Victoria is justifiably famous for several things – mild weather, beautiful harbour, historic architecture – but doesn’t get nearly enough credit for its amazing beaches. With the city occupying an entire peninsula in the southeastern corner of Vancouver Island, it has a lot of coastline, and that coastline has a lot of beaches. During the warm summer months these beaches get packed with families and sunbathers but they are well worth visiting all year-round for the scenery and atmosphere.
Each one has its own unique personality and list of highlights so we made a list to help you narrow it down. Or you could just visit them all, I don’t know your schedule.
In our opinion, these are the 7 best beaches close to downtown Victoria, each with their main claim to fame:
Victoria Beaches Map
Best Beaches in Victoria BC
Gonzales Beach – Best Sheltered Beach
This cute little beach occupies a pretty crescent on a small bay, backed by rows of impressive homes. The beach is nice and sandy although there are a few clusters of driftwood that cut into the sunbathing space but provide a little ambience for the adults and exploration for the kids. The sheltered bay makes it an excellent spot for swimming and even skimboarding when the tide is right. Of course, anyone considering a visit to Gonzales Beach should pay attention to the Victoria tide charts because the beach itself almost disappears at high tide. It is much easier to find a good spot when the tide is at least partially out.
The small parking lot has public washroom facilities and there are both stairs and a ramp leading down to the beach. Dogs are not allowed on the beach in summer (Jun 1 – Aug 31) but are allowed off-leash the rest of the year.
How to get to Gonzales Beach
Gonzales Beach is in the Fairfield neighbourhood just east of downtown Victoria, off Crescent Road near the south end of Foul Bay Road. Access to the parking lot is slightly west, off the south end of Richmond Road.
Willows Beach – Best Swimming Beach
Willows Beach features shallow, protected water which is perfect for swimming, especially for kids. The beach here is wider and has a mix of sand, gravel and driftwood, offering a little something for everyone (although the gravel parts always end up feeling less appreciated). It is a great place for a leisurely walk at low tide and the calm waters are also popular with kayakers, paddle boarders and skimboarders. Even if you don’t have paddle board of your own, South Island SUP will actually deliver a board to you at the beach through their mobile SUP rental service. Skimboarders prefer the shallower sections at either end of the beach.
Be prepared, though, Willows Beach is very popular and can get packed on nice days and any summer weekend. It has a full complement of facilities, including a walkway, playground, picnic tables, grass park, washrooms, change rooms and even a concession stand (watch out for big lineups in summer, though).
Every year on the first weekend of June, Willows Beach hosts the Oak Bay Tea Party, a festival of shows, games, rides and parade. Like Mardi Gras, but without the beads, nudity, alcoholism or Americans.
How to Get to Willows Beach
Willows Beach is located in Oak Bay, just off Beach Drive. It is about a 15-minute drive east from downtown Victoria and the parking lot can be found at the end of Dalhousie Street.
Cadboro-Gyro Beach – Best Family Beach
This beach also has the best name and the best giant sea serpent, making it a real triple threat. Yes, this is the only place in the world where you can see a giant “Cadborosaurus”, even if it is just a colourful replica snaking its way through the children’s play area of Gyro Park. Whether or not the cadborosaurus, named for the most famous sighting here in Cadboro Bay, is real or not is still up for debate. Over the past two centuries there have been hundreds of reported sightings, confusing carcasses and First Nations folklore regarding these elusive sea creatures. While some feel the sheer volume of anecdotal evidence proves their existence, less convinced scientists suggest these sightings actually represent a wide variety of different fish and sea mammals that only seem similar because of the basic nature of the descriptions, citing Conger eels, oarfish, basking sharks and even humpback whales as most likely. Wherever you stand on the debate, however, nothing is stopping you from climbing aboard Cadboro-Gyro Park’s giant, plastic depiction.
Of course, there is more to the playground than “Caddie”, as the kids can also enjoy a giant octopus, giant salmon or, for those more about the adrenalin than hyperbolic sea life, there is an exciting zip-line. There is also a large grassy area where people play frisbee and soccer, plenty of trees for shade and tennis courts nearby.
As for the beach itself, it is long and sandy with tremendous views across Cadboro Bay to the Juan de Fuca Strait and, on a clear day, as far as the Olympic Mountains in Washington. Of course, it has the requisite collection of driftwood to check out, some rocky bluffs to explore at low tide and the small cove is often used to teach sailing classes.
Along with the standard picnic areas and public washrooms, Gyro Beach has a large parking area, boat launch (non-motorized craft only) and the whole area is wheelchair accessible. Just down the block, Gyro Beach Boards rents out paddle boards and offers tours and lessons.
Dogs are allowed on leashes on the grass and paths year-round. They are not allowed on the beach at all from May 1 – Sep 30, but the rest of the year it’s a free-for-all (i.e. leashes optional).
How to Get to Gyro Beach
About 7.5 kilometres northeast of downtown Victoria at the end of either Sinclair Road or Penrhyn Street.
Ross Bay Pebbles Beach – Best Beach for Solitude
Ross Bay is the spot if you are looking for a beach right in the city but could do without the crowds. There is great walking along the Dallas Road Waterfront Trail and spectacular views over the Juan de Fuca Strait, especially on a wild, stormy day when the crashing waves can be mesmerizing.
So, why is this amazing find likely to be empty when nearby Gonzales Beach is so popular? Two reasons: 1) it doesn’t really have any sand, as you may have guessed from the name. 2) It is not a great place for swimming, what with all the dangerous waves and menacing rocks. Which makes it a lousy place to settle in with the family for the day but an outstanding choice for long, contemplative walks to analyze your place in the universe away from the distractions of daily life. Then, once you’ve figured out the meaning of life you can just head over to Gonzales Beach to work on your tan.
Ross Bay Pebbles Beach doesn’t have much in the way of facilities, just a small set of washrooms just across the road next to Ross Bay Cemetery.
How to Get to Ross Bay Pebbles Beach
From downtown Victoria, just follow Dallas Road until you reach the parking area at Clover Point. If it is full, there are also a few spots along St. Charles Street.
Best beaches Near Victoria BC
These little gems are all within a short drive of downtown Victoria and offer a little more variety to your beach hopping excursions.
Esquimalt Lagoon Beach – Best Driftwood Sculptures
This unusual spot features a calm, bird-filled lagoon protected from the ocean by a narrow spit of land (officially the Coburg Peninsula) with a road, a few parking spots and a thin line of sand littered with all manner of driftwood. We think this is the most interesting beach Victoria has to offer. Much of this driftwood has been repurposed by local artist Paul Lewis into dozens of driftwood sculptures, most of them impressive likenesses of different birds, one more bizarrely resembling a fictional troll under a bridge. Worth seeing, in both cases.
Hundreds of different bird species frequent Esquimalt Lagoon because the shallow, protected water is the perfect place for young birds to work on their fishing skills under relatively less dangerous circumstances. A “twitcher’s” playground, for sure.
There are also a couple interesting hikes through the old growth forest on either side of the lagoon, including one to the Magna Carta tree, one of the largest and oldest Douglas firs on the island at 2 metres across and 800 years young.
The views across the Juan de Fuca Strait are as terrific as you’ve probably come to expect from the area and, let’s see, what else? Oh, did I mention there is an actual castle? Seriously, sitting right there at the top of a lush, green slope next to the lagoon is historic Hatley Castle, a National Historic Site and occasional Hollywood star (X-Men, Deadpool, among others). And only a few minutes back up the road is Fort Rodd Hill historic site and the phenomenal Fisgard Lighthouse ($8 pp or included with a Canada Discovery Pass).
So, if all that hasn’t convinced you, there is also a pretty sweet Japanese garden, so hopefully that seals the deal. Check it out.
How to Get to Esquimalt Lagoon
From downtown Victoria it is about 15 km / 25 min. Take Highway 1/Trans-Canada west to the Colwood exit, which takes you to Highway 1A/Old Island Highway, follow it south to Ocean Boulevard, take a left and follow it all the way to the lagoon (you really can’t miss it). Depending on where you leave from, you could also take Craigflower Road west out of the city and it eventually turns into Highway 1A.
Witty’s Lagoon Beach – Best Waterfall
Witty’s Lagoon features Sitting Lady Falls, definitely the best waterfall this close to downtown Victoria, and one of many great waterfalls on the island. Just a few hundred metres walk in from the parking area, these picturesque falls can be enjoyed from a couple of different viewpoints. From there, two nice trails lead around either side of the placid lagoon, once again extremely popular with a shocking number of different birds. The main walk to the beach is about a kilometre long through more old growth forest and the beach itself features some nice picnic areas, accessible washrooms and the standard amazing views (including Race Rocks Lighthouse, the southern-most point in British Columbia).
The lagoon is surprisingly popular with skimboarders when the tide is right and the hike around the far side (or across the mouth of the lagoon at low tide) boasts some pretty special views of Tower Point, its rocky coves and the Haystock Islets just offshore that are often surrounded by groups of harbour seals.
How to Get to Witty’s Lagoon
Roughly 20 km and 30 min from downtown Victoria, you follow the same directions as to Esquimalt (the Trans-Canada to Highway 1A/Old Island Highway), but instead of turning onto Ocean Road continue on for another couple minutes and take a left on Metchosin Road instead. Follow this scenic little road for about 8 km until you see the Witty’s Lagoon Nature Centre sign, right across the road from Metchosin Golf Club.
Thetis Lake Beach – Best Freshwater Beach
Located just outside the city off Highway 1, Thetis Lake Park is one of Victoria’s most popular recreation areas and one of the best lakes in Victoria. Hikers and bikers love these forests, hills and swamps year-round, while families and lake lovers flock to the beach in the warm summer months. The nice, pebbly sand beach is different from all the other ocean beaches on this list, as it is located on a relatively calm, freshwater lake with warmer water more suitable for swimming and boating. It is also much easier to find shelter from the sun and/or wind among the trees.
With a few interesting little islands, Thetis Lake (also referred to as Lower Thetis Lake) is great for kayaking, canoeing or paddle boarding, not to mention plenty of good photos ops. If you find the main beach a bit too crowded for your liking (on, say, any weekend between June and September) there lots of quieter spots nearby if you aren’t worried about getting a prime spot on the best sand.
Besides the beach, the entire area is gorgeous, full of looming forest and cute little inlets on both Upper and Lower Thetis Lakes. There is a wide variety of hiking trails scattered throughout the area, some flat and easy walks around the lakes, others slightly challenging climbs to outstanding viewpoints (Seymour Hill has particularly great views and is only about 15 minutes off the main lake path).
The main beach is just a short walk from the main parking lot and has public washrooms, picnic areas and a boat launch, but no lifeguards. Dogs are banned from the beach and picnic areas from Jun 1 – Sep 15 but are allowed on leashes the rest of the year. You also have to pay for parking in the summer months.
How to Get to Thetis Lake
It is only around 10 km and 20 min from downtown Victoria. Follow the Trans-Canada/Highway 1 out of the city and take a right on the Colwood exit. Then follow the Old Island Highway/1A for a few kilometres until you reach Six Mile Road. Take a right onto this and it will lead you directly to the park entrance.
Other Great Beaches You May Want to Explore
A few other good choices of beaches in and around Victoria include Island View Beach, Cordova Bay Beach, and Beaver Lake Beach. From 1-2 hours away from the city along the west Coast there are also a wonderful array of wild ocean beaches to choose from, each with their own personality. Family-friendly French Beach has a great picnic and play area, while quiet Sandcut Beach is known for its adorable little beach waterfall. You can reach Iron Mine Bay beach after a short hike in East Sooke Park. Jordan River is a hardcore surfing spot but there is also a decent beach at low tide. Farther along you can check out beautiful China Beach or tackle the rugged 4 km hike to visit a much larger beach waterfall at Mystic Beach. Surfer favourite Sombrio Beach features a spectacular hidden waterfall, and the amazing tide pools of Botanical Beach are fascinating to explore.
Maybe because there are so many great Victoria beaches to choose from they aren’t really discussed enough. But beach lovers are truly spoiled for choice in this exceptionally scenic area, offering a little something for everyone, from traditional sunbathing to vibrant lagoons to intriguing driftwood collections. If you have the time, it is well worth visiting them all to see which one fits you best.
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