My buddy Travis reached out this morning with a request. His friends are arriving in Victoria on Friday and have an evening to spend here. I don't know if they're coming on a cruise ship with a short layover, or maybe the have to head up-island in the morning. Either way, I'm glad to help out.
Here's the mission:
Friends have an evening layover in Victoria this Friday. What sort of stuff would you recommend for them to do? They like art, music and food. And Debi loves flowers.
That's enough to start. Let's see...
Let's assume they are on foot. Either coming off the boat or a tour bus. Either way, they should be able to get to Tourist Ground Zero, aka the corner of Government St. and Belleville St., where the Provincial Legislature, the Empress Hotel and Inner Harbour meet. It's a nice walk (20 minutes) through James Bay from the cruise ship terminal, or there are motor coaches that will take you from the boat.
But say you're at Ground Zero, the sun is shining, it's Friday evening and you're raring to go. What to do?
Fish & Chips: Red Fish Blue Fish beside the harbour on Wharf Street is awesome, but is likely lined up for an hour after, say, 4pm. We head to Fisherman's Wharf (900m west on Belleville) and then across the park to Finest At Sea on Erie Street. Excellent food (consider the fish tacos!), they catch their own fish, and a far shorter line.
Burgers: Just past Red Fish Blue Fish, still on the harbour along Wharf Street is L'Authentique a walk up burger stand with superb burgers and excellent poutine. Real Quebecois dudes running this place. It's the good stuff.
Asian and Funky: Head to Foo on Yates and Blanshard. The pork and pineapple fried rice is killer. The beef and brocolli is great too.
Romantic Restaurant: We love Perro Negro on Yates between Government and Wharf. Tapas and wine and excellent decor. They're upstairs from Ferris' and beside Ferris' Oyster Bar, and you can't go wrong with either of those options if tapas isn't your thing.
But if you're not immediately hungry, consider Art and Flowers, and then eat on Cook Street.
I'm not sure what's open in the evening art wise. We love the Legacy Art Gallery on Yates and Broad Street, but it closes at 4pm. There are some private galleries on Government Street with high end Indigenous art.
My suggestion is to head to Belleville and Douglas Street and check out the Mungo Martin house and the totem poles at Thunderbird Park. Stunning art and culture in a public space. You'll be able to sit with the art and experience it, but there isn't any curation/interpretation.
From Thunderbird Park, head one block south along Douglas to Beacon Hill Park, where we come to the flowers.
When you hear of Victoria, chances are you hear of Butchart Gardens. Sometimes I think the city's entire tourist infrastructure is to serve Butchart Gardens. And hey, it's lovely. But it's out of town and huge and you'll spend your entire layover there.
Instead, I'd walk to Beacon Hill Park and enjoy it all. There are formal flower beds. Proper English Garden stuff. Rose gardens and peacocks. It's lovely, it's right there and it's free. There's also some native Garry Oak outcroppings and rocks to scramble around. Beacon Hill is an amazing place. And the park runs from Superior Street to Dallas Road, where the land meets the water. If you hike to the lookout, you'll get amazing views of the Olympia Mountains and the ocean too.
Exit the park on the east side, past the cricket pitch, to find Cook Street Village and some more food options.
Cook Street Village #
Four good options right close to Beacon Hill Park:
- Thunderbird Korean Fried Chicken. We've been a few times and really like it.
- Pizzeria Prima Strada: proper Neapolitan pizza, a salad and spritz makes the perfect dinner out.
- The Beagle Pub: neighbourhood british pub. We haven't been there in years but it's always humming when we walk by.
- Big Wheel Burger: my go-to burger place. Good food, well sourced, and strong community service
Alas, I'm an old fogey and a baker too, so I don't get out much in the evening. But every poster I see on the power poles advertising good music points me to Hermann's Jazz Club on View Street. This Friday it's Cuban music and sounds amazing.
Bonus: Saturday Brunch #
Victoria is known for brunch. Most of the best food in town isn't available after 3pm. If you're able to grab a bite in the morning, here are my go-to spots:
Jam Cafe on Herald Street. Best brunch I've ever had. Get there early though, or you'll be waiting for an hour. Seriously. Get there at 7:45 for when they open at 8. You're welcome.
Crust Bakery on Fort Street has the best pastries downtown if you want to grab and go. And if you have a car, Goodside Pastry House further along Fort Street has the best pastries and desserts you will ever eat in your life. Seriously, World Class.
And if you are in the mood for a coffee shop with good food, but not full brunch, Union Pacific Coffee on Herald Street, across the street from Jam is my favourite coffee + food place. And I'd say that even if I didn't work there.
There you go. Lots to do in a single evening. And if you didn't do any of these things, you'll still find something good in Victoria in summertime. There's a LOT going on here.