Victoria, British Columbia (with toddlers of course)
We spent two days in Victoria, British Columbia this summer walking around floating neighborhoods, finding the most photogenic ice cream cones, the best slides, visiting parks with goats and seaplanes, and falling more in love with Canada. On our first day there as we were walking around, my husband turned to me and said, "So, should we immigrate to Canada?"
Seriously though. CANADA!
If you're looking for logistical tips, head to the bottom of this post.
If you're here for the story, read on (lots of tips throughout as well).
In general we stick to nature-y vacations while our kids are so small because the sight-seeing/eating at restaurants/shopping just doesn't appeal to them yet. However, if you are going to go visit a city with kids, I think Victoria is a really good choice. There's a lot of outdoor and indoor attractions for kids, and best of all, everyone was soooo friendly and nice to our kids (and to us too 😊).
Our very first stop was Beacon Hill Park. It's huge and it's beautiful and it has a playground, a children's farm complete with petting zoo, beautiful gardens, peacocks strolling the fields, totem poles, and oceanside trails. We could have spent all day there. It felt remote, although when we got hungry and left to find some lunch we remembered we actually were in the middle of the city.
Side note: I dressed my son in his NASA shirt that morning and then we got to the park and I realized it was a dead giveaway for being American. Whoops. It's fun to look like a clueless tourist, right? 🤦🏻♀️
The petting zoo at the children's farm was one of the highlights of the park. How funny is that picture of the goat climbing on the kids back to get his hat? The petting zoo only has baby goats, and they are cuuuute. It's really busy, but still really fun. There are other animals at the farm as well. We saw chickens, alpacas, and pigs in their pens. The children's farm is free but they suggest a small donation.
Beacon Hill Park goes right up to the ocean and the view is beautiful. There's a walking trail right there, and there are stairs down to the beach too, and open fields beyond (where you might meet a peacock). It's a beautiful place for kids and adults and pets to roam. While we were walking on this trail we met several really friendly dogs and their owners. Everyone was all smiles for my kids! It was the best. One lady in particular was so sweet to my kids. She kept telling my baby how handsome he was, just gushing over him. I think that was when I was sold on Canada.
Something that really impressed me at the park (besides the fact that everyone was so friendly) was that all the parents seemed really present. I didn't see a single parent on their phone at the playground, and there were probably 20-30 other parents there. I pulled out my phone to take a picture of my son on the swing and I felt a little self-conscious. Maybe all those parents were just having a really good screen-free day, but, well that would be quite the coincidence. Or maybe they just haven't discovered instagram stories yet...
When we finally left the park, we ate lunch at Baan Thai Wok & Bar. it was Thai, it was close, and it was delicious. Then we walked around for a bit, getting a feel of the city and looking for ice cream (we found it at Flavoris, and I wrote more about that crazy good cone here). Basically, soft serve dipped in fondue dipped in candy/brownies/sprinkles. YUM. And photogenic. We also stopped into Patagonia and Sitka. I had never heard of Sitka before but my husband knew about it, and it is rad. The Patagonia store was a really good place for kids. It had a table with coloring and a few little activities and the workers were super nice to the kids (no surprise there). I'm not into shopping on vacation, but it was fun to go to a new store and a favorite old store. We also stopped at the Victoria Public Library (mainly because our kids needed a bathroom break) and it had a really fun kids section.
Fisherman's Wharf was next for us. We wish we would have known it was a good lunch spot, because we went there after lunch and turns out one of the main things to do is eat. There's also Whale Watching Tours that leave from here. We didn't do that either, but we loved walking through Fisherman's Wharf because it is home to a houseboat neighborhood. Do you see those colorful floating buildings in the above pictures? Most of them are houseboats. I know a main part of the word houseboat is "house" but it still blows my mind that they are HOUSES. Definitely one of the most vibrant and interesting neighborhoods I've seen.
On the non-houseboat side of the wharf, where you'll see many many boats, there are life jackets you can borrow for your kids while they walk around. You'll see them hanging up before you walk too far. I can't tell you how much anxiety those life jackets saved me. One of the main things we were looking for on the wharf was seals, because you can often spot them there. We didn't see any, but tons of sea planes take off and land right by the wharf, and my boys were just as fascinated (no surpsise). We watched them foreeeeever.
There's also a nice little park at the top of the hill called Fisherman's Wharf Park, where we continued our sea plane watching. That park has a super fun slide, so if you go ride down a few times for me and my boys.
Somehow we missed the parking meter and the signs telling us we had to pay for parking 🤦🏻♀️. Before I had kids I would have been like, "howwwwww? How do two adults just miss the super obvious signs?' But now I know. We were just trying to keep our toddlers from running into the busy parking lot and then the ocean right beyond it. So we got a parking ticket. Our kids are still alive though so I'll call it a win.
On our second morning we decided to take our kids to an indoor aquatic center. They have several in the city that are great for kids, we found this website helpful. I can't remember the exact one we went to (maybe Gordon's Head?) but it was really nice and only a few dollars. Our kids had a blast and there weren't many people there, which was nice for all of us. It was the perfect way to start a busy (and crowded) day.
After swimming and checking out of our Airbnb we went to the Butchart Gardens, which we had heard was a must-see. I wrote a whole post with lots more pictures just about the gardens here. We got discounted tickets when we booked our ferry ride with Blackball, (you can find info on that here). There were a lot of other attractions you could get discounted tickets on too, so if you'll be riding with Blackball I'd recommend looking into it.
Here are my thoughts on Butchart Gardens: it's beautiful, it's very manicured, and it is so. freaking. crowded. Going in prime tourist season (August), I'm sure had something to do with that. I really like visiting botanical gardens because they're usually pretty empty, so I was expecting more space for my kids to be able to run. It was still really fun and beautiful, but my kids couldn't run free like we were all hoping for. I'm glad we went, but I'm not going again until my toddlers are teenagers. Or maybe adults.
A few pro tips for parents visiting Butchart Gardens:
- They have complimentary strollers at the guest services (you leave $10 but you get it back when you return the stroller).
- The carousel was actually one of the least crowded places
- The food carts have surprisingly good sandwiches.
There were people from all over the world at the gardens. We heard English, Spanish, French, Russian, and some Asian languages. What I still can not get over is that no matter what language people were speaking, everyone was taking selfies on their phones in front of the flowers. Selfies, the international language. Doesn't that just speak of the humanity inside all of us? At the end of the vacation, we all just want a picture of ourselves somewhere beautiful.
Tips for Lodging in and the Ferry to Victoria, B.C.:
We stayed in an Airbnb for the very first time. We loved it. It was so nice to have a kitchen and living space separate from our room, and it was way cheaper than staying at a hotel, not only because the base price was cheaper, but also because we were able to eat breakfast and dinner at home that way. Our kids don't sleep great when we are all in one hotel room (that is an understatement) so one of our big travel priorities was, when possible, to get a separate room for them. I would recommend this to anyone with kids that is traveling. We also were just coming to Victoria after a week at the beach house, which is so fun, but all four of us are crammed into one tiny bedroom and I don't think any of us slept much at all. Those two nights in Victoria felt luxuriouuuuus. You can check it out here if you need a place to stay in Victoria! (I'm not being paid to say this in anyway, I just really really liked the place).
We did bring our car, and I thought that was very helpful. There is definitely a lot to do if you don't have a car, but Butchart Gardens is definitely a drive from downtown Victoria, so you would have to figure out a different way to get up there if you're interested in going. We also took Blackball Ferry to Victoria (leaving from Port Angeles Washington) but since we visited the San Juan Islands in WA after Victoria, we took the WSDOT (Washington State Department of Transportations) Ferry on the way out. They leave from different ports, so if that's something you're interested in, again, you'll need to figure out transportation.
Both the Blackball and WSDOT ferry lines were fantastic, and you can take your car or simply walk-on on both. I would recommend reserving your spot ahead of time though. I'm going to write a post on navigating the ferries, so I'll link it after I've written it.
Adults need passports to get into Canada, but kids are okay with birth certificates. More FAQ here.
Don't bring fresh fruit or veggies. We had an apple with us and got reprimanded (but they still let us in).
One more awesome thing about Canada: Paw Patrol is on Netflix there.
Tell me: where in Canada should I visit next?
If you liked this and you are also a fan of Canada, I'd be so happy if you'd share it.