Something is going on in Victoria. There’s a new kind of energy here, a sense of invigoration and innovation that is forcing a rethink of the city’s reputation as a quiet seaside town. Over the last few years, an influx of young, entrepreneurial talent drawn in by Victoria’s booming high-tech sector, together with a vibrant creative community that just keeps growing, have been reshaping everything from business and art to food and music, enhancing the things that have long made the city an enviable place to be.
Here are five ways to sample Victoria’s distinctive new vibe.
1. Strolling Down LoJo
Community and creativity are key elements in Victoria’s recent shift, and they’re on full display along Lower Johnson Street. Known locally as “LoJo,” this downtown stretch is lined with blocks of restored heritage buildings that now house an intriguing selection of independent boutiques, hip offices and inventive eateries. This is the place to listen to records while you sip your pour-over brew at Hey Happy Coffee, hammer out personalized cards on a vintage Royal typewriter at The Regional Assembly of Text or add custom art to your Converse All Stars at Baggins Shoes.
2. Ice Cream from Scratch
Victoria’s Chinatown is the oldest in Canada, and yet it’s home to many new and forward-looking businesses, including Kid Sister Ice Cream. Located in historic Fan Tan Alley, Kid Sister serves up made-from-scratch Mexican-style popsicles (paletas) and small-batch ice cream. The shop sources fruit from local purveyors—owner Brett Black grows some of the haul—and uses organic dairy that is free of antibiotics and hormones. (Make sure to try the roasted rhubarb creamsicle—it’s divine.)
3. Buskers and Festivals
Another hallmark of the city’s cultural evolution is its busting-out-all-over music scene, which ranges from street-side buskers to massive festivals. Behind some of Victoria’s biggest events is Atomique Productions, a local production company that delivers around 150 events a year, including Rock the Shores, a highlight of the summer festival schedule (July 21 to 23, 2017), and Rifflandia Festival, which electrifies the downtown core for four days in September (Sept.14 to 17, 2017). Both festivals feature international acts while also championing homegrown favourites.
4. Raise a Glass
In 2015, Phillips Brewing & Malting Co. launched a malt works, making it the only craft brewer in Canada to malt its own barley. Situated on Government Street, this locally loved spot has also launched a natural soda company (Phillips Soda Works) and a distillery (Phillips Fermentorium Distilling Co.). To get a taste of Phillips’ innovative ways, take a tour of the fermentation factory, then sample a flight of great-tasting beer.
5. Food Eco District
Victoria is home to Canada’s first Food Eco District—a three-by-four block area between Broughton and Johnson Streets where independent restaurants and cafés have aligned to make sustainability a priority. Explore the district and enjoy a meal at one of its member restaurants, such as Be Love, which serves plant-based fare that’s free of wheat, dairy, gluten and processed sugar, or Fishhook, a local hot spot that serves up an eclectic mix of French and Indian cuisine.