A Weekend in Sooke, Vancouver Island
There’s nothing like standing on the edge of the Pacific listening to the roar of the waves, with nothing between you and Japan, 7,610 km away. It’s easier and quicker than you may think to enjoy wild, West Coast beauty, tall Douglas Fir forests and cold surf (if you’re so inclined to enter the water). Just a quick 90-minute BC Ferries ride from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay, then a 45-minute drive to Sooke, and you’re practically at the end of the line. Next stop, sushi in Tokyo.
As luck would have it, Sooke has an amazingly good sushi restaurant, so planning a family winter weekend to this beautiful spot of our province is quite civilized. Here are some of the great things to see and do in Sooke, Vancouver Island.
Take a Walk
There are many wonderful walking and hiking choices in the Sooke region. A short drive from town leads to the well-known Sooke Potholes at Sooke Regional Park. While winter swimming isn’t recommended, these are favorite swimming holes for the locals in summer time. In the rainy season, the water rushes constantly, but the scenic walking trails along the Sooke River are open and inviting to views of the narrow river gorge. The 60 km long Galloping Goose Trail also passes through this park, and you could walk or cycle all the way to Victoria if the mood strikes. The popular Whiffen Spit Park trail stretches out in front of the historic Sooke Harbour House, still known for its fine dining and locally sourced cuisine. The naturally-formed Spit takes the brunt of Pacific wave action and keeps the waters in Sooke harbour calm.
Watch the Surfers at Jordan River
The West coast of Vancouver Island is world-renowned for cold water surfing, but you don’t need to travel all the way to Tofino to access or watch the wild waves. Sooke is the launching point for access to the popular surfing spots at Jordan River, China and Sombrio Beaches. The water is downright chilly, just 6C/42F, so drysuits and wetsuits are essential gear here. You may find it easier (and warmer) to watch the surfers while sitting on a log on the beach.
Explore the Tide Pools of Botanical Beach
Drive 1.5 hours north of Sooke to Port Renfrew to access the hiking trails in Botanical Beach Provincial Park. The 2.5 km loop trail from the parking lot leads first to Botany Bay beach, scattered with driftwood and shells from the tide. From there, the trail leads to Botanical Beach, where you may find surfers trying their luck in the waves. If the tide is low, the well-known tide pools will be filled with sea creatures like goose-neck barnacles and spiky urchins, perfect for exploration.
Go Fish or Watch the Whales
You can fish salmon year-round in the Juan de Fuca Strait. Charter boat rentals leave from Sooke Harbour daily, complete with bait and tackle supplies. Your competition for salmon may be orca whales, one of of the many whale species found here. Others include grey whales, humpback whales, minke whales and harbor seals, which you may view (seasonally) should you book a three-hour whale watching tour of the harbor and strait.
Where to Stay and Eat
It’s great to have your own place to enjoy a home away from home. Sooke Harbour Resort & Marina has cosy two, three and even four-bedroom townhouses for rent just outside of town. The units are generous in size, with a full kitchen, good-sized bedrooms and three bathrooms, and even a BBQ on the outdoor patio. Units have views to the water, and a short walk takes you down to the marina where you can arrange for kayak or stand-up paddle board (or SUP) rentals. Sooke Harbour Resort is also pet friendly, so your pooch can enjoy a holiday too.
There are quite a few family-friendly restaurants to choose from in and around Sooke. We enjoyed delicious sushi at Mai Mai’s Bistro. The Cali crunch, Longboard and Island rolls were personal favorites, and the Cali crunch roll is the most popular sushi they serve. There is an interesting addition of goat cheese in many of the sushi dishes, the fish is fresh and tasty, and the service, friendly.
For breakfast, Shirley Delicious was a true standout. This is an uber funky, friendly local breakfast and lunch place in Shirley, located in a charming alpine cottage just west of Sooke. Philip is the friendly owner who greets everyone by name and shakes hands with new visitors. We enjoyed savory breakfast buns, baked egg shakshuka, and tasty coffee art lattes. Another great choice is the diner-style Mom’s Cafe right in town. Their substantial menu serves up diner specials such as Eggs Benedict, fluffy pancakes, and some non-traditional items like breakfast poutine and the huge logger’s breakfast.
Disclosure: The writer was hosted by BC Ferries and Sooke Harbour Resort & Marina. As always, the writer’s opinions are honest and her own.
Claudia lives in Vancouver. She's the mother of two teenage boys, and has a thirst for travel, chocolate, and pineapple margaritas. She writes and blogs as thetravellingmom.ca, offering a modern mom's guide to family travel sanity. She is much too active on Twitter as @travelling_mom.