All of us are itching to make the most of a rapidly disappearing summer. And the good news is that Victoria, with its accessible beaches, open-air beer gardens, and freshwater lakes, is exactly the kind of getaway you can pull off safely.
Here are seven tips from locals on what to see and do while you’re in Victoria.
Getting here: BC Ferries Connector shuttle
This popular Vancouver to Victoria connector from Wilson’s Transportation has doubled down on COVID-19 measures (like sanitization and safe distancing precautions) to make sure rides are safe and comfortable for its patrons. Because they depart from downtown and arrive downtown, you’re skipping a lot of public transit interactions.
Masks are mandatory on BC Ferries and Lower Mainland transit, and courteous/encouraged in all other public spaces where you can’t socially distance, so #BYOmask. And visit bcfconnector.com for schedules.
Sip a craft brew in an open-air beer garden
Market Square, Victoria’s heritage tourist hotspot, is still a popular draw. It’s adapted to COVID life by allowing the two cool watering holes (The Drake and Whistle Buoy) to expand and install an open-air beer garden with spaced out tables and low contact service.
Whistle Buoy is the closest thing you’ll get to Whistler Village in Victoria, and because it’s a craft brewery you can even bring your own food. The view is also great: sipping a crisp Gulagubben as you sit surrounded by London-inspired heritage brick buildings from the turn of the century is what summer is all about.
Take a beautiful (distanced) Dallas Road walk
When everyone was in lockdown in Victoria, this spacious seven-kilometre strip of rugged coastal beauty kept the locals sane. It’s the envy of the Stanley Park Seawall, and when you’re not watching kite surfers and cute dogs down below, you can delight in the beauty of Washington’s snow-capped mountains across the water and the ever-frequent pink sunsets.
This strip along the southeast part of the city has a newly built bike path that runs parallel to the walking path — with convenient ice cream and taco stops.
Cool off at a freshwater lake just outside of the city
Swimming is most certainly on the agenda, and Victoria benefits from having multiple options within reach. For one, if you have no bike or car, you can visit Gonzales or Willows Beach (ocean adjacent). The former is a sheltered sandy cove for quick dips and relaxed hangs, while Willows is a very popular (and large) white sand beach in Oak Bay.
For freshwater, rent a bike and take the scenic Galloping Goose trail (made from converting a retired railway line, so it’s nice and flat) to either Thetis Lake (an easy 40-minutes-ish ride from downtown) or Matheson Lake (solid hour forty-five). With the city’s ample bike lanes, cycling is a great way to get around and see the sights. FYI, Thetis and Matheson are real lakes (not ponds) and are the perfect cool-down spots.
Stroll around the James Bay Farmers’ Market
This popular farmers’ market was always a breezy outdoor affair. And today, it’s safe and stress-free to pick up local Island produce and home-made tortilla shells. It’s open-air and set up with fewer, spaced out stalls in a field at the corner of Menzies and Superior streets.
You sanitize before you go in, it’s not too busy, people obey distanced lines, and after you’ve picked up a few treats, you can walk around Victoria’s inner harbour and the Legislature buildings. It’s open Saturdays, from 9 am to 1 pm until the end of September.
Roam 55 acres of flower-packed gardens
Butchart Gardens is one of the most spacious, beautiful nature walks you can take in Canada. There are 55 acres of gardens, including the majestic sunken garden that’s in all the photos.
Plus, a rose garden (35 rose-adorned arches, 2,500 roses), a Japanese garden, an Italian garden, and a Mediterranean Garden to satiate travellers who had to cancel any trips abroad. Entrance is limited to groups of six, and since there’s so much space, distancing won’t be a problem.
Treat yourself to a feast to remember
Restaurants in the city have done a great job of adapting to COVID-19 protocols to ensure a safe and enjoyable visit for their patrons. Perro Negro is a top wine and dine spot to visit because the food is superlative gold (Spanish and Portuguese-inspired tapas that are just off the charts). The restaurant has installed large, fluted glass-like partitions that fit in with the decor and don’t make you feel like you’re eating at a toll booth.
Victoria is lucky to have so much outdoor beauty within its city, with a small downtown that has never seen the kind of foot traffic that stomps Robson Street. It’s easy to distance, and you can see beaches, lakes, gardens, the harbour, and neighbourhood seals — all without much effort or planning. Moreover, it’s all only a quick coach ride and ferry cruise from Vancouver.