Victoria BC has a population of over 300,000 people, a killer coastline, milder weather than its sister city, Vancouver and is touted as one of the most livable cities in Canada. This city located in the southernmost tip of Vancouver Island also reigns supreme as the cycling capital of Canada.
That means there has to be more to it than the tourist-laden waterfront that most of us first encounter when we step off the Victoria Clipper, right?
I set out on a long weekend to determine if Victoria is more multi-faceted than its reputation as the cute little sleepy town on Vancouver island only worthy of a cookie-cutter day long visit to walk around the inner harbor, hit up Butchart Gardens and high tea at The Fairmont
These were some of my finds: A little shop selling artisan popsicles owned by a father daughter team, a baguette sandwich more memorable than the ones I have devoured in Paris, a brunch spot that serves spectacular red velvet pancakes, and a coffee shop to go neck-in-neck with the best baristas in Seattle.
And there’s a bonus for you avid cyclists, the city is completely navigable by bike.
After telling Paul Rayman, co-owner of a bike tour and rental shop The Pedaler, that I wanted to see the locals’ version of Victoria, he takes me on a customized three hour edible trek with some history, beautiful homes, and the water incorporated into the mix.
We make our way through the residential neighborhoods of Oak Bay and Rockland, winding through several parks along the way, while also making multiple pit stops at the trendy and artsy Fernwood area. which reminded me of a rustic version of Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood.
Here are some of the culinary highlights from my weekend in Victoria:
Fernwood Coffee: When you see a bunch of 20 and 30 somethings hanging outside with their novels or instruments nearby, you know you’ve arrived at Fernwood Coffee. In addition to mastering the art of coffee (one of the baristas was awarded Best Barista of the Year), Fernwood Coffee’s owner does extensive research in sourcing beans for his shop. He visits farms all over the world, even attending town-hall meetings with growers.
Tip: The food from the cafe is just as stellar as the coffee.
Jam Cafe: With a killer menu consisting of items such as the red velvet pancakes, fried chicken french toast, and pulled pork pancakes, it’s understandable why there’s often a queue for weekend brunch. Although this is less than a 12 minute walk from the waterfront, you won’t see many tourists.
Fol Epi: Cliff Leir modestly started out by baking his now famous baguettes in a basement and selling them outside. He’d always sell out of bread way before closing time. That was then.
Leir, who started baking when he was 19, mills his own flour. Now has some primo digs overlooking the water. This is one of those spots I wish I could take home with me and reinstate in my own neighborhood. Open from 7am-5pm,it’s easy to spend several hours and multiple meals/snacks here without even realizing it: A chocolate croissant for breakfast, a ham and brie baguette sandwich (his sandwiches are so coveted they sometimes sell out) for lunch, coffee for that mid-afternoon jolt, and rounding it out with housemade vanilla soft serve.
To get your cooking skillz on:
London Chef: Started by a husband/wife team, London Chef offers internationally themed cooking classes. An easy 15 minute walk from the waterfront, this is also a great lunch spot for trying the chef’s creative twists on soups, salads and sandwiches.
Red Fish Blue Fish: If you have the stamina to wait in line, this shipping container located on a charming pier churns out some of the best fish & chips and tacones.
Fruition Paletas: At this seasonal popsicle emporium, you can find flavors such as Perisan cream, black currant, blackberry, and rhubarb creamsicle. When I was there, the popsicle maker’s daughter was working the front. She indicated the rhubarb creamsicle is one of the top sellers, although she fancies the Persian cream.
Fruition will be reopening sometime this month.
Norte: From selling their handmade tortillas at the farmers market to a cute outpost, I slammed on my bike brakes when I spotted this taco outpost. Run by a young couple (the wife is from Mexico), the duo is dedicated to local, non-hormone, non-GMO and all of the other fancy words you should care about.
The Papa Dorado (crispy potato) and the Barbacoa (slow cooked beef cheek) could go head to head with Alvaro Candela-Najera’s famous Monday night taco pop-up at Sitka & Spruce. (Note: I have good news and bad news, Seattleites. Bad news: I just heard Alvaro is no longer doing Taco Mondays at Sitka. Good news: I hear he’s now running the kitchen at The Saint Bar so you can get your taco fix on a daily basis.)
Tip: You can generally score a great weekend deal on the passenger-only Victoria Clipper that conveniently picks up and drops off at the Seattle waterfront (Pier 69), but if you’ve got some extra time, consider taking the car ferry from Port Angeles to Victora, BC. That will give you some time to play in Port Townsend and the freedom of having your own car.
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