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Spend What’s Left of Summer on One of These Victoria Beaches

Spend What’s Left of Summer on One of These Victoria Beaches

When the temperature starts creeping into the 20s, there’s only one place Victorians want to go—the beach. Mercifully, Victoria doesn’t have just one city beach, but instead has dozens of bays and inlets with pebble beaches and sandy shores to choose from. 


Unlike other cities where beachfront is at a premium, you won’t find overcrowding on Victoria’s beaches. Residents aren’t piled on top of one another vying for space along a lone strip of beachfront; neighbouring towels aren’t at risk of touching; and your lungs will breathe in fresh sea air, not jet streams of airborne sunscreen from sunbathers around you. 

Already have a favourite go-to beach? Skip to the good stuff—we give you a selection of local books to read and songs to play, what takeout food packs well for a beach day, and a one-day and weekend-long itinerary for making the most of your loungin’ time.

So grab your towel, sunnies and flip flops—it’s beach time.


Oak Bay

Gonzales Beach

If you’re looking for the city’s best all around, tourist-attraction-level beach, this is it, and it’s only a 10-minute drive from the Parliament Buildings. After walking down the steep steps from Crescent Road into Gonzales Bay, you’ll see stately waterfront homes and Cape-Cod-esque cottages clinging to the rocks, framing the crescent-shaped beach in front of you. At ground level, the sand is soft, powdery (and clean!) and the beach has a long easy slope into clear water. The seaweed, kelp and mystery boat detritus is minimal, so the swimming here is actually really good, albeit brisk (but that’s the Pacific Ocean for you). Teens, young families, grandparents with good knees—everyone loves it here, and there are picnic tables and public washrooms so you can make a day of it. Dogs are allowed off-leash September through May, outside of the high-traffic summer months. And while there is a parking lot up top, it’s about the same size as the restrooms, so try and ride your bike down instead. 

Willows Beach

Oak Bay is one of Greater Victoria’s most affluent areas, and this well-maintained beach reflects that. Families might argue this is Victoria’s best beach because of its easy access and amenities. First off, it’s huge, with nice soft white sand and lots of it. The protected beach has a low-grade slope and the water is shallow, which is great for young kids. Plus, the gentle access makes it easier to pack in all the beach-day accoutrements. There are picnic tables, benches, change rooms and washrooms, and even a concession stand that’s open on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. From your perch, either on the grassy park or on your neighbour-free patch of sand, you can see Discovery Island, snow-capped Mount Baker, and all the stand-up paddleboarders falling off their boards. 

McNeill Beach

Not every beach is made for swimming, and that’s just fine. Off Beach Road between Gonzales and Oak Bay is McNeill Bay. You’ll know you’ve arrived at the right spot when you see a section of green railings and a short pitstop of sand and rocks below. The seawall-esque sidewalk with benches arching around the bay is a great location for sitting down with a coffee and the latest mystery novel page-turner. Dogs are allowed off-leash, so it’s a favourite for walks any time of year. There is even a pair of Adirondack chairs on the large rocks at the edge of McNeill Bay, so you can sit back in the sunshine and watch for otters and seals. The vibe here is quiet, peaceful and an ideal spot for “you time,” but there are still cool coastline features and oddities to check out if you want to get in a kayak and go explore. 

Saanich

Cadboro-Gyro Park

We’re creeping out of Victoria proper and up into Saanich, but this park is such a family-favourite and only a 20-minute(ish) drive from downtown that it’s worth mentioning. There’s a lot to do, on the beach and off. The low-sloping and soft sandy beach backs onto a park custom-designed for kids. Giant octopus and sea serpent sculptures are stars on the expansive beach-themed playground (complete with swings, a shipwreck and a zipline). There are also tennis courts, picnic areas (time to crack out the portable barbecue), washrooms and parking. Everything is wheelchair accessible, and there is a boat launch for small paddle boats, canoes and kayaks. You’re not too far from civilization either, as Cadboro Bay Village is just a few steps away.

Elk Lake/Beaver Lake 

A 20- to 30-minute drive north from downtown (depending on the traffic) gets you to Elk/Beaver Lake Park, which consists of two conjoined lakes: Elk Lake, the northernmost and larger of the two, and Beaver Lake to the south. At the bottom tip of Beaver Lake is a small, sandy beach for freshwater swimming, sunbathing, picnicking or launching your rickety ol’ canoe (it’s like a smaller-scale Thetis Lake). There are big picnic areas so you can have the beach barbecue party you’ve always wanted, and in the summer, the water can get up to 20 degrees, which sure beats a frosty dip in the ocean. Elk Lake is actually stocked with catchable rainbow trout, should you be feeling peckish (don’t forget you need a fishing licence to fish anywhere in B.C.). Elk’s Hamsterly Beach is also a popular spot for windsurfers on blustery days, which can be fun to watch (the jumps, the wipeouts!). 

James Bay/Cook Street

Holland Point Park

As you move east past the Ogden Point breakwater, you’ll come up on Holland Point Park and its rocky outcroppings and beaches. The same dog- and pedestrian-friendly pathways that move into Dallas Road start here, and there are multiple access points to get to little sandy coves and rocky outcroppings along the way. At Holland Point, take the stairs down to find some nice sheltered beach areas with big driftwood logs. It’s definitely a quiet, tucked-away landing that’s visited by locals living along this stretch. Its location can be a bit windy, but the big rock mounds are fun to scramble on and you really feel like you’re far away from the city. 

Fonyo Beach 

Farther east from Holland Point Park is Fonyo Beach. The cliffside path of Dallas Road sort of dips down and a paved trail takes you to the water. The paved areas and reinforced cement wall might detract from the natural feel ever so slightly, but for anyone with a stroller or mobility concerns, it’s nice to have a real beach opportunity that’s 100 per cent accessible, especially when so many of the other beaches off Dallas Road can only be accessed via a steep set of stairs. And there’s beach here, pebbly as it is, with lots of good-sized backrest logs for hunkering down with the crew. This is another area where the exposure means it can get windy, but in the sunshine you won’t care, and the wind-factor makes for great storm watching year-round. 

Dallas Road Beach / Spiral Beach / Clover Point Park 

A lot of people generally refer to this whole area hidden below the cliffs off Dallas Road with the catch-all of “Dallas Road Beach.” The Dallas Road Waterfront Trail, perhaps the city’s most scenic walk, snakes along up top; dogs run free and bound through the wheat grass, while Victorians stroll past wild pink rose bushes and those weathered pioneer-style Russell fences. Down below on Spiral Beach, or Dallas Road Beach, or Clover Point Park Beach, it’s a long and wide all-pebble stretch that traces the arcing coastline from Finlayson Point to Clover Point Park. There’s so much space and yet it feels so far away from the city. This is ground zero on sunny days for beach hangs and kicking back with a soda water, or tossing sticks into the ocean for your intrepid goldendoodle. The view is incredible: the ocean, the coastline. There’s often a paraglider or two bobbing in the wind and you can see all the way across to the Olympic Mountains south of the border.

Ross Bay

Love a beach with a spooky twist? Moving east from Dallas Road beaches is the next bay over, Ross Bay, which is a strip of pebbly beach that sits in front of Ross Bay Cemetery. This is a Victorian-era cemetery that dates back to 1873 and a few famous Canadians are buried here, including B.C.’s first governor, Sir James Douglas, the coal baron Robert Dunsmuir and artist Emily Carr. The rocky beach itself is long, and has that classic south shore view that reaches all the way to Port Angeles. It’s the perfect overlooked destination for walks or for reading on one of the many sidewalk benches. 

The No-Name Beach

This is a title we’re giving to all of the little beaches and rocky bays that are hidden off Beach Drive. This road wraps around the whole south-to-east portion of Victoria, and while it might seem that all coastline outside of the designated beaches and parks is occupied by waterfront homes, this is not the case. You just have to get on your bike and scan the waterfront area for dead-end roads, well-trodden paths, and small white public access signs that signal there’s a way down to the shore. Not all of these paths through spiky gorse thickets and rose bushes will pay off. Some will take you down 30 steep steps to smelly otter hangouts covered in crab carcasses, but others can lead to secret coves with tide pools, rocky outcroppings with epic views of the coastline and the city, or empty sand crescents fit for quick dips and sun naps. 


The Good Stuff

Itinerary 

One Day: Bike to Gonzales Beach. If it’s too busy, Willows is nearby and between the two, you’re bound to find a soft patch of sand to lie in. 

Weekend: Slow cruise along Beach Drive in the morning to Gonzales and Willows. Leisurely scout the area and take in your options along Beach Drive and Dallas Road for day two; there’s lots of little beaches, bays and rocky outcroppings to explore. Tomorrow head straight to your chosen spot and lounge the day away. 

Essentials

A beach mat or thick blanket is essential for buffering against the pebbles, along with sturdy-soled beach shoes (you can wear flip-flops, but it’s harder to stay upright walking on mountains of rocks). An umbrella is a misadventure waiting to happen, as a wind gust will immediately take it across the ocean to Washington—just double-down on the sunscreen, hats and sunglasses.

Local Soundtrack

The alternative synthpop band Hey Ocean! reunited to release last year’s The Hurt of Happiness, and Quadra Island’s indie rockers Mother Mother (most widely known for their hit “Touch Up,” which is still a great jam) just came out with a fresh album in November and are on tour now with Dance and Cry. And don’t forget about Victoria’s sweetheart Nelly Furtado. The Grammy-Juno-Britt award winner just performed her new single “Cold Hard Truth” on Seth Meyers’ Late Night and it is your new favourite catchy beat for cruising this summer. 

Beach Reads

Laurie Carter’s Emily Carr’s B.C.: Vancouver Island
Anny Scoones’s Island Home: Out and About on Vancouver Island
Harley Rustad’s Big Lonely Doug: The Story of One of Canada’s Last Great Trees

Food

Part and Parcel’s sandwiches are wrapped in brown paper and neatly tied with a string—the ciabatta bread holds up nicely even a few hours after purchase, making it a great option whether you’re biking or driving. If you’re headed to a beach along Dallas Road, grab wood-fired pizzas from Pizzeria Prima Strada to take with you. Dobosala’s iced coffee is made with dulce de leche, and if you get it to go, makes for a nice, cool treat while sitting beachside. 

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