We’ve visited Vancouver Island countless times, but somehow it still feels like we haven’t uncovered all that this little slice of BC paradise has to offer. It’s been our mission in recent trips to step outside of the ordinary and experience new regions, try new restaurants, and explore beaches and parks we had yet to visit. Enter the Pacific Marine Circle Route! This wild, South Vancouver Island loop is a one to five day road trip with 300 kilometres of beautiful Pacific coastline, immaculate lakes, sweeping beaches, and lush forests. There’s no better way to explore the area, which is full of incredible local gems that shouldn’t be missed. We jumped at the chance to bring Ollie on his first official multi-day road trip, and we loved every minute of it!
We want to take you with us on the perfect five day journey along the Pacific Marine Circle Route - follow along to get a taste of this beautiful region. The best part? You can get through this loop quickly, or you can really take your time and stop whenever you feel inspired. There is something for everyone, from quaint restaurants and cafes, to farms, B&B’s, boutiques and wineries. Immerse yourself in the quiet peacefulness of the island lifestyle - there’s no place quite like it.
Journey to the island: BC Ferries
Our typical (and favourite!) mode of transportation from Vancouver to Vancouver Island is via BC Ferries, and this trip was no exception. This beautiful, 90 minute journey across the Strait of Georgia will take you on a scenic route through some of the lovely Gulf Islands. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife…if you’re really lucky, you might see some seals, otters, or even whales and dolphins! After arriving at Swartz Bay, we drove the quick, 35 minute drive into Victoria, and began our visit to the island by exploring BC’s capital.
Day 1: Victoria to Cowichan Bay
54.8 km - 51 min
First stop: Goldstream Park
After a few days spent enjoying the scenic sights, sounds and tastes of Victoria, we headed towards the Cowichan Valley. Our first stop along the way was at Goldstream Provincial Park - an old favourite of ours, but a place that’s so beautiful in every season that it keeps us coming back time and time again. Goldstream has several trails throughout the park, including our favourite hike that leads to an old, abandoned railway trestle. There are trails that bring you through lush forest glades, (with some towering trees dating back over 600 years!), along the river, (known for its annual fall salmon run), and to stunning waterfalls etched out of moss and fern covered cliffs. There are also campsites, if you feel like an extra overnight adventure! We strapped Ollie in his carrier and hiked to the Goldstream Trestle, and made sure to stop at the beautiful Niagara Falls before continuing on our way.
Second stop: Merridale Cidery & Distillery
From Goldstream Park we travelled North along the Trans-Canada Highway into the Cowichan region for a visit to Merridale Cidery & Distillery. As we pulled in, we were struck by how idyllic Merridale felt with its sun-dappled meadows of blossoming apple trees and fields of yellow dandelions. Here we spent a few blissful hours enjoying lunch in their farm house while overlooking the orchard, sipping apple ciders and meandering through the fields with Ollie in our arms. If you’ve never been here - now’s the time to go. We recommend a glass of their apple juice, (or take a bottle to go!), and their pecan mushroom burger.
Third stop: Kinsol Trestle
We decided it was a trestle kind of day, so next we headed west along Renfrew Road toward the historic Kinsol Trestle in Koksilah River Provincial Park. This spectacular, previously abandoned wooden trestle is one of the highest railway trestles in the world, and now serves as a pedestrian crossing over the Koksilah River. It's a great opportunity to take a beautiful stroll along a piece of the Trans Canada Trail - this amazing structure is worth the visit!
Fourth Stop: Bridgeman's Bistro
We worked up quite the appetite and headed back to Mill Bay to enjoy dinner at Bridgeman's Bistro, (a garden salad and local salmon for Brie and smoked chicken carbonara for Reuben, with a side of steamed veggies for Ollie!), while overlooking the marina at sunset. We had the most incredible view of the Saanich Inlet and Mt. Baker from their outdoor seating area - Mill Bay was definitely showing off that night! If you're looking for a place to enjoy a west coast view with your dinner - this is definitely it.
Home for the night: The Farm Table Inn
Next up, we drove towards the Cowichan Valley to our accommodations for the night - the sweet little B&B called the Farm Table Inn. We had just enough daylight left for a walk on the farm to visit the chickens, have a chat with the farm's lovely owners, and to meet Oliver the cat.
The Farm Table Inn is a charming B&B where the term "farm to table" takes on a true meaning. Owners Evelyn and George have poured their heart and souls into this endeavour, and George fondly shared his dreams of expanding their farm. Vegetables, eggs, and freshly smoked meats are just a few of the things that George serves in their restaurant that come right from their farm, (expect a gourmet breakfast if you stay there!), and everything that they can’t get directly from their farm, they source from local vendors. We felt so lucky to have such a delightful end to our first day on the road.
Day 2: Cowichan Bay to Port Renfrew
100.8km - 1 hr 51 min
After an amazing sleep in the comfiest bed at the Farm to Table Inn, we were treated to an incredible homemade breakfast. We dined on fresh eggs while chickens wandered outside the window (much to Ollie’s delight!). We checked out and said goodbye to our new friends, but not without first taking a tasty picnic lunch with us to enjoy on the road.
First stop: Westholme Tea Farm
Little known fact: there are only TWO tea farms in all of North America. One is in Hawaii, and the other is the Westholme Tea Farm in Duncan, BC. Hard to believe! Nicknamed “The Warm Land” by the Coast Salish People, the fertile landscape in this area creates a unique micro-climate that fosters the growth of camellia sinensis-tea plants. We felt so lucky to be able to tour such a unique place, to learn about how tea is harvested from their plants, to taste a myriad of different types of teas sourced from all over the world, and to even eat freshly picked tea buds pulled right off their plants. The remarkable space at Westholme not only sells their amazing selection of teas and delicious tea-infused baked goods in a cafe like setting overlooking the garden, but it also serves as a studio for co-owner Margit’s pottery.
Second stop: Lizard Lake and Fairy Lake
We continued our adventure west across the island on Highway 18 towards Port Renfrew, first stopping at beautiful Lizard Lake to enjoy our picnic lunch on the dock in the sunshine. Next up on the drive - don't forget to stop at Fairy Lake to marvel at the famous and captivating "bonsai" tree! Perched on a partially submerged log in the middle of the lake, you'll find a perfectly tiny Douglas Fir. Thought to be 30-40 years old, this mini tree has never been able to find the resources to grow more than a few feet tall - such a picturesque sight demonstrating nature's will for growth and survival.
Third stop: Avatar Grove
Our first stop in the Port Renfrew area was to Avatar Grove, an old growth rainforest full of massive firs and cedars. To be honest we weren’t sure what to expect - we’ve seen all sorts of west coast forests before and they’re ALL beautiful...how could this be a standout? After driving the bumpy, gravel logging road to get there, we climbed the stairs into the forest and were literally transported into a fairy land. This forest is like no other. Dwarfed by giant, old growth trees, we wandered over babbling brooks with sing-song birds chirping a soundtrack to our fairytale. Sunlight streamed through the canopy, and Ollie kept squealing for no reason other than total happiness. And yes, Avatar Grove is also home to Canada’s “gnarliest” tree.
Home for the night: The Wild Renfrew
The Wild Renfrew is a resort located in Port Renfrew with a collection of waterfront cottages, each boasting incredible ocean views and access to a private beach. The cozy cottage we stayed in was so homey and peaceful - it even had its own outdoor fireplace! After exploring the beach with Ollie and eating a delicious meal at the nearby Renfrew Pub, (the local salmon burger is sooo good - highly recommend!), we put Ollie to bed and lit a fire to stay warm while we watched the stars. (Thank goodness for baby monitors!)
Day 3: Port Renfrew to Sooke
70.9km - 1 hr 12 min
Waking up at the Wild Renfrew was an experience. We grabbed coffees from a local cafe and sipped them out on the deck, watching as the sun rose over the ocean and seals played in the waves. We’ll be honest, it wasn’t easy to leave this place!
First stop: Botanical Beach
There is no better way to start the day than with a hike, and the Botanical Beach Loop did just the trick. Botanical Beach is stunning in its own right, but is made especially unique by the extensive tide pools that can be explored during lower tides. These circular pools are like their own mini aquariums, teeming with sea life. If you pick your times right and explore Botanical Beach at low tide, this is one of the best places on the west coast to view marine life up close. Each pool has its own delicate ecosystem full of plants and animals that have adapted to survive the harshest conditions. Just remember to look, and not touch!
Second stop: Sombrio Beach
Next up - a visit to one of our absolute favourite areas along the Juan de Fuca Trail - Sombrio Beach. This beach has everything a west coast beach should have. A walk through the forest, long stretches of sand, and relentless rolling waves often frequented by surfers. Perhaps our favourite thing about Sombrio is the hidden waterfall that can only be accessed from the beach. Nestled in a small cavern with rock walls covered in vibrant green moss, this has got to be one of the coolest waterfalls we’ve ever seen. (And we’ve seen a lot!)
Third stop: Shirley Delicious
We never visit Juan de Fuca Provincial Park without going to one of the best cafes on the island: Shirley Delicious. In all our travels, this still remains one of our most loved spots - it CANNOT be missed! Located in the tiny town of Shirley, (seriously tiny, blink and you’ll miss it), this quaint cafe is always bustling with people. From their mouth-watering freshly baked goods, sandwiches, and hot drinks to the friendly chats with their staff - this spot is an experience in itself.
Fourth stop: Sheringham Distillery
Next stop, a tour and tasting with the rad local distillery, Sheringham Distillery. Established in 2015 by former chef Jason MacIsaac and partner Alayne, Sheringham Distillery uses unique local ingredients to make the most delicious small batch craft spirits. (Including their internationally award winning Seaside Gin - somehow they’ve managed to capture the magic of Vancouver Island’s coast in a bottle). We loved learning about how they produce, bottle and label their products all on site, (talk about legit use of the word “craft”), and hearing about their passion for developing new spirits. Make sure to stop by if you’re in the area!
Home for the night: Prestige Oceanfront Resort
We decided to spend the night at the Prestige Oceanfront Resort in Sooke. Set just above the Strait of Juan de Fuca and with views of the Pacific Ocean and Olympic Mountains, this resort has an incredible location. There’s a full service spa, an on-site seafood restaurant called the West Coast Grill, (with great calamari!) an outdoor terrace for lounging or sitting by the fire while enjoying a drink, and the resort itself is only a short drive away from some of the best beaches on the island. Come here if you want to be pampered, or if you're looking for a great home base for your adventures.
Day 4: Sooke to Sidney
58.3km - 55 min
First stop: Little Vienna Bakery, Café and Marketplace and The Stick in the Mud Coffee House
Mornings are usually pretty slow for us, unless we get coffee and adventure fuel first. So to the Stick in the Mud Coffee House we went! This little coffee outpost is a super cute spot with delicious coffee, homemade baked goods, and lovely service. We took our americanos to go and went around the corner to Little Vienna Bakery for breakfast sandwiches (great veggie and gluten free options here!) and the yummiest yogurt parfaits with homemade granola.
Second stop: East Sooke Park
Oh, heavenly place. The day we explored Sooke started off dreary - overcast, windy, and a little on the cooler side. When we arrived at East Sooke Park, we bundled up in toques and jackets and set off on the trail to Creyke Point. By the time we got to the beach, light was dancing on the waves - it was calm and sheltered from the wind, and sunshine broke through the gloom. The view blew us away! The trail was lush with greenery and had ocean views on either side, and little paths jutted out from the trail and led down to the beaches below. There are over 50km of trails in East Sooke Park, through forest and along the coast, so there is something here for everyone. We're excited to come back in the summertime to explore some more, and so Ollie can play in the sand.
Third stop: Urban Bee Honey Farm
For something a little bit different, our next visit was to the Urban Bee Honey Farm, a lovely establishment owned and run by former Vancouverites Jason and Lindsay. We enjoyed a tour from Jason where we heard all about their hives, how they raise their bees and harvest their honey, and where the business is hoping to go in the near future. Their space currently houses a small coffee shop with delicious baked goods, local crafts, and of course, LOTS of local honey for purchase. Best of all? All their local honeys are set up for tasting, and make no mistake, we tried them ALL and picked our favourites to take home. (Their local Fireweed honey is out of this world!) Jason shared with us their plans for setting up gardens, animal pens and picnic areas on the property by this summer - it’s such a cool and unique place to visit, we can’t wait to go back!
Fourth stop: Victoria Distillers
Have you ever seen purple gin before? We hadn’t either, but we’d heard about Victoria Distillers' famous and award winning Empress 1908 Gin that boasts a pretty violet hue. Visiting Victoria Distillers was a neat surprise, (did you know how beautiful and impressive the equipment is for making spirits?) and we got to see the process of making their gin. Turns out, it’s micro-distilled in small batch copper-pot stills, and is hand crafted using all-natural botanicals. It’s the ingredient known as butterfly tea blossom that turns it such a vibrant purple! Besides making their spirits on-site at their stunning Sidney waterfront location, Victoria Distillers also offers tastings and tours, and has a beautiful bar and cocktail lounge that serves their delicious and inventive drinks.
Home for the night: Sidney Pier Hotel & Spa
Lovely Sidney by the Sea. We’ve often passed through Sidney on our way to the ferry and loved our visits, but we’ve never spent so much quality time here. The Sidney Pier Hotel and Spa was the PERECT place to spend the night. Our spectacular room had massive windows and a balcony overlooking the ocean, and we were conveniently located right in the heart of town. We were ready to move right in, or at least extend our stay! We dined at Haro’s, the hotel's delicious, west-coast style restaurant, (we recommend the halibut burger, yum), and loved being so close to the pier.
Day 5: Sidney
First stop: a wander through the town of Sidney by the Sea
Mornings in Sidney are blissful. Quiet, peaceful, and scenic - there isn’t really anything more you could ask for. We walked over to Quince Cafe and Ice Cream for some delicious coffee, and strolled along the pier in the sunshine. No visit to Sidney is complete without a stop at Tanner’s Books and Buddies Toys, or a browse through the shops on Beacon Ave.
Second stop: 3rd Street Cafe
Brunch! 3rd Street Cafe is a bustling Sidney staple, and is a fave local spot for eggs bennies. Located right on Beacon ave it can’t be missed - make sure this spot is on your Sidney to-do list! This is a small restaurant so if you’re planning to go on a weekend, get there early or expect a lineup.
Third stop: Mosi Bakery Cafe and Gelateria
After our first ferry was delayed due to weather, we jumped for joy…cause who wants to go home, anyway?! This meant we could finally try a spot we’ve been dying to visit - Mosi Bakery Cafe and Gelateria. Ohhh this place. Located in a quaint little building in a quiet area of Saanich, this Italian-style bakery has heavenly baked goods that will make your mouth water instantly. Mosi Bakery serves delicious breakfast, Sunday brunch, lunch, and pizza nights on Fridays and Saturdays. Their handmade gelato is incredibly creamy, combining both authentic Italian and locally sourced ingredients - some of the best we’ve had outside of Italy. (Dying for some more of their mint chip, Saanich citrus and pistacho gelato). Delicioso!
Journey home: BC FERRIES
Tired, happy and with hearts full of gratitude, we made the journey back home to Vancouver with BC Ferries. Five jam-packed days filled with incredible food, lovely hospitality, insanely beautiful sights, and memories to last a lifetime. The Pacific Marine Circle Route offers such a unique island experience, we can’t recommend it enough!
THIS POST IS IN PAID PARTNERSHIP WITH DESTINATION GREATER VICTORIA.
ALL PHOTOS IN THIS BLOG POST WERE TAKEN AND EDITED BY BRIE & REUBEN OF VANCITYWILD. ALL OPINIONS ARE OUR OWN.