Discover the City-Country Vibe of Sooke & Victoria
For those travellers looking for a getaway that is a little bit city and a little bit country, neighbouring cities Sooke and Victoria provide the perfect yin and yang.
Established in the mid-1800s as a fort for the Hudson’s Bay Company, the historical city of Victoria is bounded by ocean and granite cliffs, its streets lined with some of Canada’s most beautiful heritage buildings sweetly perfumed by urban flower gardens (it is known as the Garden City, after all). With museums, microbreweries and retrofitted cafés, Victoria is a cosmopolitan city with old-world charm.
Less than an hour’s drive from Victoria is the warm, welcoming town of Sooke: the bed and breakfast capital of British Columbia and one of the Pacific Northwest’s best-kept secrets. Nestled on the rugged shores of the Juan de Fuca Strait among ancient rainforest, unspoiled beaches, sandstone caves and pristine rivers, Sooke serves as an entry point for both the West Coast and Galloping Goose trails and is a prime outdoor adventure destination.
Sooke and Victoria are the perfect pair. Here is our guide to doing them right:
Started by a couple of old friends back in 2008, Driftwood is one of the fastest growing craft breweries in British Columbia and makes some seriously amazing beer (its Fat Tug IPA has garnered somewhat of a cult following, especially on the mainland). Driftwood’s philosophy? “We make what we like to drink.” Stop by the warehouse and meet Driftwood’s friendly founding fathers for a tour and tasting.
As Canada’s oldest brewpub and a pioneer of the North American craft brewing renaissance, Spinnakers knows a thing or two about making beer. Specializing in small batch and seasonal brews, its beer menu constantly changes, as does that of the restaurant; for nearly 30 years the gastropub has built its menu around local, seasonal foods from homegrown greens to house-smoked wild seafood. The operation also includes a malt vinegary, general store (think beer-based artisan bread and beer jellies) and a heritage guesthouse or private bungalow for travellers who want a firsthand experience of Victoria’s craft brew culture.
One of Canada’s leading oceanfront inns, the luxurious Sooke Harbour House is perched on the Whiffen Spit, a sandy breakwater overlooking the Juan de Fuca Strait and Olympic Mountain Range. All of the inn’s 28 rooms are entirely different, each one exceptionally designed and decorated according to a unique theme. The Thunderbird Room, for example, is a split-level suite that celebrates First Nation history and legends with a unique collection of carvings, masks and original artwork, while the Harbour Seal Room is built around a private terrace (with a jetted tub for two) that offers front-row seats for watching sea life.
A pillar of the community, the award-winning Sooke Harbour House is also home to one of Vancouver Island’s best galleries for local art.
Sooke Harbour House
Voted best restaurant on Vancouver Island, the legendary Sooke Harbour House has spawned some of Canada’s leading chefs, including David McMillan—owner and head chef at Montreal’s Joe Beef—and Top Chef Canada winner Carl Heinrich.
Under the guidance of its socially conscious founders, Sinclair and Frederique Philip, Sooke Harbour House is one of the first and longest-running establishments in Canada committed to local, seasonal cuisine. The menu changes daily and is crafted around wild ingredients, over 200 of which—from kiwis to asparagus—are grown right on the restaurant and inn’s “edible landscape.”
Juan de Fuca
The rustic Juan de Fuca Provincial Park encompasses waterfalls, grottos, old-growth rainforest and one of the richest tidal areas on the West Coast. Tidal pools are best viewed at low tide, when visitors will have the clearest views of colourful marine life including red, orange and purple sea stars, anemones, urchins and diverse sea plants. Remember, the intertidal zone is a sensitive ecosystem: never touch, remove, collect or disturb marine life in the tide pools!
Tugwell Creek Honey Farm and Meadery
The most ancient of libations, mead (honey wine) is the ancestor of all fermented drinks. In fact, primeval people considered drinking mead to be the most important aspect of daily life.
From beekeeping to mead-making, Tugwell Creek Honey Farm and Meadery is a must visit. Another steward of environmental sustainability, Tugwell keeps things local at every level, starting with its bees, which are kept happy and healthy on a wild forage diet. Stop by for a tasting and to learn about bees, the incredible pollinators we have to thank for 80 percent of our fruits and vegetables.
Unfortunately, in recent years, honey bees—the world’s most important pollinator—having been dying off in droves. We all rely on bees and it’s time to address this widespread collapse of honey bee colonies. Click here to learn how you can take action.
Potholes Along the Sooke River
Formed from glacial action during the last ice age, this canyon-like region along the Sooke River offers some of the best freshwater swimming and cliff jumping on the island. The potholes are also a prime place to watch the annual Coho and Chinook salmon spawning run, during which there are opportunities for catch-and-release fishing.
The Seaweed Lady
Thanks to its location on the deep and fast-moving Juan de Fuca Strait, the southwest coast of Vancouver Island is an ocean garden, home to hundreds of species of particularly healthy seaweed. So slip into some rain boots, grab a hiking stick and head out on a seaweed tour with Diane Bernard, locally known as “the seaweed lady.” A third-generation organic seaweed farmer, she is a passionate wealth of knowledge and loves to experiment; her latest pursuits include seaweed-infused martinis and pickled bull kelp! Diane is also the founder and owner of the skincare line Seaflora and hand-harvests all of the seaweed used in her products, which are sold around the globe.
Located on the Saanich Peninsula, Sidney is a quaint coastal community on the idyllic Salish Sea with a dizzying array of antiques stores and book stores. In fact, it’s nicknamed Canada’s Booktown. Sidney is also the gateway to the Gulf Islands, so it makes a great pit stop en route to or from the ferry terminal.