My husband and I recently returned from our first trip to British Columbia: 3 nights in Abbotsford visiting relatives, followed by 2 nights in Victoria and 3 nights in Vancouver for sightseeing. We loved BC! Many thanks to all the posters on the Trip Advisor site whose info helped us have a fantastic, relaxing trip filled with excellent sightseeing. Our trip report:
Day 1 – Flight from Chicago arrived at Vancouver Airport in mid-afternoon. Although there was a fair amount of walking to get from the arrival area to border control to baggage claim to car rental desk, the airport itself was easy to navigate. Getting OUT of the airport in our rental car was another matter altogether…. Maybe it was the difference between Canadian and American signage, but we found navigating this very confusing, despite our familiarity with city driving. Once out of the airport, we drove to Abbotsford, where we checked into the Best Western Marshall Inn and Conference Centre. Enjoyed dinner at Rendezvous Restaurant with our relatives.
Day 2 – Our relatives took us on a day trip to Harrison Hot Springs. We enjoyed strolling along the scenic shore of the huge mountain lake and browsing the stalls of the annual arts festival. Great spot for people-watching. On the way back to Abbotsford, we stopped at one of the many local berry farm stands and picked up some delicious blueberries and raspberries.
Day 3 – After morning church services, our relatives took us on another day trip, to White Rock. There, we enjoyed lunch at the Boat House Restaurant, which offered great food and a fantastic view of the waterfront. Even on an overcast day, strolling out to the pier on the boardwalk was pleasant, as well as being another good people-watching vantage point. On the way back to Abbotsford, our relatives showed us a local oddity: Zero Avenue, a road which runs directly along the Canada – U.S. border. It was surreal to drive along with the U.S. on our right and Canada on our left.
Day 4 – Departed Abbotsford and drove to the BC Ferry terminal at Tsawwassen for the crossing to Victoria. We’d made reservations, and so were boarded and offloaded first, which was a time-saver. We had chosen to cross via the Tsawwassen – Swartz Bay route because we’d heard it was more scenic, and we were not disappointed. The route wound around through a series of forested islands – gorgeous! The huge ferry itself, the “Coastal Celebration,” was interesting also, as we’d never been on a ferry of that size. Upon arrival on Vancouver Island, made the 30-minute drive into Victoria and located our hotel, the Coast Harbourside (see separate hotel review), where we had a lovely corner room with a view of the outer harbour (I was so impressed with the entire experience that I’m now spelling in Canadian!) Lunched in the hotel’s Blue Crab Restaurant. Fantastic food, great service, and breathtaking view of the boat and seaplane traffic in the harbour. Walked into downtown area via scenic path along the seawall. (This walk was so convenient and enjoyable that we never did take our car out of the hotel parking.) Enjoyed strolling around the beautiful waterfront – flowers everywhere you looked! Stopped at the Empress for photos. Took the harbour ferry tour, which was a lot of fun – great tour guide, wonderful views of the city, and we ended up having the small boat all to ourselves. Had a nice dinner at the Sticky Wicket Pub. Strolled back to the hotel along the seawall, stopping on a bench along the way to enjoy the sunset.
Day 5 – In a.m., took the gorge river tour. This is a companion to the harbour tour that we’d taken the previous day; showing our receipt from the first tour got us a discount on the second. Had lunch at Barb’s Place on the wharf; great fresh fish & chips and people watching in the open air dining area. In afternoon, took a whale-watching trip through Orca Spirit, which was located within our hotel and left from the hotel marina. We’d chosen to go on a boat that offered both indoor and outdoor seating, and we really enjoyed the open-air experience on the upper deck. We did see whales, or at least their dorsal fins as they broke the surface (how shocking to learn that they don’t actually spring fully from the water on cue within easy range of your camera¸ as per all of the various companies’ advertisements!!) Also saw a large number of harbour seals and water fowl. Afterwards, strolled back into town and enjoyed dinner on the Local Kitchen Restaurant’s outdoor seating on Bastion Square.
Day 6 – Checked out of the Coast Harbourside and headed for Butchart Gardens. We arrived around 9:30 a.m. I would recommend such an early arrival for anyone wanting to avoid crowds. Also, if you have the choice, try to go, as we did, on a day when there are no cruise ships in port; this also helps reduce the crowding (thank you, Trip Advisor posters, for that bit of info!) The Gardens really have to be seen to be believed; they are absolutely gloriously beautiful, and were a bonanza for a shutterbug like me. After spending about 4 hours (it would have been easy to stay longer) exploring and having lunch in the Blue Poppy Restaurant, we drove the rest of the way to Swartz Bay and caught the ferry back to Tsawwassen. From there, we navigated into Vancouver and located our hotel, the Sunset Inn & Suites (see separate hotel review). After settling in, we walked 3 blocks to English Bay, where we soaked up the atmosphere of the early evening beach activity and the great view of the city skyline silhouetted against the mountains. We walked along the beach to Denman Street, where we found and enjoyed Maria’s, a Greek restaurant recommended by the hotel desk clerk.
Day 7 – We took a day trip to Whistler, traveling along the Sea to Sky Highway. This route offered spectacular views of the islands off BC’s west coast. At Whistler, took the gondola to the top, from which we rode the record-setting Peak 2 Peak Gondola, which connects the peaks of Whistler and Blackcomb. Even for a bona-fide height-fearer like me, this was a not-to-be-missed experience. The views were awe-inspiring. We enjoyed it so much that we made the round trip between the peaks twice (our pass allowed for unlimited trips while we were atop the mountain), with one crossing being in a glass-bottomed gondola. Had lunch, with a great view of the valley, at Christine’s Restaurant atop Blackcomb. Enroute back to Vancouver, we visited the Capilano Suspension Bridge, which, while fun, was kind of anticlimactic after the Peak 2 Peak experience. Once back in Vancouver, we strolled from our hotel to Robson Street, where we found Moxie’s, a restaurant offering a varied menu and a second-floor terrace with great views of the city skyline and the street activity below.
Day 8 – Drove to Grouse Mountain in a.m. The gondola ride to the top offered spectacular views of the city below. At the top, we enjoyed the bear sanctuary and lumberjacking demonstration, as well as the breathtaking scenery. From there, we headed over to Stanley Park, where we had a great lunch on the terrace of the Fish House Restaurant. We parked our car and spent the afternoon hiking around various sections of the park, traveling between areas of interest via the park shuttle. (One caveat: keep careful track of the time remaining on your meter if you park; we failed to do so and ended up with a parking ticket!) In the evening, enjoyed a final BC dinner at Characters Restaurant on Davey.
Day 9 – Flight back to Chicago and return to the real world, with memories of a wonderful vacation!