When I have a free weekend, one of my favorite trips is to the city of Victoria in British Columbia Province, Canada. The city is filled with so much to do, from the Royal BC Museum and the nearby Butchart Gardens to whale watching trips and access to so much more as you travel north on Vancouver Island.
For me, half the pleasure is taking the passenger and vehicle ferry from Port Angeles, Washington.
The Coho ferry, operated by the Black Ball Ferry Line, has been in service between Port Angeles, Washington and Victoria, BC since 1959. The ride across is about 90 minutes. That’s just enough time to settle in and enjoy the scenery and perhaps a bite to eat from the coffee shop on board.
Taking the Coho Ferry
The Coho leaves from downtown Port Angeles. I find it best to make a reservation ahead, especially when I plan to drive a car onto the ferry. I can also park my car in one of several parking areas close to the ferry. Prices for parking decrease as walking distance to the ferry increases. If I don’t mind a little longer walk and am only going for the day, there is free street parking.
I do need a passport to enter Canada, as well as to return, so I keep that handy. At the terminal there are cars, trucks and semi-tractor-trailers lined up to board. Inside the small entry building, I can pick up tickets at the window if I am walking on without a reservation, or I can pick up my pre-reserved tickets, along with any hotel and activity vouchers I booked through the Black Ball website.
My fellow walk on passengers often have small roller bags, or bicycles laden with gear, or furry companions. Well behaved pets are welcome onboard the Coho, one the great advantages of traveling this way.
Along with unassigned inside seating at stationary booths with tables along the windows or individual seats, there is a wide walkway around the entire vessel.
If I have driven on, I leave my vehicle and climb stairs to join the walk-on passengers on the main deck. Everyone is free to roam this level, taking in the spectacular views of the Olympic mountains, passing ships, seabirds, and occasionally, passing orcas.
I take full advantage, making several laps around the deck on good weather days.
There is also a covered Solarium one more deck above on the aft (back) of the ferry that is great for even better views and has some cover if I want to be outside when the weather is a little more cloudy or rainy.
On this trip over, we spotted a training vessel leaving Victoria harbor. The Victoria Sail and Life Training Society (SALTS) operates two tall ships that offer sail training for young people, aged 13-25, along with day sailing that are not limited by age. I’ve got a day sail with them on my wish list for a future visit.
Other Ways to Arrive
The inner harbor also has other transportation options. If you prefer, you can take a float plane out of Seattle, WA and Vancouver, BC, or ride the Victoria Clipper, a fast ferry out of Seattle.
Just across from the Black Ball ferry terminal in Victoria inner harbor, there is a float plane terminal. Harbour Air flies multiple times a day into Victoria harbor from Vancouver, BC, and Lake Union in Seattle, WA, as well as numerous other locations in British Colombia, including Nanaimo and Whistler. Kenmore Air also makes the trip from their terminal in Seattle, WA to Victoria, as well as scenic tours and other locations in the San Juan Islands. Either of these options will give you the opportunity for amazing views, quick travel time, and arrival right in the heart of Victoria.
The Victoria Clipper also runs year-round and makes the trip from downtown Seattle, WA to Victoria, BC in about two hours and forty-five minutes.
It is a passenger ferry only, so when I travel this way, I park in one of the designated parking ramps near the Clipper’s terminal downtown or take public transportation and leave my car at home.
Victoria Parliament House
On this occasion, I was making a quick overnight getaway. I took the Coho to Victoria and checked in to a hotel right across the street from the terminal, The Grand Pacific, one of my favorites for location and comfort.
The view off my balcony gave me a gorgeous view of the domes on the British Colombia Parliament Buildings. Free guided tours are offered nearly year-round, and there are self-guided tours, as well as special events happening frequently, too.
This trip I had little time, so it was enough to admire the central domes. The buildings were completed in 1897, with lots of finishing work until 1915. They have been a visual focal point of the inner harbor ever since.
The largest dome is over the rotunda and is six feet in diameter, topped with a gold covered statue of George Vancouver. Thirty-three copper domes sit on the andesite and granite buildings. The originally bright copper has oxidized over time, resulting in the familiar green color seen today.
After checking in and taking in the view, I walked over to the nearby Pendray Tea house. Along the way, I encountered a couple of local deer. They are not uncommon in this area, so be sure to keep an eye out for them, especially if driving off the Coho ferry.
Afternoon Tea, British style
The Pendray Inn and Tea House is a favorite of mine because it is so close, and because of the Victorian style mansion that gives off a “sit here and enjoy a quiet tea” vibe.
The grounds are beautifully manicured, and after crossing the wide porch, the interior offers all sorts of nooks and small tables next to the windows for an unhurried afternoon tea.
Today, because I was on my own for tea, I was seated in a small alcove that looks out into the courtyard through windows adorned with climbing roses. As you can see, the traditional tea nibbles were presented on a three-tiered tray, with sweets on the top, two freshly made scones with Devon-style cream and the Tea House’s own berry jam in the center, and an assortment of small sandwiches on the bottom.
Vegan, West Coast and Children’s teas are also on offer to satisfy a variety of palettes and tastes.
An hour spent relaxing and sipping tea was the perfect transition from travel on the ferry to settling in before heading out for a walk through Victoria.
The area around Victoria’s harbor is easily walkable, with routes around the inner harbor, up through Government Street to restaurants and shops, or down to the south through the neighborhoods to a view of the Olympic Mountains to the south.
After tea, a circular walk south to the edge of the island and around back to the inner harbor sounded just right.
After meandering through the streets filled with homes and small shops to the south of the inner harbor, I arrived at Holland Point Park. I have bike toured past this area before, so today it was a treat to slow down and walk the paved walkway all along the shoreline.
This is a great spot, not only for taking in the views, but for meeting city residents who are out for a walk with their dogs. Local families often walk in this area, too.
There are benches along the way, encouraging visitors to sit and take in the view across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the Olympic Mountains, glistening with snow.
After walking the length of the park, a left turn on any street will lead you back to the inner harbor. The Parliament Buildings and the Empress Hotel are landmarks to let you know you have arrived.
Since it was late spring, I took advantage of the longer daylight hours, taking my time to walk slowly to delight in the beautiful gardens around each home and stopping in the small shops.
Munro’s and Murchie’s
The next day I had two places that are a “must visit” for me when I am in Victoria. I wanted to have breakfast at Murchie’s and then hang out at Munro’s Books.
Murchie’s is close to the inner harbor on Government Street. It is my go-to for a stunningly wide variety of baked goodies to choose from, along with delicious teas and coffees.
The fact that there is usually a long line along the counter, providing plenty of time to ponder the best option for the day, helps give me time to decide on a breakfast treat.
Once at the register, I place my order and then grab a seat. It is a small area, so I can watch for my food to be ready to pick it up on a small silver colored tray.
Murchie’s is a place to chat with locals, to meet up with old friends, or to enjoy the general bustle of folks on their way to the rest of the day.
After breakfast, I head next door to Munro’s Books. This is my traditional last stop before heading back to the ferry terminal for the trip home.
Munro’s is the largest independent book seller in Victoria and is in the former Royal Bank Building. Founded by John and Alice Munro (yes, the Nobel Prize winning short story author), Munro’s celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2023.
Inside there is a high ceiling and a white interior make the room feel spacious, despite the many bookshelves. Well organized books with helpful notes and store staff members make every trip an adventure.
I have learned to limit myself to just one book for the ferry ride home, but there are so many fascinating choices. If you are looking for children’s books, they also have a well-stocked children’s section to explore. Canadian authors are also given pride of place in their own highlighted section.
Finally, it is time to pick up my suitcase from the hotel and go across the street to the Black Ball ferry terminal. I’ll be back again soon, to explore more of the city and the rest of Vancouver Island.
My return ticket already in hand, I make a quick stop in customs and then it is up the walk-on passenger ramps to enjoy the ninety-minute ride back to Port Angeles.