From pristine landscapes to cosmopolitan cities, historic treasures to wild West Coast adventures, there’s a lot to like about a Vancouver Island vacation.
And whether your visit brings you for a day, a week or a month, Island Visitor Magazine is filled with ideas, inspiration and information – everything you need to discover one of Canada’s most celebrated destinations.
Just minutes from Victoria International Airport, the South Island’s main BC Ferries terminal at Swartz Bay and ferry from Anacortes, Wa, the seaside town of Sidney is often the first stop for visitors arriving on Vancouver Island.
Beacon Avenue is Sidney’s main street, lined with colourful flower displays, benches, public art and a delightful array of shopping diversions. Sidney is known as Booktown, but in addition to the many book shops, you’ll also find boutiques, galleries and numerous restaurants.
Follow Beacon to the waterfront to enjoy picturesque ocean views, the recently added Sidney Sculpture Walk and the Port of Sidney Marina, a beautiful full-service facility attracting boaters and visitors in search of adventures such as whale watching, kayak rentals, scuba diving and fishing charters. You’ll also find family attractions such as the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre – a terrific attraction filled with the wonders of the Salish Sea.
Other fine Sidney-area attractions include the Mary Winspear Centre, with a great line-up of live theatre performances and special events, the Sidney Museum, Mineral World and Scratch Patch, the BC Aviation Museum and Sidney Spit, part of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, accessible by a passenger ferry departing from the dock at the foot of Beacon Avenue.
Saanich Peninsula and Cordova Bay
Stretching from Sidney south to Victoria, the Saanich Peninsula is a beautiful region of farms, parkland and waterfront. Highway 17 (the Pat Bay Highway) is the fastest route into Victoria, but sightseers will want to take one of the earlier exits to explore the quaint communities and quiet country roads.
Peninsula highlights include the world-famous Butchart Gardens near Brentwood Bay; Victoria Butterfly Gardens, a tropical garden with free-flying butterflies; Heritage Acres, a 12-hectare park with restored farm buildings, museum and nature trails and the site of a variety of special events though the year; and the Centre of the Universe at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory.
Outdoor enthusiasts will want to explore Island View Beach, a popular sunbathing, beachcombing and bird-watching spot, and Elk and Beaver Lake Park, a destination for swimmers, anglers, paddlers and runners who enjoy the 10km loop trail. The Peninsula is also home to several fine golf courses, from family-friendly Par 3s to beautiful championship courses, and a growing number of award-winning wineries.
Overlooking Haro Strait with views of Mount Baker, Cordova Bay is a gorgeous neighbourhood with easy access to downtown Victoria, two golf courses and a charming collection of shops and services known as Mattick’s Farm.
For Sidney and Saanich Peninsula details, call 250-656-0525. A Visitor Centre is located 2 km from Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal at 10382 Pat Bay Hwy. (Highway 17). A second Visitor Centre is at A-2295 Ocean Ave. in Sidney and is open only to greet passengers arriving on Washington State Ferries from Anacortes.
Victoria and Adjacent Communities
The often-photographed Inner Harbour is home to many of the city’s top attractions, including the Royal BC Museum, the Legislative Buildings and the Causeway, a people-watching hotspot where summer buskers entertain passers-by. A busy transportation hub for floatplanes and ferries, many outdoor adventures also start here, including kayaking and wildlife-watching tours.
Ideal for touring on foot, downtown Victoria’s impressive restored heritage buildings house shops, art galleries, restaurants and attractions, such as the Maritime Museum of BC in Bastion Square and Canada’s oldest Chinatown. Find a vibrant selection of shops brimming with everything from international favourites to locally crafted specialties only available here, while world-class restaurants serve a delicious array of cuisine, from fresh seafood to exciting ethnic flavours.
Near downtown, James Bay is home to historic homes, the Ogden Point Breakwater – perfect for a stroll out over the water – Fisherman’s Wharf and Emily Carr House, the birthplace of BC’s best-loved artist; in Rockland find heritage mansions, the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria and Craigdarroch Castle. Fairfield is a lovely residential neighbourhood with tree-lined streets, the expansive Gonzales Beach and the charming Abkhazi Garden, while Beacon Hill Park is a peaceful oasis steps from downtown, filled with gardens, duck ponds, play areas and a seasonal petting zoo. Victoria’s Upper Harbour is a busy, scenic precinct featuring attractions such as the historic Point Ellice House, Gorge Waterway and access to the Galloping Goose Trail.
Victoria is a hub of arts and culture, boasting fine art galleries displaying the work of both local and international artists. As for entertainment, Victoria has it all – theatre, dance, opera, symphony and an incredible line-up of exciting annual festivals.
The beautiful neighbourhood of Oak Bay is just minutes from downtown and well worth a day or two to explore. Retaining much of its original flavour of traditional homes and gardens mixed with exciting modern galleries, boutiques and eateries, the community enjoys an extensive waterfront and is a favourite for walking, biking, paddling and other outdoor adventures.
Find Tudor-style buildings, resplendent gardens and a diversity of shops and dining options, mainly clustered in the Oak Bay Village. Other highlights include the Oak Bay Marina, Willows Beach, Anderson Hill Park, Cattle Point and Uplands Park. Cyclists will enjoy the Seaside Touring Route, leading from the downtown’s Inner Harbour, past Beacon Hill Park, along the waterfront, into Oak Bay, and beyond to Uplands and the adjacent residential community of Saanich.
Just over the blue Johnson Street Bridge from downtown Victoria is the historic community of Esquimalt and Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt, the second-largest naval base and dockyard in Canada. Drive or enjoy a leisurely waterfront stroll to enjoy highlights such as the waterside Saxe Point and McAulay parks, scenic walking paths, historic military sites, base tours and a naval museum.
For information about Victoria and neighbouring communities, call 250-953-2033, see www.tourismvictoria.com or visit the Visitor Centre at the Inner Harbour at 812 Wharf St.
About 15 minutes’ drive from downtown Victoria, or a pleasant bike ride out the Galloping Goose Trail from downtown, find the growing West Shore region of farmland, beaches, marinas, lakes, parks and wilderness areas surrounding several urban centres. Comprising the communities of View Royal, Colwood, Langford, the Highlands and Metchosin, outdoor activities include kayaking, hiking, cycling, fishing, boating and beachcombing at such natural treasures as Goldstream Provincial Park, Gowlland Todd Provincial Park, Witty’s Lagoon and Matheson Lake. Cyclists and hikers can explore via “the Goose,” which winds through diverse landscapes to the site of a former gold mining town north of Sooke.
Attractions include several celebrated golf courses, WildPlay Element Park, Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Sites, and Hatley Park and Gardens at Royal Roads University. After the day’s adventures, relax at one of the West Shore’s many excellent restaurants or artisan pubs.
Not surprisingly, the region has also attracted numerous artists, and many welcome visitors year-round to their working studios – discover their creativity during a leisurely drive along rural roads or check out some of the many events on the busy arts calendar.
This is also a growing shopping area, with many favourite names setting up shop at several centres.
For details, call the WestShore Chamber of Commerce at 250-478-1130 or see www.westshore.bc.ca The West Shore Visitor Centre is at 2830 Aldwynd Rd.
Sooke and Beyond
A little farther west along Highway 14, the community of Sooke is known for its vibrant community, friendly hospitality, outdoor adventure and talented artists and artisans. Kayaking, cycling, fishing and hiking are popular here and a highly recommended way to experience the spectacular West Coast scenery.
Don’t miss the Sooke Region Museum, Adrena Line Zipline Tours for a fast-paced trip through the West Coast forest, Sooke Potholes Provincial Park, one of the South Island’s most popular summer swimming areas, and East Sooke Park, a stunning coastal park with hiking trails for every skill level.
Beyond Sooke, the landscape grows even wilder, with lush coastal rainforest and dazzling beaches, such as French Beach, Mystic Beach and Botanical Beach – home to amazing rock formations and rich tidal pools. The 47km Juan de Fuca Marine Trail traces the shoreline from China Beach to Botanical Beach and is divided into sections, allowing hikers to choose a portion of the trail as a day trip or to tackle the whole route over about three days.
For information about the Sooke Region, call 250-642-6351 or
1-866-888-4748. The Visitor Centre is located at the Sooke Region Museum
at 2070 Phillips Rd.
The spectacular Malahat Drive is the section of Highway 1 between Goldstream Provincial Park and the Cowichan region and offers breathtaking views of Finlayson Arm, the Saanich Peninsula and the Gulf Islands. Watch for the turnoff for the viewing area at the summit which offers northbound drivers the opportunity to stop safely.
Continue north to Mill Bay, a pleasant waterside community with a full-service marina. Across the highway is the turnoff for Shawnigan Lake, a cosy lakeside community popular for watersports, and Cobble Hill, with lovely shops and picturesque farms.
This gorgeous area is also famous for its vineyards and produces some of the finest wines and ciders on Vancouver Island. Many of the facilities offer sampling, tours, picnic areas and wine shops. Agriculture tours are also growing in the Cowichan Region, where farm markets and tours attract more and more visitors.
The 100-year-old Kinsol Trestle, northwest of Shawnigan Lake on the Trans Canada Trail, is now open for walking, cycling or horseback riding. At 44 metres high, and 187 metres long, it is one of the largest wooden trestles in the world. The views of the Koksilah River are rivalled only by the views of the trestle itself.
Back on Highway 1, a bit farther north and off the highway, Cowichan Bay is perched over a natural deep-sea harbour. Many of the buildings in this charming village – including a unique maritime museum – extend over the water and are supported by pilings. Along the waterfront, find a variety of gift shops and restaurants, including the region’s renowned Hilary’s Cheese. The village has also made a name for itself internationally with its designation as the first Cittaslow town in North America (“Cittaslow,” or Slow City, is part of the Slow Food movement).
For information, call the South Cowichan Chamber of Commerce, 250-743-3566. The Visitor Centre is located in the Mill Bay Centre at #118-2720 Mill Bay Rd.
Duncan is the commercial centre of the Cowichan Region and a hub of First Nations art and culture. “The City of Totems” boasts some 80 totem poles, including 40 in the quaint downtown area, where you can view the totems while exploring the many unique shops and eateries. Pick up a totem tour map at the Visitor Centre or enjoy a free guided tour in the summer.
The Quw’utsun’ Cultural and Conference Centre is among the region’s most impressive attractions and offers insight into the culture of the area’s First People. The BC Forest Discovery Centre is another highlight, with its 40-hectare park with hiking trails, forestry displays and a steam train. The Pacific Northwest Raptors Educational Centre is dedicated to the conservation of birds of prey and features interesting displays and demonstrations. Bird-watchers will also love the Somenos Marsh Conservation Area, home to more than 200 species.
Great places to explore from Duncan include the oceanside villages of Maple Bay and Genoa Bay; and Crofton, a forestry town with hiking trails, fishing and a BC Ferries terminal where you can board a ferry to Saltspring Island.
For information, call the Duncan-Cowichan Chamber of Commerce at 250-746-4636 or 1-888-303-3337; the Visitor Centre is located at #8-361 Trans Canada Hwy.
About 20 minutes west of Duncan along Highway 18, find Lake Cowichan, a picturesque community popular with summer swimmers, boaters, campers and outdoor enthusiasts. Visitors will love the friendly village atmosphere, while finding all the amenities they need to enjoy their stay, including shopping, dining, accommodations and camping, along with a recreation centre and museum. The Lake Cowichan region also includes the communities of Youbou, Caycuse, Honeymoon Bay and Mesachie Lake.
For details visit the Cowichan Lake District Chamber of Commerce at
125C Shouth Shore Rd, Lake Cowichan, call 250-749-3244 or online at
One of the most visited towns on Vancouver Island, Chemainus is renowned for the many professionally painted murals and sculptures beautifully depicting its history and culture. More recently, the Festival of Murals adopted the art of Emily Carr as its second theme, honouring one of the country’s most famous female painter.
The town’s picturesque streets are lined with dozens of small shops, galleries and restaurants, anchored by the Chemainus Theatre, a star attraction featuring live, year-round plays and musicals. This high-spirited community also boasts a great line-up of family events, especially between May and September, plus golfing, cycling and the Chemainus Valley Museum. Stop by the Chemainus Coast Community Credit Union and pick up some “Chemainus Dollars” to use in town or take away for a souvenir.
For information, call the Chemainus Visitor Centre at 250-246-3944.
Visit the Centre at 9796 Willow St.
Historic Ladysmith, once a shipping port for coal, is now a lovely little seaside town that has earned provincial and national awards for its downtown revitalization project and beautiful gardens.
Head outdoors for fishing, kayaking, golfing, hiking and cycling, relax in Transfer Beach Park – great for kids and adults alike – or stroll the Ladysmith Heritage Walk. Be sure to stop by the Ladysmith Maritime Society’s new marine visitor centre and the new Ladysmith Museum on First Avenue, with its historical displays of the town’s development, including business, industry and social history.
This picturesque community is blessed with numerous artists and artisans, or discover a bounty of treasures at one of the unique boutiques or antique shops. Visiting in December? Don’t miss the town’s amazing display of Christmas lights illuminating the streets and houses.
Visit the Ladysmith online at www.ladysmithcofc.com. Find the Ladysmith Visitor Centre at 411B First Ave. or call 250-245-2112.