Victoria, known as “The Garden City,” is the capital of British Columbia in Canada and is located on the southernmost tip of Vancouver Island (not to be confused with Vancouver the city, situated close by on the mainland). Originally inhabited by the Coast Salish First Nations Peoples, Victoria first began settlement and industrialization by non-natives in 1843. Second oldest Chinatown in North America after San Francisco’s. Large student and retiree populations, common activities include boating and watersports due to proximity to the coastline (“newly wed and nearly dead”).
Most of Victoria’s main attractions are centered in what is known as the Inner Harbor, or the downtown area of the city. The Fairmont Empress Hotel is a nexus for family attractions in the area, including the self-explanatory Miniature World, The Victoria Bug Zoo, The Royal BC Museum, the Thunderbird Park totems, and the old town Market Square, which all surround the hotel within a few blocks. Prince of Wales whale watching tours leave out of the Inner Harbor as well.
To the north of downtown lies Chinatown, to the east Craigdarroch Castle, and to the south and west Fisherman’s Wharf and Tally Ho Carriage Tours on the James Bay Peninsula. Jam Café, Red Fish Blue Fish, Brasserie L’Ecole, Blue Fox Café are popular restaurants to consider visiting during your stay. For longer excursions, the northern part of the island hosts the Butchart and the Victoria Butterfly Gardens. You can also take an eco-tour or kayak out to Oak Bay and Discovery Islands off the coast to get your fill of natural beauty.
Vancouver, British Columbia, is around 60 miles from Victoria, nestled on the mainland of Canada. It’s easily accessible by ferry and sea plane. (For the sports enthusiast, a few hours outside of Vancouver is the world-renowned ski resort Whistler that once held the winter Olympics.) Vancouver is a destination unto itself, hosting tourist destinations like the nerve-wracking Capilano Suspension Bridge or the bustling Granville Island market and shops. Lee’s Donuts honey-dipped glazed are worth a shot, and the market is a prime place to sample the cherries, cheese, gooseberries, and fresh seafood endemic to the area. Take a leisurely bike ride around Stanley Park or check out the Digital Orca sculpture in the downtown area. Ambleside Pier and beach often has music and food trucks during the summer.
You could also paint the town red in Gastown, named after the titular seaman “Gassy” Jack Deighton, while sampling craft beers at the Alibi Room. Ask for Luigi is a small one-room restaurant with excellent fare worth taste-testing if you’re looking for finer victuals, or the less refined but equally delicious Tim Horton’s donuts will suffice. Neighborhoods and streets of note include Yaletown, Chinatown (which hosts The Keefer Bar), Davy Street, Robson Street, Commercial Drive, and Burrard Street.
North of Vancouver is the Great Bear Rainforest, which is the only home of the mysterious Kermode Bear. Kermode bears, also known as “spirit bears,” are an uncommon subspecies of black bear that appear white or cream colored due to a recessive gene expression, though they are neither albino nor polar bears. Late August to mid-October is the best time to catch these elusive creatures due to a preponderance of salmon. Several companies run tours out of this temperate rainforest. While the forest might be reached in a day, it’s also advisable to visit the forest over a weekend to take in the most sights.
Across the international border sits Seattle, Washington, around 62 miles from Victoria. While the Space Needle is an obvious must-see destination, Seattle is a hot spot of pop culture and art that cannot be ignored. The glass menagerie that is Chihuly Gardens spans a large exhibit space in the shadow of the Needle, culminating in an expansive blown glass piece suspended in mid-air over the heads of visitors.
Nearby is the pop culture shrine known as the EMP Museum, founded in 2000 by Paul Allen and ensconced in iridescent outer walls. Pike’s Place Market features the Market Street Gum Wall, the original brick-and-mortar Starbucks, Beecher's Handmade Cheese, the Left Bank Books Collective. For the spectrally-inclined, several ghost tours are offered as well, and you can bring along your farmer’s market plunder to satiate your appetite while you satiate your curiosity. Try out Top pot donuts for a sample of gourmet baking delights.
A city that doesn’t shy away from quirk, Seattle plays host to places like The Purple Store, Gas Works Park, and the art installation “The Fremont Troll.” Television and cinema buffs can also find tours of movie locations, from “10 Things I Hate About You,” to “Sleepless in Seattle,” to “Grey’s Anatomy.” Port Angeles and Forks, Washington, are worth a stop for those traveling with Twilight fans and nature fans alike, as they both abut Olympic National Forest.
The Fairmont Empress, established 1908, is a popular location for accommodation in Victoria because of its historical significance and proximity to the Victoria Conference Center as well as the rest of the city. Abigail’s Hotel, Magnolia Hotel and Spa, and numerous other inns and B&Bs contribute to the thriving hospitality industry in Victoria and provide a plethora of options to suit your needs. Check out one of these or several of the other large hotels in the area if that’s more your style.
The easiest way to get to Victoria is to fly in by Air Canada to Vancouver International Airport, then catch a quick puddle-jumper flight to Victoria International Airport, which is around 16 miles north of the city. These flights last about 25 minutes and are usually quite affordable. From there you can get a rental or catch a BlueBird cab into town. Other options include travel via sea plane and ferry. The most well-known companies that provide these services are BC Ferries Connector, Victoria Harbor Ferries, and Harbor Air Seaplanes. Once in the city, transportation by walking, bicycling, and driving is most common.
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