The city of Victoria is located at the very southeastern tip of Vancouver Island, a 280-mile bean-shaped landmass of small towns, pointed peaks, and rugged coastline.
The ride can double as a whale-watching trip when Puget Sound’s resident and visiting orcas are visible.Victoria is right across from Washington State’s San Juan Island chain and is almost as close to Seattle as it is to Vancouver, but in truth the waterways have provided such a barrier that the city has grown its own unique character. The old-world architecture and afternoon tea tradition blends with a bustling harbor and windswept views. Visitors continue to squeeze themselves down narrow Fan Tan Alley in what was once North America’s biggest Chinatown.
Although native Canadian tribes have lived in the area for centuries, Victoria’s recent history began in 1843 when it became a Hudson’s Bay Company trading post, grew as a port during the Fraser Valley gold rush on the mainland, and then gained an international flavor from its position as a busy seaport. As the province of British Columbia was formed, it was the major city on Canada’s western side and was named the provincial capital.
As travel by sea diminished in the 20th century, the city of Victoria has lagged behind Vancouver when it comes to skyscrapers, keeping it a smaller, more historical city. Big mansions in Oak Bay and Rockland hark back to the city’s boom years. A naval base, university, and fishing fleet regularly infuse the city with new influences. Float planes land every few minutes while ferries connect it to both the United States and the global hub of Vancouver.
And no matter how chilly it gets, there’s always a hot cup of tea waiting.
Getting from Seattle to Victoria
There’s no way around it—getting to Victoria takes a while. The fastest route is by seaplane, at less than an hour from Seattle’s Lake Union right to Victoria’s Inner Harbour on Kenmore Air (866/435-9524, $160.85-180.46). International customs are performed on the Canadian side, where there are none of the long lines that clog the highway border crossings and the large airport passport control. Though some Kenmore flights are seasonal, the Seattle-to-Victoria route is year-round, and despite the planes being small, they can fly through almost all weather, save extreme fog.
Departures from Seattle leave from the Kenmore terminals on Lake Washington (6321 NE 175th St., Kenmore) and Lake Union (950 Westlake Ave. N), in the South Lake Union neighborhood right next to the Museum of History and Industry. The trip includes spectacular vistas of Puget Sound and its wooded islands from above. The pilot may even point out specific towns, mountains, and islands during the flight.
The Victoria Clipper (800/888-2535, $124 adults, $25 children) is a passenger-only ferry that leaves from downtown Seattle and takes about three hours to reach the terminal in Victoria (254 Belleville St.). The ferry terminal is located on the south side of the Inner Harbour, between the Black Ball Ferry Terminal and Laurel Point Park, and is within easy walking distance of many hotels and the central Fairmont Empress and Parliament buildings. Ferry service between Seattle and Victoria runs year-round, with 1-3 ferries daily (though occasional blackout dates occur). The views from the boat as it passes through the San Juan Islands are gorgeous. The ride can double as a whale-watching trip when Puget Sound’s resident and visiting orcas are visible.
To take a car from Seattle via ferry, there are two options. About 80 miles north of Seattle, the Washington State Ferry (888/808-7977, adults US$19.05, US$9.50 seniors and children, US$41.55-63.80 vehicle and driver plus surcharge for larger vehicles) is a car ferry that departs from the Anacortes ferry dock for Sidney, B.C., 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) north of Victoria. The ferry can take almost three hours to reach Sidney, and not every departure goes all the way to Canada. Besides, it may make as little as one trip a day in the off-season between October and April. International customs is on the Canadian end and can add time to the trip. To get there, drive north on I-5 to exit 230 in Burlington, and then follow Highway 20 to the Anacortes ferry dock, a drive of about an hour and a half. Between the drive and the ferry, your total travel time could be almost five hours.
A two-ferry trip involves taking the Washington State Ferry (US$8 adults , US$4 children and seniors, US$11.90-17.30 vehicle and driver plus surcharge for larger vehicles) from Edmonds, about 17 miles north of downtown Seattle, to Kingston across Puget Sound. The 30-minute crossing has near-hourly departures year-round because the route is commonly used by daily commuters—but that can mean long lines around morning and evening rush hours. Check the Washington State Ferry website for up-to-date alerts on ferry lines. Once in Kingston, follow State Route 104 across Hood Canal to Highway 101 (about 25 miles total), and then follow Highway 101 for about 50 miles to Port Angeles. Once in Port Angeles, head to the ferry dock (101 E Railroad Ave.) for the Black Ball Ferry (888/993-3779, $60.50) to Victoria, about a 90-minute ride. The ferry docks right in the Inner Harbour. Reservations are advised and start at $11.
Getting from Vancouver to Victoria
Harbour Air (800/665-0212, $155-$210) offers as many as 24 daily flights from downtown Vancouver in the Vancouver Harbour Flight Centre (Unit #1 Burrard Landing, 1055 Canada Place) and up to 5 daily runs from the South Terminal of Vancouver International Airport (4760 Inglis Drive, Richmond) to the heart of downtown Victoria (1000 Wharf Street, Inner Harbour Centre); return flights depart from the same location in downtown Victoria and will return you to either of their Vancouver locations. Flight times range from 25 to 35 minutes. Make sure to check their current schedule as times will vary by season and change on public holidays. Reservations are recommended, and be sure to check in a half hour before your flight to avoid losing your seat to stand-by passengers.
Two ferries that take both walk-on passengers and vehicles run between the greater Vancouver area and the Victoria end of Vancouver Island. Reservations are recommended for both routes. The B.C. Ferry (888/223-3779, $15.50 adults, $7.75 children 5-12, children under 5 free, $51.25 vehicles, surcharges for fuel and large vehicles) departs Tsawwassen (1 Ferry Causeway, Delta), south of Vancouver arriving in Swartz Bay north of Victoria. The ferry crossing is about 90 minutes. From Swartz Bay, follow Highway 17 south for 32 kilometers (20 miles) to reach Victoria. Ferry frequency can range from eight crossings a day to as many as 16.
Another B.C. Ferry (888/223-3779, $15.50 adults, $7.75 children 5-12, children under 5 free, $51.25 vehicles, surcharges for fuel and large vehicles) departs from Horseshoe Bay (6750 Keith Rd., West Vancouver), about 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) north of downtown Vancouver. The trip is about 1.7 hours until the ferry arrives in the town of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. From Nanaimo, follow Canada Highway 1 south 115 kilometers (71.5 miles) to reach Victoria. Ferries run 7-12 times daily in each direction.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Pacific Northwest Road Trip.