A tour guide to Victoria BC and Vancouver Island
This guide will be useful for your Victoria, BC tours and for Vancouver Island travel information. It includes day trips to Chemainus, Sooke and the Gulf Islands in five self-driving tours of the area from our bed and breakfasts.
Victoria local tours
Horse carriage tours: Tally Ho Tours and Victoria Carriage Tours
90 minute open-top bus tours of Victoria are an excellent informative introduction to the city: Gray Line www.sightseeingvictoria.com, Big Bus Tours www.bigbusvictoria.ca or Hippo Tours (on land and water!) www.victoriahippotours.com.
Aerial tours: Harbour Air and Pat Bay Air who offer scenic floatplane tours and private charter flights from Victoria's Inner Harbour and Victoria International Airport YYJ).
Do look at our page of helpful Victoria itineraries.
Here are five suggested driving tours of Victoria and of southern Vancouver Island. They are from two hours to a full day duration. You might wish to print them before you arrive for your vacation. When you at the B&B your hosts can guide you with maps and povide further information about the Saanich Peninsula.
1. Victoria coast scenic drive
Depending on where you are staying you may pick up this route at several points so we are presenting it as a north-to-south tour.
From Hwy 17 you drive east at Sayward Road, following directions to Cordova Bay. From this point on you will be keeping close to the ocean on the left and will encounter several pleasant beach access points. Stop at Matticks Farm to browse around the shops, have a snack at Adrienne's Tea Garden or even play mini-golf.
Within a mile you will want to stop again to stroll along the sandy beach of Cordova Bay.
Keep driving south (40 kmh only here) to traffic lights where you follow Cordova Bay Road to the left. After a couple of miles you could drive right into Mount Douglas Park up to its summit. When you resume, follow Ash Street which is briefly Grandview then Ferndale then Gordon Head Road from which you soon turn left into Arbutus Road into Cadboro Bay Road. Lost yet?
Cadboro Bay village may encourage meandering around the few shops or onto the beach at Gyro Park. Follow Cadboro Bay Road into Beach Drive. If you should turn left into The Uplands you will find some stunning houses. Pass the charming Oak Bay Beach Hotel and drive through beautiful Victoria Golf Club.
Look for 'Scenic Drive' signs which lead you into King George Terrace where there is a nice turn off to a beach near the Chinese Cemetery. You are briefly in Crescent Road then Hollywood Crescent before you follow Dallas Road with an open view to the Olympic Mountains. You can stop on the left at Clover Point, a popular kite flying spot, before continuing along to Beacon Hill Park.
The Park is an immensely varied 100 acres with English gardens, natural habitat, a cricket pitch, bandstand, lake, petting zoo, putting green and more so do stop and wander. You may spot Mile 0, the start of the Trans-Canada Highway, near an immensely high totem pole. If you drive north, away from the ocean, you will reach downtown.
2. Southern Vancouver Island tour: East Coast.
Take a leisurely day trip to discover the gentle lifestyle and pleasant scenery of south-eastern Vancouver Island. You can explore rainforest trails and coastal villages or taste wines and ciders from local vintners, see Chemainus' spectacular murals and the totem poles in Duncan.
Your B&B hosts will be pleased to help you plan your day or half day tour of Vancouver Island's eastern coast.
Start your tour heading north west on Hwy 1. Within 15 minutes you reach Goldstream Provincial Park with its large 600-year old fir and cedar trees, majestic waterfalls, a meandering river that meets the sea, flowers, birds, animals. In November and December you will see (and smell!) the salmon-spawning stream with thousands of returning salmon. You can take a short hike to Niagara Falls, a 50-metre cascading waterfall and even find an abandoned gold mine. Near the interpretive centre you can view one of the largest concentrations of Bald Eagles anywhere in Canada from December to February. The highway is then named the Malahat Drive, rising to some excellent views across Saanich Peninsula, the Gulf Islands, as far as snow-capped Mt. Baker in Washington State – stop at each scenic viewpoint you encounter.
Over the Malahat Drive you will find the gently rolling countryside of the South Cowichan, Vancouver Island's Wine Country. It is a land of farms and forests, lakes and rivers, rolling hills and ocean beaches. Head for the wineries or tour the coastal and countryside communities of Mill Bay, Shawnigan Lake, Cobble Hill and Cowichan Bay. Enjoy complimentary tours and tastings. The annual festival "Wines of the Island" is in the first week in September.
At Shawnigan Lake you can visit the "real" last spike on the Trans-Canada railway or the Kinsol trestle bridge. At over 187 metres long, the 1920s timber trestle is reputed to be the largest in the Commonwealth. It towers nearly 40 metres above the churning Koksilah River.
Before leaving the highway stop at Whippletree Junction, on the right (south of Duncan), a charming collection of old houses, some from the area others being barged up from Victoria. They are now shops selling an eclectic range of gifts, furniture, furnishings, antiques and crafts.
Duncan, the "City of Totems", is 40 minutes from downtown Victoria. Tour through the downtown shops and search out almost eighty totem poles spread throughout the city. There are 41 totems on the self-guided tour. At the Quw'utsun' Cultural Centre you can experience native cultures and traditions including art, traditional weaving, beading, spinning, and entertainment. More information is available at the Duncan Visitor lnformation Centre.
If you are interested in a steam train ride and genuine logging machinery from days gone by you should visit the BC Forest Museum just minutes north of Duncan on Hwy 1.
Heralded as "The Little Town That Did" Chemainus is known world-wide for its 35 larger-than-life outdoor murals scattered through the streets and alleyways of this century-old former mill town. Take a trolley tour through town or follow the painted footprints and discover the murals: be aware that the town is on two levels with many of the antique stores 'below' the main town. Plan ahead and stay for theatre at the highly regarded Chemainus Dinner Theatre.
The 30 year old Crow & Gate Pub is further north in the Yellow Point area. Set amidst lush lawns, a large pond with black swans and muscovy ducks this is a perfect stop for a late lunch. Elizabethan ambience in pegged beam and plaster construction, and terrific food make this one of Vancouver Island's great secrets.
From here you can head back to Victoria in three different ways:
- a straight drive will take just over one hour.
- drive back to Mill Bay and take the 20 minute ferry (BC Ferries) to Brentwood Bay, near the Butchart Gardens, or take Route 3 (below).
3. Southern Island tour: East Coast and Salt Spring Island.
Visit Goldstream Park, the Malahat Drive scenic viewpoints, Whippletree Junction, drive through Duncan, explore Chemainus, as above. Then drive south a few miles to Crofton and take BC Ferries to Vesuvius, Salt Spring Island. Enjoy this largest of the Gulf Islands with its relaxed lifetsyle epitomised by the resident craft artisans. Explore the town of Ganges and then return to Victoria (Swartz Bay) from the BC Ferries at Fulford Harbour. Check schedules first - see bottom of this page for the link.
4. Southern Island tour: West Coast.
This tour includes the natural rugged beauty of West coast beaches so you need not drive 4.5 hours each way to Tofino to experience them. Highway 14 takes the quiet western coastal route. The largest community, Sooke, is little more than a village. The road runs close to beaches at times and there are numerous parks in the area for hiking and outdoor activities. A day spent in this area is guaranteed to be quietly refreshing. Our recommendations are in approximate route sequence.
Above left is Hatley Castle which is definately worth a visit for its Italian Gardens, Japanese Garden and Rose Garden which you will pass if you follow Hwy 14 through Colwood. It is close to charming Fisgard Lighthouse, above right, which was built in 1860 and houses an interesting exhibit about local lighthouses and the many shipwrecks along the west coast of Vancouver Island. It is adjacent to the sandbar of Esquimalt Lagoon which attracts marine wildlife. If time and interest permit you can combine a visit to adjoining Fort Rodd Hill, a coastal artillery fort built in 1890. See directions to both on our Fisgard Lighthouse map. These National Historic Sites of Canada are at 603 Fort Rodd Hill Road, Victoria, B.C., (250 478-5849).
Soon after this the suburbs of Victoria are left behind and the open road beckons. Before Sooke look for a sign on the right to Sooke Potholes Provincial Park, a swimming spot for locals in a ravine with pleasant walks adjoining the Galloping Goose Trail - see below left.
To the south is East Sooke Regional Park (above right), the largest regional park of natural and protected coastal landscape which has excellent level hikes.
Sooke takes its name from the T'sou-ke (the "e" is silent) native people, the first inhabitants of the area. T'sou-ke was the name given to a species of stickleback fish that was once quite numerous in the Sooke Basin. The Sooke Region Museum (open year round) houses much of the local history including its 'discovery' by Quimper and the later Leechtown gold rush.
Witty's Lagoon is a one hour drive west of Victoria. The open beach, rocky shore and lagoon are home to a good variety of coastal creatures and plants.
Keep driving north along the coastal road and you will reach French Beach Provincial Park. A sand and gravel beach provides a site for whale watching in the spring or interesting walks through second-growth forest.
Juan de Fuca Provincial Park Further north, famous for the 47 km Juan de Fuca Marine Trail. Offers scenic beauty, marine and wildlife viewing and roaring surf. China Beach at its southern end is accessible and has nice views and may form the furthest point of your tour.
The almost deserted road continues as far as Port Renfrew passing the tide pools of Botanical Beach.
5. Gulf Islands tour.
Take the BC Ferries day trip from Swartz Bay and drive around several of the charming Gulf Islands. The islands are surprisingly varied. The schedules are best on weekends.
Victoria BC tours page