Best beaches in Victoria, BC, for swimming in summer

In ADVENTURE by Janice and George10 Comments

best beaches in victoria bc for swimming

What do two newly-transplanted Victorians do when endless blue sky and sunshine beckon, temperatures rise and brains get too mushy to work?

We’re surrounded by water, so the answer is – hit the beach!

The best beaches in Victoria for cooling off in summer

Since moving to Victoria a little over a month ago, we’ve investigated some of the best beaches in Victoria.  In aid of our research (tough job, you say?), we’ve dipped our toes in the water of many local lake, river and seaside beaches.

best beaches in Victoria, BC to swim

In Victoria, the lakes are warmer for swimming than the ocean

Here’s our beach chair report on the best beaches in Victoria for swimming in summer we’ve found so far…

1.  West Shawnigan Lake Park

Shawnigan Lake is a pretty summer vacation spot about a 45-minute drive from Victoria, the lake ringed by holiday cabins and some fancy homes. (It’s also the site for the lakefront Shawnigan Lake School, one of Canada’s best boarding schools.)

There are three lakeside parks with beaches. Two – Masons Beach Park and Old Mill Park – are popular with families with young children, as the beaches are shallow and slope gently. Located on the east side of the lake, they’re also the best for catching the most rays in the late afternoon (if you can find a spot to spread out your towel).

The third lakeside park – West Shawnigan Lake Park – is where we spent the day recently.

Formerly a provincial park, it’s larger and less busy than the other two. And what a gem it is! It was so nice to have the forest park almost to ourselves, watching occasional powerboats and waterskiiers whoosh by in the distance. And from what we hear, the park is rarely busy. (Hopefully it will stay this way!)

best beaches in Victoria - West Shawnigan Lake Park

West Shawnigan Lake Park is quiet and peaceful – not as busy as other Victoria beaches

There’s no real “beach” as the huge expanse of lawn, with some trees for shade, slopes down almost to the lake edge. Because it’s on the west side of the lake, it loses the sun in the afternoon – which makes it pleasantly cool on a hot day (so if you want the afternoon sun, you might prefer Old Mill Park then).

  • Public washrooms? Yes (outhouses).
  • Warm water for swimming? Yes, pleasantly comfortable.
  • Sandy or rocky? Pebbly – water shoes make it easier to wade in.

2.  Gonzales Beach

We feel very lucky that one of the two nicest sandy beaches in Victoria is less than a 5-minute drive from our home.

Gonzales Beach hugs the shore of a smaller bay in a residential neighborhood and has lovely south-facing views of the Olympic Mountains across the Juan de Fuca Strait.

best beaches in victoria - gonzales beach

Sailboats at anchor in Gonzales Bay

Houses line the edge of the bay and much of the log-strewn beach – the logs make great backrests! – but there’s also an itty-bitty, terraced grassy area at one end, with some picnic tables. The water is typically glassy calm, and it’s shallow for a long way out.

The beach is long enough to accommodate a mixed crowd. Families congregate on one half of the beach – wee ones love making sand castles and moats in the sand. Young folk who listen to music and party-goers tend to hang out at the other end of the beach.

best beaches in Victoria - Gonzales Beach

Playing by the water at Gonzales Beach…

Occasional stand-up paddleboarders and kayakers dot the bay. One kayaker (who paddles out four times a week) told us Gonzales Bay and the adjacent scalloped coastline has everything you’d want to see when paddling – sea otters, seals, giant jellyfish in the water, jumping fish, seabirds overhead, starfish on the coastal rocks and more.

We can’t wait to get our own paddleboards (or maybe kayaks?) and hit the water ourselves!

  • Public washrooms? Yes
  • Warm water for swimming? No. The ocean water is REALLY cold! But on hot days, it’s refreshing – we’ve managed to get waist-deep; braver folk go for the full dip.
  • Sandy or rocky? Fine soft sand, like you’d find in Hawaii (but it’s greyish, not white).

3.  Sooke Potholes

The Sooke Potholes (about an hour’s drive from Victoria) are a unique series of deep pools of fresh water created by water falling over enormous polished boulders in the Sooke River. Reminding us a little of Maligne Canyon in Jasper National Park, they’re a favorite swimming spot for Sooke locals and Victorians alike seeking relief from the heat on hot summer days.

Climbing up the cliffs and jumping in the water is fun! photo Sooke Region Tourism Association

Climbing up the cliffs and jumping in the water is fun! photo Sooke Region Tourism Association

Several small parking lots are strung along the Sooke River, so you can access the potholes at different points.

We hiked along the accessible 2-mile stretch of river, detouring from the forest trail to the riverbank many times for different views. In some places, the riverbank is low, and you can relax on little pebble beaches by pools of water.

In other parts, the river looks more like a steep gorge. We saw thrill-seekers climb up the rocky cliff walls and jump from the top into the water.

A day spent here is a Victoria summer day at its best. Do a little easy hiking in the great outdoors, then cool off with a dip in natural, freshwater pools.

  • Public washrooms? Yes
  • Warm water for swimming? Refreshing. Not too cold.
  • Sandy or rocky? Pebble shores and rocky ledges.

4.  Thetis Lake

Canada’s first nature sanctuary (established in 1958), Thetis Lake Park (1,570 acres in size) has  two lakes – Upper Thetis and Lower Thetis – both featuring clear freshwater. Scenic walking/hiking trails weave through the forest around the lakes, and there are also picnic areas.

best beaches in Victoria - Thetis Lake - photo CRD

Thetis Lake Park became Canada’s first nature sanctuary in 1958 – photo Capital Regional District

As it’s just on the edge of the city, Thetis Lake Park is hugely popular for swimming in summer, especially with young people. There are little islands which you can swim to. People also love to kayak here.

The main beach can be a bit crowded for our taste. But there are great spots further away which are quieter.

  • Public washrooms? Yes
  • Warm water for swimming? Warmer than the ocean!
  • Sandy or rocky? The main beach is mixed pebble and sand.

5.  Cordova Bay Beach

Picture-perfect is the word – it really doesn’t get any prettier than Cordova Bay Beach.

Cordova Bay Beach - photo Cordova Bay Beach Suite

Cordova Bay Beach is one of our favorite Victoria beaches – photo Cordova Bay Beach Suite

Cordova Bay is a small community just north of Victoria (about a 15-minute drive from downtown Victoria) with a long, expansive sand-and-pebble beach. Million-dollar homes line much of the beach – but as all beaches are public, you can enjoy the whole length of the beach.

The stretch in front of the Beach House Restaurant makes us sigh with delight (public stairs lead down to the beach). It makes others sigh too – many weddings are held on the sand here, with receptions afterward on the oceanfront deck of the Beach House.

The Beach House

Doesn’t this look like a lovely place for a wedding? photo Beach House Restaurant

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Many weddings are held on the beach in front of the Beach House Restaurant – photo Luke Liable

This is our go-to place for combining a late afternoon beach read and toe-dip in the sea with sunset cocktails and appies or dinner at the Beach House afterwards (brollie and/or sunhats needed on the beach for shade).

best beaches in victoria - The Beach House patio

We enjoy summer sipping (gin-and-tonics?) on the patio here after a couple of hours on Cordova Bay Beach – photo Beach House Restaurant

A full moon rose in the sky, huge and pink, one time we ate at the Beach House, and despite the evening chill, we couldn’t bear to leave the deck for inside – the moonlight was magical on the water.

A paddleboarder also intrigued us as he paddled out into the early moonlight – turned out he was paddling to a crab trap to retrieve his catch. (He also intrigued a new bride, who padded barefoot on the sand, trailing her long white wedding dress, to have a peek at the huge crab he’d caught.)

  • Public washrooms? No, none in front of the Beach House.
  • Warm water for swimming? It’s the ocean, so it’s COLD.
  • Sandy or rocky? Sand and pebbles.

6. Willows Beach

Along with Gonzales Beach, Willows Beach gets our vote as one of Victoria’s top beaches to splash in during summer – it’s probably THE beach to chill on if you only have time for one.

best beaches in victoria - willows beach

Willows Beach is probably the most popular ocean beach in Victoria – photo Turbulent Flow (CC Licence 2.0)

Larger than Gonzales Beach, it has a huge grass area with plenty of trees for shade (ideal for picnics) along with a tiny, plain-but-charming tea room run by the Kiwanis (a volunteer-led organization). Below the lawn lies a long stretch of sandy beach lined by logs. An esplanade and walkway runs alongside the beach, popular for strolling along.

If you want to go exploring  a bit, wander through the leafy residential area nearby and enjoy the attractive heritage homes.

  • Public washrooms? Yes.
  • Warm water for swimming? The shallow water warms up enough in hot days so it’s comfortable for wading and splashing around. Kids have no problem frolicking about at the water’s edge.
  • Sandy or rocky? Soft and sandy.

Other best beaches in Victoria?

We still have to check out these beaches in Victoria:

beaches in Victoria - Gyro Beach

We’d like to go stand-up paddleboarding at Gyro Beach – photo Gyro Beach Boards 

Lead photo by Robert Wegner, Pixabay

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best beaches in victoria, bc - canada

Do you have a favorite swimming hole near where you live?


    1. Author

      It’s nice to have some water holes for cooling off! When we lived in Calgary, Alberta, there were no decent lakes or warm rivers nearby we could go to in summer (to be by the water was one of the reasons why we moved to the west coast).

  1. Hey, is Shawnigan Lake Boarding School still operating? I went there for a year as a kid. Very pretty lake I remember and I would do a lot of kayaking. Not the greatest boarding school experience there though, I had just come back from Africa: my English was poor and I wasn’t religious. Ended up in a lot of fights. Anyway, I had heard that it was closed up…is it open again?
    Frank (bbqboy)

    1. Author

      As far as we know, the school is still operating. Sorry your experience wasn’t all that good. Children can be tough on their peers. Now we’re so much more aware of bullying and its hurtful effects. Anyway, Shawnigan Lake is still pretty!

  2. I’m impressed at how many beautiful beaches there are so close to the city. The potholes sound like a lot of fun. I’m lucky to live by the water too

  3. Wow, you seem to have so many beaches in Victoria, Janice. I wonder how warm the water is though. Canada waters are kind of cold even in summer, aren’t they?

    1. Author

      Oh, yes, even though it’s the Pacific, it’s not like Hawaii and the ocean is cold. But Canadians are cold-blooded :-). We’re always the ones swimming in the sea on “sun and sand” holidays when locals think the water’s too cool to swim.

    1. Author

      It’s great! We love the water and moved from the prairies years ago to the west coast (leaving family and friends behind – sniff) so we could be by the water.

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