Victoria by Bike
Exploring BC's capital region by bicycle
Victoria is a bicyclist's paradise. With year-round mild weather, compact vibrant neighbourhoods, and a forward-thinking network of regional connectors and downtown bike lanes, it's our favourite city in Canada to explore by bike. And residents agree: a whopping 17% of people either walk or bike to work, the highest percentage in the country by far.
Visiting from Vancouver could hardly be any easier — simply ride off the ferry and hop onto the verdant Lochside Trail, biking past picturesque farms and markets as you're whisked towards the city far away from the noisy highway. From there you have a selection of dedicated bike corridors that'll take you just about anywhere you wish to go, and, believe us, with plenty of pretty places you just might find yourself wanting to go all over.
Stop in for a tasting at Sea Cider
Our first stop was Sea Cider. Conveniently located off the Lochside Trail between Victoria and the Swartz Bay ferry terminal, the Sea Cider Farm & Ciderhouse makes for a perfect mid-ride refreshment. Based on the Saanich Peninsula since 2007, they offer a range of organic, traditionally-fermented, orchard-based ciders. Stroll the grounds, grab a quick bite from their menu, and try some of the tastiest ciders in the province. We especially loved the seasonal Witch's Broom from their Invasion Series, and Kings & Spies — an off-dry blend of King, Northern Spies, and community-sourced apples of unknown provenance. Such a wonderful and inspiring place. We already can't wait to go back!
Continuing on, Victoria is still an hour's ride away. Much of the ride is through greenspace, with only occasional glimpses of the city growing around you. You cross a busy highway over a dedicated pedestrian/cyclist bridge, dip back into greenspace, then before you realize it the ocean blooms before you and you are on the Selkirk Trestle heading across the Gorge and almost downtown.
Stay at Spinnakers
During our visit we stayed in the Garden Suites at Spinnakers. Canada's first gastro brewpub, Spinnakers has been leading the craft beer renaissance for over 35 years. Focussing on fresh and farm-to-table ingredients, the restaurant serves traditional pub fare with an inspired and satisfying twist. We enjoyed daily breakfasts overlooking the Inner Harbour, and stopped in for a late night pairing of beer and chocolate truffles. Very cool.
Go on a guided bike tour
To make the most of your visit, consider booking a guided tour. Not only will you see neat places you might not otherwise have thought of, you also get to leave navigation to someone else, letting you better focus on experiencing your surroundings. This was certainly our experience with both Bike Tours Victoria and North 48.
For laid back tours focusing on city landmarks and fave foodie stops, you'll want to book with Matt from Bike Tours Victoria. But if it's an epic exploratory road ride you're after, check out North 48 Bicycles. With 7 unique rides to choose from, ranging from 60 to 100km in length, you'll experience Victoria's beautiful surroundings in an entirely new and visceral way.
We lucked out and got to do a blend of both, with David from North 48 taking us on his interpretation of Matt's "Harbour to Farm Tour" — biking up quiet island roads, working up a bit of a sweat, and seeing some beautiful pastoral vistas through farmland and golden arbutus meadows then down through lush rainforest and out to the Horticulture Centre. Pretty great day!
Explore the Horticulture Centre
The Horticulture Centre of the Pacific is one of those places you need a local to tell you about. Tucked into a corner of the woods between Elk Lake Regional Park and Camosun College's Interurban Campus just north of the city, the centre aims to be a "gardener's garden", helping connect people with plants, as well as providing important educational programs for the community. It's a serene and lovingly maintained garden to walk through, with towering douglas firs interspersed with compact and colourful heather gardens, the country's largest outdoor bonsai garden, and plenty of meandering paths to wander down. It is a lovely place, and I only wish we had learned about it years earlier.
Right beside the entrance to the Horticulture Centre waits the charming little dining experience Charlotte & the Quail. The original location of Nourish (one of our favourite Victoria restaurants), Charlotte & the Quail offers a familiar approach to fresh and local plant-based food, but in a smaller, more cafe-like setting with a windows and patio overlooking the gardens. Open from 9am to 3pm, visitors can get a discount at the Horticulture Centre after presenting a dining receipt.
Hit the mountain bike trails
Victoria boasts a thriving mountain bike community as well, mostly focused on the trails around Mt Work, Bear Mountain, and the Sooke hills. Picking us up at our hotel, Alex from Alex's Mountain Bike Tours shuttled us to the base of Mt Work, home to many of the area's most popular trails, filling us in on the various trail systems on the short drive up. This was our first time mountain biking, and we had a lot to learn. And while Alex normally guides intermediate to advanced riders, he taught us the beginner's ropes and pretty soon we were having a ton of fun riding over roots and rocks and all manner of things we wouldn't normally find on the road. It was especially gratifying to watch Alex expertly tackle steep drops and sharp turns we wouldn't dream of, while soaking up the rugged arbutus forest ambiance.
Victoria receives about 2.5X less rain than Vancouver, but still — in a garden-filled city of almost perennial green, you can't expect to have clear skies every day. As the clouds moved in we made our way out along Dallas Road, enjoying the bracing ocean air and the first few drops of rain before ducking into Nourish Kitchen & Cafe to warm up over hot drinks and a hearty meal. Nestled in a restored heritage house that's over 130 years old, there's a comforting warmth to Nourish that's always appreciated, and especially so on days like these.
After a while the skies cleared and we were out on the streets, biking back out to Dallas Road. We pulled over and walked our bikes to a vantage over the ocean. Listening to slow lapping of waves, our bellies sated and our bodies satisfied, there was nowhere else we wanted to be. We watched the sun slowly set over the island, the light growing golden, the distant hills a bright rosy peach.
Big thanks to Destination Greater Victoria for helping make this trip possible