From historic buildings to lavish gardens, lush forests to phenomenal farm-to-table restaurants, along with one of the best shopping scenes in the Pacific Northwest, Victoria has no shortage of charms. It should also come as no surprise that the City of Gardens holds a slew of secret wonders if you know where to look. The type of hip, under-the-radar spots that warrant a return visit for deeper exploration. Wander off the beaten path to adventure in a new part of the city with our insider’s guide to Victoria’s secret hidden gems!

Discover Clipper Getaways

1. Gonzales Regional Hill Park

The site of a weather station in its previous life, the small Gonzales Regional Hill Park is the highest point of land on the south coast of Vancouver Island and offers a scenic retreat in the heart of the city. Find a perch on the steps of the historic building or one of the surrounding rocky knolls and soak in unparalleled views of Victoria, Salish Sea, Strait of Juan de Fuca, Olympic Mountains, Sooke Hills and even the Victoria Clipper as she cruises past.

You may even make friends with the covey of California quail who call the park home. Stick around until sunset and you’ll be treated to even more breathtaking sights as the rosy glow fills the sky with Victoria’s downtown twinkle below.

2. Shop and “Eat the Street” on Fort Street

Wander along Victoria’s unofficial main street, Fort Street, where you can shop like the locals. Stop by Ditch Records to pick up some new vinyl, Not Just Pretty for stylish and eco-friendly threads or Russell’s Books, a bibliophile’s paradise where you’ll find not one, but three stories packed with books.

Just be sure to come hungry as this street is foodie heaven. Don’t worry about the calories, with the trek from Wharf Street to Joan Crescent clocking in at 2,000 steps (just over a mile), it’s easy to justify eating your way up the street. Duck into the celebrated Fishhook for some of the best seafood (we highly recommend the French tartines), Tacofino for creative takes on you guessed it – tacos and burritos and Chorizo & Co. for mouth-watering Spanish eats.

Nosh on a lineup of tapas at Chorizo and Co. Credit: Tourism Victoria
Nosh on a lineup of tapas at Chorizo & Co. Credit: Tourism Victoria

When it’s time for dessert you’ll have to flip a coin to determine whether you go to Crust Bakery or Dutch Bakery. Both serve up an epic selection of freshly baked cookies, pastries and cakes, a win-win either way. Best of all, by the end of your journey, you’ll be more than halfway to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.

3. Art Gallery of Greater Victoria

A vibrant island community isn’t complete without an extensive art collection, right? Duck into the intimate Art Gallery of Greater Victoria to explore a beautifully and thoughtfully curated collection of nearly 20,000 objects d’art from all over the world, without having to book a trip aboard.

Start your tour at the historic 1889 Spencer Mansion to check out the remarkable architecture before heading next door to discover the museum’s seven modern galleries. As you slip between the buildings, don’t miss the only authentic Japanese Shinto Shrine in North America, tucked among the bamboo and Japanese maples in the Gallery’s Asian Garden.

Even the kiddos can get on the action and create their own masterpieces at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. Credit: Tourism Victoria
Even the kiddos can get in on the action and create their own masterpieces at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. Credit: Tourism Victoria

Once inside the Gallery, discover exquisitely carved amber and ivory in the world-class Asian art collection. The space also features, by far, the best collection of works by the famous local artist, Emily Carr, who perfectly captured the region’s landscape and First Nations peoples. On a budget? Stop by on the first Tuesday of every month for pay-what-you-can admission.

4. Willows Beach

Dreaming of wiggling your toes into a perfect swath of white sand? Find your way to Willows Beach, one of the few soft sand beaches on the east coast of the Island. Search for that perfect piece of driftwood as you frolic along the shore and take in (on a clear day you can see Mount Baker) fabulous views of Chatham and Discovery Island. When an eastern wind blows in, there is no better place to revel in the stormy Pacific Northwest weather. Look on from a cozy indoor spot as the howling gales stir the waters into a disruptive foamy mess.

The sandy shores of Willow Beach offer the perfect tranquil escape. Credit: Tourism Victoria
The sandy shores of Willows Beach offer the perfect tranquil escape. Credit: Tourism Victoria

If the sea spray causes you to work up an appetite, head to the nearby Estevan Village to spoil yourself with a delicious lineup of baked-from-scratch treats at Crumsby’s Cupcake Café or some of the best fish and chips in town at the diminutive, family-owned Willows Galley Fish & Chips.

5. The Coffee Lab

In need of a fine Pacific Northwest roast? Look no further the than The Coffee Lab. Located nearby the Bay Street Bridge, artisan methodology is the name of the game in this hip, industrial-style café. High quality, ethically-sourced coffee, roasted on site in small batches equal an incredibly brilliant brew. The roaster is conveniently located in the center of the café, allowing you to get a peek at the process in action.

Make a pit stop at the local cafe to fuel a day of exploring. Credit: Natalie Collins
Make a pit stop at the local cafe to fuel a day of exploring. Credit: Natalie Collins

The owner will happily educate and teach uninitiated coffee sippers to the wonderful world of pour-over coffee, and will brew you up a beautiful cup that is so smooth and rich you won’t need sugar or cream. You can also conduct your own side-by-side tests at the “Sampling Station” and compare how the different flavor profiles stack up against each other.

6. Abkhazi Garden

When it comes to stunning gardens, sometimes the best things come in small packages. Secluded behind a hornbeam hedge, the charming one-acre Abkhazi Garden is, according to Vancouver Island garden expert and Digital Content Manager at Gardens British Columbia, Scott McDonald, “The best hidden gem Victoria has, bar none.”

The grounds brim with endangered Garry oak, carpets of alpine flowers that meander around glacier outcroppings and 100-year-old rhododendrons. McDonald adds, “You can sit in the garden in the middle of Victoria and feel like you are all alone. It is the perfect tranquil escape.”

Cuddle up with a warm cup of tea as you stare out on the stunning Abkhazi Gardens. Credit: Scott McDonald
Cuddle up with a warm cup of tea as you stare out on the stunning Abkhazi Gardens. Credit: Scott McDonald

And let’s not forget about the tea. One of Victoria’s best-kept secrets, the cozy tea house serves up one of the most delicious afternoon teas in all of the city, featuring treats created with regional or Abkhazi grown produce. Curl up with a warm cuppa brewed from Silk Road’s fine loose-leaf tea and you won’t be able to help falling into a love affair with the beautiful gardens stretched out below.

7. Little Jumbo

Nestled at the end of a hall, Fort Street’s Little Jumbo has the requisite ingredient of any good speakeasy-style bar, it’s hard to find. Once you do make your way into this intimate space, you will find a beautifully crafted interior. Exposed brick, wooden pillars and copper ceiling tiles lend a relaxed vibe to the space, and the welcoming staff are equally as laid-back.

Sip on some of the best cocktails in town in the cozy Little Jumbo. Credit: Tourism Victoria
Sip on some of the best cocktails in town in the cozy Little Jumbo. Credit: Tourism Victoria

Choose from one of the specialty cocktails on the menu. It’s also one of the few menus on which you’ll find quirky tales to accompany your drink. Or pick your favorite “poison” from the more than 250 glistening bottles of spirits on the back bar and watch your talented mixologist go to work doing what they do best – whipping up superb cocktails.

8. Stroll Dallas Road from Ogden Point to Clover Point

Snaking around the southern end of Victoria and along the edge of the of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the spectacularly scenic Dallas Road provides stunning, wraparound waterfront views that few other spots around the city can offer.

Venture out on the breakwater for breathtaking vistas of the Harbor’s calm waters. Photo: Dannielle Siewertsen
Venture out on the breakwater for breathtaking vistas of the Harbor’s calm waters. Photo: Dannielle Siewertsen

Amble over to the city’s man-made marvel, the Breakwater at Ogden Point. Stroll out to the end of the brightly-painted walkway and snap a shot of the sun’s golden rays as they make a halo behind you. This is a sure way to induce major FOMO (fear-of-missing-out) from all your friends. Continue on to the wind-swept Clover Point for more astounding 360-degree views (it’s one of the best places to see the Olympics in Victoria), and keep an eye out for daredevil hang gliders and windsurfers as you scamper along the seawall.

9. Dragon Alley

With “dragon” in its name and an address (532 ½) that sounds like it could have been pulled straight out of Harry Potter, this alley begs to be explored. The seemingly magical Dragon Alley flows through Victoria’s popular Chinatown neighborhood and leads you to a couple of the area’s hidden gems.

The seemingly mystical Dragon Alley will lead you to some of Chinatown’s unique spots. Credit: Lindsey Miller
The seemingly mystical Dragon Alley will lead you to some of Chinatown’s unique spots. Credit: Lindsey Miller

Swing by the bright and airy Union Pacific Coffee for awesome breakfast sandwiches (think bacon, eggs, veggies or smoked meat on a freshly baked bagel or croissant) or grab a cup of Joe to sip while waiting in Jam Café’s long, but, worth it brunch line. Don’t miss the Emporium Dragon Alley, a treasure trove of one-of-a-kind artisan creations and specialty imports such as ornaments, painted ceramics, candles, soap and a slew of other irresistible trinkets you didn’t know you needed.

10. Goldstream Provincial Park

With old growth conifers towering overhead and clear waters babbling at your feet, pristine wildness unfolds the moment you enter Goldstream Provincial Park. Time your visit right and watch the salmon run, likely followed by dozens of swooping eagles looking for a feast in what feels like a scene stolen from a movie. This is the Northwest at its best, and it’s all within a quick 25-minute drive outside of Victoria!

A convocation of eagles wait for their next meal. Credit: Tourism Victoria
A convocation of eagles wait for their next meal. Credit: Tourism Victoria

If you are looking for even more jaw-dropping views, hike upstream to the impressive Niagara Falls, so named because they are almost the same height as their East Coast cousin. Watch the thundering waters cascade down a rock cliff before boiling into a canyon pool below.

Whether you spend the day shopping an off the beaten path locale or cozied up with a cup of tea in a secluded tea house that feels like your own private hideaway or relaxing in a secret garden, Victoria holds an array of secret spots worth uncovering. After a day of exploring these hidden gems, you may feel like a local!

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Feature Photo: Tourism Victoria

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