Victoria, B.C., fits the bill perfectly. And it helps that the Clipper, the only direct fast ferry from Seattle to Vancouver Island, is back after a pandemic pause.
With its charming, old-world feel, it’s the ideal escape to enjoy eating, shopping and cultural experiences. The city is also just 12 miles from Brentwood Bay, a beautiful, peaceful village on the water that’s home to Butchart Gardens.
Here’s a guide to a peaceful, fun Vancouver Island vacation.
How to get there
After a two-year hiatus, the Victoria Clipper fast ferry from Pier 69 on the Seattle waterfront to Victoria’s Inner Harbour has resumed services.
It takes just under three hours to reach Victoria. I highly recommend this option, especially if you love being on the water. My trip home coincided with the sunset and the stunning views alone were worth the trip. If you can, avoid checking a bag — you’ll get through the customs line much more quickly.
The Clipper departs the Seattle waterfront Thursday-Monday at 7:30 a.m. until May 23, then at 7:30 a.m. daily through Oct. 9, and returns from Victoria daily at 5 p.m. Round-trip fare runs $115-$160.
Where to stay and what to do in Victoria
The Magnolia Hotel & Spa is a beautiful hotel in an ideal location. It’s walking distance from many of the city’s attractions, including the Inner Harbour, the Parliament Buildings, Chinatown and many of the city’s best restaurants and shops.
Magnolia Hotel is attached to The Courtney Room, an incredible, popular restaurant that specializes in modern Pacific Northwest cuisine and craft cocktails. On a Tuesday evening, both the restaurant and bar area were completely full.
The Courtney Room offers a seven-course tasting menu ($110) complete with wine pairings ($70) for each course. This option is perfect for foodies and wine connoisseurs; a detailed explanation of the dishes’ ingredients and preparation is provided for each course and wine pairing.
If you opt for the tasting menu, you’ll need to call in advance. And, of course, don’t forget to inform the restaurant if you or any of your travel companions have dietary restrictions so the menu can be adjusted accordingly.
You also can’t go wrong ordering off the regular menu. I ate breakfast at The Courtney Room twice and highly recommend the TCR grain bowl and the crab and cheddar aged omelet.
There are also excellent shops in Victoria. My personal favorite was ecologyst, a sustainable apparel company founded in Victoria in 2013. There are two ecologyst stores in Victoria, but the one at 2110 Store St. is something special, because it serves as a shop, showroom and factory. If you’re interested in fashion, sustainability or both, you’ll definitely want to check out this location to see where the magic happens.
Victoria is also home to a number of independent bookstores, including Munro’s Books, named after its founder, author Alice Munro. Canada’s largest independent bookstore, Russell Books, is also a must for book lovers. This family-owned business sells both used and new books, and has a vintage and antiquarian floor.
For some serious relaxation and a unique spa experience, look no further than RITUAL Nordic Spa. Inspired by Finnish sauna tradition, you’ll do a “circuit” that can be repeated at least twice. First, head to the sauna or steam room and work up a serious sweat. Next, head to the cold-plunge pool or give yourself a freezing cold Nordic bucket shower. Finally, head to one of the “relaxation rooms” to unwind before repeating the circuit. RITUAL also offers massages, including the dry-brush massage, which involves a full-body scrub with a natural fiber brush.
The Songhees Walkway is a crucial part of Victoria’s history, and the Signs of Lekwungen Tour is an enjoyable and informative way to learn about Indigenous culture. Led by a guide who uses storytelling to share the rich history, culture and traditions of the Lekwungen, this two-hour tour takes you to some of the most important historical sites on the waterfront walkway.
And because no vacation is complete without cuisine, be sure to check out Rebar Modern Food. The menu is primarily pescatarian and vegan, and Rebar is known for its exceptional juice bar, so definitely order a juice. My group shared the blackened rockfish tacos which I’d highly recommend, and the almond burger and Caesar salad were also exceptional.
10 Acres Bistro is another Victoria mainstay. The food is made with fresh ingredients from Vancouver Island, with seasonal produce, meats and eggs that come directly from 10 Acres Farm on the Saanich Peninsula. The menu at 10 Acres changes frequently depending on the best available ingredients, but you can’t go wrong with a seafood dish.
Make your way to Brentwood Bay
Located just outside Victoria is Brentwood Bay, which is the perfect place to wrap up your trip. But first, you’ll want to make a stop on the way: Malahat SkyWalk, a tree walk with grand panoramas.
If you rented a car in Victoria, it’s an easy drive to Malahat SkyWalk and Brentwood Bay. Victoria doesn’t have Uber, but there are great taxi services, like BlueBird Cabs, Yellow Cab of Victoria and Victoria Taxi. It’s best to call a few hours in advance to schedule your pickup and drop-off locations; BlueBird Cabs arrived at least 15 minutes early every time I used its services.
Malahat SkyWalk is the place to go for spectacular views. The walk itself is easy and you can stroll on the spiral ramp at your own pace. Once you reach the top of the 100-foot structure, there’s a lookout where you’ll be treated to incredible views of Saanich Peninsula, Finlayson Arm and Mount Baker. You can get down using the same ramp, or go a much quicker route: the 65-foot spiral slide. The slide is so much fun that many visitors immediately head back up for another turn.
After getting in your fix of views and slide runs, hop on the nearby Mill Bay ferry, which will take you to Brentwood Bay.
Located in a beautiful, peaceful spot on the water, Brentwood Bay Resort offers the definition of relaxation. Turn on the fireplace in your room or make use of the spalike hot tub and unwind. The resort also has a spa and offers leisurely outdoor activities. I recommend the guided kayak tour; it’s not too strenuous and it’s a great way to take in the area’s amazing scenery and wildlife. Keep an eye out for seals — they’ll pop up just feet from your kayak.
The Arbutus Room is located within Brentwood Bay Resort and has a lovely ambience, complete with live music every Friday and Saturday. The chefs use seasonal and local ingredients to cook up unique dishes that reflect the region.
Butchart Gardens is just a five-minute drive from the resort — in fact, you can see the back of the gardens during the kayak tour. Even if you’ve already been to this popular destination, different plants are always flourishing depending on the time of year. Treat yourself to high tea; the tea and food are top-notch and you can continue to take in the beauty of the gardens from the tea room thanks to its large windows.
Many people seem to wrap up their trip at Butchart Gardens — the staff are accustomed to holding your luggage while you enjoy the beautiful flowers and trees. It’s easy to get to the Clipper from Butchart Gardens: I took a 25-minute cab ride and then headed back to Seattle, taking in the beautiful views and sunset as we crossed back into America.