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Ladysmith Weekend Escape #1: The Saanich Peninsula & Sidney by the Sea

Vancouver Island is FULL of wonders, and Ladysmith is in the middle of it all!

Drive time from Ladysmith: around 90 minutes

Getting There from Ladysmith: Head south on the TransCanada Highway, over the Malahat and into Victoria. Turn left at Mackenzie Ave and follow the signs to exit onto the Patricia Bay Highway (towards the Victoria Airport and Swartz Bay Ferry terminal). Follow signs to Sidney! Enjoy the sights along the way!

The Saanich Peninsula

Even though it’s traditionally the driest part of Vancouver Island, rolling hills and lush farmlands characterize the Saanich Peninsula. Many people call this area the “Provence of the Island”. Backroad drives will uncover small wineries, farm stands, and marshlands teeming with birds. The peninsula is home to many delights, including the Victoria Polo Grounds and  the Climb the Boulders climbing gym.

3-story climbing wall at Climb the Boulders!

The family-favourite Victoria Butterfly Gardens is also nearby, featuring thousands of butterflies as well as frogs, tortoises, flamingos, and other tropical birds. And no visit to the Saanich Peninsula is complete without a trip to the world-famous Butchart Gardens, a National Historic Site that receives over a million visitors a year. After strolling through the Sunken Garden and the amazing Rose Garden, enjoy afternoon tea in the original Butchart family residence, overlooking the Italian Garden and the Saanich Inlet. In the summertime, there are evening concerts on the lawn, and on Saturday nights there’s a fireworks show. Not to be missed!

Fountain statue in the Italian Garden, Butchart Gardens

Sidney by the Sea

Along the shores of the Salish Sea, with a commanding view of Mount Baker and the Gulf Islands, lies the charming community of Sidney By the Sea. Accommodations abound in the Sydney area, for all tastes and budgets – but no matter where you stay, Sidney has something for everyone. Beacon Avenue holds shops and galleries that are perfect for poking around in – and on Thursday nights in the Summertime, this main street is closed to traffic and becomes a vibrant street market with live music!

Shop!

Shopping in Sydney is always eclectic and engaging! For starters, “Booktown”, as Sidney is also known, is a bibliophile’s dream – there seems to be a bookstore on every corner! Our favourite is the Haunted Bookshop, with every one of its wonderful antique bookcases holding a treasure trove for readers.

Another favourite is Tanner’s Books, with its “Travel and Nautical Room” full of maps, charts, and nautical reference books. And Beacon Books has an excellent collection of Modern First Editions and rare collectibles.

See the Sights!

If you have the time (and you should make the time), wander on down to the Sidney Pier and catch the passenger ferry to the Sidney Spit. It’s a narrow, sandy strip of land that’s perfect for sunbathing and swimming, or watching the shorebirds on the tidal flats. For an extra adventure, rent some kayaks and make your own way over there – it’s only 5 km across the water from the Town of Sidney!

Sidney Spit (Gulf Islands National Park Reserve)

And while you’re down by the Sidney Pier, spend some time at the Shaw Center for the Salish Sea, Sidney’s award-winning aquarium. There are wolf eels, jellyfish, a giant Pacific octopus, and hundreds of other amazing marine animals. It’s a great place for kids and adults alike!

Eat and Drink!

All that walking and shopping is going to make you hungry. There are many excellent choices in Sidney, but our personal favourite is “the Farmer’s Daughter”, a fromagerie/bistro/wine bar that serves quality cheeses from around the world – with the wines to match! And of course, you can get artisan gift baskets and platters to take home!

And down at the Van Isle Marina, you’ll find the Sea Glass waterfront grill, another of our favourites. Their menu is mouth-watering and their wine list is almost as superb as their table service. Reservations are recommended!

Coming Home to Ladysmith

Summertime: Something we like to do when coming back from the Saanich Peninsula is to catch the Brentwood Bay ferry over to Mill Bay. It’s a short trip on the water, and gets you to the north side of the Malahat without having to go through Victoria traffic. A word of warning, though – the ferry only holds about 20 vehicles, so you may have to sit in the café and have an ice cream cone while you wait for the next sailing!

Autumn: We generally forego the Brentwood Bay ferry in the Fall, in favour of looping back through Victoria in order to stop at Goldstream Park on the way home to Ladysmith. Goldstream Provincial Park is in an old-growth temperate rain forest on the north-bound side of the highway at the start of the climb up the Malahat Drive. It’s one of the best places around to see salmon spawning, generally between October and December. And where there’s lots of salmon, there are a lot of eagles – so don’t forget your camera!

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