Family Weekend Getaway in Victoria, British Columbia

  • Distance from Seattle: 136 miles
  • Best time: April to September
  • Best for: FamilyRomanticShopping

Victoria, just to the northwest of Seattle on Vancouver Island, is seemingly a destination made for weekend getaways. The compact, historic city doesn't necessitate a car, and there's plenty of attractions to keep a family busy for two or three full days, whether grooming goats in a petting zoo, running through the blooms at Butchart Gardens, or dining in kid-friendly international restaurants. Everyone benefits from Victoria's "rain shadow" location; the locale boosts the blooms and gardens that seem to blossom in almost every corner of this town (48 regional, provincial, and federal parks dot Greater Victoria). So put your umbrella away and get ready to play. –By Lora Shinn

Friday

Victoria Cheat Sheet

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1.Stretch out after the trip by taking a stroll at Beacon Hill Park, which dates back to 1882, and offers 62 acres of manicured gardens and playgrounds. Oaks, willows, and maples drape lazily over lakes filled with herons and ducks, and peacocks coo along the shoreline. If you've arrived before 5 pm, visit the Children's Farm to pet the goats and meet the chickens.

2.For dinner, score a seat on the outdoor patio at Café Brio, which serves seafood caught daily off of Vancouver Island, along with handcut pasta and mostly organic produce with a decidedly Northwest twist (for example, a spring menu might feature asparagus and nettles). While the restaurant isn't specifically geared toward families, kids are well accommodated, especially considering that most dishes can be ordered in half portions. Parents will appreciate the extensive wine list focused on British Columbia selections.

3.For dessert with a view of the harbor, stop into The Soda Shoppe for an old-fashioned malted milkshake, root beer float, or cherry-topped ice cream sundae. It's a sweet ending for your first evening in Victoria.

Saturday

1.Have you ever eaten egg yolks so fresh that they're bright orange? Join the hungering crowds for mostly organic and always seasonal fare at Mo:Le, but arrive early (the restaurant opens at 8 am) to find your seat among artwork and music. Don't miss the pesto hash browns for a new take on a familiar dish, or the Galloping Goose sausage, a local favorite.

2.Hop aboard the Gray Line Victoria (Butchart Gardens Express) bus to Butchart Gardens, where you'll explore Vancouver Island's flower power, about 20 minutes north of downtown Victoria. These world-renowned gardens show off 55 acres of vibrant splendor, from rose-dappled arbors to fern-fringed waterfalls. A vintage carousel ride for the kids and awe-inspiring 70-foot fountain make this attraction a winning choice for the whole family.

3.Ride the bus back into town for a quick lunch at Noodle Box. Order at the counter from a menu of noodles and sauces (including Thai green curry, teriyaki, and chili plum) and protein (from tofu to locally sourced meat), then take your seat in this busy little restaurant. With all the combos available, there's bound to be something for even the pickiest eater—or just order a mildly spiced children's box.

4.Explore Pacific Northwest history with a visit to the Royal BC Museum, which is one is one of Victoria's leading attractions. Enter a cedar-scented longhouse of the local First Nations People, listen to a train shake the rafters in the replica Victorian Village, or come face-to-face with a woolly mammoth in the natural history exhibit.

5.The next stop is the ultimate tea party, scaled for kids' tastes. The Fairmont Empress offers a Prince and Princess Tea for kids in its opulently appointed Tea Lobby. Practice your British accent as you and your royal companions nibble through tiers of fancy tea sandwiches and pastries (reservations recommended).

6.The stylish Italian restaurant Zambri's may be located in a gorgeous, sleek space, but don't let that distract you from its rustic, impeccably sourced cuisine. Foodies from all over the island travel here for dishes like house-made salsicca sausage pizza, and crispy pork shoulder served with greens. Picky eaters will find satisfaction in the simply sauced pastas and pizzas. Parents will enjoy the authentic Italian cocktails (try the Spritz or the Negroni).

Sunday

1.Supercharge your day with smoked salmon eggs and just-squeezed apple-mint juice at the tropical-styled Re-Bar Modern Food. This brightly hued restaurant focuses on healthy meals (with plenty of vegan and vegetarian options), served with an international twist; you're likely to find an Indian-style rice pudding on the breakfast menu, for example.

2.Burn off breakfast with a shopping stroll—one last can't-miss activity in Victoria. Friendly storefronts greet you all along the city's narrow lanes. A few don't-miss stops: Munro's Books stellar selection of Canadiana, kids' lit, and literary works; Lower Johnson Street and Market Square's chock-a-block boutiques; and, imported cultural goodies in North America's second-oldest Chinatown.

3.For a final taste of Victoria, head to Red Fish Blue Fish, housed in an up-cycled cargo container. Here, diners delight in a sustainable, eco-friendly approach to the traditional fish 'n chip shop. Order the locally sourced wild salmon fish 'n chips with housemade chips, or Qualicum Bay scallop tacos served with sweet-smoked chili adobo and pea shoots. Nosh on tempura pickles, and watch boats bob in the harbor before heading home.

Where to Stay

You can't miss the chateau-like roofline of The Fairmont Empress (rooms from $230/night)—she's a focal point for the Inner Harbour with elegant, chandelier-appointed public spaces. The property is unexpectedly kid friendly, with activities like scavenger hunts and marmot watching, an indoor pool (request a kid-sized robe), and free meals off the children's menu for kids under 5 years (kids aged 6-12 eat for half price off the regular menu). Babysitting services also are available should you wish to have a night out—or a spa treatment.

For less-expensive digs, settle into the rooms at the Royal Scot Hotel & Suites (rooms from $120/night), which offers large 1- and 2-bedroom suites equipped with kitchens. A pool, hot tub, board-game room, laundry room and on-site mini-grocery make this a must-stay for families. The shuttle service will deliver you to downtown destinations and the ferry, although most central downtown locales are only about a 10-minute walk away.

When to Go

Victoria's mild climate welcomes visitors year round, but spring and summer burst with energy—it's when the town's flowers are at their showiest, baskets of blossoms hanging from every post and pole. Get your fill of creativity at June's Victoria JazzFest International and the Victoria Fringe Arts Festival, which typically runs from August through September.

Fall and winter tend to be Victoria's quiet seasons, but the city's compact nature means you can still enjoy a hot cuppa and a car-free weekend (just dress warmly and bring a raincoat, which may be necessary).

How to Get There

By passenger ferry: Victoria is about 2 hours, 30 minutes from downtown Seattle on the Victoria Clipper. You won't need a car once you arrive.

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