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Victoria with Kids: 10 Adventures

Published on: April 25, 2014

Victoria Whale Boat TourIn 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.)

MORE: What to eat in VictoriaWhere to sleep in Victoria

What to do: 10 family adventures around Victoria, B.C.

1. Fisherman’s Wharf
300 St. Lawrence St. • Free to browse

Victoria otterAfter 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.

totem poles in victoria
Photo credit: Destination British Columbia

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

butchart gardens victoriaRun 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.

fantan street in victoria
Fan Tan Alley | Credit: Destination British Columbia

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

What to eat: 3 Victoria, B.C. food adventures

MORE: What to do in VictoriaWhere to sleep in Victoria

1. Tea for four

tea cup at Empress in Victoria BC
Tea at the Empress | Photo: Robin Zebrowski on flickr CC

Why: It’s the quintessential Victoria experience, complete with crumpets, tarts, lemon curd and — in some cases — innovative dishes inspired by other cultures. 

Find it: With its ultra-elegant room and view of the Inner Harbour, The Fairmont Empress (721 Government St., reservations required) is the classic high tea experience (and a bit of a splurge), with all the trimmings, stunning views of the Inner Harbour and even bubblegum tea, a fruit-flavored tea for the younger set. Try Hotel Grand Pacific (463 Belleville St.) for a less-expensive, Asian-influenced tea with a special kids’ menu. Venus Sophia (540 Fisgard St.) in Chinatown also offers an affordable tea with a kids’ menu and vegetarian options.

2. Go fish-and-chips

Why: The classic Brit pub fare gets dozens of twists in Victoria.

Find it: At Fisherman’s Wharf, try Red Fish, Blue Fish (1006 Wharf St.), a tiny dockside shed, for enormous portions of sustainable cod, salmon and halibut, or Barb’s Fish & Chips (1 Dallas Rd.), a popular spot with locals. Old Vic’s (1316 Broad St.), one of Victoria’s oldest restaurants, serves fish wrapped in newspaper, just like in the Old Country.

3. Global gourmet

Why: Victoria’s foodies have invigorated the local dining scene with intriguing fusion menus that reflect the city’s melding of cultures.

Find it: Latin-flavored Mo:Lé (554 Pandora Ave.) serves breakfast and brunch with divine local ingredients and an innovative kids’ menu. Go during off-hours to get a seat. Rebar (50 Bastion Square) offers Mexican oilcloth-draped tables, super-friendly service and fresh fusion fare drawing on Asian and Latin cuisines.

Excerpted, updated and expanded from Northwest Kid Trips, by Lora Shinn

Where to sleep in Victoria, B.C. 

MORE: What to do in VictoriaWhat to eat in Victoria

1. Admiral Inn
257 Belleville St. • $120 and up • 250-388-6267 • 888-823-6472

Swan's Hotel Victoria
Swans Hotel | Photo credit: flightlog on flickr CC

This inn offers affordable, simple lodging for families with a variety of room types, all located near the Clipper and Black Ball stations, right on Victoria’s Inner Harbour. Ask about the bike rentals.

2. Royal Scot Hotel and Suites
425 Quebec St. • $134 and up  • 250-388-5463 or 800-663-7515

A top pick for families, Royal Scot boasts a pool, a pool table, a game room and roomy one- and two-bedroom suites with kitchens and cable TVs. Elevators and wide hallways make it easy to navigate the stroller. On-site parking is available for a fee.

3. Swans Hotel
506 Pandora Ave. • $122 and up • 800-668-7926 or 250-361-3310

Each of Swans’ 29 charm-filled suites offers modern artwork and decor, a TV and a full kitchen. Ask for a quieter room to avoid the noise of the brewpub at your feet.

Excerpted, updated and expanded from Northwest Kid Trips, by Lora Shinn

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