Victoria is lovely year round. When I visited last December, I enjoyed all the holiday festivities, but I wondered what it would be like when the weather was nicer. It was a bit too soggy and grey to explore as much as I would have liked. Summer though? Wow. I returned this past weekend and I’m in love. We biked, we strolled, we browsed, and we ate. It was the perfect weekend getaway.
We rode the 2 hour 45 minute Victoria Clipper on Friday afternoon and arrived in time for dinner. The Clipper is a pleasant ride with attentive service on the ship and pretty good snack options, including hummus platters, cookies, smoked salmon bagels, and Theo chocolate. Though less than 3 hours away, Victoria feels like a charming destination European vacation. I recommend staying at least two nights, otherwise, it can feel rushed and hectic.
// STAY //
Magnolia Hotel & Spa
This 64-room boutique hotel is a 5-minute walk from the Clipper. Magnolia offers a sophisticated and cozy stay that we’d definitely repeat. Every staff person we interacted with was professional and friendly. The little touches really sets them apart. In the lobby, they provide iced sparkling water with freshly sliced fruits for guests all day long. They set out hot water and an assortment of tea bags and coffee available 24 hours. The hotel also offers nightly turndown service and bedside chocolates.
We enjoyed the complimentary bikes and Curated Trails provided by Magnolia. Helmets and locks are included as well. We followed their bike map, “Bikes, Beans, & Blooms” to explore the city on Saturday morning with stops for coffee, gardens, and other interesting sights. If you’re into shopping, try the Beautiful Boutiques Trail; If you’re into eating, try the Tapa Trail. Their newest edition is the Craft Brewery Tour, which involves walking around the city sampling craft beers.
Their restaurant, Catalano, is much more than your average hotel restaurant. They serve a hot breakfast (that may come included in your room reservation, depending on which type of room you book) until 11:00 am with eggs benedict, breakfast plate, waffles, and other breakfast fare. Pre-dinner, we grabbed some cocktails here, which were delicious.
// AFTERNOON TEA //
A must-do activity is getting afternoon tea while in Victoria. If you haven’t been, it feels like a special occasion activity, yet it’s laid back and can be impromptu. The food is often served on a tiered stand, with finger sandwiches and an assortment of scones, biscuits, macarons, jam, and other sweet and savory bites.
Last time, we visited the highly recommended iconic Fairmont Empress. The service was nice, but I wasn’t entirely satisfied or impressed, especially for the steep price of $75 (CAD) per person.
This time, we asked some locals and were recommended White Heather Tea Room ($60 for two) and Teahouse at Abzhazi Garden ($30 per person). Both are a boutique and intimate experience, owned and operated by locals. The Abzhazi Garden is a beautiful two-acre heritage site that once belonged to Prince and Princess Nicholas Abkhazi. If you aren’t into afternoon tea (at least try it once before making a verdict), it’s worth a 15-minute stroll around the garden.
// EAT //
We were blown away by this meal. Olo rivals some of the best restaurants in Seattle. The food is fresh, often local, and the chef pays keen attention to writing a menu that appeals to many different people, including vegetarians and vegans. We each ordered the Five Course Kitchen Menu. Each dish was thoughtfully created, with different textures, colors, and vibrant flavors. It was paced beautifully and the service was attentive and friendly.
The Alder Smoked Salmon melted in our mouth—with sweet roasted beets, yogurt, and pickled onion. A Chickpea “Party” dish with white beans, zucchini, and a delicious charmoula sauce. Dessert was superb. The brownie dense chocolate cake concoction with housemade salted caramel ice cream was a dish I was tempted to order seconds of and the perfect ending to a fantastic meal. We will definitely return next time we’re in Victoria.
We are all about brunch. Olo offers brunch (and lunch) 7 days a week.
Stay tuned for a ful post on Olo next week.
Red Fish Blue Fish
This up-cycled cargo container on Victoria’s Inner Harbour pier is an outdoor eatery focused on fresh and sustainable fish n’chips. Locals told us there is always a line at Red Fish Blue Fish, even in the winter. On a sunny Sunday around noon, we waited for about 60 minutes from getting in line to receiving our food. It was a beautiful day, umbrellas are provided for shade while in line, our “line neighbors” were pleasant to chat with, and the food and the view were fantastic.
The fish is fresh and cooked skillfully. Whether you get the signature fish & chips (your choice of Pacific cod, wild salmon, BC Halibut, or oysters) or opt for something less fried like the tacones or the grilled fish, everything is prepared expertly. They’ve been around for 10 years and know what they’re doing.
If you’ve never been, it’s absolutely worth the wait for the food and the overall experience. If you’ve been before, or if you’re starving, there are other delicious things to eat in Victoria that don’t require a 45-120 minute wait.
Hours: 11:00 am to 9:00 pm, 7 days a week.
// DESSERT //
Chocolats Favoris offers an ice cream experience unlike the others: dipped ice cream. Choose a size, your ice cream flavor, and then a dip. They also offer sorbets and dark chocolate dip for those who are dairy-free. With 12 varieties of real chocolate dippings, including dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate hazelnut praline, salted caramel, cookies and cream, and more.
There’s often a line, but it moves fairly quickly. We waited about 15 minutes on Friday evening around 9:00 pm. The best time to visit is when they open (10-11am) or right before dinner (5-7pm).
Open daily from 10:00 am to 11:00 pm.
Kid Sister Ice Cream
Hidden in the historic Fan Tan Alley, Kid Sister is a gem. They serve paletas, Latin American popsicles that are fruit and ice cream-based. Flavors include Mango Raspberry Lime, Wild Blueberry Lemon, and Coconut Espresso and Chocolate-Dipped Ginger. Get your ice cream in a fresh waffle cone or in a cup. There are plenty of non-dairy options!
Open in the summer Tuesday through Sunday 12:00 to 7:00 pm.
// HEALTHIER OPTIONS //
Looking for some healthy snacks? On vacation, it can be hard to get the normal intake of fruits and vegetables. Eating out every meal can definitely take a toll.
We stumbled across Cafe Bliss at 556 Pandora Ave on our way to Fan Tan Alley for ice cream at Kid Sister. I stopped in and grabbed a green juice since I never seem to eat enough vegetables on vacation. I got their greenest drink: Pure Green has cucumber, kale, celery, mint, lime, and is finished with a sprinkle of cayenne.
To even out the healthy, I also got a Cappucino “Mylk Shake” with cashew ice cream and almond milk. This is the best non-dairy dessert I’ve had in years. If you’re lactose-intolerant, this is the a decadent, creamy treat. The shake also comes in vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, mango, matcha, and orange creamsicle.
It’s hard to find restaurants and cafes that cater to those of us with food intolerances, especially in touristy towns and on vacation. Cafe Bliss also offers an assortment of gluten/dairy/soy-free snacks and food.
Picnic, Too offers coffee, tea, refreshing smoothies, and live kombucha as well as healthy, satisfying breakfast and lunch options.
Breakfast is served from 7:30 am to 11:00 am. The menu includes a Breakfast Salad with poached eggs, shaved fennel, and crisp bacon and Super Congee with brown rice chia, roasted yam, sliced avocado, roasted kale, and a poached egg. They have the good stuff too: doughnuts, chorizo and corned beef hashes, and breakfast sandwiches. Lunch is served 11:00 am to 4:00 pm with soups, sandwiches, and build-your-own rice bowls.
// BROWSE //
I love checking out bookstores when I visit new cities and there two local stores downtown: Russell Books and Munro’s Books. They are filled from floor to ceiling with books, maps, and little gifts. They are great places to pick up a leisurely read for the trip or a gift for someone back home.
Fan Tan Alley in Chinatown, just 1 block away from downtown, is one of the most narrow commercial alleys in the United States. It runs south from Fisgard Avenue to Pandora Avenue in the block between Government Street and Store Street. The shops in this alley are eccentric boutique shops that are a delight to peruse.
// FESTIVALS //
We visited during the annual Victoria Dragon Boat Festival including two days of dragon boat racing and an evening lantern lighting celebration. There was also a food truck festival behind the Royal BC Museum and an Indian Cultural Celebration with music, arts, and food just a few blocks from the harbour. There are festivals going on all over the city most weekends during the summer in Victoria.