A suburb of Victoria, Saanich is the largest and most populous municipality on Vancouver Island. The sprawling suburb is divided into two by the Patricia Bay Highway; Saanich East and Saanich West.
Both Saanich East and Saanich West have much to offer, being home to shops, restaurants, parks and other attractions. Whether you want to kick back and relax on a beach or go on a heritage tour it is possible to do here.
Not only are there many things to see and do within Saanich, but also in surrounding areas, making it a fantastic holiday destination.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Saanich:
1. Spend a day at the beach
Cadboro Bay Beach is arguably the most popular beach in Saanich and it is not hard to see why. The sandy beach not only boasts an ocean front beach, but also the English style Cadboro Bay Village.
Spend a day relaxing at the beach, complete with a picnic lunch in one of its picnic areas. There is even a children’s playground with an octopus slide, a zip line, swings and more.
Another feature of Cadboro Bay Beach is that is offers great views of the Juan de Fuca Strait and Olympic Peninsula. It even has a boat launch!
2. Walk along the water
Walk along the shores of Cordova Bay and enjoy the views of rural Saanich and even Washington State’s Cascade Mountains. Mount Douglas Park beach is the largest park in the area and features some extensive trails.
Hike through lush trees, wildflowers and ferns while breathing in the water’s fresh air. At the top of the trail is a 213 metre high summit that offers fantastic views of the area and beyond.
After your walk, cool off on its sandy beach or take the kids to play in the playground. Mount Douglas Park beach also has picnic areas and washroom facilities.
3. Surround yourself in nature
Nature lovers should not miss the chance to visit Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary. This nature reserve features a lake, marshy lowlands and a nature centre.
There are nearly four kilometres of walking trails in the nature reserve both around the lake and its surrounds. Cross the lake by walking across one of the wooden bridges or the boardwalk that runs across one end of it.
Visit the nature centre and learn about the flora and fauna of the area. Don’t forget to wander around the garden, which houses 70 different types of plants and flowers that are native to Southern Vancouver Island.
4. Smell the flowers
Speaking of gardens, no visit to Saanich is complete without spending time at Butchart Gardens. The beautiful gardens are located just north of Saanich in Central Saanich.
The garden dates back to 1907, when Japanese garden designer Isaburo Kishida designed the first area within it. Throughout the years numerous other gardens were designed and today nearly one million people stroll through the extensive gardens each year.
Butchart Gardens is home to a Japanese Garden and an Italian Garden, as well as ponds and fountains. There is even a children’s pavilion complete with a carousal and 30 animals.
5. Play a round of golf
There are some great places to play a round of golf right in Saanich. If you are a golfer, don’t forget to pack your clubs!
Cedar Hill Golf Club is the most popular and the closest to the city centre. This friendly golf club is managed by the municipality and has three divisions; mens, ladies and junior.
The family-run Mount Douglas Golf Course is also a public course that is tucked away in the Blenkinsop Valley. It is a stunning 9-hole course that is surrounding by farmlands and forest.
6. Enjoy the scenery
Enjoy the scenery along the Gorge waterway at the Gorge Waterway Park. The park runs parallel to the waterway and is a nice place to spend an afternoon.
The park is home to picnic areas, a playground and a horticulture display, as well as having a boat launch. It also features pathways with interpretive signs and lookout points.
The park lies on both sides of the waterway and is linked by Tillicum Road. On the west side of the waterway is a nature house that acts as a hands-on learning centre.
7. Go on a heritage walk
Saanich is made up of a number of towns and villages that date back to hundreds of years ago. So of course there are a number of places to go on a heritage walk.
None of the five heritage walks are long, but they are all impressive. Go on the Gorge Road West Area walk and see the historic Craigflower Schoolhouse, Craigflower Bridge Store, the Haughton Residence and the Casey Residence.
Walk around Gordon Head and Tattersall to see some magnificent period homes. The Prospect Lake walking tour will take you to Whitehead Park, Prospect Lake General Store and Stevens Halfway House Hotel, while the Royal Oak Heritage Tour directs you to Royal Oak Station, Royal Oak Hotel and Royal Oak Schoolhouse.
8. Look at art
There is not really an art gallery in Saanich, but there are a couple of places where you can look at art. And they are both free.
The first place to head to is the Arts Centre at Cedar Hill that has two galleries with temporary works on display. Saanich Municipal Hall is the second place where you can see great artwork both in its main floor gallery and second floor gallery.
If you would rather make your own art, there are drop-in studios where you can paint, sculpt or draw. Drop-in studios are at the Cedar Hill Recreation Centre.
9. Walk around campus
Just on the eastern edge of Saanich is the University of Victoria; the oldest university in British Columbia. The campus is quite magnificent and is worth walking around.
The campus spans for a total of 163 hectares, with the academic portion being within a Ring Road and all other facilities on the outside of it. The campus is home to resident buildings, sports facilities and a theatre, as well as some lovely green spaces.
A few buildings not to miss are the historic Army Huts, the modern Engineering/Computer Science building (ECS) and the McPherson Library and William C. Mearns Centre for Learning. Don’t forget to wander around the University Centre and have a pint in its pub.
10. Get lost in a castle
Although it is not in Saanich, Craigdarroch Castle is a prominent landmark that is worth heading to Victoria to see. The 2,300 square metres castle boasts 39 rooms and is very easy to get lost in.
This National Historic Site of Canada is a Victorian-era Scottish Baronial mansion that was built for wealthy coal baron Robert Dunsmuir. The four story castle still boasts its lavish furnishings from the 1890s.
One of the most magnificent things about the mansion are the stained-glass windows. Its intricate woodwork is also quite a sight.
11. Look at the stars
The Dominion Astrophysical Observatory was once one of the main astrophysical research centres in the world. Today it is a National Historic Site.
This world-renowned facility is where discoveries about the Milky Way were made. When it was built in 1918, it housed the world’s second largest telescope.
The observatory is still used today and its telescopes can be used by visitors. If you are interested in astrology or want to look at stars, this is the place to go.
12. See sea life
Although it is not in Saanich, the Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea is a phenomenal attraction, especially for the kids. The aquarium focuses on the ecosystem of the Salish Sea and is one of the island’s top attractions.
The aquarium is split into four exhibits, each of which has different sea life. There are sea urchins, giant pacific octopus, jelly fish, sea nettles, Chinook salmon and a plethora of other creatures living at the aquarium.
The Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea also has a wet lab and classrooms that it uses for school groups. Visitors are welcome to use these facilities; including the microscopes, when they are not in use.
13. Learn about the navy
Right inside the Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt is the CFB Esquimalt Naval & Military Museum. The museum focuses on navy services on Canada’s west coast.
There are four primary areas within the museum, one of which is the Canadian Women’s Army Corps. Displays demonstrate the history of the west coast navy and its impact on the country’s history.
In addition to artefacts, the museum is also home to numerous photographs and documents. There is also a special area just for kids!
14. Have fun in a speedway
The Western Speedway boasts the largest track in Canada. It is also just a great place to have fun for a day.
The speedway features a batting cage, go-karts and mini-golf, so you can visit even if there is no race going on. If you do want to see a race, you can easily buy tickets if there is something going on.
The speedway hosts numerous events, including those with stock cars, dwarf cars, demo cars and drag races. It even hosts monster trucks.
15. Get to know Emily Carr
Born in 1871, Emily Carr was one of the first Canadian modernist and post-impressionist painters. Get to know the ins and outs of her life by visiting her childhood home.
Emily Carr House is a museum and an interpretive centre for her work. It is located at 207 Government Street in Victoria, close to the Parliament Buildings.
Wander around the National Historic Site and look at her artwork or listen to one of her literary writings. Discover for yourself why she was such a great artist and left a lasting impression on the world.