“Final check. Buckle up! We’re ready to roll!” calls the pilot.
It’s a chilly, foggy morning at the dock in South Lake Union in Seattle. Our Kenmore Air seaplane begins to rumble as we slowly drift from shore to begin our water taxi across the slight chop of the lake. Beads of rain drizzle down the plane’s windows as a familiar thick blanket of gray clouds cover the Emerald City. It’s December in Seattle and I am more than ready for a quick escape to Victoria, BC.
As Seattleites, we know to embrace this time of year. For some, escape comes in the form of hopping east over the mountains to ski or snowshoe. For others, it’s planning an annual sun trip to get a much needed dose of Vitamin D. But sometimes, we just need that quick weekend jaunt away that doesn’t kill the wallet or require the hassle of dealing with airports. A quick escape that takes us out of our comfort zone yet feels familiar. A place where we can get out for a hike in a lush green forest or simply roam around aimlessly to check out some fun boutiques, grab a good bite or sip some tasty beverages. A place where we can be as active or inactive as we want to be and still feel like we had a rewarding weekend getaway.
Enter Victoria, BC.
Following a short taxi, the pilot pushes the throttle up to full speed on our trusty DHC-2 “Beaver.” As we settle inside the spacious cabin and soak in the panoramic views, my travel partner looks over to shoot me a quick grin – an agreed upon acknowledgement of just how excited we both are to start this weekend adventure. In a short moment we’re smoothly airborne with the single engine beast pulling us along, banking slightly left to cross over the Fremont and Ballard bridges. Our iconic Space Needle and ever-changing skyline quickly in the distance as the clouds break and sun arrives beyond our city borders.
As we skim along a few hundred feet above the Puget Sound, we spot the Victoria Clipper below, on its own journey north, packed with equally excited weekend warriors. Moments later, our pilot spots a few spurts of water and some fins a few degrees off course. We quickly dip over and take a pass over a pod of orca whales gliding along in unison. Another glance back from my travel partner, this time mirrored ear-to-ear giddy smiles from both of us. Even as a native to the area, it’s moments like these when I have to pause and remind myself of the amazing area that I get to call home. It never gets old.
A swift 45 minutes later and our veteran pilot glides us into Victoria’s Inner Harbour with a quick taxi to the dock. Ten minutes and we are off the plane, through customs and walking around the middle of downtown. Hello, Victoria.
Victoria Day 1
11:15 am – Blue Fox Cafe
Even on a Friday morning in December, a chatty line forms waiting for a cherished seat at the Blue Fox Cafe, an eclectic, upbeat staple located downtown that is notorious for serving up delicious brunch. The vibrantly painted walls mixed with the perfect hum of conversation create an excellent brunch vibe. I opt for the Classic Benny to put the Canadian staple to the test and marry it with a Mayan Mocha that is served with an overflowing portion of whipped cream. My taste buds immediately buzz with overwhelming joy followed by another fitting grin across to my partner.
12:30 pm – Johnson Street Shopping Stroll
Stuffed on brunch, we head out to the downtown shopping mecca of lower Johnson Street, affectionately referred to by locals as “LoJo.” While Seattleites are used to trekking all across our fair city to track down decent boutiques, Victoria smartly positions a slew of great shopping picks within blocks of each other.
We first tuck into Still Life, which features locations for men and women conveniently a few doors down from one another. Modern, trendy and on point with all the brands I love. A potentially dangerous scenario with the backing knowledge that I’m saving 25% with the exchange rate. The afternoon is off to a risky (ahem…I mean fantastic) start. A couple shirts and a watch later, we hop across the street to Citizen, another superb men’s boutique where owner Patrick Tier’s handpicked selection of threads, scents and other accessories nails my taste.
From there, it’s back across the street and through the doors to The Regional Assembly of Text, which is hands down one of the most adorable stationary stores you’ll ever come across. Alongside fantastic handcrafted cards and stationary, you can pay to type a letter on a (gasp!) actual typewriter or even make your own buttons. Fan-tas-tic.
Out the backdoor, we tuck into locally owned Tonic in the heart of Victoria’s Market Square to peruse the excellent collection of curated jewelry on hand. Following a quick browse, my travel partner quickly selects a pair of unique feathered earrings made from bike tires. Nice find.
It’s off to The Milkman’s Daughter, having only heard good things and in dire need of a good new candle. It’s a quick find with Victoria-based Steele & Co’s excellent Archive candle catching my nose. With one last stop in mind, my travel partner ducks us into Violette where the incredibly friendly assistant guides her to pick out the perfect new fashionable ring from a local artist.
Victoria boutique shopping = success.
4:45 pm – Oak Bay Neighborhood
While I’d highly recommend that first time visitors stay in a downtown hotel, I was intrigued to push beyond my familiar boundaries and check out a new location to explore. Oak Bay was an easy pick.
A quick car rental from Budget downtown followed by a ten minute drive, we stop in the town to grab a few snacks for our hotel room. Following a local’s recommendation, we tuck into Ottavio, an Italian Cafe/Bakery/Deli/Grocer/All-Things-Amazing…shop chock full of meats, cheeses, crackers, breads, cookies and a slew of other delicious offerings.
While you may arrive and choose to navigate the plethora of meat and cheese selections on your own, I highly recommend asking the over-the-top knowledgeable workers to help guide your selections. I promise, they won’t disappoint. A curated selection of a slight twist on a manchengo, some jamon serrano, artisanal crackers and it’s off to our hotel.
5:15 pm – Oak Bay Beach Hotel
I don’t know how else to say it, but checking into Oak Bay Beach Hotel is the equivalent of watching all your worries, concerns and stress whisk away in a matter of minutes. The property is stunning. Let me try that again – STUNNING. There, that seems more appropriate.
An iconic historical structure in a beautiful oceanside neighborhood setting, the hotel is oriented around a series of mineral pools and spas that hug the sea, backed by an epic view of Mount Baker and the Pacific Ocean at your doorstep. If this isn’t a quintessential PNW setting, I don’t know what is.
Fair warning – with balcony views overlooking the ocean, it’s tough to pry yourself away from your room. Be prepared to fall into a staring contest with Mother Nature. Once you do make your way back downstairs, you’ll find three excellent dining options throughout the property. They include a formal dining room, a cozy cafe that serves up excellent breakfast, coffee, lunch and snacks as well as Oak Bay’s famous Snug Pub, the perfect spot to grab a cold pint or great dinner. Following a quick drink, we opt to head back into Oak Bay to grab dinner and check out the local scene.
7:45 pm – Vis-a-Vis
A friend’s recommendation lands us at Vis-a-Vis, a fantastic wine and charcuterie bar that offers up a host of great entrees as well. We cozy up at the bar and opt for a delicious salad and the Steak & Frites that is served to perfection. On top of the excellent food, the low-lit ambiance and soft clatter from the kitchen mixed with some of the friendliest regulars around make for a great dining experience.
9:30 pm – Penny Farthing Pub
Following dinner, we pop next door to Penny Farthing Pub for a nightcap. We’re met with Victorian-etched glass and windows at the entrance along with dark wood inside and crackling fireplaces. In other words, the perfect warm Irish pub to hunker down in on a cold Northwest night. Irish music fills the scene as we get our fill on a proper Guinness.
10:45 pm – Oak Bay Beach Hotel Mineral Pools
Back at the hotel, we hop in our swimsuits, toss on provided robes and head down for a late night soak in the hotel’s infamous mineral pools. Open until midnight, it’s a true treat to get to experience the best feature of the hotel when most hotel residents have crashed out for the evening.
It’s a clear night with stars abound. Waves crash against the rocky shoreline in a harmonious pattern. Hints of eucalyptus from the indoor steam room drift in and out with the shifting breeze. I’m caught in a single repetitive thought around whether there is a better spot in the world to close out an evening. I’d say this is a pretty safe bet as one of the best.
Victoria Day 2
10:45 am – Nourish Kitchen & Cafe
Following an early morning workout, one last mineral pool soak and an excellent cappuccino from Kate’s Cafe, we check out of the hotel and head back into downtown Victoria for brunch. We land at Nourish Kitchen & Cafe, one of Victoria’s hidden gems for healthy eating. The light, airy vibe, great tunes and over-the-top tasty brunch options (hellllooo sleeping beauty pancakes…) and probiotic water kefir hit the spot for another day of fuel.
1:00 pm – Goldstream Provincial Park
We hop in our rental car, fire up Google maps and head out on the 25 minute drive to Goldstream Provincial Park. Famous for it’s Railway Trestle hike, the Park is a quick and easy escape to a nature wonderland right outside of Victoria. A 15-minute walk from the main parking lot to the visitor’s center lands us at a nature preserve where we witness three bald eagles singing to one another as they swoop between massive towering trees in search of their next salmon catch. For a moment, it feels as though we are bystanders in a scene straight out of a movie.
2:45 pm – Sooke Potholes Provincial Park
Following a 35-minute drive from Goldstream, we arrive at Sooke Potholes Provincial Park. While locals flock to these deep pristine rock pools for a soak in the summer, the Park maintains its beauty during the winter sans any crowd. Quiet and peaceful, it’s the perfect spot to take an outdoor stroll and let your mind escape.
4:00 pm – Clipper Victoria Terminal
Before we know it it’s time to turn in the car and check in for our 2 hour and 45 minute cruise aboard the Victoria Clipper IV back to Seattle. As we climb aboard and kick back into our comfy seats, we order up a glass of locally sourced red wine from Washington’s Columbia Valley and give one last cheers to a magical weekend away.
We’ll see you again soon Victoria. Real soon.
How to Book This Trip…
Clipper Vacations offers daily departures from Seattle to Victoria, BC aboard its Victoria Clipper vessels. The less than three hour cruise takes you from Pier 69 in downtown Seattle direct to Victoria’s Inner Harbor where you can easily walk (taxis also available at terminal) to your hotel. Clipper Vacations also offers a variety of hotel packages with a best price guarantee on overnight stays as well as tours and activities. A bundle hotel stay is the best way to also save on transportation cost of the ferry.
The Sea & Sky package described above is an excellent way to experience a fun and scenic trip using two modes of transportation that are highly unique to the Pacific Northwest.