To get to Victoria, one must fly into either Vancouver, BC or Seattle, WA. We chose Vancouver (YVR), but both options appear comparable time- and cost-wise. *Warning: Coming from Indianapolis, we had to fly through Toronto (YYZ), which required at least 20 minutes of extremely brisk walking and several unbelievably long lines. If you or your travel companions are not able bodied, you may want to avoid the Toronto airport.
Once we arrived in Vancouver, we took a Pacific Coach bus straight from YVR to downtown Victoria. This was particularly convenient because it includes ferry transport. The bus actually drives straight onto the ferry; passengers get off for about an hour, re-embark, and the bus drives off. The whole process takes about 3.5 hours. *Tip: If your flight arrival time is within 50 minutes of your desired bus departure, try booking a later bus departure than desired and head straight to the Pacific Coach kiosk upon arrival. Stand in line for the next departure, even if it is earlier than the one you booked. If there is room, they will let you on, but if your flight is delayed and you miss your bus, they won’t refund your first ticket and you have to buy a second!
Because Victoria is so quaint and charming, I decided to go the bed-and-breakfast route, from which there are plenty to choose. After scouring TripAdvisor, I settled on Beaconsfield Inn. The house is a quick 10-minute walk from downtown and is rich with historic charm. I chose the Emily Carr suite, adorned with two velvet chaises, a lovely fireplace, and a vintage canopy bed. We loved the complimentary tea and cookies in the library every afternoon, sherry in the evening, and the superb gourmet breakfasts each morning. My one complaint was the innkeeper’s unhurried attitude, which probably reflects more about my Type A personality than the quality of the inn. But it is worth noting that if you stay here and have time constraints, be prepared to book your own excursions and research your own transportation.
After settling into our B&B, we took off for an evening excursion to the famous Butchart Gardens, which is a massive collection of family-owned gardens that came about from an attempt to beautify cement experimentsover a century ago. We completely fell in love with this place and would go back in a heartbeat. You can buy tickets right outside the Empress Hotel through CVS tours that include round-trip transport. It is about a 20-minute ride from downtown. The schedule changes with the weather, but if you have the luxury of choosing anytime, I’d recommend the second-to-last time slot so you get a little bit of full daylight, the whole sunset, and some twilight. Once twilight hits, the lights go on, and they are an art form in themselves. If you have the time, you can linger for hours exploring all 5 gardens, having lunch or tea, and perusing the gift shop. If you are on a time crunch and can’t visit all the gardens, make sure to at least see the rose garden and the sunken garden.
The main meal we enjoyed outside our B&B in Victoria was afternoon tea at the Empress hotel. If you’ve never been to an extravagant tea seating before, it is an enchanting experience. Delicate tea cups, tiers of canapés, and ornate décor are in store, but unfortunately, followed by a hefty bill. While the grounds were immaculate, the service superb, and the food and tea delicious, I think there are other places to have tea without such a high price tag. Take the Butchart Gardens, for example. The other reason I wouldn’t have tea at the Empress again is because it was so filling that we had to do so at the exclusion of other restaurants. Being in Victoria for only 2 nights, one of which we had to rush through dinner to arrive at the gardens on time, we really missed out on experiencing the great food Victoria had to offer. We still enjoyed the tea, but I’d recommend looking elsewhere for dinner.
If you are hoping for a bit of warmth, the best time to go to British Columbia is June - August. Average temperatures are in the upper 60s - 70s then, but we learned that this past year they got up to 90°F in July. We went the last weekend in August, and the days were mostly warm enough for sundresses and a light wrap, but the nights required a pretty substantial sweater. To match Victoria’s quaint charm, I went with soft, flowery dresses and lacy wraps. If you do go whale watching, warm leggings, zip-ups, and Under Armour are a must because it is much colder on the water, and you will get wet in the Zodiac.
Stay tuned for part 2 to hear about gourmet peanut butter, the best doughnuts in North America, professional sports hiking workouts, and picturesque biking spots in Vancouver, BC.