Breakwater Barge, Butchart Gardens highlights of summer in Victoria

A stay at the Magnolia Hotel and Spa -- and travel by V2V ferry -- means you can leave the car at home while touring Garden City

Standing on the Breakwater Barge at the Greater Victoria Harbour in Victoria, an unexpectedly strong gust of wind swayed the platform just enough to remind our group that we were actually floating on the ocean.

The Breakwater Barge at the Greater Victoria Harbour in Victoria offers music, food and drinks every Friday evening until Sept. 28. Photo Tourism Victoria

But looking around at the crowd enjoying local beer, cider, wine and live music, it was obvious a little wind was not going to dampen anyone’s spirits on this cool June evening. This is only the second year the Breakwater Barge has been open to the public, but the concept is has proven to be a popular one. Every Friday evening until Sept. 28, families, couples and individuals of all ages flock to the harbour at Ogden Point to check out popular food trucks, enjoy craft wine and beer, dance to local performers and take in the ocean view. Kids are very welcome, so for families it’s a great opportunity to enjoy a night out without paying for a babysitter.

There’s always lots going on in Victoria year-round, but there’s a special vibe in the summer when visitors and locals can enjoy the city and surrounding areas unencumbered by their MEC and North Face rain jackets.

During a recent visit to the Garden City we stayed at the Magnolia Hotel and Spa because of its proximity to so many attractions, including a 25-minute walk to Ogden Point and the Breakwater Barge. But staff at the Magnolia have taken visiting Victoria to a whole new level. They’ve created curated maps highlighting the best of the city for guests to use as guides during their stay — all within walking distance of the hotel — including the Rainy Day Trail, Craft Brewery Tour, Tapas Trail, Tea-riffic Trail, Beautiful Boutiques Trail, Best Places for Romance and the Running Trail.

The Magnolia also has Norco cruiser bikes available for guests to borrow so they can explore Victoria on two wheels with one of their three bike maps — visit the historic St. Ann’s Academy and Beacon Hill Park; take in Craigdarroch Castle and the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria; or follow the Bikes, Beans & Blooms trail.

Just a short walk from the Magnolia Hotel, Victoria's Inner Harbour is where visitors and locals can find whale watching and boat tours. Photo Sandra Thomas

The Magnolia is considered a “boutique” hotel because of its size — the fact it’s smaller than many of its neighbouring properties was part of the appeal for my husband and me when booking our stay. The hotel is one very short block from Victoria’s Inner Harbour and despite the fact it’s not located directly on the water, we could see the ocean and harbour from our room thanks to a view corridor between buildings.

Our ocean view room at the Magnolia Hotel and Spa. Photo Sandra Thomas

The Inner Harbour is where you want to be if you’re considering popular activities such as whale watching expeditions, boat tours, scenic flights, horse-drawn carriage rides and double-decker bus tours. We were also just blocks away from the Royal B.C. Museum, B.C. Parliament buildings and the Victoria Conference Centre, where I was attending a three-day conference.

The Courtney Room in the Magnolia Hotel is popular for its oyster bar. Photo Magnolia Hotel

New to Victoria’s food scene is the Courtney Room at the Magnolia, where we enjoyed a wonderful dinner — imagine West Coast cuisine meets French bistro meets art nouveau. It’s where chef Sam Harris, formerly of Agrius Restaurant, celebrates local and seasonal ingredients with a French twist. We enjoyed some fresh-shucked oysters (of course), decadent steaks and — please take my advice and try these — Potatoes Courtney. Crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside — and cooked in duck fat— this adult version of tater tots has been wowing food writers since the Courtney opened in May.

The Courtney’s commitment to buying local includes ingredients from area producers, including Madrona FarmUmi Nami Farm and Two Rivers Meats. An extensive craft beer list and thoughtful cocktail menu are even more reasons to check out the Courtney.

The Courtney Room at the Magnolia Hotel specializes in local ingredients, including fresh seafood. Photo Sandra Thomas

As we discovered, there’s a reason this elegant, yet unpretentious, hotel has been recognized as both top hotel in Canada and top luxury hotel in Canada by TripAdvisor in the Traveler’s Choice Awards. 

If you go:

You can enjoy fireworks every Saturday night until Sept. 1 at Butchart Gardens. Photo Butchart Gardens

The Butchart Gardens

Every Saturday night throughout Sept. 1, visitors to Butchart Gardens can enjoy spectacular fireworks shows accompanied by choreographed music. Live entertainment takes place at the garden three hours prior to the fireworks shows. And did you know you can take a boat tour from Butchart Gardens? Tours from the gardens depart every 15 minutes from the wharf in Butchart Cove. To check out a complete schedule of event, visit

Note: the World Federation of Rose Societies, held every three years, recently recognized Butchart Gardens with an award of excellence and a commemorative plaque at their recent conference.

Saanich Fair
The Yo-Yo takes riders high above the crowds at last year's Saanich Fair. Photo Darren Stone, Times Colonist

Saanich Fair 150th anniversary

Sept. 1 to 3

Drop by the Saanich Fair to celebrate Western Canada's oldest agricultural fair. Enjoy live music, dance performances, eating contests, auction/raffle draw, rides and concerts, including 54-40 and the Chris Buck Band.

The Rifflandia Festival brings dozens of popular musical performers to Victoria. Photo Darren Stone, Times Colonist

Rifflandia Music Festival

 Sept. 13 to 16
The eleventh-annual Rifflandia Festival features  a diverse lineup of artists across numerous stages, all within walking distance of Victoria’s historic downtown. This year’s lineup includes dozens of popular performers, including JessieReyez, Daniel Caesar, Lights, the Zolas, Hey Ocean! and more.

Getting there:

The V2V luxury ferry takes about three-and-a-half hours between Vancouver and Victoria, leaving plenty of time to take photos of the beautiful Georgia Straight. Photo Sandra Thomas

V2V Vacations is a luxury ferry that offers daily service between downtown Victoria and downtown Vancouver.