Food and Drink in Victoria
Casual joints include Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub (308 Catherine Street, just over the short Johnston Street bridge), where seafood and handcrafted beers star. Another favorite is Canoe Brewpub and Restaurant (450 Swift Street, close to the bridge) on the city side.
For something cheap and cheerful, hit the Puerto Vallarta Amigos Taco Truck for prawn tacos and vegetarian offerings with lots of local atmosphere. No longer just a truck, its permanent location is on a colorful floating house boat on Dock C-12 in Fisherman's Wharf (1 Dallas Road).
Northwest pizza chain Pagliacci's (1011 Broad Street) is recommended for Italian fare, as is Il Terrazzo (555 Johnson Street).
Red Fish Blue Fish is a takeout fish restaurant with heavenly Pacific cod, salmon and halibut fish and chips. It operates out of a shipping container on the Inner Harbour (1006 Wharf Street).
Other good bets include the Tapa Bar (620 Trounce Alley) for Spanish bites and Ferris' Oyster Bar and Grill (536 Yates Street), considered the best place in town for raw oysters.
The Re-Bar Modern Food (50 Bastion Square) is a funky vegetarian option. And a big success, with three locations in Victoria, is Noodlebox (3500 Uptown Boulevard; 3749 Shelbourne Street; and 818 Douglas Street, close to the Empress).
Don't Miss in Victoria
Inner Victoria: This part of Victoria is endlessly picturesque -- you only have to amble and enjoy. Highlights include the Parliament Buildings, Fairmont Empress Hotel, the Royal B.C. Museum, Bastion Square and the Maritime Museum of British Columbia, and Beacon Hill Park, which overlooks the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the mountains of the Olympic peninsula in Washington State. At the Inner Harbour, watch the buskers from a bench in the sun, or line up a boat trip to see whales at play.
Butchart Gardens: Garden aficionados will want to pilgrimage to these world-famous 50-acre gardens (best done by organized tour, due to its distance). Surpassing 100 years, the gardens are particularly beautiful during the spring and summer months, when fireworks light up the concert grounds each Saturday. If there's time, consider the behind-the-scenes tour that takes you to rarely visited corners of the park, including the greenhouses where the flowers and plants are grown. Afternoon tea in the gardens' Dining Room Restaurant during spring and summer is another beloved ritual, complete with scones, tiny lobster rolls and tasty organic teas. It's open daily at 9 a.m. (800 Benvenuto Avenue, Brentwood Bay).
Victoria's Chinatown: While small, Victoria's is the oldest Chinatown in Canada and worthy of a visit. Traditional Asian markets share space with contemporary boutiques. Begin at the entrance gate at Fisgard and Government Streets, and don't overlook Fan Tan Alley (the narrowest street in Canada) and its eccentric shops like the Fan Tan Gallery and Silk Road Aromatherapy and Tea Company. Numerous ships offer evening calls -- inquire at Tourism Victoria about a nighttime lantern-lit walking tour, or visit Old Chinatown. A variety of city walking tours, including ghostly walks, can be booked at Discover the Past.
Tea Salons: Of course, a visit to Victoria isn't complete without having tea at one of the city's plentiful tea salons. Good bets include the Fairmont Empress (721 Government Street), though the cost of tea -- the full spread -- is pricy and you'll have to book plenty in advance of your visit. A less expensive option is tea in the garden of Point Ellice House, a historic Victorian manse just outside the downtown (2616 Pleasant Street). Another is the White Heather Tea Room in Oak Bay (1885 Oak Bay Avenue). Your cruise line might even offer an afternoon tea outing as a shore excursion.
Whale-Watching Tours: Visit the watery ocean hangout of resident orca whales with a whale-watching boat tour into their domain. Try Prince of Whales or Victoria Whale Tours. For something more adventurous, don a very thick wetsuit at nearby Brentwood Bay (about 15 minutes from downtown Victoria) for a snorkeling excursion with Rockfish Divers. You'll stay warm in the thick rubber while admiring colorful starfish, octopuses and lion's mane jellyfish in the shallows, and you might even get the chance to fin around with seals!
Craigdarroch Castle: This castle, hiding down a windy street in a Victoria neighborhood (1050 Joan Crescent), isn't just a relic from a wealthy family in the 1800; its 39 rooms provide a detailed look at life in Canada during the reign of Queen Victoria. Tours are self-guided in a number of languages, but English-speaking volunteers are stationed throughout the grounds to provide additional color or answer any questions. The castle is offered as part of a number of cruise line shore excursions around the port of Victoria.
Farm-to-Table Foodie Tour: Head north -- best with a rental -- to the pastoral Saanich Valley and Marley Farm Winery for limited-edition vintages, including pinot grigio and pinot noir, blackberry and other fruit wines (1831 Newton Cross Road). Sea Cider Farm & Ciderhouse is a lovely 10-acre certified-organic farm with orchard and ocean views where you can sample ciders crafted on-site and tuck into a charcuterie and cheese platter in bucolic surroundings (2487 St. Michael Road). Wine tasting at de Vine Vineyards is another quintessential Saanich stop (6181B Old West Saanich Road).
Round of Golf: Golfers should check out Bear Mountain Resort and its two 18-hole courses in suburban Victoria, a 30-minute drive from the cruise terminal (1999 Country Club Way).