Updated: Aug 12, 2019
This summer we visited one of the oldest cities in the Pacific Northwest. We are pleased to say that this place lives up to it's namesake in both being grand and beautiful. Victoria, British Colombia will send your brain spinning as you grapple with the mixed messages of hydrangeas and statues that say "England" followed by wide roads and ice cubes in your water that says "America"... and your horizons will expand all the same. You can stamp the old passports and enjoy some wanderlust without wandering too far from home... home being Washington, obviously.
Living in the Continental United States can be slim pickings when it comes to immersive cultural experiences. While I love our giant washers/dryers and king size beds, I will say that it is a pain in the ass to try to venture to anywhere that isn't, well, here. I envy my friends living in Europe and Southeast Asia with their impossibly easy access to parts unknown, or perhaps famous and glorious parts known, that are merely a hop-skip-and-a-$90-plane-ticket away. Don't get me wrong, though. I love the United States. We have National Parks and cities that range on the spectrum of gleaming metropolis...es, metropoli (?), to quirky, hipster havens. There literally is something for everyone around these parts. But, alas, some days you just want to get out of the routine. See something new, experience a new culture and use a foreign currency. We have two international borders and depending on where you live getting to either one of those places can be about the same as going to Europe, cost and time-wise. I've now had the great privilege of living near both borders of Mexico and now Canada, and for a split second I can feel like my far-away friends with the ease of hopping from one culture to the next.
In recent years we have lived near our northern neighbor and have very much enjoyed the poutine and friendly people of Vancouver. However, it was high time to spread our wings and explore more of Canada. The Doctor in Denim (& Co.) came to visit us again this summer and with that came some comfort zone pushing to see some new places, and that included making the trek up to Victoria... Which is all well and good until you figure out that it isn't super easy.
So how do you get there? Well, to be honest, it is a little bit trickier than Vancouver (which is just a straight shot up Interstate 5). There are ferries and hotels involved, but I can say it is 100% worth the effort to visit.
We opted to take the Coho Ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria. Due to timing and location constraints this meant we had to catch the Whidbey Island ferry to Port Townsend, drive to Port Angeles and stay the night, in order to pick up the Coho first thing the following morning. If you find yourself taking a similar route I recommend dinner at The Old Whiskey Mill in Port Townsend and staying at the Red Lion Inn in Port Angeles (not super nice, but the least scaggy option in the town). We left our cars at the Red Lion for $5 per day as we were walk on passengers to Victoria. Cars were safe and the entire process was not a big deal.
Tickets to board the Coho were bought same day at the port. Be prepared to stand in a fair amount of lines to board and disembark both ways. Passports and immigration papers need to be filled out and ready for inspection. Everyone was super friendly, but it was a major annoyance.
The port of Victoria was gorgeous and well organized. Top marks all around to the city planners who made this place so fabulous.
We walked to our hotel and dumped our bags and set out to find something in the way of brunch. We settled on a lovely little establishment called The Social House. Aside from mis-pricing the mimosas and telling me their blueberry compote recipe was proprietary, it was actually a lovely experience. The food was excellent without being stuffy. We sat outside that allowed our kids to flop around like fussy eels thanks to an early morning and no naps.
The rest of the day was spend walking around the city. We visited the Maritime Museum, Beacon Hill Park, and walked down to the water. All of it was laid back, well maintained, and beautiful, as was expected. Dinner was as the Bard & Banker which served a Manhattan in the "proper glass" (according to Scott) which gave it an automatic A+. The food and service was good too. You couldn't beat the environment which was an old Victorian bank turned bar.
Once the sun set we made our way to the Parliament building which is lined with lights a la Harrods of London. We splurged on ice cream for the kids because it came topped with Canadian flags and we are suckers for that kind of stuff.
Our hotel was the Victoria Marriott Inner Harbour and it was a fabulous experience. The rooms were clean and well appointed. We had a balcony with a nice view of the city as well as a spacious bathroom with nice smelling toiletries. The staff is incredibly friendly and never once were we made to feel like burdens for being guests.
This seems like as good a time as any to mention The Empress Hotel. No, we did not go. In our group we had three boys under the age of 9. We did not have high tea or any kind of tea, seeing as how we probably wouldn't be allowed within a 100 foot, oh excuse me, "meter" radius of the place to begin with.
The next day we had Butchart Gardens on the agenda. A famous, vast garden founded in 1912 by the Butcharts (a "big deal quarry owning" sort of people from back when that kind of thing was a big deal). The place is a gorgeous, sprawling park of themed gardens and manicured lawns that covers 55 acres. It is a sight to behold how well planned and gorgeous the grounds are. The gardens are about a 30 minute drive from Victoria. We hired a cab to take us in favor of dealing with a rental car. Admission is a bit steep at $25 USD per person. I recommend getting there as early as possible as tour buses tend to drop off half-interested visitors as the afternoon progresses. If you like impressive gardens, this is the place for you. If you could take it or leave it, go to Beacon Hill Park as it is free and located in the heart of Victoria.
After the gardens we parted ways with our friends as they headed to Vancouver to pick up their son on his first ever solo international flight (wow), and we went back to Victoria to pack up our bags to catch the Coho back to Port Angeles.
It is safe to say that Victoria has our hearts. The city was well worth the effort it took to get there and we are genuinely looking forward to another chance to slake our thirst for wanderlust with a low commitment in terms of time and money. Which, honestly, is a win all around.