In Victoria, we can’t wait for Christmas to be upon us! The city is aglow with Christmas lights, the Parliament Buildings and The Fairmont Empress Hotel are adorned with colourful decorations, and there are plenty of festive events to fill even the Grinchiest hearts with holiday cheer!
Enjoy our sample two day itinerary to make the most of your stay. We even have some early Christmas presents for you!
Begin with a tour through the grand walkways of the Fairmont Empress Hotel, decked out for the Festival of Trees. All creatively decorated by local businesses, you can vote for your favourite tree by donation with all proceeds going to the BC Children’s Hospital. Afterwards, make your way to the Empress Dining Room to indulge in Christmas Afternoon Tea. Enjoy the beautifully presented handcrafted pastries, cakes and scones, along with dainty finger sandwiches and a cup of the Empress Blend tea.
After tea, take a stroll across the street to the Royal BC Museum. Explore visiting exhibits such as the Wildlife Photographer of the Year, as well as permanent natural history and First Nations exhibits. The museum’s historic “Old Town” will be festively transformed in beautiful turn-of-the-century style; you might even see Father Christmas if you’ve been nice!
From the museum, it’s a short walk to the Hotel Grand Pacific’s Bear Wear Event, a display of teddy bears dressed up for the season. Bears grace the hotel’s lobby, providing a family-friendly free event for all. Each bear is sponsored and dressed by a Victoria business in exchange for a donation to charity. Across the street at the Robert Bateman Centre, rethink the traditional holiday wreath with up-cycled materials at the Wreath-Cycled Collection. View wreaths created by Robert Bateman, Robert Amos, and other local artists free of charge. The exhibit opens November 21, 2013.
Finish off your day with a short walk to the Inn at Laurel Point for the Canadian National Gingerbread Showcase. Marvel at the array of incredible gingerbread creations, lovingly handcrafted by amateur and professional chefs from all over the world – these are no mere houses, these are gingerbread masterpieces!
What better way to start your day than from a cozy horse drawn carriage? Head to Menzies Street, beside the Parliament Buildings, to embark on your narrated guided tour. Hop in and bundle up with a blanket as your guide takes you around Victoria’s iconic landmarks and sights, and provides local knowledge as you trot along!
Enjoy some Christmas shopping as you continue on foot up Government Street to Centennial Square, home to Victoria’s City Hall. The Square will be decked out for Christmas as of November 23 with the annual Christmas Tree Light-Up of the giant sequoia tree. As if designed by Dickens himself, Centennial Square features carollers, a colourful fountain and a 65 foot high Ferris wheel!
Across Government Street from Centennial Square you’ll find the gates to Chinatown. Explore this historical part of the city and then warm up with a visit to Silk Road Tea Room. Situated in a beautiful heritage building in one of the most historic parts of the city, you’ll find countless tea blends, plenty of tea ware and handmade skincare products inside; the perfect place to pick up a gift or two.
By coach, public bus or car, make your way to the iconic Butchart Gardens. Open until 9 p.m. throughout December, you’ll want to see the Gardens at night to experience the beautiful colours produced by thousands of glittering lights and decorations. Wander the gardens, hop on the carousel or take a spin on the ice rink as you listen to the carolers singing Christmas favourites.
Our Christmas Present To You: Special deals and savings at several of these attractions. Visit http://www.tourismvictoria.com/christmas/to learn more.
Breafast at Bubby’s!
A couple weeks back we featured some of our favourite breakfast spots in Victoria, and although you could probably devote an entire book to the subject and still not cover them all, we’re trying! Here are four more of our favourites:
A staple of Cook Street Village, Bubby’s Kitchen can seemingly do no wrong. With excellent breakfast, lunch and dinner menus, there’s never a bad time to pop in for a bite at Bubby’s. Breakfast consists of standard fare done right – think local veggies, organic grains and free-run eggs – but also features a few mouthwatering jaw-droppers – think Ancho-braised beef short rib hash. Mmm, mmm, mmm!
Another Victoria restaurant that has been featured on Food Network’s You Gotta Eat Here, chef and owner John Cantin has been serving up a mean breakfast (and lunch, and dinner) for over 29 years. Breakfasts at John’s Place are legendary, and although it can sometimes be tough to get a table on the weekend, the wait is worth it, trust us! Load up with some “Off the Wall” breakfasts like their hearty “Bat Out of Hell” Meatloaf ‘n’ Eggs or satisfy your sweet tooth with Belgian waffles or their French Toast Erotica.
Withstanding the test of time, Fort Street’s famous Dutch Bakery & Coffee Shop has been satisfying its customers for over 56 years. Most famous for their decadent cakes and pastries, their breakfasts are nothing to scoff at either. Offering tasty breakfasts at more-than-reasonable prices, food at the Dutch Bakery is as easy on the wallet as it is to scarf down. Just be sure to leave some room at the end for one of their baked goodies!
James Bay Tearoom
Nestled in the heart of James Bay stands a little white house with black trim and a black and white awning. This quaint little house, originally built in 1907, is home to the James Bay Tea Room and Restaurant. Serving up breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea, breakfasts at the James Bay Tea Room are characterized by classic meals prepared in a home-style way – simple, filling and delicious.
For those with a “crafty” disposition, the wealth of Christmas craft fairs in Victoria is incredibly tempting. If you’re looking for a unique, locally-made gift or even an early Christmas present to yourself, you’re in the right place.
A Victorian Christmas Craft Fair
The atmosphere at the Victorian Christmas Craft Fair will get you feeling festive in no time. Browse hundreds of locally made goods from handmade pottery and toys to local beauty products and handcrafted candles and soaps. Listen to the carolers as you admire pieces from both new and returning talented crafters. To recharge, stop for a bite to eat at the Christmas Corner Kitchen, full of locally produced treats, including gluten-free baking.
Commonwealth Pool, Saanich
November 16, 10-5 p.m.; November 17, 10-4 p.m.
3rd Annual Westshore Wonderland Craft Fair
Spanning three days, this year’s Earthly Goods Craft Market in WestShore features quality holiday pieces from 100 of Vancouver Island’s exceptional artisans. Nestled amongst beautiful Christmas decorations, stalls will be full of wonderful gift ideas, including handmade jewellery, delicious sweets and preserves, cozy knits and creative wood and metalwork. Sample local food and get involved in festive fun like face painting for the kids, family photos and even a chance to meet Father Christmas!
Eagle Ridge Community Centre
November 22, noon to 8 p.m.; November 23, 10-5 p.m.; November 24, 10-4 p.m.
$4 admission or $5 for a weekend pass
Out of Hand Christmas Craft Fair
This year the Out of Hand Christmas Craft Fair is 25 years old! To celebrate, not only will there be three spectacular days of incredible crafts, but also a party on Friday night with a DJ, cocktails and canapés from The Fairmont Empress Hotel, and a fashion show featuring items available at the fair. New and seasoned artisans will have plenty of inspirational gift ideas for you, including fabulous foods, unique fashions and accessories as well as pottery, jewellery and glass pieces. Be sure to keep hold of your ticket stub, it will give you access to fantastic downtown discounts and possibly win you a prize.
November 29 10-9 p.m.; November 30, 10-6 p.m.; December 1, 10-4:30 p.m.
Daily $8, 3-Day Pass $9
Annual Dickens Fair
As one of the oldest fairs in Victoria (33 this year!), the Dickens Fair offers a wealth of pieces that are all “handmade, homemade and homegrown”. Festive greenery, tasty homemade treats and one-of-a-kind crafts can all be found here. Not only can you pick up affordable local treasures, you can enjoy a variety of entertainment throughout the day and get yourself lunch and hot beverages in the café. Kids will love the craft centre, so make a day of it and bring the family for some festive fun!
James Bay Community School
December 7, 12-8 p.m.
Admission by donation
For more information, check our Events Calendar for details, or drop in at the Visitor Centre to get some Christmas activity inspiration!
Breakfast at Abbeymoore Manor.
The long, early-morning lines snaking out the doors of many of the city’s popular cafes, diners and restaurants are a dead giveaway: locals love their breakfast spots. Breakfast in Victoria is a revered affair and it’s easy to see why. With a multitude of offerings ranging from sumptuous buffet brunches to quick vegan breakfasts, even the most discerning of eaters will have no trouble finding something to suit their fancy.
Although everyone has their “own spot”, here are some of our favourites:
Despite only being open since August, Chongo’s is already earning rave reviews for its tasty food and unpretentious vibe. Located in a beautiful heritage home in James Bay, Chongo’s primarily serves lunch and dinner, but also does brunch on the weekends. Start with their signature Double Seafood Caesar – a west coast take on the Canadian favourite with a fresh shucked oyster and a bacon wrapped scallop – and then choose from classic breakfast offerings like steak and eggs, or go the more decadent route with the artery-clogging goodness of their stuffed French toast or breakfast poutine.
A longtime local favourite, Shine Café gained national fame thanks to an appearance on The Food Network’s You Gotta Eat Here! program. Renowned for their unique and diverse menu of Benedicts, Shine offers all the quintessential breakfast staples: hashes, omelets, pancakes, crepes and more. With two locations in town, you can rest assured you’re never too far from a delicious breakfast at Shine!
Willie’s Bakery & Café
Founded in 1887, Willie’s Bakery & Café is British Columbia’s oldest bakery. All of their goods are made fresh daily and their all-day breakfast and lunch menu features a range of local and organic ingredients. For breakfast, it’s hard to go wrong with one of their many egg dishes – Benedict, omelet or skillet, they’re all great! If it’s a casual, tasty, no-fuss breakfast you’re after, definitely stop by Willie’s. As a bonus, when the weather is nice, you can enjoy your meal in their courtyard amongst flowers, birds and a fountain.
Located in an old “bat wing” style gas station – the only one of its kind left in Canada – Pluto’s is a Victoria institution that has been satisfying hungry customers for 25 years. Their all-day menu includes all your standard breakfast fare, as well as signature items like the Santa Fe Chorizo Wrap and the fiery Diablo Hash. At Pluto’s you can always count on three things: hearty portions, made-from-scratch meals and good food.
Victoria’s Bed & Breakfasts
While not breakfast joints per se, no list of amazing breakfasts in Victoria would be complete without a mention of the city’s B&Bs. Although the thought of typical B&B breakfasts can conjure up images of the glorified continental variety, Victoria’s B&Bs do breakfast right. Often two-course affairs, breakfasts usually consist of fruit and baked goodies followed by lavish and inventive dishes like fresh fruit soufflé pancakes and smoked chicken fajita omelets. With breakfasts like that, even locals might be tempted to spend a night or two in one of the city’s B&Bs!
We’ll be posting part two in the following weeks, be sure to stay tuned for it!
It has been a fantastic two weeks profiling some of Sooke’s amazing hikes, restaurants and culture. Although by now you should have a ton of things on your Sooke bucket list, here are three more must-dos the next time you’re in the area:
Add some excitement to your time in Sooke with a Zipline Adventure Tour courtesy of Adrena LINE Zipline Adventure Tours. Soaring up to 150 feet off the ground and travelling at speeds up to 60 km/hour, the two hour tour includes eight ziplines ranging from 130 to 1000 feet in length and covers more than 100 acres of wilderness. Adrena LINE also features two suspension bridges and a free shuttle to and from downtown Victoria. Their professionally trained guides emphasize safety and comfort and ensure a ride of thrills, beauty and fond memories.
Schedule a fishing charter
We’ve previously mentioned how great the fishing can be in the Sooke region, so why not experience it for yourself with a fishing charter from a company like 2 Reel Fishing Adventures? Each season offers something different and although the salmon may be bigger in the summer, in the winter they are far more plentiful; you’re practically guaranteed a catch! Don’t forget to bring a camera with you either – seals, whales, eagles and other wildlife are often sighted.
Take a guided hiking tour
Sooke’s lush rainforests and fantastic hiking opportunities are the stuff of legend. Sometimes though, with so much to choose from, it can be tough figuring out where to go and what to do. Companies like R&T Rainforest Tours demystify the process with their experienced and knowledgeable guides. With R&T you have the option of joining a guided group or creating your own customized tour, but no matter what you choose, you can be sure it will satisfy your senses and quench your thirst to experience the rainforests of Vancouver Island. Half-day and full-day tours are available and tours can be packaged with a spa experience, whale watching, ziplining or Helijet travel. A delicious lunch is included with every tour!
Although the world class hiking located right at Sooke’s doorstep is most famous, outdoor opportunities of all sorts abound in the region. The area truly is an outdoor adventurists dream!
While not as celebrated as Tofino and Long Beach, the area around Sooke is known for its surfing, particularly in the fall and winter. If you’re willing to brave the cold waters and brisk temperatures, great waves can be found at a few different spots, just be sure wear an adequate wetsuit!
- Sombrio Beach: The most popular surf spot is Sombrio Beach, located along the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail approximately one hour north of Sooke. It features several different types of breaks, including a rocky beach break and a couple reef breaks located further off shore. Due to the steep, rocky shore and the popularity of the beach, it is not ideal for beginners, but if you have a bit of experience, you will be impressed!
- Jordan River: Located about 30 minutes past Sooke, Jordan River (or J.R. to the locals) is another popular surf spot and is relatively forgiving to beginner surfers. It has a long, fast wave and although the swell isn’t as consistent as Sombrio, J.R. produces at least a few legendary surf days every winter. When it’s on, it’s really on!
- China Beach: Just past Jordan River is China Beach. Known primarily as the start of the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, good surf can be found here as well. As it’s more sheltered and less popular than Jordan River and Sombrio, on big swell days many surfers choose to come to China Beach. It has a very forgiving beach break which makes it an ideal spot for beginners.
Great mountain biking can also be found all over the Sooke region. The wide range of trails means that there is something that is suitable for everyone, regardless of technical ability. A few of the most popular areas are:
- Broom Hill/Sacred Mountain: Boasting stunning views of Sooke Harbour and the Olympic Mountains, Broom Hill/Sacred Mountain is arguably the most popular area for mountain biking in Sooke. It features a wide variety of intermediate cross-country trails and highly technical downhill free ride trails.
- Harbourview Road: Another extensive trail system in Sooke, the Harbourview Road area provides easy access for mountain bikers into the back country. The road is closed to motorized vehicles so it’s an excellent choice for families looking to get exposed to the back country without having to worry about getting lost. The trails range from steep downhill “hike and bikes” such as the FM Radio to long cross country trails like Terra Nova, stretching 16km from the Harbourview area to just outside Langford and Luxton.
- The Galloping Goose: The perfect ride for more leisurely mountain bikers and families, the Galloping Goose is one of the most famous trails in the Victoria region and the longest of its kind on the south island. It stretches from Victoria to the Sooke Potholes and crosses over a number of other smaller trails that are all suitable for beginners.
Seaside dining at Sooke Harbour House
Sooke’s dining options range from high-end, epicurean creations to down-to-earth, funky coffee shops. With an abundance of food from area farms, fresh local produce, fish and other seafood, and some of the best mushrooming on Vancouver Island, visitors will be surprised and delighted by the menu offerings of some of these west coast establishments. Here are some of our favourites:
Renowned as one of the most scenic spots in North America, the restaurant at Sooke Harbour House is a west coast culinary landmark. The menu changes daily to serve only the freshest local ingredients. Salad greens and herbs are grown in their own kitchen gardens and ingredients include organic rabbit and veal, organically raised chickens and local duck, and seafood and shellfish such as Pacific salmon, halibut, oysters and scallops.
At the west end of the Sooke basin is Markus’s Wharfside Restaurant. Owner/chef Markus Wieland works wonders with seafood, lamb and free-range chicken. The pretty blue restaurant overlooking the harbour was certified in 2009 as a culinary destination by the Culinary Tourism Society of British Columbia.
The Prestige Oceanfront Resort offers several eateries to choose from: The Mix by Ric’s and Sofia Café, and Yesaki Wine & Raw Bar. Each restaurant offers its own special ambiance and cuisine, for lunch, dinner or tapas, with freshly prepared, house made sauces and pastries as well as a commitment to local ingredients and fresh oceanwise seafood. Enjoy the cozy indoors or relax on the deck with its panoramic view of Sooke Harbour. Or, if a west coast adventure is on your agenda they’ll pack sandwiches, drinks and treats to go.
Point-No-Point, about 30 minutes west of Sooke past French Beach on the West Coast Road, offers fusion-style lunches and dinners in a charming cottage overlooking the Juan de Fuca Strait.
Tugwell Creek Honey Farm and Meadery was licensed as B.C.’s first meadery in 2003. The combination of 43 years of beekeeping and over 25 years of mead making experience bring a unique and educational culinary experience to their tasting room. Pick up a bottle of their award winning meads (honey wines) for a picnic or to bring home; each blends varietal honeys and berries from the region.
- Substantial pub grub, good beer, and lively crowds are the norm at such local institutions as the 17 Mile House, an 1894 coaching inn near the East Sooke turnoff on Highway 14.
- The Alternative Kitchen in Sooke’s downtown is a popular breakfast and lunch hangout.
- A favourite spot for day trippers is Mom’s Café. The cozy booths at this vintage roadhouse are a great spot for burgers and pie.
- The Stone Pipe Grill features a casual fusion menu.
- Good burgers and exceptional milkshakes are available at Homers next to the highway at Sooke River Road.
- The Smoking Tuna Cafe on Beecher Bay Road near the gates of East Sooke Regional Park, a summer spot known for its creative menu and fabulous seafood.
The Pacific Marine Circle Route is a coast to coast journey offering panoramic views of the Juan de Fuca, Haro and Georgia straits as well as the Saanich Peninsula. The route extends from Victoria, B.C. on Highway 14 – also known as the West Coast (Sooke) Highway – north westerly to Sooke and Port Renfrew and easterly to Lake Cowichan and on to Duncan where it joins up with Highway 1.
The Pacific Marine Circle Route will excite even the most enthusiastic traveler with the diversity of Vancouver Island, including spectacular provincial parks, pastoral landscapes and wineries. It is full of wild forests and hiking trails, and offers every kind of outdoor activity from trophy salmon and halibut fishing, to kayaking and canoeing. There are also urban stops along the way, providing unique dining, accommodation and shopping opportunities.
The route averages 250 kilometres, but can be divided up into smaller legs with overnight stays between two and four days, depending on your schedule. The route boasts many historical trails and sites of interest so it’s well worth taking your time.
For the first leg of your trip, start in Victoria and head west to Sooke and on to Port Renfrew. Stop along the way at the Sooke Region Museum for a comprehensive historic experience of the area including displays of 18th century clothing, quilting and carving; pioneer artifacts and displays of exploration, natural history and early education; and farming, forestry and mining exhibits.
Depending on when you set out, you may want to stop for lunch or dinner at Sooke Harbour House. Situated on the beach, the internally renowned restaurant features fresh local seafood, meats and produce, paying special attention to supporting local farmers, gardeners and fishermen.
If you opt to break your journey in Sooke or Port Renfrew, there are a variety of accommodation options available. The BEST WESTERN PREMIER Prestige Oceanfront Resort is a haven for relaxation and rejuvenation. The full service resort features luxurious guest rooms and extraordinary hospitality with breath-taking views of Sooke Harbour, Sooke Basin, Juan de Fuca Strait and the Olympic Mountains. If camping is more your speed, there are a number of camp grounds and Bed & Breakfast cottages in the area.
Check back next month for more recommended stops and activities on the Pacific Marine Circle Route.
The Sooke to Port Renfrew region is a year round haven for Vancouver Island artists, artisans and crafts-people. As B.C.’s oldest independent settlement, the historic town of Sooke has attracted residents who have developed an excellent arts and crafts community with theatre productions, music, galleries, festivals and the well-known Sooke Fine Arts show. Visitors can enjoy the creativity of these artists through a host of galleries, craft studios, concerts, festivals, workshops, lectures and tours.
Ground yourself in the history and culture of the area with a visit to the Sooke Regional Museum. The museum provides a comprehensive experience including displays of 18th century clothing, weaving, quilting and carving; pioneer artifacts and displays of exploration, natural history and early education; and farming, forestry and mining exhibits.
Within the museum’s galleries, you’ll also experience First Nations artifacts, historic photographs, dioramas, displays and scale models, depicting both momentous events as well as day-to-day life. Household tasks of the turn of the century are demonstrated in nearby Moss Cottage. Built in 1869, Moss Cottage is the oldest standing pioneer home west of Victoria.
After a visit to the Sooke Regional Museum, take time to check out some of the area’s talented present-day artists. The varied works of local artists and crafts-people include everything from paintings, prints and sculpture, to glassworks and metal art.
If you time your visit for late-July and early-August, be sure to catch the annual Sooke Fine Arts Show, Vancouver Island’s premier adjudicated art show. The show brings together artists, volunteers, visitors and art patrons in an 11-day celebration of the arts and provides an opportunity for both well-known and emerging artists to showcase their work. Year round, check out the Marshall-Inman Gallery and the Sooke Harbour House for evolving artwork displays.
“Wild by nature,” Sooke is renowned for its outdoor opportunities, in particular the incredible hiking it offers! With East Sooke Park, the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, the Kludahk Trail and the world-famous West Coast Trail all located within a short drive from Victoria, Sooke is the gateway to some of the best hikes in the world. Here are three local favourites:
Juan de Fuca Trail
With a trailhead 35km beyond Sooke, the Juan de Fuca Marine trail is one of B.C.’s most famous hikes. The 47km trail skirts the southeastern coast of Vancouver Island, stretching from China Beach to Botanical Beach, just a few kilometers south of Port Renfrew. The trail can be hiked in part as a day trip or in full over four to six days. Along the way you’ll be exposed to breathtaking views of the Juan de Fuca Strait, the Olympic Mountains and stunning rainforest vistas.
Relatively unknown compared to some of the more famous trails on Vancouver Island, the 48km long Kludahk Trail runs parallel to Juan de Fuca Strait along the San Juan Ridge. It is popular with hikers during the late spring, summer and early fall, and with cross-country skiers and snowshoers during the winter and early spring. The trail’s semi-alpine geography makes for an interesting contrast to the other coastal hikes in the region and features meadows, lakes, old hemlock and cedar forests, bogs and ponds and an abundance of wildflowers. Also, with trailheads located in Port Renfrew and just beyond Jordan River, particularly hardy hikers can even combine this three-day hike into a weeklong loop with the Juan de Fuca Trail!
East Sooke Park
Featuring pocket beaches, forest, rocky bays and marshes, as well as a network of approximately 50km of trails winding along the rocky coast and through the rainforest, East Sooke Regional Park is an outdoor lover’s dream! Hikers looking to challenge themselves can tackle the rugged 10km long Coast Trail, while more leisure-focused visitors can explore intertidal life along the coastline, stop for a picnic at Aylard Farm or hike up Babbington Hill for sweeping views of the Olympic Peninsula.
N.B. – Safety first! Before embarking on these hikes or any others, be sure to check trail reports, maps and weather forecasts, and ensure you are prepared with adequate footwear, food and equipment.