Victoria's Neighborhoods Sparkle in Springtime

Why spring is perfect time to visit British Columbia

Posted: Wednesday, March 01, 2006
On a sparkling, spring morning, you stroll along a picture-perfect harbor savoring the sights. There's the bustle of boats on the sun-glimmering bay, the distinctive architecture of the BC Parliament Buildings and the Fairmont Empress Hotel, and the glorious gardens and hanging baskets that add a kaleidoscope of color to the already dazzling scene. As you take in the thousands of blooms that adorn nearby green spaces and sea air tingles your nostrils, it seems apparent that spring may be the best of all seasons in this city by the sea. As wonderful and eclectic as the harbor front is, there's more to Victoria - visitors are wise to treat themselves to some of its picturesque neighborhoods.

Victoria's vibrant villages - some trendy, some historical - give a backyard glimpse of life in this casual city's neighborhoods where comfortable outdoor strolling takes place year-round. Chinatown, for example, is a bustling Asian neighborhood right in city centre. Storefronts with unusual products - tangy spices, live seafood, abundant greens, and the likes of lichee nuts - offer a colorful, aromatic visit to a distant land. Near the eye-catching Gate of Harmonious Interest, don't miss a visit to the tranquil Silk Road Aromatherapy and Tea Company where you are welcomed with a cup of tea. As well as treating yourself to a special blend, a visit to the day spa is a glorious conclusion to a day. One can spend hours strolling Canada's oldest Chinatown, shopping for unique paraphernalia and, of course, eating. Chongqing chicken, anyone?

A little farther a field, but an easy amble from downtown, is Antique Row. Follow Fort Street east about six blocks to this much-visited neighborhood. Move over London's Portobello Market, as Victoria offers a similar scene. You wander in and out of charming, musty collector-type shops where you are tempted by everything from 18th century furnishings and jewelry to rare silverware and books. Antique Row is perhaps a slight misnomer as, among some Tudor-style buildings, it also boasts contemporary facades, like 'The Mosaic,' a hip residential and business complex. This neighborhood is a fun mishmash including the eateries: as examples, there's the funky Blue Fox Café as well as one of the city's favorite restaurants, Café Brio. It's the next best thing to a Tuscan visit.

Little known by visitors but one of the locals' favorite neighborhoods is Cook Street Village. In the south, Cook Street reaches to the ocean and fringes Beacon Hill Park; a luxurious parkland that hums with outdoor activities. The hub of Cook Street Village is around Fairfield Avenue where pretty tree-lined streets, many with brightly-painted, heritage homes - some larger ones are apartments that are popular with students -- open to a few busy blocks where people-watching is de rigueur. This funky, inner-city village is SO west coast. Victorians head to Moka House to sip java, read papers and meet friends. For snacking, there are fish and chips, sweets at Rising Star Bakery or have pub fare and beer on tap, at the friendly Flying Beagle. Pop into Cook St. Village Wines where the owner will happily introduce you to the best of BC offerings.

If one neighborhood epitomizes Victoria it is Oak Bay Village. It has it all. An abundance of heritage homes surrounded by beauteous spring blooms, a strip of Old English storefronts that always buzz, the classy Victoria Golf and Country Club, and all this slips down to an idyllic oceanfront complete with beach and marina. On a warm spring day you stroll among the cherry blossoms to shop, gallery visit or have tea. You could arrive by sailboat and start at Oak Bay Marina, wander the waterfront to Oak Bay Beach Hotel. Don't leave without walking the gardens that stretch down to the sea. From here head uphill to the village which has a fine offering of shops -- clothing, books, antiques, handicrafts and specialty stores. Tea is served at The Blethering Place at 11am and 7:30 pm daily. Another spot for tea sippers is the White Heather Tea Room. It has a neighborhood feel, is bright and cheerful with fresh flowers and to-die-for shortbread.

If you arrive or depart by ferry, or if you simply wish a drive beyond the city; Sidney-by-the-Sea is a pleasant destination. Near the northern tip of the Saanich Peninsula - just before the Swartz Bay ferry terminal - is where the cozy community of Sidney-by-the-Sea hugs the ocean. It's one of those idyllic small towns where one can easily imagine setting down roots. Bibliophiles revel in the dozens of bookstores this community of 11,000 offers. Do as the locals do and stroll down Beacon Avenue enjoying shops along the way; a stop at an Italian bakery for a sweet and café latte, then continue down to the ocean. Find a bench in the sun and enjoy.

Don't miss these neighborhoods but there are also several rites of passage that must take place on a Victoria visit. You don't have to have a green-thumb to be enamored by the fragrant, imaginative offerings of the world famous Butchart Gardens. Another must-visit is to one of Canada's premier museums. The Royal BC Museum is currently featuring "Dragon Bones: When Dinosaurs Ruled China". Victoria is the first venue in Canada where this extraordinary exhibit of unique dinosaur fossils can be seen (March 13 to September 15). Tickets are available online at

Discovering British Columbia is as easy as calling toll-free 1-800-HELLO BC(tm) (North America) or HELLO BC (435-5622) in Greater Vancouver. This reservation and information service puts you in touch with a team of professional travel experts who can provide free help and advice in planning or booking every stage of your getaway, from travel ideas and tips to booking your accommodations, tours, and transportation. You can also order your free copy of the BC Escapes(tm) Getaways Guide. And be sure to check out the Tourism British Columbia web site at

To contact Tourism Victoria phone 250-953-2033 or visit

Written for Tourism British Columbia by travel writer Jane Lang.

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