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The Next Big Trip: Victoria, B.C.

Matt Villano

My take on family travel is simple: Just go. Some destinations, however, are more kid-friendly than others. I’ll be spotlighting some of these places over the rest of the year.

No. 1 on my list is Victoria, British Columbia. It’s old (which means there are plenty of opportunities to teach the kids some history). It’s walkable. It’s got great waterfront (we’re big ocean people). Most important, there are plenty of legitimately cool kid things to do.

My wife and I took our girls there last month on the front-end of a 10-day, Spring Break trip to the Pacific Coast of Vancouver Island. We had three full days to explore—my longest-ever visit to the provincial capital (my last visit was chronicled in The Wall Street Journal). Here’s an abbreviated rundown on some of our favorite family-friendly discoveries.

What to do
Pet and feed goats and marvel at free-ranging peacocks at the Children’s Farm inside Beacon Hill Park. The facility, which has ample parking and is walking distance from the city’s Inner Harbour, is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and is one of the best values in town (suggested donations for entry are no more than $3.50 per person). If you like baby animals, go soon; when we were there, the farm was celebrating a rash of births, and one or two of the baby goats leapt right onto L’s lap.  There’s also a goat “stampede” (from a holding pen into the public area) twice daily, right after opening and right before closing.

For a different kind of critter close-up (touching is optional), check out the Victoria Bug Zoo, home to hundreds of walking sticks, praying mantids, tarantulas and glow-in-the-dark scorpions (to name a few of the species). It also holds the distinction of having Canada’s largest ant farm.

Finally, our girls could have spent all day every day sightseeing on the Victoria Harbour Ferry, motorized boats that crisscross the harbor and shuttle passengers between 18 stops around town.

Where to eat
The Fairmont Empress Hotel, a 100-year-old hotel that overlooks the Inner Harbour, is Victoria’s iconic destination to experience afternoon tea, and the folks there do a special treatment for lads and lasses under the age of 10. It’s called the “Prince and Princess Tea,” and it includes milk (or another beverage), fresh fruit, Jello and a tiered platter of goodies that looks just like the one we grown-ups get. Sandwiches on this platter are 100 percent kid-friendly; instead of smoked salmon, L had egg-salad and ham and cheese. Sweets on the kid tray skew younger, too; instead of chocolate mousse cups, there were frosted sugar cookies (L practically inhaled these before we had time to snap a pic).

If your kid is like my toddler, he or she could eat fried food 24/7. Naturally, then, junior will be psyched to dine at Red Fish Blue Fish, a canteen-style take-out restaurant that specializes in fish-and-chips (or, in my daughter's case, chips-and-chips) and operates out of a steel shipping container on the Inner Harbour. All the fish is locally caught, which means the Pacific halibut is practically still swimming before it goes in the fryer. Just be sure to go early; especially on nice days, the lines can be stupid long.

Where to stay
On previous visits, I’ve stayed at the Oswego Hotel, where apartment-style room configurations would work well for families with multiple kids.

This visit, we stayed at the Hotel Grand Pacific, and loved it for three reasons. Reason No. 1: Our Pacific one-bedroom suite had a separate sitting room—a great spot to entertain L between her wake-up (at 5 a.m.) and the hour that most (normal?) humans get out of bed (around 7 a.m.). Reason No. 2: The room featured a small game library that included Candy Land, which (not coincidentally) now represents the toddler’s favorite board game. Reason No. 3: The property’s resident duck population, and Joe Menard, the groundskeeper who cares for them. Every morning, the oafy-yet-lovable Menard went out of his way to “introduce” L to the ducks, going so far as to pour special duck food into her raincoat pockets so she could “feed” them herself (this, of course, amounted to my daughter repeatedly hurling little pellets at the poor birds). The experience forged one of her most vivid memories of the entire trip; she still talks about the ducks—and Menard—today.

For more information about Victoria, check out the main Tourism Victoria site. Also, to see an insider's guide about the city that I wrote, click here, and to view our 2011 list of best cities for families (to live full-time), click here. Got other questions or feedback? Please let me know.

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