vancouver island getaways

Last weekend we headed to the island for a week and a bit celebrating our anniversary.  There's something about the island that makes me want to come back every year.  I like the vibe here.  We walked aimlessly most days, with 3 kids in tow, and most always find some interesting things !  a small alley, a hidden garden, a used book store, a tasty bakery, a heritage house with hundred of roses in bloom, etc !  There're so many nooks and crannies here to explore.  The only complaint I have about Victoria is the expensive hotel prices (around $400-450 per night).  Parkville price is a little softer.  Local travel should be cheaper but I supposed it's summer here = lots of tourist = inflated prices.  You can easily fly down south to Cali for the price of Vancouver Island !  As for food and admission costs around the island, prices are quite fair.

If you are visiting the island for the first time, here are few places I recommend you pay a visit.  Below was our itinerary once we got off the ferry terminal enroute to Victoria.  We took an early ferry to give us more time on the island.  Hotel check in isn't until 3pm so we got time to explore.

- HATLEY CASTLE :  old castle that's a Classified Federal Heritage Building.  X-Men, the movie was filmed here.  It's magnificent !  The castle ground is free for you to check out.  There is admission cost for the tour of the inside of the castle and the gardens.

This is from a recent trip there, my mommy and I !

- FORT RODD HILL & FISGARD LIGHTHOUSE:  National Historic Site and the first light house in the west coast.  You can go inside the lighthouse and explore all the rooms in there.  The admission cost is around $4 for adult.  Kids are free (17 and under).

Butchart Gardens and Victoria Butterfly Garden are also on the way.  Butterfly Garden was a hit with our kids.

Fisgard Lighthouse

Once in Victoria, I highly recommend you explore the city by foot !  The whole downtown area is walkable.  Below are some places that's worth a visit:

- FISHERMAN'S WHARF:  food, nice scenery, playground, and floating houses !  For food, we like Barb's Fish and Chips (I like the clam chowder here) and The Fish Store.  Kids like to finish lunch or dinner with Jackson's Ice Cream.  The Mexican restaurant there is always busy so we didn't have a chance to try it out (kids are impatience :-)  If you come early in the morning, you will get some sighting of seals !  There's one seal there that likes to wave :-)  So cute !

- BEACON HILL PARK & CHILDREN'S FARM:  beautiful flower gardens, walking trail, open fields, playground and petting zoo for kids.  At around 4:30-5pm in the afternoon, there's a goat stampede at the petting zoo, where all the goats run back to their home.  Super cute to watch with the kids.  There are also a lot of peacocks roaming freely around in this park.  Quite a sight to see.

- BASTION SQUARE:  bursting scene in the summer with outdoor markets.  Lots of restaurants around.  I find the food just OK here.  A nice open area to sit and have ice cream on a hot day.

- MARKET SQUARE:  mixture of shops and restaurants, lots of sitting space for eating (take out) and resting your feet.

- FAN TAN ALLEY:  oldest china town in Canada.  This alley used to be a gambling district.  Very narrow alley, 3 feet wide, with mixture of shops and galleries.  It's a short alley, cutting through only one block of street.  I love the feel here as it reminds me of our place back home in Vietnam.

- DRAGON ALLEY:  across from Fan Tan on Fisgard Street.  Similar to Fan Tan but with a more update feel.  Lots of hidden little gardens to feast our eyes upon.  There are some shops and creative space tucked in here.

- TROUNCE ALLEY:  mixture of shops and home to a Spanish tapas bar.

- WADDINGTON ALLEY:  last "wooden street" in Victoria.  This alley was built in 1858 by a local businessman.  It has a small entrance so you can easily miss it if don't pay attention.  It's tucked in between shops on Johnson Streets.  Old heritage buildings, road paved with wooden bricks and a lovely Italian restaurant lives here.

Downtown Victoria and its' neighbor, James Bay, are beautiful !  James Bay is the oldest residential neighborhood on the west coast.  There are many heritage houses here so if you love to look at them like me, you're in for a treat.  EMILY CARR HOUSE (famous Canadian painter) is in this area, 207 Government Street.  If your are in the vicinity of Fisherman's Wharf, pay a visit to Nourish Kitchen and Cafe for some local farm fresh dishes.  It's housed in a heritage house so the feel is very homely.  Food here is on the healthy side, like seeds bread, thick maple bacon, so if you're looking for the typical breakfast food fare, you won't find it here :-)

Emily Carr House

James Bay

St. Ann Academy

Starbucks at the Bay Centre

Venus Sophia Afternoon Tea Room (located in Chinatown)

Cute flower shop on Johnston street

If you have a car and love the beach like my hubby and kids, check out Willows Beach.  It's about less than 10 min. drive from downtown.  I am pretty sure you can take the bus to here too.  Another place that we like to visit is Gonzales Bay.  It's a small inlet dotted with cute heritage houses on both side.

As for where to stay, we like the Grand Pacific Hotel and Parkside Hotel and Spa.  We like them both for the location, the cleanliness, the spacious room (separate bedroom), and the huge pools.  There are many many hotels here for all level of budgets so read reviews and book accordingly.  Also, I find booking through BC Ferries Vacation save us on the ferry cost.

Victoria has a lot of restaurants and coffee shops.  I can't name them all but here are some that are kids friendly:

BREAKFAST:  Cora, John's Kitchen, Blue Fox Cafe, Willie's Cafe, Nourish Kitchen (only I like this place, the kids not so much, as they think the food are too healthy :)  If you crave Dim Sum, Don Mee in Chinatown is the only place that has it.  They still push the carts around with all those steaming baskets.  Comparing that to Vancouver, it's just OK dim sum food :-)

LUNCH:  Frankie's Diner, Fisherman's Wharf: Barb's Fish and Chips, Fish Store (lots of steaming options for seafood)

DINNER:  Red Fish Blue Fish (go before 5 pm to avoid long lines, I like tacones and from the grill items the most), Frankie's Diner (I like their lamb dip), Ebizo Japanese, and the safe bet, Earls and Cactus.  If unsure, the Old Spaghetti Factory is always a safe choice with kids.  There's outdoor eating there with beautiful flowers hanging baskets.  It's crazy busy during dinner time anywhere in Victoria so either make reservation or have an early dinner around 5pm.

As for treat shops, check out Milano Coffee, Chocolats Favoris Ice Cream, Kid Sister Ice Cream, Murchie's Tea and Coffee, Habit Coffee and La Roux Patisserie. 

We also have the kids with us so we can't do fine dining, but if you don't, check out Il Terrazzo restaurant.  It's in a beautiful brick building with vines climbing on it and around it.  The reviews are really good.  I want to go there one day when my baby can sit still and I'm no longer paranoid that he can break any of the dishes.

Beach Club Resort Hotel, Parksville

After 5 days in Victoria, we drove 2 hours up north to Parksville.  We stayed in this quaint small town for 4 days.  The highlight of this area is the Old Country Market in Coombs (10 min from Parksville).  The roof of this market is covered in grass and there are goats roaming on it !  yes, GOATS ON THE ROOF !  What a sight !  Our kids like all the interesting toys they have at the market here and the ice cream shop across the lane.  There's also a lovely Italian restaurant behind the market, CUCKOO TRATTORIA.

Cuckoo Trattoria

Rathtrevor Beach

Waiting for our turn on the ferry home !  There's no place like home.