Victoria, the ‘city’ where the locals say “cheers” and drivers stop for pedestrians, seems to almost ooze with small-town charm. While the majority of joints near the Inner Harbour cater to tourists, the practically flat downtown is also home to a variety of gems even the locals love. Here, chefs and shop owners alike flex their creative muscles.
Perhaps the gentle twist on urban living is due to the surprising and somewhat refreshing fact that free WiFi isn’t a given. Maybe the happy demeanor is a result of the weather. Victoria is nestled in the same rain shadow as the San Juan Islands, meaning it gets nearly 150 more days with sunshine as compared to US big sister, Seattle.
Or it could be the dogs. Honestly, it’s the dogs. Little dogs. Big dogs. Furry dogs that swallow up light polls with their fluff as they mark their territory. Dogs that wander through stores, accepting belly rubs while their human counterparts try on potential finds. Give it a few years and the miniature terrier might well become the BC Capital’s unofficial mascot. (Just remember, you heard it here first.)
Parking in the city appears to be a pain, but the plethora of bike lanes and pedestrian-only alleys, makes one wonder if a car is even necessary? It’s certainly not for a quick getaway — assuming, of course, you pack a pair of sturdy shoes and plan to travel via seaplane with Kenmore Air or ferry with the Victoria Clipper.
(In my humble opinion, after traveling to Victoria by both the Clipper and Kenmore Air I would never drive. Each offers stunning views and incredible downtown-to-downtown service.)
Urban Hiking in Beacon Hill Park
A bit of ‘hiking’ (aka wandering through well-maintained trails) can even be managed mere blocks from the Inner Harbour at Beacon Hill Park. Spanning over 200 acres from Victoria’s downtown to its shores along the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the park is considered the crowning jewel of Victoria’s park system. Here natural areas roll into manicured flowerbeds and play structures are ringed by walking paths.
Flocks of peacocks call the grounds home, as do a variety of goats, sheep, pigs, and more at the park’s petting zoo (open seasonally). Fur babies are also well-loved here, with a mile-long leash-optional area spanning the coastline.
Foodie Central at the Victoria Public Market
Back in the city’s interior, you’ll want to keep on your comfy shoes to wander through the Victoria Public Market at the Hudson — a veritable foodie playground where vegan butchery at The Very Good Butchers is matched by ultra-tender meatballs at Roast. (Insider Tip: The sauce left from the meatballs is succulent enough to make you contemplate bathing in it. Or you could grab some locally sourced, organic bread from The West Coast Pantry, which is probably the more appropriate decision. You’re in public, remember.) And for a sweet end to your grazing extravaganza, a pie just out of the oven from Victoria’s Pie Co. is hard to beat.
Bring Home Some Vintage Finds
Love bringing home a memento? Novelty shops abound. But for a true taste of Victoria’s eclectic side, try indulging in the reduce, reuse, and recycle movement at Vintage After Death. Tucked along the northern side of Market Square, this quirky shop features vintage wearables and knickknacks.
Each item is at least 20 years or older. But the real fun is reading the staff-written clothing tags, where in addition to the size and price, you’ll find descriptions like, “This shirt makes me think of a cool nerd (angry?) who I’d have a crush on immediately” and “What I imagine the OG Scooby Doo animator wore at the studio.”
The Kind of Hand-Held Dish Worthy of Your Last Bite at Bao
Finally, rub elbows with the locals at Bao, where you’re as likely to hear girlfriends ranting about roommates as you are to witness a lively birthday toast. The menu features hearty bowls of ramen and bibimbap, but it’s the restaurant’s namesake the steals the show. The pillowy buns come with a variety of fillings that range from sweet and tangy to earthy. Most notable is the Taiwanese classic pork belly. Sweet peanut powder and pickled onion are added to balance the savory, salty pork. This is the kind of hand-held dish worthy of your last bite.