My hands reek of fish as I pass them one at a time to my excitable daughter. She gleefully tosses the frozen treats into the Pacific Ocean for the seals to gobble up. As much as I'd like to, I can't complain. She's having a ball and I'm getting the family vacation I wanted.
If you're like me, when shopping for a family holiday, you're looking for value -- an inexpensive destination that's different enough from your hometown. Most importantly, it needs to be tolerable with tots in tow. That's why we often choose Victoria.
You can, of course, visit the obvious tourist attractions along Victoria's picturesque Inner Harbour and make the requisite trip to Buchart Gardens, which is particularly popular when in need of a bit of green. Some sites are worth it, but with a family it can quickly add up. Here are two favourite, affordable spots in and around the City of Gardens.
About a 15-minute drive away from downtown Victoria lies quaint Oak Bay. This collage of villages offers family activities that are off the beaten tourist path, yet well loved by locals.
In Estevan Village, you'll discover that tea time isn't just for old ladies in outlandish hats. At Crumsby's, kids can partake of the Children's Tea Party, which includes their beverage of choice in a teapot with mini cups and saucers and cupcakes served on a tray for $5. The café bursts with toys to occupy the younger set while grown-ups can sip their barista coffee and munch on raspberry spelt scones drizzled with agave while viewing the framed works of art on display by local children.
After tea, browse among the posh shops in the village, including Buddies Toys, a lovely independent toy store. If hunger strikes again, stroll over to Willows Galley for freshly fried seafood on the corner of Estevan and Dunlev. We took ours wrapped in newsprint to Willows beach just three blocks away for a picnic. With stunning views of the Olympic Mountains, including the dormant volcano, Mount Baker, families can while away the day along its shallow and protected waters or burn off energy in the shaded playground.
Then it's a quick walk or drive south on Beach Drive to the Oak Bay Marina. There, dads can gaze longingly at the sailboats and imagine life on the coast while moms and kids feed resident seals frozen fish from the marina freezer. If there's still time left in the day, head over to Oak Bay Avenue to peruse the quaint high street shops and galleries and cap it off with an antipasto platter at Ottavio's, voted Vancouver Island's best deli.
If you've been to the island, you've likely bypassed Sidney, the location of both the airport and ferry terminal. But this unpretentious seaside town is worth the stop, especially for families.
Kids will be hooked upon entry at the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre. Access requires descending in a tricked-out elevator that invokes a submarine being submerged into the sea.
The floor rumbles, lights flash and all the bells and whistles go off until a moment later you've arrived at sea level.
The aquarium, devoted to discovering the recently renamed Salish Sea, offers more than the usual tanks and fish feeding frenzy. Kids interact with the ocean through a number of different stations, including microscopes to watch minuscule marine life.
Across the street, pop into Mineral World and dig in their Scratch Patch for polished stones, or wander down Beacon Avenue and discover why Sidney is known as Canada's Booktown.
Head in the opposite direction towards the ocean to find the Satellite Fish Co. The invigorating, pungent smell of sea air slaps your face as you walk along the pier and into this fishmonger for daily fresh catches, including crab at reasonable prices.
These fishermen know how to pack for travel, so be sure to stock up here before flying home.
If you prefer your catch cooked, do as the locals do and eat at Fish on Fifth, a relaxed neighbourhood joint that welcomes families with high chairs and a kids' menu. There are options for fried or grilled fish, including wild salmon, and who doesn't love clam strips?
Stay at the family-run Cedarwood Motel, as our family has done for more than 30 years. Rates start at $95 for a basic room in off-season and rise to $229 in summer for a deluxe suite kitted out with a jet tub, fireplace and balcony overlooking the ocean.
-- Postmedia News