For a truly off-the-beaten-path island getaway, the ocean-kissed Vancouver Island, voted no. 3 island in the Americas by Condé Nast readers, is the ideal place to relax, restore and recharge. To immerse yourself in the vibrancy and laid-back atmosphere of this west coast destination, take one of these five road trips from the island’s main cosmopolitan centre, Victoria, the capital of British Columbia.
Just northwest of Victoria is the quaint community of Sooke. Framed by rugged coast to the west and towering trees to the east, this island spot provides everything an outdoor lover looks for in a day trip. Whether you stop for a dip in the Sooke Potholes (a slight hike is required to get to these natural pools), explore East Sooke Park (home to crystal blue waters, gorgeous rock formations, and Aylard Farm), or check out Adrena LINE’s ziplines (where you can whizz over forest canopies), there’s plenty to do in Sooke. If you’re looking for something more low-key, stop by the Sooke Country Market every Saturday from June to October, check out a whale watching tour, or explore the seaside at a seaweed tour where you’ll get acquainted with the edible delicacy.
If you get wrapped up in the west coast splendor of this part of the island, turn your day trip into an overnighter and stay in Sooke or head to Port Renfrew. Just make sure you stop at one of these beaches along the way.
On the eastern shore of Vancouver Island, you’ll find Chemainus. And though it’s also home to many of the same beaches and adventures other island communities offer, Chemainus is known for its creative community, and more notably, its murals. Over 40 murals brighten the streets of this former logging town, making for a great photo op and a history lesson. Ranging from historic depictions of the town during its industrial days, to the First Nations people that shaped the land many years ago, these murals give visitors a look into Chemainus’ past.
Once you’ve explored the murals, shops, and grabbed an ice cream cone, head to Kin Park for a seaside picnic. Then, cap your Chemainus day off with an event at the Chemainus Theatre Festival that features professional stage productions, concerts, and more, all within an award-winning neo-classical building. Also, be sure to stop by the bustling Craft Beer & Food Festival that takes place each August.
Don’t let the fact that this is the shortest trip on the list sway you — the Saanich Peninsula is packed full of things to do. About 25 kilometres from downtown Victoria, this beautiful spot is home to ocean views care of the Saanich Inlet, the Strait of Georgia, and the Haro Strait. Our favourite place to take in the view? Island View Beach. This expanse of sand looks out to Mount Baker and is home to trails, nature, and the most gorgeous sunsets. Before you head to the beach, stop by a local farmers' market, like the Peninsula Country Market, or the North Saanich Farm Market, during the summer to stock up on fresh, local snacks.
If you’re looking for a more urban day, head to “Canada’s Only Booktown,” Sidney, BC. This community features storybook-esque streets that are full of locally-owned shops and treasures, including 12 bookstores. Not only will you be able to find souvenirs that are worth carting home, but the main drag leads to ocean side pathways that weave along the shore -- a perfect way to spend a sunny afternoon. If you’re looking to escape the heat of the day, stop by the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre to explore the ocean from inside and underneath.
A trip to this part of the island also wouldn’t be complete without visiting a cidery or winery. Sample the offerings at Sea Cider Farm and Ciderhouse or Church and State Wines (you’ll love their cheeky labels) to get a taste of the finest local products. Plus, the settings of these two local spots are just about as perfect as the beverages you’ll be tasting.
Cobble Hill & Cowichan Bay
Just under 50 kilometres north of Victoria lies the Cowichan Valley, which is home to two must-visit island destinations: Cobble Hill and Cowichan Bay.
Cobble Hill has always been focused on farming, which means the area is made up of beautifully pristine pastures and wooded forests. More recently, however, this spot has become known for its wineries and cideries, as well as its creative community. These make for a great day touring the area and sipping on craft spirits. Our recommendations include an espresso at Drumroaster Coffee, a glass of cider at Merridale Cidery & Distillery, a sip of wine at Cherry Point Estate Wines, and then a tour of the pottery, jewelry, and art galleries.
Cobble Hill is also home to great, all-level hikes like those found at Quarry Regional Wilderness Park and at the Kinsol Trestle. Both of these spots offer unique scenery and a quiet reprieve from vibrant downtown Victoria if you’re looking for some nature-induced relaxation. If you’re still looking for some buzz, check out the Cobble Hill Fair on the fourth Saturday in August. As a traditional country fair that’s been around since 1909, you’ll get a taste of the local roots and have a chance to celebrate the delicious food grown in this area.
Only 10 minutes away you’ll find Cowichan Bay. This seaside community has an adorable downtown and a picture-worthy pier to stroll along. It’s also home of lots of specialty food shops, like True Grain Bread and Hilary’s Cheese, making it a great place to stock up on picnic ingredients. Once you’ve had your fill, hop in the car once more and head to Lake Cowichan for a swim to cool down on a sunny, summer day. Last but not least, stop by Cowichan Bay Pub for live music that features all sorts of local talent before heading back to Victoria.
Though it’s only about 50 kilometres from Victoria, getting to Saltspring Island is a bit more involved as it requires taking a ferry. That said, escaping to this magical Gulf Island is worth it. A much different vibe than the urban center of Victoria, Saltspring Island is home to art galleries, specialty farms, markets, and gorgeous hikes.
Hit the trails and explore one of the highest points on Saltspring Island in Mount Maxwell Provincial Park. You can drive into this park (though the gravel road is quite bumpy) to take in a view of the Southern Gulf Islands from Baynes Peak. Once you’ve had your fill of nature, look for pockets of artisan studios scattered around the island (or visit the Famous Saturday Market). From wine and cheese, to sculptors and weavers, you’ll be able to get to know this island from a local’s perspective. We also 100 percent recommend taking some Salt Spring Island Cheese Co. cheese back to Victoria for a snack; it’s really that good! Other must-visits include Salt Spring Sea Salt, Saltspring Soapworks, and the Salt Spring Gallery.
Victoria is the perfect starting point for day trips that allow you to explore Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. Of course, you’ll want to spend some time in Victoria too, so be sure to give yourself at least a long weekend to make the most of this corner of the world.
Want to discover more of BC? Visit the Hello BC website.