AFTER A WEEK CAMPING on the south coast of Vancouver Island in the Juan de Fuca Provincial Park, our crew of 11 was heading back to Seattle. Mia and I realized we had some extra time and extended our trip.
We went to the city of Victoria and checked into a hotel on the waterfront. The lobby was filled with professional types in town for a conference and a few well-dressed middle-aged travelers. Our heavy smell of woodsmoke, dirty Levis, and sand-dusted toes sticking out of flip flops had us feeling somewhat out of place. But soon we were showered and out on the town, taking in sights such as the Fairmont Empress Hotel.
Tired of smoking hand-rolled cigarettes made up of tobacco, sand, and charcoal all week, I took advantage of some of the finer things on offer in Victoria. For visitors from the US, one of the benefits of being in Canada is the lack of a trade embargo against Cuba and the resulting availability of cigars straight from Havana.
Beach camping is mainly fueled by things that travel in 12oz aluminum cans or 750mL glass bottles, so we gladly welcomed the ready access to craft-brewed beers around Victoria. At Swan’s Brew Pub the Bavarian Lager won our private tasting competition, and the live music was a riot. The band looked like they’d been playing since the building was constructed in 1913, their groupies as well.
Drinking your dinner requires further potent concoctions for breakfast. Though we really wanted to sample a few different espressos from the city’s numerous cafes, the shot that the guys at Habit Coffee pulled for me pinned my caffeine needle to the top of the gauge and I didn’t need / want any more. I then read every magazine on their rack. Based on how worn the pages were, I assume the potency of my cup was not an anomaly.
At first we felt like we deserved to indulge in all of the city’s food-related offerings, but somewhere along the way we lost track and drifted dangerously onto the debt side of consumption — the type you have to work off. So we headed to Mount Douglas, a 450-acre municipal park just outside downtown, for a hike.
The park is crisscrossed with trails that can take you from the beach to the 853′ summit. The view looks out over downtown Victoria and across the waters of the Salish Sea. You can see the Olympic Peninsula, the San Juan Islands, and on clear days the towering, ice-clad summit of Mount Baker.
“You have to visit the Butchart Gardens,” more than one friend told us. So we did. They’re located outside of Victoria on the way to the ferry terminals in Sydney. Mia and I were probably the youngest people there by about 20 years. I love parks and gardens, but the one-way paths and roped-off lawns at Butchart were somewhat frustrating. They’re obviously set up to accommodate huge groups of people, and indeed receive over a million visitors a year.
If you decide to visit the gardens, go early on a weekday to have time to enjoy them rather than getting swept away in a stampede of camera-wielding retirees.
Swan’s Brew Pub
506 Pandora Avenue, Swans Suite Hotel, Victoria
808 Yates Street, Victoria, BC
800 Benvenuto Avenue, Brentwood Bay, BC