Disclosure: I was not financially compensated for this post. I received a comped trip for two on board the Victoria Clipper and two comped tour tickets to The Butchart Gardens for review purposes. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.
Beautiful Victoria, the capital of the Canadian province, British Columbia, is tucked away on the southern end of Vancouver Island in Western Canada. The capital city brings a stark contrast to the more modern, high-rise and heavily French-influenced Vancouver, just a 45-minute float plane ride or 1.5 hour ferry ride away.
Victoria, one of the oldest cities in the Pacific Northwest, provides both natives and visitors alike an old-world and slower paced lifestyle, one that truly feels like you just might be stepping back in time into a British colony. The city is named after Queen Victoria and the province is named BRITISH Columbia, after all!
Now close your eyes and imagine yourself walking around this old-world city in the fall. With red, orange and yellow leaves providing the perfect backdrop as you walk down Government Street, the stone and brick buildings surround you, the leaves crunch under your boots, and you sip on some warm coffee as you take in everything around you. It sounds so peaceful doesn’t it?
If you live in or are visiting the Seattle area and are looking for a quick day trip to get away this fall, Victoria is a perfect getaway destination! With the help of Clipper Vacations, my husband and I recently accomplished Victoria in a day! Keep on reading for more information and tips on how to make Victoria your weekend destination this fall.
Travel to and from Victoria on the Victoria Clipper
The Victoria Clipper IV is 132 feet long and 33.3 feet wide, and can hold up to 324 passengers. With a combined 4000 horse power engine, the Clipper can reach speeds up 30 knots and is one of the faster passenger boats in the Puget Sound. Clipper Vacations offer a wide array of options to experience Victoria. For our day trip to Victoria, my husband and I took the 7:30 a.m. Clipper and arrived in Victoria at 10:30 a.m. and took the 7 p.m. ferry back to Seattle, arriving back at 9:45 p.m. Click here for their full schedule and fares. You can also get discounted parking if you park at the Bell Street Garage, which is about two blocks from the Clipper Vacations entrance on the Seattle waterfront. Clipper Vacations also offers over 30 different types of travel packages, which includes overnight accommodations, tours, wine tasting, and whale watching, just to name a few! Click here for a full list of their travel packages.
You can also rest-assured that you have the best crew taking care of you on the Victoria Clipper. On my recent trip, I had the chance to chat with some members of the crew while heading back to Seattle.
At the helm of our Clipper, Captain Carr has been with the Victoria Clipper for 12 years, having worked in the cruise line industry prior, sailing from Seattle to Juneau, San Diego to Ensenada and Catalina, etc. First Mate, Mr. Crane, has been with Clipper for almost five years, having worked as an attendant for other boat companies prior. Having grown up in Gig Harbor, Mr. Crane is aspiring to be a captain. Clipper engineer, Mr. Warrenchuk, moved to the Seattle area three years ago and has worked for the Clipper for about a year now. His prior background experience was as a civil engineer with roadway design and now he is in the maritime industry. Mr. Torner, a newbie to the maritime industry, keeps track of everyone in the cabin. He grew up in Olympia and has been working his way up through the Clipper and aspires to be a first mate. Chief Mate, Mr. Jacoby, graduated from the Maine Maritime Academy and is finishing up his summer internship with Clipper Vacations. He is looking to work for Princess Cruises in the future but wants to come back and eventually become a harbor pilot.
A typical Clipper has about 10 people working, including the cabin crew, bar area and on deck. Many of the Clipper captains started off as summer deckhands, and many of them have college degrees that may or may not be related to the maritime industry. A typical day on the Clipper includes two round trips per day, arriving early to load passengers and the galley, unloading passengers and luggage, cleaning, safety maintenance, and safety drills. Unless its a special occasion, employees never stay in overnight accommodations. They see seals, sea lions and porpoises almost everyday, and sometimes have the rare chance to see whales!
The Butchart Gardens
While Butchart Gardens is a must see year round, if you want one of the best places in the world to stroll around and enjoy fall foliage, this is it. My husband and I had the unique opportunity to have a private tour of Butchart Gardens with Group Services and Marketing Coordinator of Public Relations, Dawn Kaysoe. Normally, visitors can walk through the Gardens on their own time and at their own pace. As Dawn walked us through the expansive beauty, she talked to us about the incredible history of the Gardens.
Limestone plays a large part in the rich history of the Pacific Northwest. In 1904, Robert Butchart, a pioneer in the North American cement industry, developed a limestone quarry and built a cement plant at Tod Inlet to satisfy Portland cement demand from Victoria to San Francisco. His wife, Jennie Butchart, became the company’s chemist and helped establish their family home close to the limestone quarry. After Robert exhausted the limestone deposits, Jennie made plans to create beauty from the now barren landscape.
From a nearby farm, Jennie had top soil brought in by horse and cart to line the floor of the now abandoned limestone quarry. Very slowly, the ugly quarry blossomed into a spectacular Sunken Garden. In addition to the Sunken Garden, Jennie also helped create a Japanese Garden, an Italian Garden and a Rose Garden. The renown of the garden spread throughout the world and by the 1920’s more than 50,000 people had visited Jennie’s garden. Robert and Jennie’s house grew into a luxurious showplace, as they added a bowling alley, indoor saltwater swimming pool, and a billiards room.
On his 21st birthday, the Gardens were given to their grandson, Ian Ross. Ian worked to make his grandmother Jennie’s garden into an internationally famous destination. For 50 years, he was completely involved in all aspects of the Gardens. He added outdoor symphony concerts, a variety show, summer shows, and in 1987, he initiated the Magic of Christmas.
In 1968, Ian and his wife Ann-Lee’s son, Christopher, took over production in the summer show and produced an intricate fireworks show to music every Saturday night in July and August. Today, Christopher’s sister, Robin-Lee Clarke, owns the Gardens and added a Children’s Pavilion complete with a large Menagerie Carousel.
The old estate now houses the Dining Room Restaurant, offices, and rooms still used for family entertaining. The only surviving portion of the original cement factory is the tall chimney of a long vanished kiln still seen from the Sunken Garden lookout. Each year over one million visitors flock to Victoria to see one million bedding plants in some 900 varieties give guests an uninterrupted bloom from March through October.
Afternoon Tea at The Butchart Gardens
Dawn invited my husband and I to experience Afternoon Tea after our walking tour of the gardens. The English tradition of Afternoon Tea or High Tea is a must at Butchart Gardens. The tea is held in the Dining Room Restaurant, located in the former residence of the Butchart’s. Afternoon Tea is held during the warmer months of the year, while High Tea and its hot delicacies are served during the cooler months. Traditional delicacies such as savory tea sandwiches and house-made sweets are a perfect way to end your tour at Butchart Gardens. If you have experienced the bucket-list Afternoon Tea at The Fairmont Empress (you can read about my experience here), I highly suggest experiencing high tea at Butchart Gardens this fall! It is half the price of the Fairmont and just as amazing (and you cannot beat the rose garden views!). I tried the Rose Congou tea, made with Chinese Congou and scented with rose petals.
While the food portions at Afternoon Tea seemed small, we were unable to finish eating everything as we became so full! The fall menu for High Tea includes a signature candied ginger scone, Cornish pasty, caramelized leek and Gruyere cheese quiche, chicken and mushroom en croute, locally smoked wild salmon pinwheel, egg salad and watercress sandwich, cucumber sandwich with fresh ginger cream cheese, turkey salad sandwich with cranberry sage mayonnaise, strawberry lemon Napoleon, peach lavender pound cake, Bergamot-infused chocolate mousee and a lemon tart.
Beacon Hill Park and Beacon Drive-In
After our time at Butchart Gardens, my husband and I had ice cream from Victoria’s iconic Beacon Drive-In and walked around to look at the fall colors of Beacon Hill Park with my friend and Victoria-native, Susan.
Since 1958, the Beacon Drive-In, a Victoria institution, has been serving up soft serve ice cream and comfort foods to Canadians. Susan talked to my husband and I about her childhood memories of the Beacon Drive-In, with her father driving the family in his old Ford Falcon station wagon (before seat belts had to be installed in cars, mind you!) to get some ice cream. The menu and decor has largely been unchanged since the opening in 1958, making this historic landmark a place to check out during your fall trip to Victoria. After getting some ice cream, its time to start walking about Beacon Hill Park!
The 200-acre Beacon Hill Park is one of downtown Victoria’s crown jewels. The park was established in 1882 and was named after a pair of masts placed strategically on a hill that act as a beacon and navigational aid to mariners approaching Victoria’s inner harbor. The park itself is absolutely gorgeous, with trees and bright flowers at every corner, bridges, lakes and ponds. Ducks, geese and peacocks roam around the park and a pair of Bald Eagles nests in one of the trees. Beacon Hill is a must-visit if you are looking to check out fall foliage! The park also boasts the Beacon Hill Children’s Farm, bringing the farm animal experience to the city!
Dinner at Ferris’ Oyster Bar
For the ultimate in fall comfort food, you need to have dinner at Ferris’ Oyster Bar on Yates Street between Wharf and Government. I had the chance to chat with the hilarious owner, Tom Ferris. He is quite the character and my husband and I truly enjoyed getting to talk with him. Tom hails as the Jewish deli guy from Toronto (Moe Pancer’s anyone?), but has lived in Victoria for 35 years. Side note, the band Rush played at his high school in Toronto.
Trying to model after Seattle’s Emmett Watson’s Oyster Bar, Ferris’s Oyster Bar first opened its doors in 1991, serving all things oyster, soups, sandwiches, burgers, pasta, dessert, beer and wine. As Tom said, the people have spoken and love the Chicken Penne Soup, made with fresh vegetables, rice dumplings and chicken in a sweet and spicy chili chicken broth. I tried the West Coast Chowder, made with smoked wild salmon, cherry wood smoked oysters, bacon and clams in a rich creamy broth (loved it!) and a mix of the Chicago-style and yam fries with a curry mayo dip, washing it all down with a Phillips Brewery Blue Buck Ale. Everything on the menu is Ocean Wise certified as well.
Tom loves living in Victoria and loves pugs! He thinks Victoria is a safe and great place to raise a family in the Pacific Northwest and the climate can’t be beat. He said that both Americans and the British are attracted to Victoria because of the heavy British influence and history. Tom is currently in the process of purchasing his own oyster farm, which he hopes will be his retirement project in the future. If you want the ultimate in comfort food, I highly recommend checking out Ferris’ Oyster Bar on your next trip to Victoria this fall!
Victoria is a great destination for you and the family this fall. Whether it be for a day trip to get away from the city, a weekend getaway with your partner, or a chance for some quality family time, Victoria has it all. The historic city set against the backdrop of autumn colors will make the trip one for the memory books!
Lesley is the founder and editor of What’s Up NW. Prior to creating WhatsUpNW.com, she was the Seattle city editor for AskMissA.com. For both publications, Lesley has covered fashion shows, openings, and local charity events. She has written numerous articles shining the light on local businesses, encouraging readers to always shop local.