owned by Bill Mattick. Her Dad used to sell vegetables and strawberries to Bill Mattick. Bill had a silver hook for one of his hands (just like the one Captain Hook had in Peter Pan). Mary remembers asking what happened to his real hand. Bill told Mary one day he bit his finger nails down too far! If you want to see a life-size figure of Bill Mattick plus his signature Mynah bird, go to the golf course lobby.
Fun for the adult?:I like going to places and looking at attractions, Victoria is right up my alley. It has a number of spots you can visit all within walking distance of each other: The BC Provincial Museum, the Empress Hotel, Miniature World, Undersea Gardens, downtown shops, the Inner Harbour, and Beacon Hill Park. If you're more the outdoorsy type, like Mary, you can still pack in a day or two of fun. Although, I have to admit, Victoria doesn't beat Vancouver when it comes to outdoor fun, Vancouver is still tops in my books.