Five You Can Drive: Victoria's a stunning destination you can reach from Vancouver within a day

Two Vancouver Observer staff experience the delights of Victoria—a peek into politics, cocktails at the Steamship Grill, and a one-of-a-kind B&B, among other highlights. This is the first in our "Five You Can Drive" series: enticing vacations close to Vancouver, BC, sponsored by Ford Escape.

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Anja and I began our Victoria adventure by crossing the street to visit the Royal BC Museum. A Canadian cultural treasure, the Royal BC Museum is known not only for the BC artifacts on display but also for the artistry of the displays themselves.

On a tour of the Natural History Gallery, Anja and I touched the real ice on the wall of the life­-sized wooly mammoth exhibit. Our guide, Philanthropy Manager Jillian Appelman, explained that the Royal BC Museum prides itself on infusing each exhibit with as much authenticity as possible. Indeed, the hand­-painted backdrop behind the mammoth blended seamlessly into the foreground. In a different forest display real salal "grew" on the forest floor among once-real bears, cougars and deer.


Natural History Gallery photo courtesy of Royal BC Museum

In the Modern History gallery, the smell of baking apple pie wafted from a kitchen scene from the 1800's. Oinking pigs could be heard in the narrow streets of the nineteenth century Chinatown display, along with the sounds of men playing cards and speaking Mandarin in an upstairs apartment. Even the air changed from room to room. Entering the cannery section, the air suddenly smelled and felt like damp ocean air.

The First Peoples Gallery displayed clothing, masks, household items and totem poles from the pre and post contact periods. One display showed typical post­-contact potlatch gifts including an abalone button blanket made with fabric from Europe and a set of pottery from China, a striking visual synthesis of how the three cultures interacted.

The tour helped us get the most out of our Royal BC Museum experience. With the price of admission, you can also take behind the scenes tours to view the museum and archive collections and research areas.

Royal BC Museum's permanent collections photo courtesy Royal BC Museum

This summer, the Royal BC Museum will be alive with the sounds of languages with the Our Living Languages: First Peoples' Voices exhibition, opening June 21. Museum designers have created a colourful “language forest” where you'll hear a greeting in 34 different First Peoples' languages.

Also at the Royal BC Museum from May 16 to November 11: Vikings: Lives Beyond the Legends. Learn everything you wanted to know about the Viking age with this stunning exhibition, featuring more than 500 fascinating artifacts, many never before seen outside Scandinavia.

Anja and I continued our BC immersion by crossing the street over to the BC Parliament Buildings. As we approached the steps, Sam Sullivan whizzed by us in his high-speed wheelchair. Once inside, we learned the legislature was sitting.

We tiptoed into the viewing area and watched as Herbert Chandra Spencer delivered an impassioned speech about municipal election funding. Looking down onto the floor of the legislature, it was exciting to see famous faces from our daily news: MLAs Adrian Dix, Suzanne Anton, Rich Coleman and Jenny Kwan (missing was Premier Christy Clark).

BC Parliament Buildings photo courtesy of Tourism Victoria Flickr page

Photo by Anja Konjicanin

We watched the MLAs do a weird head nod when they entered the legislative chamber, take a vote and of course engage in some table-banging. It was a crash course in how our government works and it was very entertaining.

After a dose of politics we were ready for cocktails. Crossing the street again, this time to the harbour side, we hit the Steamship Grill & Taphouse in the old Steamship Terminal. Built in 1924, this heritage site is the perfect stop to enjoy a drink and a casual meal while admiring the view of the Inner Harbour. In anticipation of summer we sipped mojitos— but sipped them inside, looking out onto what in warmer weather is one of Victoria's best patios.

Photo of Janel Johnson enjoying a cocktail at Steamship Grill & Bar by Anja Konjicanin

View from the Steamship Grill &  Bar photo by Janel Johnson

With evening approaching, it was time to venture out of the harbour area and check into our B&B. Entering the historic Beacon Hill Park behind the Royal BC Museum, we took the fifteen-minute stroll to reach the foot of Cook Street and the ocean.

The Dashwood Manor Seaside Bed and Breakfast is a tastefully renovated 1912 English Tudor mansion perched on the southern tip of Victoria. It overlooks the Juan de Fuca Strait with Washington's Olympic mountains providing a majestic backdrop. In the foreground, wending its way along the grassy bluff above the shoreline, is Dallas Road Waterfront trail— great for scenic walks, jogs, bike rides or just people (and dog) watching.


Dashwood Manor Seaside Bed & Breakfast photo courtesy Dashwood Manor

View from Dashwood's Buckingham room photo by Anja Konjicanin

Inside Dashwood's foyer, replete with leaded glass, Anja tapped the large metal service bell at the counter unleashing a sonorous chime. Michael Dwyer, Dashwood co-owner, popped out of an adjacent room and ushered us up the narrow stairs to the Camelot room. Nestled under the eaves, it was spacious and comfy, with a sitting/TV area and an ocean view. The sky over the water was now filling with the orange and amber of a spectacular sunset. Night at the Dashwood, removed from the downtown core, was supremely peaceful and quiet.


Dashwood Manor Buckingham Room photo courtesy Dashwood Manor

Breakfast was served in the sunny Buckingham room overlooking the ocean. The varied menu included a fruit and bagel plate and a full traditional breakfast. We ordered the omelette aux fines herbes.

Delicious breakfast omelette photo by Anja Konjicanin

We sipped our morning coffee in view of the ocean and mountains, exchanging stories with the other guests about what we'd seen and done in Victoria. Our trip was coming to an end and there was so much more to see and do.

On the spot I made a must-do list for my next Victoria trip: a whale watching excursion, high tea at Butchart Gardens, the Vikings exhibit at the Royal BC Museum, and exploring the cool shops and restaurants of Cook Street Village. 

Now that I know how close, easily accessible and affordable it is to travel to Victoria, I'll be hopping the ferry to signal "vacation-relaxation" more often.

Five you can Drive is sponsored by Ford Escape

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