With some of the sunniest and warmest weather in Canada, a gorgeous setting on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, plenty of outdoorsy and cultural diversions, and a welcoming and progressive population, Victoria, British Columbia makes for a lovely gay vacation destination, whether for a quick weekend getaway or a longer stay.
Getting to Victoria BC
It's easy to get here from Vancouver on the mainland (BC ferries and Harbour Air Seaplanes offer plenty of sailings and flights), Seattle (via Kenmore Air seaplanes or the high-speed passenger-only Clipper Ferry), and both the Olympic Peninsula (on Black Ball Ferry from Port Angeles, which allows cars) and San Juan Islands and Anacortes, Washington (via the similarly car-capable Washington State Ferry). If you're coming from Portland, Oregon, by the way, driving to Port Angeles and taking Black Ball over is your quickest route to Victoria. Additionally, from Victoria, many gay and lesbian visitors move on to another LGBT-popular spot in the area, serene and stunning Salt Spring Island, which is also easily reached by BC Ferries.
Here are five activities and attractions you should make a point of checking out while you're in Victoria. For further information on this vibrant but intimate city, check out the travel site of the Victoria, BC Tourism Office, which also has a section specifically on LGBT Victoria.
For ideas on where to stay, have a look at our Victoria Gay-Friendly Hotels and B&Bs guide.
One of Vancouver Island's iconic attractions, the Butchart Gardens (800 Benvenuto Ave., 250-652-4422) were created on an old limestone quarry, about 13 miles north of Victoria. There are several gardens to explore, including the quiet, shaded Japanese Garden and the picturesque Sunken Garden, which occupies the site of the former quarry to stunning effect. The gardens are open year-round and offer unique flora for each season. In the summertime, you can enjoy live entertainment on the concert lawn every night, and a dazzling firework show on Saturday evenings. On the way to the Gardens, make a stop about a mile up the road at Victoria Butterfly Gardens (1461 Benvenuto Ave., 250-652-3822) for an exuberant interactive experience. Suited for all ages, kids are especially drawn to the tropical habitat, which includes flamingos and many other exotic birds, turtles, tortoises, frogs, giant koi, and - of course - many varieties of butterflies. BC Transit (250-382-6161) runs a bus (Route 75) to Butchart from downtown Victoria.
Greeting visitors as they approach the city from Port Angeles, Washington on the convenient Black Ball Ferry, Victoria's Inner Harbour is a spectacular setting for a number of the city's attractions. At the center of it all is the Fairmont Empress (721 Government St., 250-384-8111) hotel, a symbol for the city itself. Opened in 1908, the Empress is perhaps best known for its splendid English ritual of afternoon tea. Another way to immerse yourself in the region's history is by visiting the Royal BC Museum (675 Belleville St., 250-356-7226), which has both natural and human history exhibits, including plenty to keep children engaged. Adjacent to the museum, you'll find the British Columbia Parliament Buildings (501 Belleville St., 250-387-3046), the seat of the provincial government. The Robert Bateman Centre (470 Belleville St., 250-940-3630) holds the definitive collection of the artist's work, housed in the city's strikingly redesigned historic Steamship Terminal. It's also a lot of fun to watch the ferries, water taxis, and float planes come and go, in and out of the Inner Harbour, while walking along the pathways of Laurel Point Park or along the docks the fringe Wharf Street on the west edge of downtown.
Located just north of the Inner Harbour, bordering Chinatown, downtown Victoria's fashion district offers a good selection of well curated shops and both trendy and touristy restaurants. Reunion Boutique (585 Johnson St., 250-380-0906) carries a beautiful selection of clothing, such as Cheap Monday skinny jeans and Pendleton coats. Still Life (550 Johnson St., 250-386-5658) offers everything from Dusen Dusen dresses to Fjallraven outdoor gear. For an excellent espresso drink, Hey Happy Coffee (560 Johnson St., 250-590-9680) has top-tier bean offerings, pastries, and a friendly, knowledgeable staff. Or for a more nutritious alternative, Jusu Bar (513 Fisgard St., 250-590-7077) has a vibrant selection of cold-pressed juices and smoothies. For home decor inspiration, Fan Tan Home & Style (541 Fisgard St., 250-382-4424) has an eclectic mix of international fair trade and local artisanal products. For lunch, head to the Victoria Public Market at the Hudson (1701 Douglas St., 778-433-2787) for fresh local food offerings like the Salt Spring Island Cheese chevre grilled cheese sandwich or a curry with naan from Sutra, famed Vancouver chef Vikram Vij's offspring shop. At the end of the day, enjoy a farm-to-table dinner at Olo (509 Fisgard St., 250-590-8795).
Victoria is very much a city with a deep relationship to the water - it's a major cruise port, its downtown flanks the picturesque Inner Harbour, and it's a great destination for exploring by boat. One activity that's great fun in this part of the world is taking a whale-watching cruise - several reliable companies offer these trips, including Eagle Wing Tours (12 Erie St., 250-384-8008), from mid-May through late October. The company also offers wildlife tours the rest of the year (when it's possible to spy a wide range of local critters, including seals, sea lions, migratory birds, an porpoises). Another terrific way to get out onto the water is to rent a kayak or take a guided kayak tour with Victoria Waterfront Tours (475 Head St., 250-858-9090), which offers a few different options, including Inner and Outer Harbour trips, twilight and moonlight excursions, and adventures out to local islands. Tourism Victoria has a full list of additional outfitters as well as companies offering all sorts of other adventures, from sailing to ziplining.
Situated on 200 acres along the city's southern shore, the relaxing and colorful Beacon Hill Park comprises gardens, lakes, ponds, and plentiful wildlife. Visitors of all ages can play with the goats, pigs, and other animals at the Children's Farm (Circle Dr., 250-381-2532). Try to time your visit with one of the two daily goat stampedes (mid-morning and late afternoon), during which at least two-dozen enthusiastic goats race between their daytime petting area and their overnight quarters - bring your camera for this! Afterward, head to the water just beyond the southern end of the park for a scenic walk along the Dallas Road Waterfront Trail, from which stairs provide access to the log-strewn beach below. Be sure to walk down to Clover Point to catch a spectacular sunset.