BC’s capitol is a city with multiple personalities. The duality of Victoria is almost plainly obvious: young and hip university students occupy the tapa bars and trendy pubs inside Bastion Square at night; the same crowd flocks to the beaches of Cadboro Bay in the summer days while cooping in the UVic campus during chillier weather. The inner harbor is a hotbed of high-waisted camera toting tourists while Victoria West boasts one of the largest retirement communities in Canada. We can only gather one simple conclusion amidst this chaotic collusion of demographics: Victoria is a clusterfuck that thrives on its own clusterfuck-ness, which also makes it a great city to see (if you do it right).
I’ll admit my first impressions of this city with a severe identity crisis weren’t all that wonderful. I could see the same old formula of over-priced everything (Victoria is currently ranked the 4th mostexpensive city in Canada) and a mishmash of sub-par attractions designed to make visitors feel as if what they just saw was accurate and representative of the island at large. But there’s another side of this city that actually stakes some uniqueness amongst the repetition, and it can be found in the most unusual of places. Here are just a few examples I found worthy of this category during the two occasions I’ve had to explore Victoria (exploria?):
1) Chow Down at ‘Red-Fish-Blue-Fish’
Not-so-tucked-away fish eatery Red-Fish-Blue-Fish is a prized part of Victoria’s Inner Harbor, and it’s not too hard to find: just follow the sometimes endless line-up of locals and visitors alike who are looking to stuff themselves stupid on BC’s finest. What was once a shipping container that held a Lamborghini in a previous life is now a retrofitted fish fry kitchen serving up some of the most creative fish dishes around, including Fish Tacones and something called a ‘cod dog’: a tempura battered and deep fried slice of cod wrapped in a bakery bun topped with dill dijon mayo, tartar sauce and pickled onions.
What makes this popular spot so special are the efforts managers take to ensure that every fish they prepare has been locally sourced and is not at risk of extinction. This means your stomach and your conscience can feel awesome after devouring that halibut and chips sold to you by the good people at Red-Fish-Blue-Fish. They’ve even been featured on the popular Food Network Channel T.V show Eat Street as ‘oneof the best places to eat in Victoria’.
2) Explore Fort Rodd Hill
If there’s one thing that sums up Canada’s Pacific Southwest best it’s the lighthouse. Luckily for those visiting Victoria, the National Historic Site of Fort Rodd Hill includes one of the most iconic lighthouses in Canada and offers an excellent window into the history of the area pre-dating early 1900’s. At Fort Rodd Hill, visitors can learn about the artillery (which still stands) that was built to protect Victoria while exploring the many underground passageways and batteries that were constructed over a century ago.
Those less intrigued by military posts can walk to the Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse, which rests over the picturesque Strait of Juan de Fuca with the Olympic Mountains providing a breathtaking backdrop. Full battle uniforms, fake gun noises and the occasional shouting ‘ALL HAIL THE QUEEN OF ENGLAND!’ are optional.
3) Get Inked
Fresh fish and lighthouses too ‘recreational’ for your tastes? Why not etch something permanently into your skin instead? The good people at Tattoo Zoo are more than happy to make this happen. Something about traveling and the ocean makes many, many people want to do this. Yeah, that list includes me, too. Apparently.
4) Check out the World Class Vegetarian Food
Despite its copious amounts of tourist-centered diners, Victoria is surprisingly over-friendly when it comes to options for herbivores. I’ve already profiled a fish and chips place that was so good it convinced this vegetarian to go temporarily carnivorous, but there’s also the mouth-watering meat-free fare that made me forget how good the sea creatures tasted. Firstly, I had one incredible pizza at a place called The Joint on Wharf Street. I mean, this was an uncontrollably rabid-inducing experience that I had with the ‘vegetarian taco’ pizza I think I might have blacked out over. Then there are places like ReBar in Bastion Square with its homemade enchiladas or Lady Marmalade, which served us some unforgettable BBQ Tofu sandwiches. Whatever your preferences, Victoria offers great green cuisine that is second to none (if you look in the right places).
5) Take a Romantic Stroll in Beacon Hill
Beacon Hill Park is located conveniently due South of downtown (only a 10-15 min walk away) and attracts many different kinds of people year round. Compared to the innate trashiness of most urban parks in Canada, Beacon Hill is a stunningly tranquil homage to the perfect integration of nature and city. Close to the hustle and bustle of central Victoria, you’ll forget that you are surrounded by an entire city and instead become incased by wild blackberry bushes and fields of low growth plants beside lush deposits of Coastal Western Red Cedar Forests.
It’s also a great place to take a lady-friend. You might just get lucky and steal a kiss (or more….*wink wink) beneath a setting sun from the vantage point of the rocky cliffs which line the ocean shore. Ladies love that shit.