Nadya and I awoke early on our last day in Victoria. We’d slept soundly, exhausted by the previous day’s adventures in British Columbia. As we sat down to breakfast in the hotel lounge, the only thing we had planned for the day, we weighed the pros and cons of a visit to Victoria’s famous Butchart Gardens.
The Butchart Gardens, designated in 2004 a National Historic Site of Canada, is a 55 acre estate filled with themed gardens and blooms from all over the world. It began as the personal collection of Jennie Butchart over 100 years ago, and now hosts over 900 plant varieties and around one million visitors annually. It is the number one tourist activity in Victoria, and one of the only things we knew we wanted to see as we ferried our way up the coast.
Only it turns out, the Butchart Gardens are not actually in Victoria at all. Much like how Walt Disney World is actually located in a city called Bay Lake, rather than Orlando, the Butchart Gardens are located a distance away in nearby Central Saanich. We made this unfortunate discovery on the ferry crossing from Seattle, when the helpful cabin crew announced the time and distance involved in getting to the gardens, and listed a few pricey options for getting there. Hired car, taxi, tour bus…none of them sounded particularly great, and with such limited time in Victoria, Nadya and I debated whether we should even bother going to the Butchart Gardens at all.
But, as we listed out our alternatives (visiting museums, shopping downtown, heading over to Fisherman’s Wharf, spending more time along the waterfront), we decided to find a way to see the gardens anyway. I mean, I’d already flown from Orlando and ferried from Seattle…what was another 30-60 minute trip on top of that? This is what we came for.
So, after packing up and doing a little research, we found a public bus that went directly from downtown Victoria to the Butchart Gardens, departing every hour or so for just $2.50 CAD each way. When we learned the bus stop was literally a two minute walk away, on the other side of the Parliament Buildings, we felt silly for even thinking about skipping the gardens. We hopped on at the first stop, grateful for our prime location within Victoria as the bus made its way along and became packed with other garden visitors.
The ride was surprisingly not bad at all. I liked getting to see parts of the city that we wouldn’t have reached by foot, and the views became increasingly green, pretty and suburban as we moved out of the city center. The trip took about 50 minutes.
Did I mention the tickets cost nearly $30 CAD? Ouch. We stomached the price and made our way inside. In just a few minutes, we were overlooking the famous Sunken Gardens, taking the iconic shot that has graced so many brochures, blog posts, Instagram photos, you name it.
And suddenly the long trip, the pricey admission, the worries over whether it was all worth it, just disappeared. I have another post coming up, dedicated to these beautiful gardens, so keep your eyes open. It will be here in about a week! In the meantime, here are a few photos to give you an idea of the scope and beauty of the Butchart Gardens.
We had lunch at the Blue Poppy Cafe before heading out, reasoning that the bus ride and food-hunting in downtown Victoria would force us to wait another 1-2 hours on empty stomachs. We didn’t really know what we wanted to do when we got back to Victoria, but we had plenty of time to think about it as our bus rumbled along.
With just three hours to go before the return ferry started loading, we decided to visit the Parliament Building. It was closed for the weekend, which meant we couldn’t do much more than wander around the grounds and take a few photos, but we didn’t let that take away from our fun.
Next, we walked along the waterfront, waving at passing boats and wondering what it would be like to live here. We passed plenty of high-rises, joggers, dog-walkers and power-walking grannies, deciding we liked the lifestyle here more and more with every step.
Everyone we encountered was friendly, active, and happy to be outdoors. Add in the waterfront views, European vibes, and the fact that we did not feel unsafe even once while making our way around the city, and you have a winner. By the time we made it our next destination, Fisherman’s Wharf, I was already dreaming of a romantic return trip with Dan.
I’d seen photos of Fisherman’s Wharf in the Victoria Clipper’s magazine on our way up from Seattle, and just had to visit the bold, colorful houseboats docked in the harbor. At first glance, I was a little underwhelmed.
Sure, the homes were colorful, eclectic and packed with interesting little details, but there weren’t very many of them. I guess I was just expecting something closer to Seattle’s bounty of houseboats and floating homes, as spotted during a 2014 Argosy lakes cruise with Dan, my mom, and my sister Rachel.
I figured Nadya and I could go down, peer longingly over a gated, residents-only dock, and maybe see a few interesting residences from our limited vantage point. I was shocked and elated to learn, as we made our way to the docks, that Fisherman’s Wharf is much more than a small collection of houseboats. It’s a destination in itself, featuring restaurants, shops, tours, and even a small real estate office. Best of all, you could walk right onto the dock and see all 33 unique homes, known as the “Float Home Village,” firsthand!
Back in the seventies, the Float Home Village housed some interesting characters. According to the official website, police often had to break up disagreements between residents, and would even check in on the ever-rotating list of characters down at the wharf when they had a warrant for arrest! Now, it’s a lively and colorful collection of homes, and the residents don’t seem bothered one bit by the tourists who come flocking to see what life on the harbor is all about. In fact, they seem to welcome the attention, decorating their homes in a way that begs to be admired, and chatting with people as they make their way down the docks. We saw one woman on her back deck, DIY-ing a new piece of home decor. Another resident, who we initially mistook for a tour guide, was literally walking a group of tourists down the dock, pointing out significant details and telling stories about her own home, and those of her neighbors. Another was just sitting out on her rooftop deck with a drink in hand, apparently unfazed by the curious people milling about below. Residents came and went, nodding and smiling as they opened their front doors, not bothered by all the curious eyes.
I took several photos as we walked along, trying to distinguish between homes and businesses, and avoided taking photos that might disturb the privacy of the residents of Fisherman’s Wharf. They didn’t seem to mind the attention, but I personally would hate to live with my curtains permanently closed, aware that someone could be outside with a camera at all hours of the day. As such, I only have a handful of photos to share. One of my favorite details that didn’t get captured on camera was a small, square foot piece of grass on someone’s porch, with a sign saying “Stay off the grass!” Other funny homes included a self-proclaimed Man Cave, a home decked out in Canadian flags and colors, and another with an antique shop’s worth of sculptures, art and furniture decorating the outside of the boat.
With the three or so hours initially available to us, Nadya and I initially planned on seeing the houseboats, grabbing some lunch, and maybe spending the rest of the afternoon at the beautiful beach we’d stumbled across on the previous day. As we walked around Fisherman’s Wharf, drooling over all the food options available, however, we decided to stick around and finish our weekend near the water.
It was here that we spotted harbor seals, just bobbing around near the houseboats, waiting to be fed. A shop down the road sold fish for the seals, and people were lined up along the water to feed the seals and take photos of these creatures in a relatively natural state (as opposed to seeing them in a zoo or aquarium). We joined the crowds, laughing and awww-ing as the seals bobbed around.
Some of them had learned to do tricks in order to focus the attention (and the food) onto themselves. One splashed constantly, diving for food that was tossed his way, but my favorite seal was the one just floating lazily on his back while is friends made a scene.
Just look at him! He makes a cameo in almost all of my harbor photos, just floating around with a smile on his face (and a belly full of food, from the looks of him). I said to Nadya, “that seal is me. I am that seal.” I think all of us can identify with this guy, at one point or another.
We compared menus at three dockside takeaway shops serving fresh seafood. I’m a seafood lover to begin with, and when my mom mentioned that the seafood in British Columbia is somehow, impossibly, even better than the freshly-caught salmon, scallops and more in Washington State, I took her very seriously. I ordered fresh clams and herbed focaccia bread and my first-ever oyster from The Fish Store, while Nadya nabbed a salmon burger from the neighboring Barb’s Fish and Chips. I was tempted by the salmon burger, though I imagined something more like the combo of bread crumbs, eggs, seasoning and salmon chunks that I’ve had in the past. No, what Nadya had was a huge, beautiful slab of fresh salmon, lightly seasoned on a bun with toppings and fries. Delicious. My clams were fantastic, and eating them along the harbor, watching those curious seals splash around, was the cherry on top of a seriously perfect weekend in Victoria, B.C.
By the time we packed up, walked back to the ferry dock, and settled into our plush window seats, we were glowing. I never imagined that the trip would turn out so well, especially with so little planning on our part. The people were fantastic, the scenery and weather perfect, and the sightseeing right up our alley. Top it all off with great food, an adventurous attitude, and one of my best friends in the world, and you have the perfect weekend getaway.
We watched the city recede as the ferry sped off into the Pacific Ocean, sad to leave it behind but already looking forward to our next visit. The sun dropped slowly closer to the water, seeming to take hours to set, and we visited the upper patio of the boat frequently to enjoy the rush of wind and the glow of the sun over the water. It was the perfect goodbye to a beautiful trip, and a beautiful welcome back to our beloved Washington State.
And the fun’s not over yet! Coming up, detailed posts on Craigdarroch Castle and the Butchart Gardens, as well as the remainder of my adventures in Washington.