In Victoria, one of the Northwest’s oldest cities and the capital of British Columbia, the new flourishes alongside the old. So, go for the old-time fun (take high tea at the Empress, stroll the Butchart Gardens) but don’t forget to mix in some new: Pedal along the network of bike trails, browse Comics Row with your teen and enjoy cross-cultural cuisine, Victoria style. (Note: Prices are in Canadian dollars.)
What to do: 10 family adventures around Victoria, B.C.
1. Fisherman’s Wharf
300 St. Lawrence St. • Free to browse
After you stroll the walkways of the Inner Harbour, hop on a Victoria Harbour ferry (aka a pickle boat, due to the shape and color) over to quaint Fisherman’s Wharf, where you can dine on fish-and-chips, pick up an ice cream cone, walk among funky houseboats and feed seals.
Pair with: A 75-minute summer sail aboard an Inner Harbour pirate ship — sunken treasure and sea battle included. Summer sailings start June 28.
2. Whale-watching cruise
About $90 per adult and up
From April through October, catch a glimpse of humpback whales, orcas and porpoises on a whale-watching cruise. Parents of younger or seasickness-prone children will want to look for an oceangoing vessel, such as a catamaran or yacht. Parents of older or adventure-seeking children will want to hop into an open-air Zodiac inflatable boat. Bring binoculars. Whale-watching tours include Prince of Whales (year-round), Eagle Wing Tours (year-round) and Great Pacific Adventures.
Pair with: A visit to the Maritime Museum of B.C. (28 Bastion Square), where kids can learn about whaling, ship building, fishing and other facets of Victoria’s rich maritime history.
3. The Fairmont Empress Resort Hotel
721 Government St. • Free to tour • 250-384-8111 • 866-540-4429
The graceful, opulent interior of this 1908 hotel perfectly fits the exterior’s grandeur. Walk through the glass-ceilinged atrium, make reservations for tea or shop at the upscale stores.
Pair with: Miniature World, located inside the Empress, which fascinates kids with its tiny — yet sort of cheesy — dioramas depicting scenes from ancient times to today.
4. The Victoria Bug Zoo
631 Courtney St. • $7–$10; ages 2 and younger, free • 250-384-2847
Entomologist Carol Maier scours Amazonian jungles and American deserts for kitten-size tarantulas and glow-in-the-dark scorpions. Hold swaying stick insects, watch leaf-cutter ants traverse a wall-size maze, marvel at what’s reputed to be the largest captive ant farm in the world and listen to your tour guide’s deadpan repartee.
Pair with: Lunch around the corner at Noodlebox (818 Douglas St.), where everything, including the popular spicy noodle bowl, comes in little to-go cardboard boxes.
5. The Royal BC Museum
675 Belleville St. • Summer prices (May 1–Sept. 30) $17.95–$23.95; ages 5 and younger, free • 250-356-7226
The famed Royal BC Museum is three floors of history, science and nature that engage the senses. In the Natural History wing, kids can cower before a looming, life-size woolly mammoth and delight in the fresh, salty air next to a re-created seascape, complete with a miniature tide pool. This summer, don’t miss Vikings, which explores every aspect of this fascinating ancient culture (May 11–Sept. 11).
Pair with: Time to play among the totems at Thunderbird Park, just behind the museum, or a visit to the old-timey St. Ann’s Schoolhouse (entry included with museum ticket purchase, open in summer only).
6. Beacon Hill Park and Children’s Farm
311 Vancouver St. • Park is free; suggested farm donation $2.50–$3.50 • 250-381-2532
At this fantastic, toddler-friendly playground, park and seasonal petting zoo (petting zoo open March–October), kids can visit with chickens, peacocks and donkeys, and even groom goats. A spray park adds to summer fun. Stroll the park’s gardens — a beautiful, low-key alternative to the Butchart Gardens — and look for the park’s totem pole, which was the world’s biggest when it was erected in 1956.
Pair with: Soft-serve ice cream at Beacon Drive-in across the street (126 Douglas St.).
7. Willows Beach
Dalhousie St. • Free
Hot day? Do like the locals and wade in at Willows Beach Park, a popular swimming beach in Victoria, 15 minutes from downtown. Its sandy beach and shallow, protected water make it a perfect pick for tots. On a sunny day, enjoy views of Mount Baker and Discovery Bay.
Pair with: A visit to nearby Willows Galley (2559 Estevan Ave.) for good fish-and-chips and burgers, followed by sweet treats at Crumsby’s Cupcake Cafe (2509 Estevan Ave.).
8. The Butchart Gardens
800 Benvenuto Ave. • Summer rates $15.40–$30.80; children 5–12, $3; 4 and younger, free • 250-652-5256
Run off energy on the sweetly scented trails of the world-famous 55-acre gardens, about a 20-minute drive from downtown (buses and bus tours available). There are statues, fountains and steps throughout sunken, rose, Japanese and Italian gardens. Play “I Spy” with flowers (pick up a guide at the entrance) and look for the big brass boar called Tacca.
Pair with: Victoria Butterfly Gardens (1461 Benvenuto Ave.), an indoor “jungle” that contains hundreds of fluttering butterflies at various stages of the life cycle, flamingos, South African turacos and koi fish.
9. Biking to Sidney, B.C.
For a fun, relatively easy day trip, rent bikes and pedal north on the mostly flat, country-picturesque Lochside Trail, part of Victoria’s network of rail trails. In 17 miles, you’ll reach the walkable ferry town of Sidney, where you should visit the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre (9811 Seaport Place), a small gem of an aquarium.
Pair with: Bookstore browsing. Sidney, known as Booktown, is home to more than a dozen bookstores within a few blocks.
10. Comics Row
Johnson Street (downtown)
If you have older children, don’t miss a walk through Comics Row, a parade of comics, anime and card stores. Curious Comics (631 Johnson St.) probably has the largest and broadest selection. Legends Comics and Books (633 Johnson St.) sells vintage and new comic books and lit-quality graphic novels.
Pair with: Chinatown, just a few blocks away and the second oldest in North America (after San Francisco). Don’t miss Fan Tan Alley — North America’s narrowest street.
4 insider tips for Victoria
1. Getting there
From downtown Seattle, the most convenient option for traveling to Victoria is the passenger-only Victoria Clipper. You can bring your car on the Coho ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria or on a Washington State ferry from Anacortes, Wash. to Sidney. Drive north to take a more luxe B.C. ferry from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay. Whether you fly, drive or go by train, don’t forget your passport or other necessary documents.
2. Getting around
With its compact downtown, you can easily tour Victoria without a car. The downtown core and Inner Harbour are accessible on foot, and destinations such as Oak Bay or Butchart Gardens can be reached by bus, bike or taxi. (You can also reserve space on a private tour bus for Butchart.) On the Greater Victoria Regional Transit System, pass deals are available ($5 for a day pass), kids 5 and under are always free, and kids ages 12 and under are free when traveling with a parent or guardian.
3. Dragon boats
Victoria hosts several summer festivals worth exploring, particularly the Dragon Boat Festival (August 15–17), the only dragon boat festival in Canada to take place in a working harbor.
4. Victoria resources
Find up-to-date information and itineraries at Tourism Victoria.
Excerpted, updated and expanded from Northwest Kid Trips, by Lora Shinn