10 hidden gems on Vancouver Island
From stunning secret beaches and hidden city gardens to waterfalls with deep potholes primed for jumping into and a regional farmers’ market which has goats on its roof (seriously), make the most of your time on Vancouver Island with our pick of the island’s hidden gems.
1. Gonzales Regional Hill Park
For beautiful views across Victoria and the stunning island coastline, head to the tiny Gonzales Regional Hill Park. On the edge of the city, this little peaceful patch is the highest point on Vancouver Island’s south coast and is home to a pretty, historic observatory building which was once an important weather station. Grab a spot on the observatory steps for the best seats in the house when the sun sets.
2. Bar Norcino
One of Vancouver Island’s literal hidden gems, you won’t find Bar Norcino on any map of Victoria. To find this small and secretive cocktail bar, you have to head to Curious Café and ask one of the bartenders for Bar Norcino. They’ll take you to the hidden door that ensures this prohibition era-inspired speakeasy stays tucked away from the public.
The deep, natural holes in the limestone underneath the Sooke River make scenic hikes here pretty special. Pack your swimsuits and cool off in the clear waters as the river cascades over a series of small waterfalls creating beautiful natural pools, or jump off the cliffs into the deep water-filled potholes below. Find them about an hours’ drive from Victoria.
4. Deep Bay Marine Field Station
The waters surrounding Vancouver Island are filled with marine life, from pods of orca whales and plenty of harbor seals to clams, oysters, crabs and salmon, making it home to some world-leading ocean research science projects. The Deep Bay Marine Field Station near Bowser is a working research station which is also open to the public. That means you can meet the scientists, get up close to some of the underwater creatures in their tanks and find out more about life offshore.
5. Old Country Market
If you’re in Nanaimo, follow the coast a little further up to Coombs for one of Vancouver Island’s best farmers’ markets. The Old Country Market has grown from a small fruit stand at the side of the road to a large and rustic collection of shops and eateries showcasing the region’s farm produce. Oh, and to add to the rustic vibes, you’ll often find goats grazing on the market’s grassy roof.
6. Fan-Tan Alley
When in Victoria, head to Fan-Tan Alley in Chinatown. Originally filled with gambling houses, this historic and super skinny street (it’s the narrowest in Canada) is now jam-packed with tiny independent shops selling clothing and jewellery, art galleries, Chinese cafés and restaurants.
7. Abkhazi Garden
Well-hidden from the street, the Abkhazi Garden is a tranquil oasis tucked away in the heart of Victoria. If the beautiful gardens filled with endangered Garry oak trees, Japanese maple trees and beds of colourful alpine flowers weren’t enough to tempt you to visit, the vintage tea room serving afternoon tea in the heritage house definitely deserves a place on your ‘must-visit’ list.
8. Hey Happy
Whether you would love a latte, covet a cappuccino or fancy a flat white, one of the best places to find quality coffee in Victoria is Hey Happy. This hip cafe is passionate about coffee and all of its complexities. They partner with various local businesses to provide customers with the freshest cup o’ joe. Feeling peckish? Grab a snack to enjoy with your coffee – this gem offers up pastries, yoghurts or sandwiches.
9. Mystic Beach
Mystic Beach is one of the best secret coastal spots on the south-west coast of the island. Located on the Juan de Fuca hiking trail, this beach is a 45-minute hike from the parking area at the start of the trail, keeping Mystic’s sandy shores, rope swing and small waterfall relatively crowd-free.
This quaint little seaside town is a great place to spend a few days for a contrasting Vancouver Island experience to the busy city of Victoria. Filled with little restaurants, shops and cafes, the town has heaps to entertain – it’s even known for having loads of historic and modern bookstores, despite its small size. With the Gulf Islands just a short hop away, grab a paddle and explore this beautiful stretch of coast by kayak.