Planning a stop in Victoria, BC? Here’s where to eat, drink, and stay, and what to see and do.
Located on a large island off the southern west coast of Canada, Victoria, BC, is known for its beautiful beaches, lush year-round gardens, and red double decker buses (a nod to its British heritage). Whenever I tell people that I was born and raised in Victoria, they usually smile and offer up a story about “that one time” they visited my hometown while on an Alaskan cruise or during a quick weekend getaway from nearby Seattle. They came, visited the kitschy (read: slightly terrifying) wax museum, ate some fudge on Government Street, saw some beautiful flowers, had a great time, and went home.
While those are all solid activities when visiting this corner of the world (barring the wax museum—that place scares me), what most (non-local) people don’t realize is that Victoria also has a thriving local food and drink scene (think: an eco-friendly fish restaurant housed in an old shipping container, award winning cocktail bars, and a distillery that makes some of the purest vodka in the world). An hour and a half by boat from the mainland, Victoria has a true island mentality: if we can’t find it, we make it ourselves. Along with great food and amazing scenery, you’re never too far from a cool indie boutique or your next vintage find.
If you have a few days in Victoria, BC and plan on seeing, doing, and eating as many amazing things as possible, here are a few not-to-be-missed places to check out.
Related Reading: Our Favorite Eatwith Food Experiences Around the World
Where to Eat and Drink
This outdoor waterfront eatery housed in an up-cycled cargo container is easy to spot thanks to its perpetual line-up. But don’t be put off by the crowds. Their fish “tacones” (hand roll style tacos in large flour tortillas stuffed with freshly grilled seafood) are worth the wait. Everything on the menu (which also includes things like fish and chips, deep fried oysters, and a selection of sandwiches) is made with sustainably sourced seafood as part of the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise program.
In the mood for a local’s only dining experience? Ignore the touristy restaurants along the inner harbor and instead walk up a block to this small tucked-away bar and restaurant. Little Jumbo has made a name for themselves thanks to their ever rotating menu of inventive craft cocktails, like “Dustany’s Child” (a heady drink featuring El Dorado 12 year, nutty Solera sherry, Aperol, lemon, black cherry balsamic, and cherry dust). But don’t sleep on the food. It’s excellent. Come for dinner or a late night drink and stay for the ling cod ceviche and truffle frites.
At first glance, this place looks like your stereotypical, old-school hotel bar and you’d be right—sort of. Inside this local favorite you’ll find a selection of world-class, award winning cocktails made with fresh ingredients (all juices are freshly squeezed when you order your cocktail), including house made bitters, syrups, shrubs, and garnishes. Order the Smoke and Mirrors (Los Siete Misterios Doba-Yej mezcal, Campari, Alvear fino sherry, Thai chili infused Cynar, orange shrub, Angostura bitters, and chocolate bitters) or stick to a classic cocktail—either way, you won’t be disappointed.
Brunch It Up
What Victoria lacks in night life, it makes up for with a vibrant brunch scene. Whether you’re craving sweet, savory, or something in between, you can probably find what you’re looking for. Head to Mole for their huevos rancheros (made with homemade corn patties), Shine Cafe for their Eggs Benedict (The Polish Benny is served on a bed of perogies topped with bacon, caramelized onions, and roasted garlic hollandaise), La Tortilla Mexicana for a traditional Mexican breakfast, or John’s Place for the “222 Headache” (which includes a Belgian waffle slathered in cream cheese icing infused syrup, two eggs, and sausage or bacon). Local hotspots like Jam and The Blue Fox are also great bets if you don’t mind lining up.
What to See and Do
If you’ve longed to eat and drink like a character from “Downton Abbey” (or maybe just have a thing for finger sandwiches), make sure you add High Tea at the Empress to your Victoria bucket list. A tradition for over a century, the world-renowned Fairmont Empress has served England’s most beloved ritual of afternoon tea to royalty, celebrities, and dignitaries alike. Enjoy their exclusive Empress Blend tea while noshing on delectable bites like Cucumber on Rye sandwiches (with dill whipped cream cheese, fennel pollen, and pink peppercorn), and the Signature Empress Raisin Scones (served warm with house-made clotted cream and strawberry lavender preserves).
Drive an hour outside of the city to the Cowichan Valley. Known as “Canada’s Provence,” the area is home to a burgeoning food and drink scene. Thanks to a Mediterranean-like microclimate, you’ll find over a dozen wineries, a handful of craft breweries and cideries, distilleries, and plenty of artisan producers—not to mention great restaurants. Book a wine tour, embark on a “spirit safari,” or explore on your own.
While you’re in the area, make an appointment to visit the tasting room at Ampersand Distilling, a family run distillery that’s using a unique still design to produce some of the purest alcohol in the world (nearly 97% ABV). Try their award winning gin. It’s delicious (and will probably ruin you for all other gins).
One of the best ways to explore Victoria is by harbor ferry. Catch a Victoria Harbour Ferry to Fisherman’s Wharf and take in the colorful house boats while you enjoy some Barb’s Fish and Chips (authentically wrapped in newsprint). If you want to make things interesting, sign up for the Pickle Pub Crawl, which includes four hops on the Water Taxi and a complimentary appetizer at a handful of local pubs and eateries.
Wander the Alleys of Chinatown
Victoria’s Chinatown is the oldest in Canada and the second oldest in North America after San Francisco’s. This history soaked corner of downtown is chock-full of picturesque scenery, good eats, and great photo-ops. Wander down the famous (and frequently Instagrammed) Fan Tan Alley where you’ll find local boutiques and eateries, before heading over to lesser known Dragon Alley, a hidden spot that’s home to gallery space and the quaint Union Pacific Coffee patio.
Ice Cream and Chill
When all else fails, Victoria has no shortage of gorgeous beaches and parks. Grab a soft serve ice cream at the award winning Beacon Drive In (a local institution) and wander around Beacon Hill Park or Dallas Road for an amazing view of the Pacific Ocean and snow-capped Olympic mountains.
Where to Shop
Victoria is known for having a vibrant vintage and thrifting scene. Start your search for the perfect vintage gem at The Patch, a sprawling downtown store specializing in premium recycled and vintage clothing. Expect to find everything from vintage leather jackets, tees, and denim with used brand name and designer items mixed throughout. Even better: You’ll be hard pressed to find an item over $50.
Skip the malls and head straight to Lower Johnson (or “LoJo” as locals call it), Victoria’s boutique block which features a slew of local indie retailers located in colorful Victorian era buildings. Browse historic Market Square, shop the chic casual wear at Still Life, and find the perfect piece of handmade jewelry at Little Gold before heading over to Cafe Mexico for happy hour.
It’s hard to walk into this eclectic and reasonably priced housewares store without leaving with something you didn’t even realize you needed (like the perfect mid-century inspired planter or a giant inflatable ice cream sandwich for your next pool day). At Paboom you’ll find a large selection of well designed jewelry, art prints, kitchenware, glassware, textiles, rugs, bathroom accessories, frames, decor objects, stationary, greeting cards, furniture, and more—all at prices that won’t break the bank.
Serious home chefs (and even the not so serious ones) should add Cook Culture to their Victoria to-do list. Here you’ll find everything from cookbooks and high quality cookware to that perfect gadget you need to do that one thing (hi, kale and greens stripper). Want to brush up on your Thai cooking skills or learn how to make your own tortillas? Cook Culture offers regular cooking classes.
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In case you can't get to Victoria right away...
Where to Stay
When it comes to hotels, it doesn’t get more iconic than the Fairmont Empress. Originally built in 1908, Canada’s “Castle on the Coast” which overlooks Victoria’s sparkling inner harbor, is impossible to miss. Steeped in history and old-school luxury, the Empress is a must-visit, even if you’re not staying at the hotel. Enjoy a signature cocktail at Q at The Empress, a scenic cocktail bar where you can sip local mixology under irreverent portraits of Queen Victoria. Sample their selection of Canadian whiskey or try a cocktail made with their award winning Empress Gin.
Empress 1908 Gin, $24.07+ on Drizly
You can order this butterfly pea-tinted gin online in some states too.
Described as “ridiculously fun and eclectic,” this Starburst hued hotel feels like a touch of Palm Springs in the Pacific Northwest. Think: affordable, colorful, retro styled motel rooms, complete with a fun ping-pong lounge and an indoor pool, hot tub, and “Zedinator” water slide. Located just north of downtown, pink VW vans are standing by to shuttle you into the core. Guests also have access to free bike, longboard, and penny board rentals. However, the pièce de résistance is the lobby, which is decked out with typewriters (hey, it’s never too early to get started on that novel), vinyl listening stations, and The Ruby—one of the city’s best brunch spots (try the breakfast tacos or the duck confit and waffles).
Looking to get away from the tourist crowds? Head to the Oak Bay Beach hotel. Located along the coast in serene Oak Bay (a 15 minute drive from downtown), this small but luxurious hotel is the perfect spot to get away from it all, while still being connected to the city. Enjoy a walk along the water to the nearby Oak Bay Marina where you can watch the resident harbor seals live and play right off the wharf. No trip to the Oak Bay Beach hotel is complete without a visit to the Boathouse Spa where you can enjoy a soak in their stunning heated outdoor mineral pools that are open to guests all year round.
Header image courtesy of Mitch Diamond / Photodisc / Getty Images