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Discovering Victoria's hidden corners

  • Old Town is a re-creation of a late-1800s street and one of the displays at the Royal BC Museum.

    Royal BC Museum

    Old Town is a re-creation of a late-1800s street and one of the displays at the Royal BC Museum.

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By Jackson Holtz
Herald Writer
  • Old Town is a re-creation of a late-1800s street and one of the displays at the Royal BC Museum.

    Royal BC Museum

    Old Town is a re-creation of a late-1800s street and one of the displays at the Royal BC Museum.

VICTORIA, B.C. -- Beyond the tourist bustle of downtown Victoria are places with slower paces. There are neighborhoods with tiny shops, good food and wonderful streets to stroll.
I took the Victoria Clipper for a four-day weekend in early October, past the peak tourist season. My primary purpose was to run the 32nd Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon.
Many people, myself included, have "done" Victoria as a day trip. Hit the high spots -- Butchart Gardens, tea at the Empress and a short walk around the inner harbour -- and back on the ferry to Seattle in the evening.
The longer weekend was great. It allowed me to look beyond the obvious tourist attractions and find some of the less-trodden parts of this city on an island.
Fewer crowds made it easy to get around.
Rather than stay smack dab downtown at one of the many tourist hotels, I found the Ashcroft House, a terrific bed-and-breakfast a block from the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
The B&B is just a 10-minute walk south on Government Street, along what's known as Bird Cage walk. The ornate Parliament Building has the "Bird Cage" nickname, locals say, because the building looks like one when it's illuminated at night. Tiny white lights frame the seat of British Columbia's government.
Check out the tiny Bird Cage Confectionery that the clerks claim is the smallest grocery store in North America.
Ashcroft House is a 1898 Heritage Home that fits alongside other century-old Victorian homes in the James Bay neighborhood.
The king-size bed meant I'd be fully rested for my long run. An oversized tub was a welcome reward after the race. Four-course breakfasts leave no one hungry.
Emily Carr House, a museum home dedicated to Canada's famous artist, is a block away in one direction. Beacon Hill Park is a block the other way.
For lunch, I strolled through the park to Cook Street Village, a residential area full of coffee shops, a used book store and several cafes.
Bubby Rose's Bakery looked promising. The late fall day was warm enough to eat a delicious lunch of bacon and eggs outside. A propane heater kept the chill away.
A promenade runs along Victoria's south coast, overlooking cliffs perched above the strait. The Olympic Mountains peeking through the clouds add to the spectacular view.
It's an easy walk along the path back to downtown.
James Bay, a short distance from Ashcroft house, is another small residential area with shops and stores.
That's where I found Heron Rock Bistro, a very comfortable restaurant with live jazz and delicious food.
Again, this is off the tourist map and a local favorite offering fresh regional ingredients.
If you want a more structured plan, check out the several walking tours available from Tourism Victoria.
The tiny alleys of Chinatown are worth exploring. This path leads you to the north end of the tourist district where it's easy to stumble into fine boutiques and curiosity shops.
On marathon day, as I ran the 26.2-mile route along the southeastern coastline, it occurred to me that it would be an excellent bike route to explore Oak Bay and Beach Drive.
The day after the marathon, I pigged out on breakfast at the B&B before shuffling back downtown.
With not a lot of energy left for walking, I instead decided to go to the Royal BC Museum.
Even here, it's possible to find less busy galleries.
You can walk quickly through the natural history gallery to see the life-size woolly mammoth.
Everyone raves about the First Peoples gallery. Since I'd already seen it and was running short on time, I instead checked out a bit of the modern history gallery.
This is a kind of mini-Smithsonian dedicated to local history and culture. A full-size replica of a turn-of-the-century Victoria street takes you back in time. Check out the herbalist shop or peek into the window of an apparel store.
It's a big museum, so either plan a full day, or make decisions when you enter about how to divide your time.
Another plus: The museum is only a short walk to the Inner Harbor and the Victoria Clipper back to Seattle.
Riding the Clipper is my favorite way to get to Victoria. It's fast, comfortable and the gentle swells rock me to sleep with dreams of returning.
Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3447;
If you go
Tourism Victoria:
Victoria Clipper: Price range based on season and specials. Tickets start at $82 one-way, $137 round trip. See or 800-888-2535.
Ashcroft House: 670 Battery St. Rooms range from $109 to $189 depending on the season. Information at or 866-385-4632.
Royal BC Museum: Between Government and Douglas streets, on Belleville. Admission $14.29 for adults, $9.06 for seniors and students, children under 5 free. See
Story tags » TourismTravelCanada

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