Victoria in late winter: who needs the sun?

We just got back from a week in Victoria, British Columbia to visit our daughter. Daytime highs were in the 40s, nighttime lows in the mid-30s. And except for our last day, we never really saw the sun, just caught brief glimpses.

But when you’re surrounded by so much natural beauty, who needs the sun? In fact, brooding skies with towering clouds amp up the drama. We spent a couple of days on Pender Island, and on the ferry ride there and back, the spectacle was positively operatic.

Victoria is only 75 miles from Seattle, and the flight is so short that there’s no beverage service on the plane. You’re in the air for just 30 minutes, but the views are spectacular. You can see the San Juan Islands, the Olympic Mountains in Washington, and of course Vancouver Island:

View of the eastern shore of Vancouver Island as we’re descending into Victoria International Airport

Victoria is spectacular place to live, and real estate is pricy, with houses right on the water costing many millions:

This was one of the few times we had a clear view of the sun:

As I mentioned earlier, we did some exploring on Pender Island, one of the Southern Gulf Islands in the Salish Sea that separates Vancouver Island from the mainland of British Columbia. The 45-minute ferry ride was spectacular, in spite (or maybe because) of the moody weather:

Aboard the Salish Raven

Arriving on Pender Island

Pender Island – technically two islands, North Pender and South Pender – is 13 square miles and home to a permanent population of about 2,200 souls. Early March is definitely not tourist season so we were able to enjoy the island in peace and solitude.

Port Washington

Gowlland Point

Colorful pebbles on the beach at Gowlland Point

Rock face at Gowlland Point

We had a fantastic meal at HUB at Hope Bay...

....which offers the best views of any restaurant...

...I’ve been in this side of Hawaii

Hope Bay dock at dusk, after we’d finished our dinner

This is what happened later that evening: it started to snow!

Red alders (Alnus rubra) are everywhere on Pender Island

Red alder

More dramatic skies on the ferry ride back to Vancouver Island:

On the drive back from the ferry terminal to our Airbnb, it started to hail and snow, adding drama of a different kind:

The next day, we drove out to Hatley Castle, featured in many movie and TV productions, including X-Men and The Killing, and were blessed with more moist goodness from the sky – “wintry mix,” the weather report called it.

Our flight back to Seattle, short and sweet as mentioned earlier, was not without drama: spectacular views of the snow-covered Olympic Mountains.

Since I love maps, here are a few showing the lay of the land. Victoria, the capital of the province of British Columbia, is located at the southern tip of Vancouver Island, a massive island 456 km (283 mi) in length, 100 km (62 mi) in width at its widest point, and 32,100 km² (12,400 sq mi) in total area (thank you, Wikipedia).

To the consternation of many visitors, the city of Vancouver is on the mainland of British Columbia, not on Vancouver Island:

Pender Island (see white arrow) is one of the Gulf Islands off the east coast of Vancouver Island, very close to the border between Canada and the USA as indicated by the solid line in the map below:

Because of its location in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains, Victoria receives only about half the precipitation of Seattle and Vancouver. That, coupled with its spectacular scenery, makes it a major destination for tourists and retirees. Sharp tongues call it “the city of the newlywed and nearly dead.” True, there is a large gray- and blue-haired cohort in the city of 100,000, but the 22,000+ students at the University of Victoria make sure things don’t become too staid.

© Gerhard Bock, 2024. All rights reserved. To receive all new posts by email, please subscribe here.


  1. Spectacular scenery. The water-sky views made me think of Alaska (visited in late summer many years ago). Your foray to Pender Island looks worthwhile. No agave or succulent sightings I imagine?

    1. The only succulent sighting in the wild was Sedum spathulifolium, which grows in many places near the ocean. I'll have a post about it soon.

  2. My Mom & Dad emigrated from Vancouver to L.A. because they couldn't bear the lack of sunshine. Some people can't. It looks like a very beautiful area, though. Hope you had a great family get-together!

    1. I lived in the PNW for two years. One of my (native born) employees told me that outsiders never really get used to it. His parents had been there for 40 years and still didn’t like the rain. I’d visit again, but never live there.

    2. Our daughter has lived in Victoria for 7 years now, and she actually really likes it! But admittedly, the weather in Victoria is quite different from Seattle and Vancouver--half the rain, double the sun.

  3. it is lovely when the weather cooperates but the winters are pretty dreary with lots of cloud and rain. However, it is beautiful at any time of year.

    1. I love the clouds, and I embraced them for the time we were there.

  4. Thank you for this terrific post, Gerhard! I love seeing places I have heard of but never seen. The moody weather (and skies) are a treat for me for sure! I especially love the maps for explanation. It makes understanding so much easier!

    1. Same here (maps and clouds). Soon enough, we'll have nothing but blue sky, with nary a cloud in sight.

  5. Beautiful photos, and thank you for the map. I've not been and wasn't clear on the lay of the land. It looks like a lovely trip!

    1. I don't think a day goes by without me referring to Google Maps for one thing or another...

  6. Sounds like a wonderful trip, and indeed very beautiful--cloudy skies and all. That rock face is fun. :)

  7. I moved to the PNW 16 years ago and have become accustomed to the rain and clouds in winter. Rather than finding them oppressing, I find it comforting and beautiful. It took a few years to get to that point. The first 5 or so winters were the worst and even now, occasionally, a winter day will be a little depressing. But, for the most part, I am happy for all of the rain that we do get. More oppressive to me are the increasingly hot, dry summers with extended periods of drought. The fear of forest fires is real and there isn't much you can do outside when the air is filled with smoke. I can dress appropriately for rain and cold. Fire and smoke, however, are much more difficult to dress appropriately for. It is a terrible feeling to have to wear a particulate mask outdoors in order to garden. No thanks. I'll take the clouds and the moisture any day.

    1. I hear you! There's nothing as terrifying as a wildfire - and climate change.

      My daughter has been living in Victoria for 7 years now and is loving it. She much prefers that climate over our hot, hot summers.

  8. I lived in Seattle for 40 years and a ferry ride never gets old! I'm still mesmerized by the view of the water sky and mountains. Your photos are spectacular.


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