The Seaside Touring Route
by John Luton

Victoria - Oak Bay - Saanich
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Mile Zero of a 40 km loop on roads and trails can be found at Victoria’s tiny rail station at the city’s landmark Johnson St. blue bridge. 

On the downtown side, facing Swan’s Hotel, where visitors can sample any number of “refreshments” brewed on the premises.  It would be remiss not to mention that the pub is probably second only to the city’s art gallery for the richness of its collection.  Collector Michael Williams who owned the hotel until his death two years ago, left his estate to the University of Victoria.  A word to the wise – a visit to Swans might best be scheduled post ride. 

The other side of the rail bridge is the beginning of the Galloping Goose multi-use trail.  It’s the inbound and inland leg of the Seaside route.  A reclaimed rail corridor, the Goose boasts some spectacular scenery of its own .  There is the spectacularly restored Selkirk trestle over the Gorge waterway, an extension of Victoria’s inner harbour.  Some 7 kilometres north is the Blenkinsop Trestle, a new wood bridge that takes trail users through a bird sanctuary.      The bridge was unique for the environmental sensitivity shown in its design and construction through a sensitive habitat.  Both will be visited on the trip back into town. 

Heading south from the train station, the Seaside Route heads along the city’s inner harbour waterfront, home to float planes, yacht moorings and frequent summer festivals.  Not quite a kilometre from the start looms the Fairmont Empress Hotel, the city’s most historic and exclusive digs facing the harbour and corned by the capital’s Royal BC Museum and the Provincial Legislature.

The ride rounds the corner in front of the Legislature and meanders past the city’s downtown ferry terminals where the bike friendly MV Coho carries travelers to and from Port Angeles in Washington State.  The MV Clipper is a passenger only ferry, accommodating up to 6 bikes, that speeds between Victoria and downtown Seattle.

Four kilometres into the ride appears a cruise ship terminal and a breakwater protecting the city’s harbours.  The breakwater is a favourite walkway for locals and visitors alike. 

For the next few kilometres, the route hugs the coastline of the Strait of Juan de Fuca that separates Vancouver Island from the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State.  Continuous beach access will tempt those with lots of time to complete their tour and the backdrop of the Olympic Mountains is a spectacular vista on clear days, which is a pretty regular feature of Victoria’s climate.

On the other side of the road from all this beachfront route visitors will find Beacon Hill Park, the city’s major central park, a neighbourhood peppered with Bed and Breakfast establishments for the longer stay visitor, and historic Ross Bay Cemetery, final resting place for many of British Columbia’s notable citizens of the past 150 years

For the next few kilometres past the cemetery, beach access is regular but sporadic.  At Gonzales Bay, a sandy sheltered beach is ideal for picnics, sunbathing and like many other beaches along the route, a frequent destination for tide-pool explorers.

The route wanders into Oak Bay, Victoria’s neighbour municipality.  Trafalgar Park, a lookout perched above the waterfront here, provides a good vantage point to absorb the sight of Mount Baker in Washington state. Even at 120 km, this dormant, 11,000 foot volcano towers above the landscape.  The Seaside Route snakes through Victoria’s most exclusive real estate, conveniently bordered also by it’s most exclusive golf course.

As the route turns north around 11 km from your starting point, another local gem, the Oak Bay Beach Hotel beckons thirsty and hungry travelers.  The Snug, a popular local watering hole, overlooks oceanfront views over the American San Juan Islands towards Mt. Baker.  For the overnight or extended stay traveler, the hotel offers bike rentals, tour packages and other comforts for active visitors.

A kilometre “inland” is Oak Bay “Village”, one of many nearby destinations accessible from the Seaside Route where route riders can find cafes, bistros, restaurants and a variety of other services.

The Oak Bay Marina is another yacht parking facility and food source.  The deli serves calories all day long and the Marina has a good supply of quality bike parking.

Further along the route, Willows Beach park is another sun-seeker magnet.   A kilometre of sand and gentle waves is regularly sprinkled with sunbathers and families.  Past the beach the route enters the gates of the Uplands at km 14, another exclusive neighbourhood of spacious estates, occasionally interrupted by usually well hidden public beach access points.

Leaving the Uplands the route hits Cadboro Bay Village,  another stop for the hungry and thirsty and conveniently accessible to Gyro Park, another long sandy beach and family playground.  Keep a lookout for the Caborosaurus, our local sea monster. 

Beach access and waterfront riding  becomes more intermittent past Cadboro Bay as the route heads into Saanich, another of the capital’s many municipalities.  Wandering through quiet residential neighbourhoods and densely wooded estates, the Seaside Route heads towards Mount Douglas Park.  For those with tree trunks for legs, the climb up Mount Doug rises 220 meters in about a kilometre and a half.  The summit offers spectacular views of the oceanfront, rural Saanich and the city of Victoria for those willing to face the 13% grades up the mountain.  For those who would rather picnic, this park too has tables, walking trails and more beach access.

Emerging from the park, the route heads along suburban Royal Oak Drive to connect with the Lochside Trail at kilometre 29.  This is where the route heads back towards downtown Victoria on our reclaimed rail trail passing over the trestles noted near the beginning of our story.  Seems like the ride is over all too quickly.

Seaside Touring Route Inventory
Port Alberni to Tofino route profile: (Click for more)

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