Dreamy Day Trips

25 things that put the ‘great’ in Greater Victoria.

Dreamy Day Trips - YAM Magazine City Issue May/June 2024

By YAM Staff  |  Illustrations by Janice Hildybrant

It’s a sunny morning with nothing planned, the hours ahead wide open with possibility, a perfect day to toss a cooler and a pair of hiking boots in the car, then hit the highway for an adventure. 

We’re so lucky in Victoria. Just a short drive from downtown, we have beaches, hiking trails, charming communities, funky museums and galleries, bountiful farms and world-class wineries, many of them within the 13 communities that comprise Greater Victoria. So here at YAM, we set ourselves a challenge: to discover as many cool things as we could within an hour’s drive of downtown. Here are our 25 favourites, from Shirley to Duncan to Swartz Bay. Consider this your essential day-trip planning guide for
summer and beyond. 

 
West Sooke & Metchosin

1. Beaches. So Many Beaches

Head west on Highway 14, the section of the Pacific Marine Circle Route that runs alongside the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and you are never far from a beach. Some are wild and rugged, some sandy and serene; all have stunning views across the strait to the Olympic Peninsula. The most epic are just past Sooke, including French, China (illustrated here), Mystic and Sombrio beaches, but even before that there are plenty of beautiful places to dip your toes in the sea.

Dreamy Day Trips - YAM Magazine City Issue May/June 2024

2. Walking the Whiffin Spit

This narrow, curving peninsula between Sooke Harbour and Juan de Fuca Strait features an easy and scenic 2.7-kilometre walk with plenty of small beaches, side trails, wildlife and viewpoints along the way. It’s ideal for dog walkers, nature enthusiasts and, well, just about anyone. Plus, later this summer, the famous Sooke Harbour House, an inn and restaurant that overlooks the spit, is scheduled to reopen after a major makeover, with celebrated chef Melissa Craig at the helm.

3. Bliss Out at Bilston Creek Farm

This lovely lavender farm in Metchosin is one of the most historic on the Island — in 1851, it became one of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s first registered settlements — and heritage apple trees still dot the property. Today it’s better known for its markets, crafting classes and other special events, as well as luxurious handmade body-care and other products. Swing by for a steam in a Wildwood Sauna, toast some marshmallows over a firepit in the orchard and take home a jar of lavender honey.

Dreamy Day Trips - YAM Magazine City Issue May/June 2024
Dreamy Day Trips - YAM Magazine City Issue May/June 2024

4. Light at the Museum

You can’t help but notice the massive, red-and-white, cast-iron-and-glass dome beached outside the Sooke Region Museum. Eye-catching, yes, but it also tells a fascinating and terrible tale. Built in 1910, its powerful lens once cast light for nearly 80 kilometres from a lighthouse on Triangle Island off Cape Scott. This was the northern tip of the West Coast Lifesaving Trail, better known as the Graveyard of the Pacific, which extends from Cape Scott along the Island’s west coast to Tillamook Bay in Oregon. Wind, rain, powerful currents and pounding waves have dashed some 2,000 ships to pieces along this rocky coast, the only hope for those aboard a solitary beam of light.

5. Go Wild for Wild Mountain

Like many people, during COVID, chef Oliver Kienast perfected his pizza dough recipe. But he also built a massive brick pizza oven to bake it in. Of course he did. The talented chef of Wild Mountain Food + Drink in Sooke, YAM’s 2023 Restaurant of the Year, is meticulous about every detail, cooking not with the seasons but the microseasons, transforming ingredients from neighbouring farmers into perfect deliciousness. Meanwhile, somm Brooke Fader has assembled a terrific, largely local drinks selection to make you even happier. 

Dreamy Day Trips - YAM Magazine City Issue May/June 2024

6. Cool Coffee Shops

Technically, the hamlet of Shirley/Sheringham is just over an hour away, but it’s worth the extra few minutes to join the steady stream of drivers stopping in at Shirley Delicious, a funky little A-frame on the edge of the rainforest. They’re here for the marvelous muffins, irresistible overstuffed sandwiches, warm hospitality and, of course, the java. But those in search of caffeine and calories can also find them at Mom’s Café in Sooke, an old-school diner dishing up comfort food and perfect pies (think: banana cream or cherry cheese), and at the friendly My-Chosen in Metchosin, where the generous cookhouse breakfasts are served with a side of kitsch.

 
NorthWest Langford

7. In for the Gin at Sheringham

Back in 2015, in the tiny community of Shirley/Sheringham, Jason and Alayne MacIsaac decided to make a gin flavoured with local kelp. Little did they expect that their Seaside Gin would sweep national and international awards and move them from a still in their garage to a vast modern facility in Langford. Drop by their gorgeous tasting room to sample their lineup — which now includes four gins, award-winning akvavit and several liqueurs — and get a taste of whatever they are brewing up next. 

Dreamy Day Trips - YAM Magazine City Issue May/June 2024

8. Cheer on Pacific FC 

On a warm summer night, there’s nowhere we’d rather be than at Starlight Stadium watching Victoria’s own Canadian Premier League footie club in action. Every seat in the joint is close to the pitch, making it even more exciting — those players move fast — but almost as much fun is watching the crowd, which is always boisterous with young kids and fans cheering in a multitude of languages. Order a hot dog, pick up some purple-and-teal team kit and join in the fun.

9. Check out Niagara Falls

No, not that Niagara Falls — although it’s almost as high as the famous one back east. This is just one of several waterfalls in Goldstream Park, a 1,180-acre wilderness area that features more than 160 campsites as well as dozens of trails, abundant wildlife and a whole forest of flowers, shrubs and trees, including  600-year-old Douglas fir. Our favourite time to go? In fall, when thousands of visitors line the riverside trails and observation platforms to watch the annual chum salmon spawning run — and the bald eagles that show up to snack on them.

Dreamy Day Trips - YAM Magazine City Issue May/June 2024
Dreamy Day Trips - YAM Magazine City Issue May/June 2024

10. Bowl at Langford Lanes

This 10-pin bowling alley, like Starlight Stadium, is part of Langford’s massive City Centre Park, which also comprises an ice arena, mini-golf, indoor PlayZone and other recreational facilities. Bright, fun and designed to accommodate bowlers of all ages and abilities, Langford Lanes features 20 lanes where you can aim for a strike, a spare or just have yourself a good time throwing things around.

11. Brunch at House of Boateng

Before you hit Langford’s many, many big box stores or hiking trails, fortify yourself with one of the best brunches in a region that’s famous for them. At his lovely little café, chef Castro Boateng dishes up bennies, bowls, waffles and a terrific Mimosa. We especially love the African bowl that offers a nod to his Ghanaian heritage: jollof rice, chicken sausage, scrambled eggs, pickled veg, all drizzled with a chili and smoked shrimp aioli. 

Dreamy Day Trips - YAM Magazine City Issue May/June 2024

12. Step back in time at Fort Rodd Hill

Over on the Colwood side of the Esquimalt Harbour, Fort Rodd Hill was an active artillery fortress on active duty from 1895 to 1956; nearby Fisgard Lighthouse was the first on Canada’s West Coast, commissioned in 1860. They are now a National Historic Site, where the whole family can explore the past, learn from costumed interpreters, stay overnight in an oTENTik or just enjoy the view from the Parks Canada red Adirondack chairs.

 
North Cowichan Valley

Dreamy Day Trips - YAM Magazine City Issue May/June 2024

13. The Wine is Fine

Follow the winding roads that wind through Canada’s most charming wine region, where about a dozen small, mostly independent wineries pour fresh, cool-climate varieties like Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. The Cowichan Valley became an official sub-geographical indication in 2020, one of lush beauty, relatively mild climate and friendly food and wine festivals. Be sure to try the valley’s proprietary Prosecco-style sparkling wine, Charme de L’île, in the lovely region whose name means “the warm lands.”

14. A (Very) Fast Track

If you love to drive really, really fast — or if you just want to drive better — then get yourself in gear and get over to the Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit. It’s a place to really let the horses run with like-minded gearheads. The course offers professional training, track-side support, defensive driving and drivers’ education with a planned off-road track in the works, but it also has 19 corners and 11.5-per-cent elevation changes to really get your motor running.

15. A Museum Like No Other

Writer, photographer, TV star, naturalist, big game outfitter, champion water polo player, renowned expert on Western Canadian ethnocentric folk art forms — Jim Shockey has had an extraordinary life, so it’s little wonder that the museum he created in Maple Bay is equally extraordinary. The walls, halls, rooms and cabinets of his 17,000-square-foot Hand of Man Museum are jam-packed with everything from Siberian wedding blankets to North American fishing lures, African camel bags, woolly mammoth skeletons and taxidermied critters, the collection of a life well and adventurously lived.

Dreamy Day Trips - YAM Magazine City Issue May/June 2024

16. One Scone to Rule Them All 

Greater Victoria has no shortage of scones; this is, after all, a community where hotels and restaurants still unironically serve a full afternoon tea. But where so many scones are heavy, leaden, bland and/or doughy, the ones at the new Hank’s Cowichan in Duncan are transformative — they’re flaky, even buttery, without quite tipping into biscuit territory. Try the cheddar and chive if you like your scones on the savoury side, or whatever flavour is on the menu that day. 

17. Walk This Way … 

The Cowichan Valley features two unique and (literally) elevated walks to check out. The 113-year-old Kinsol Trestle is one of eight trestles along the 122-kilometre-long Cowichan Valley Trail, soaring 44 spectacular metres above the salmon-bearing Koksilah River and offering 187 metres of pathway for walkers, cyclists and equestrians. Less historic, but just as impressive, is the three-year-old Malahat SkyWalk, a spiral structure that rises 250 metres above Finlayson Arm, offering breathtaking views of Mount Baker, the Saanich Peninsula and islands in two countries. Take the Spiral Slide on the way down for an extra burst of adrenalin.

Dreamy Day Trips - YAM Magazine City Issue May/June 2024

 
East Saanich Peninsula

Dreamy Day Trips - YAM Magazine City Issue May/June 2024

18. Embrace your Inner Child at The Butchart Gardens

There are many, many good reasons to stop in at The Butchart Gardens, especially in May and June when the Himalayan blue poppies are blooming and the rose garden is unfurling into fragrant blossom. But at any time at all we love to go and ride the vintage Rose Carousel. It’s the only carousel on the Island and features 30 handcrafted animals, including bears, horses, ostriches, zebras and a whale. Plus a portion of proceeds are donated to local children’s charities so we can feel even better about being a kid all over again.

19. Books! Books! Books!

Charming Sidney-by-the-Sea is chock-a-block with welcoming boutiques selling everything from gourmet cheese to sassy espadrilles to vintage finds. But our favourites might just be the handful of independent bookstores of Canada’s only Book Town. Established 40 years ago by Christine and Clive Tanner (whose beloved Beacon Books recently closed), it is where you will find Galleon Books and Antiques, Tanner’s Books, The Children’s Bookshop and The Haunted Bookshop. They all specialize in the kind of volumes you’re unlikely to find at any big-box retailer, and make it well worth the journey up the peninsula.

Dreamy Day Trips - YAM Magazine City Issue May/June 2024
Dreamy Day Trips - YAM Magazine City Issue May/June 2024

20. Home for a Nest

In skinny little Tod Inlet, just south of Brentwood Bay, you will find a truly unique subdivision: a neighbourhood of houses built for nesting purple martins. It’s all part of an initiative that started in 2002 to improve the dwindling numbers of these large swallows (which aren’t actually purple at all). In 1985, only five nesting pairs were left; today there are nearly 1,000 thanks to nest boxes like the ones built on the century-old concrete pilings in Tod Inlet Marine Park.

21. An Artful Stop

A lovely way to spend an afternoon is to pedal an e-bike along the Lochside Regional Trail from Swartz Bay to Victoria. Even lovelier? Stopping at Mattick’s Farm for a snack and perhaps some art to go. Some 80 years ago, this was a flower and vegetable farm; today it’s a pretty little retail mall where you can find The Gallery at Mattick’s Farm, which carries paintings, ceramics, jewelry and more by Canadian artists and artisans, many of them local. And they’ll ship locally for free so you don’t have to stuff a sculpture in your pannier.

22. A Taste of Italy at Gigi’s

Meander a little farther down winding Cordova Bay Road and you’ll come to the shiny new Haro development and Victoria’s best place to load up on all things deliciously Italian. Gigi’s Italian & Specialty Foods is a sleek, modern space filled with great gift ideas and gourmet foods, including spices, olive oils, vinegars, preserves, sauces, candies, cured meats, cheeses, pizza dough, paninis and dozens and dozens of different types of pasta — as well as everything you need to make pizza and pasta from scratch at home. Buon appetite!

Dreamy Day Trips - YAM Magazine City Issue May/June 2024

23. Crabbing off the Sidney Pier

For a relatively small community, Sidney-by-the-Sea (pop. 12,000) is bustling with things to do — biking, kayaking, whale watching, strolling along the seawall, hitting the weekly farmer’s market, shopping in the cute boutiques, dining in the terrific restaurants. But one of the best is to spend an afternoon crabbing off the pier, a meditative act for young and old that lets you enjoy the gorgeous view across the Haro Strait and bring home dinner. (Just remember to get a B.C. Tidal Waters Sport Fishing Licence first.) Too squeamish to catch your own? Pop into the nearby fish market and check out the catch of the day. 

24. Groovy Gougères

Keep going past the ferry terminal, past where you even think there’s a road, deep into Canoe Cove, and you will find the most charming little bakery and restaurant, the Fox & Monocle Café. A passion project for pastry chef Tracie Zahavich and chef Ross Bowles, who bring Michelin-starred experience to all they do, it is by day the place to go for perfect babka buns and cream puffs and, in the evening, for French-inspired, locally flavoured dinners, best begun with the gorgeously cheesy pastries known as gougères. 

Dreamy Day Trips - YAM Magazine City Issue May/June 2024
Dreamy Day Trips - YAM Magazine City Issue May/June 2024

25. Farm-Fresh Experiences

You may not realize it as you zip along busy Pat Bay Highway to the ferry terminal, but the Saanich Peninsula is farm country, criss-crossed with side roads leading to homey markets, honour farm stands, family-run wineries, heritage orchards and other rural experiences. Among them, we especially love the terrific deals at Dan’s Farm & Country Market, the sweet berries at Michell’s Farm Market, the charming chicken paintings by Catherine McLeod at Roost Farm Winery, Bakery and Bistro, the daily New York-style pizzas at Fickle Fig Farm Market and the animal connection programs for the little ones at Bear N Bee Therapeutic Farm. 

Bring a cooler and your sense of adventure, and celebrate the bucolic riches of this place we’re so lucky to call home.