vancouver island getaways

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 crazy expensive hotel prices.  Food and admission costs around here are fair.

If you are coming the island for the first time, here are a few places I suggest you visit.  This 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 magnificient.  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.

- Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse - National Historic Site and the first light house in the west coast.  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.

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

- Fisherman's Wharf - food, scenery, playground, and floating houses !  If you come early in the morning, you will get some sighting of seals !  There's one there that likes to wave :-)

- Beacon Hill Park & Children's Farm - beautiful flower gardens, walking trail, open fields, playground and petting zoo for kids.  It's also a great place for photos !

- Bastion Square - bursting scene in the summer with outdoor markets.  Lots of restaurants around.  A nice open area to sit and have ice cream.

- 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.  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 is 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.  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.  No high chair though so if you have your baby with you, you'll have to hold him/her on your lap :-)

If you have a car and love the beach like my hubby and kids, you can 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 to.  Another place worth a stop by 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 for kids friendly places, we like Red Fish Blue Fish (go before 5 pm to avoid long lines), Frankie's Diner, John's Kitchen, Blue Fox Cafe and Willie's Cafe.  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.

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 place is the Old Country Market.  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.  If my baby isn't such a walking disaster I would like to have a meal here !  Next time.

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