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10 Best Beaches in Victoria, BC (By Locals)

We’re lucky to live in the city of Victoria on Vancouver Island. With water surrounding us on three sides, we’ve got lovely ocean beaches.

Come summertime, you’ll catch us hanging out on the beach – picnicking, reading books, sometimes going SUP (stand-up paddleboarding)…

We’ve tried out some nearby lakes and other swimming spots for beating the summer heat too.

Here’s our beach chair report on the 10 best Victoria beaches (both ocean and lake beaches) for swimming, soaking up the sun and unwinding.

Most of these are just a short drive from downtown Victoria.

Willows Beach is one of the best sandy beaches in Victoria, BC.
Willows Beach is one of our favorite sandy beaches in Victoria, BC

Can you really swim at these beaches?

Yes, the following are beautiful beaches, swimming holes and lakes.

They’re places you’ll want to check out on any trip to southern Vancouver Island in British Columbia – whether visiting for a week or a weekend in Victoria.

But we have to be honest. Our ocean beaches are kinda frigid!

In winter, the sea temperature averages just 46 F (8 C). In summer, this rises to only 52 F (11 C), though sometimes the water does heat up another degree or so.

If you want to actually swim and spend time in the water, the lakes around Victoria are much warmer and more pleasant than the ocean.

1) Willows Beach

Willows Beach in Victoria, Canada
Sun, sand, sea – can you beat Willows Beach on a hot summer day?

Located in the community of Oak Bay, Willows Beach is our favorite ocean beach in summer.

This long sandy beach has a huge grass area with plenty of trees for shade (ideal for picnics). If you get hungry, there’s a plain-but-charming tea room run by the Kiwanis Club (a volunteer-led organization).

Lined by logs, the beach stretches out below the lawn.

Two young women in bikinis reading on Willows Beach, Victoria.
Our summers are short, so you’ve got to work on your tan when you can!

A walkway runs alongside the beach. Popular for strolling along, it’s one of Victoria’s most scenic walks.

Willows Beach is also ideal if you want to SUP in Victoria.

Brian at South Island SUP operates a mobile SUP rental service. You’ll often see him at Willows Beach delivering SUP boards to people who want to go out stand-up paddleboarding here.

(We rented boards from him several times before buying our own.)

Stand-up paddleboards resting on Willows Beach in Victoria, British Columbia
Hands up if you want to go stand-up paddleboarding at Willows Beach!

If you’re looking for a beautiful beach that’s just a 5- to 10-minute drive from downtown Victoria, this is the “it” beach to hit.

Pro tip

Set yourself up against a log at the north end of the beach by Cattle Point if you want end-of-the-day sunshine.

The south end of Willows Beach loses the sunshine a couple of hours earlier than the north end. You can find yourself in shade by 5:00 pm come August.

If you fancy exploring a bit, wander through the leafy Oak Bay residential area above the beach and enjoy the attractive heritage homes.

And pssst! If you walk up Estevan Avenue, you’ll come to the popular Willows Galley, a fresh fish-and-chips gem (perfect for take-away or eating on the picnic benches outside).

At the north end of Willows Beach is Cattle Point. Walk up the set of wooden stairs to access it.

Part of Uplands Park, Cattle Point is a great spot for walking around on top of the rocks and soaking up the spectacular views of Haro Strait and snow-capped Mount Baker in the distance.

A woman plays a colorful outdoor piano at Willows Beach
How fun! You can play this public outdoor piano at Willows Beach

Many people even enjoy Willows Beach in winter – strolling, beachcombing or just sitting on a log and watching the sea.

Dog owners should be aware that dogs aren’t allowed on Willows Beach from May 1 to September 30.

  • Willows Beach: Location
  • Public washrooms? Yes, along with changing rooms.
  • Warm water for swimming? The shallow water warms up on 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.

2) Gonzales Beach

Along with Willows Beach (#1), Gonzales Beach is one of nicest sandy beaches in Victoria, close to downtown.

Sunset at Gonzales Beach, Victoria
Sunset at Gonzales Beach (Credit: South Island SUP)

Smaller than Willows Beach, it hugs the shore of a cozy bay in the residential Fairfield neighborhood, offering lovely south-facing views of the Olympic Mountains across the Juan de Fuca Strait.

Houses line the edge of the bay and much of the wide sandy shore. But there’s 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 also strewn with logs – these make great backrests!

The beach is long enough to comfortably accommodate a mixed crowd.

Families congregate on one half of this sandy beach in Victoria – wee ones love making sand castles and moats in the sand. Teens who listen to music and party-goers tend to hang out at the east end of the beach.

Playing by the water at Gonzales Beach, Victoria...
Playing by the water at Gonzales Beach, Victoria…

When the wind is low, kayakers and stand-up paddleboarders can sometimes be seen gliding along in 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 SUP Gonzales Beach ourselves!

  • Gonzales Beach: Location
  • Public washrooms? Yes, up the hill (at the family beach end).
  • 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) Elk Lake (Hamsterly Beach) and Beaver Lake

People swimming in Elk Lake, near Victoria, BC
The water is great for swimming at Elk Lake

Drive along the Patricia Bay Highway, and you can see Elk Lake and the local rowing club right from the road.

Located about a 20-minute drive from downtown Victoria, Elk Lake is a large freshwater lake, connected to smaller Beaver Lake, in Elk/Beaver Lake Regional Park.

Hamsterly Beach is the main beach on Elk Lake (at the north end of the lake) – it’s now become one of our favorite Victoria beaches for swimming.

The lake is so warm in high summer that we’ve actually stayed in the water for almost an hour doing laps.

Because the beach faces south, it gets full-on sun until about 7:30 pm in July and August – it’s the perfect spot for a late afternoon dip.

There’s lots of natural shade on the grassy lawn, provided by overhanging trees. But if you want to spread your towel out on the sand, you should bring an umbrella or beach tent to protect yourself from the sun.

We have different micro-climates in Victoria, and as Elk Lake is inland, the outside air temperature here is always a few degrees warmer than, say, at Willows Beach by the ocean (#1 above). It gets hot on Hamsterly Beach – hence our recommendation to bring your own shade.

There’s another small sandy beach, Eagle Beach, at the south end of Elk Lake – it’s usually less crowded than Hamsterly Beach.

As well, there’s a great flat walking path around the lake, about 6½ miles (10 km) long, which we’ve enjoyed for some exercise.

Elk Lake, Vancouver Island
We also like to walk around Elk Lake (though not on a tightrope!), as well as swim here
  • Hamsterly Beach at Elk Lake: Location
  • Public washrooms and change rooms? Yes.
  • Warm water for swimming? Yes, both lakes have pleasant water temperatures.
  • Sandy or rocky? Sandy beachfront at Hamsterly Beach and Eagle Beach on Elk Lake.

4) Sooke Potholes Regional Park

There are several "beaches" and pools at the Sooke Potholes where you can swim.
There are several “beaches” and pools at the Sooke Potholes where you can swim

The Sooke Potholes are about an hour’s drive from Victoria.

They’re a unique series of deep freshwater pools, created by the flow of water pooling around 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! (Credit: Sooke Region Tourism Association)

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

We like to hike along the accessible 2-mile stretch of river trail – making detours from the forest trail to the riverbank 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.

Keep an eye out for the thrill-seekers who climb to the top of the rocky cliff walls and jump 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.

Sooke Potholes map

Sooke Potholes Regional Park Map
  • Sooke Potholes Regional Park: Location
  • Public washrooms? Yes.
  • Warm water for swimming? Refreshing. Not too cold.
  • Sandy or rocky? Pebble shores and rocky ledges.

5) Thetis Lake

Thetis Lake, Victoria, BC
Thetis Lake Park became Canada’s first nature sanctuary in 1958

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 and hiking trails weave through the forest around the lakes (see the trail map), and there are also picnic areas.

As it’s just on the edge of the city, Thetis Lake Park is a popular place for swimming in summer, especially with young people.

There are little islands which you can swim to. People also love to kayak here.

Thetis Lake is also an ideal spot for learning how to SUP or launching your own stand-up paddleboard.

Brian with South Island SUP (mentioned earlier in #1) offers SUP lessons at Thetis Lake. You can also rent paddleboards from him, which he’ll deliver to you at the lake.

Main Beach (yes, that’s the name of the beach here!) – which is a short walk from the large parking lot – can get a bit crowded for our taste.

Still, as the water is clean and warm here, there’s no denying it’s one of Victoria’s best swimming beaches. And there are great spots along the edge of the lake, farther away from Main Beach, which are quieter.

  • Thetis Lake: Location
  • Public washrooms? Yes.
  • Warm water for swimming? Warmer than the ocean!
  • Sandy or rocky? Main Beach is a mix of small pebbles and sand.

6) Cordova Bay Beach

Cordova Bay Beach is one of our favorite Victoria beaches
Cordova Bay Beach is one of our favorite Victoria beaches

Picture-perfect is the word for Cordova Bay Beach.

Cordova Bay is a small community (about a 15-minute drive north from downtown Victoria).

It has a long, expansive sand-and-pebble beach. Multi-million-dollar homes along Cordova Bay Road line the beach. But there are a couple of public access points (one from a small parking lot). And as all of Victoria’s beaches are public, you can enjoy its whole length.

We once visited the beach at sunset when a full moon rose in the sky, huge and pink – the moonlight was so magical on the water!

A paddleboarder caught our eye as he paddled out, then returned with a huge crab he’d retrieved from a crab trap in the water.

A new bride getting her photos taken, was also intrigued. We watched as she padded barefoot, trailing her long white wedding dress on the sand, to peek at the crab he’d caught.

  • Cordova Bay: Location
  • Public washrooms? No, none in front of the Beach House.
  • Warm water for swimming? Ummm, no. The Pacific Ocean isn’t exactly warm here.
  • Sandy or rocky? Sand and pebbles.

7) Gyro Beach at Cadboro Bay

Gyro Beach near Cadboro Bay Village is a great family-friendly beach in Victoria. 

This is the beach where little Prince George and Princess Charlotte played when their parents, William and Kate (the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge), came to the city of Victoria on a royal visit in 2016.

They had fun on the slides, swings and giant red octopus in the large children’s play area.

Along with the playground, the sheltered bay with a gently-sloping beach and large lawn areas make Cadboro-Gyro Park especially appealing for families with smaller children.

Gyro Beach is also one of the best places to SUP in Victoria. 

Gyro Beach in Victoria, BC
We haven’t yet tried stand-up paddleboarding at Gyro Beach, but we will! (Credit: Gyro Beach Board Shop) 

You can drive your car close to the beach to drop off your board, and the beach is easy to launch from.

If you’d like to rent a board, Gyro Beach Board Shop is about a block away in Cadboro Bay Village.

Each board rental comes with “wheelez” transport so you can pull your board on wheels to and from the beach.

SUP at Gyro Beach
It’s easy to SUP at Gyro Beach (Credit: Gyro Beach Board Shop)
  • Cadboro-Gyro Park: Location
  • Public washrooms? Yes.
  • Warm water for swimming? Yes, on a hot day!
  • Sandy or rocky? Sandy.

8) Durrance Lake

People swimming at Durrance Lake, near Victoria, BC
Durrance Lake is another popular lake for swimming in summer

Like Elk Lake (#3) and Thetis Lake (#5), Durrance Lake is another one of the best places to swim in Victoria. It’s fairly close to the city and doesn’t require a long drive (about a 35-minute drive from downtown Victoria).

One of three lakes in Mount Work Regional Park on the Saanich Peninsula, it’s a clean lake with calm water – and another one of our favorite swimming lakes in summer.

Encircled by forest, Durrance feels miles removed from the hubbub of the city.

There’s a flat walking path around the lake about one mile (1.7 km) long.

We like to walk a short distance along the northeast part of the lake to where a very small sandy peninsula offers space for about 20 people to sit out on towels. This is probably the most comfortable spot to hang out if you plan on staying for a while.

Otherwise, it’s catch-as-catch-can. If there’s a free spot under a tree by the lake not already staked out by someone else, you might want to grab it.

SUP board on the lakeshore at Durrance Lake, Vancouver Island
If you can carry water toys to the lake, do so, ‘coz it’s fun to play with them!

For us, this Victoria lake is ideal for a late afternoon swim, followed by some time to dry off in the sun.

But it’s not a place we’d spend all day at (like West Shawnigan Lake, #10) because it doesn’t have any lawn or beach area for lying down.

There’s been talk of improving the lakeshore for the past couple of years now. But we’ll have to wait and see how that pans out.

Durrance Lake gets busy on hot summer days. If the small parking lot at the entrance is full, you can park along Willis Point Road and walk in (about a 10-minute walk).

  • Durrance Lake: Location
  • Public washrooms? Yes, but they’re located at the entrance (so it’s a bit of a hike to get to them if you’ve planted yourself further along the lakeshore) – and they’re sometimes kinda grungy.
  • Warm water for swimming? About as good as you’re gonna get in Victoria! (Okay, seriously, it’s very nice for swimming in summer.)
  • Sandy or rocky? Dirt, stones, roots and pebbles, with some sand at the water’s edge.

9) Island View Beach

A great place to get away from it all is Island View Beach Regional Park – and it’s only about a 25-minute drive north of downtown Victoria.

In the distance, you can see James Island (one of BC’s Gulf Islands) and the San Juan Islands in the USA.

Island View Beach
Island View Beach is a quiet beach near Victoria that’s never very busy

The long sandy and pebble beach is a great place for a leisurely walk (especially at low tide), exploring and staking out the perfect log to lie back against for a well-deserved nap.

Paddleboarders can sometimes be seen gliding along in summer when there’s no wind.

The sand dunes, thickets and meadows at Island View Beach are also home to over 180 species of bird – making it one of the best places in Victoria for bird watchers.

Keep your eyes peeled for sandpipers, short-eared owls, hawks, bald eagles, ruby-crowned kinglets and marbled murrelets.

There’s also a campground open during the summer, with 18 beachfront RV sites, 5 treed tent trailer sites and 24 treed tent sites. For beachfront camping, it’s a pretty idyllic spot!

  • Island View Beach: Location
  • Public washrooms? Yes.
  • Warm water for swimming? Okay for dipping your toes in and walking barefoot in the water (but not warm for swimming).
  • Sandy or rocky? A mix of pebbles and sandy spots.

10) West Shawnigan Lake Park

West Shawnigan Lake Park is one of our favorite swimming lakes near Victoria
West Shawnigan Lake Park is one of our favorite swimming lakes near Victoria

Encircled by holiday cabins and fancy homes, Shawnigan Lake is a picturesque summer vacation spot about a 45-minute drive from Victoria.

(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 parks – Masons Beach Park and Old Mill Park – are popular with families with young children, as these are sandy beaches that are shallow and slope gently.

Located on the east side of the lake, these beaches are 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 the real gem, in our view.

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

Formerly a provincial park, it’s larger and far less busy than the other two. Except for occasional powerboats and water-skiers whooshing by in the distance, you’ll have the forest park almost to yourself.

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.)

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

Best time of year to visit these Victoria, Canada, beaches?

Summer

Summer is the best time of year to enjoy these popular Victoria beaches and lakes.

May to September are the warmest months, with long days of sunshine and less rain.

The hottest days are usually in July and August.

We rarely get really hot days though, where temperatures climb above 86 F (30 C). Most summer days in June, July and August are comfortably warm and dry, with average air temps in the 70s (mid-20s C).

A woman goes stand-up paddleboarding at Willows Beach on Vancouver Island.
It’s definitely hot enough to go stand-up paddleboarding in summer at Willows Beach!

We mentioned earlier that the sea temperatures are pretty cold for swimming, even in the summer months.

But cold-water swimming has become more popular these days, and we regularly see locals stripping down to their swimsuits at Willows Beach to brave the waters for their daily dunk.

Some readers, in fact, have written in with some great tips on the best places for cold-water ocean swimming in Victoria – so do read the comments below.

We’ve both even gone full-body swimming at Willows Beach (see #1 above) on super hot days in Victoria. And lately, George has started doing daily summer dips in the ocean too.

Victoria’s lakes are great for swimming in the summer though (with ideal water temperatures).

Fall to spring

In spring and fall, there are often still beautiful sunny days where you can sunbathe on the beaches around Victoria. But you might want to bring a blanket or coat.

Winter brings with it rain. Not all days are rainy, however. And walking the beach on a sunny winter day comes with its own pleasure.

The winter months are also a good time for nature lovers to peer into tide pools – and go storm watching when the weather is wicked.

Last words on the best places for swimming in Victoria, BC

Best Swimming Beaches in Victoria, BC
Dive in! The water’s just fine…

Now you know when and where to swim in Victoria. So don’t forget your swimsuit when you visit!

Mind you, we know the world is a big place, and there are many fabulous beaches around the globe!

Still, there’s nothing quite like kicking back at Victoria’s lakes and beaches in summer – soaking up the warmth of the sun and cooling off your toes (if at the ocean) or swimming (if at the lake).

It’s what summer dreams are made of!

Experience more of Victoria!

Gardens: From world-famous Butchart Gardens to the lovely Abkhazi Garden, these are the most beautiful gardens in Victoria.

Gorge Waterway: Explore the Gorge Waterway on a fun pickle boat tour with Victoria Harbour Ferry.

Accommodation: See our insider guide to the best luxury hotels in Victoria and great Victoria Airbnbs and Vrbos.

Our top travel tips and resources

Hotels: Booking.com is great for scoring a “wow” hotel – or at least a decent one. (We especially like their flexible cancellation policy!)

Vacation homes, condos and rentals: We prefer and use Vrbo (Vacation Rentals by Owner).

Tours: For the best local food, walking and other guided tours, plus skip-the-line tickets to attractions, check out Viator (a TripAdvisor company) and GetYourGuide.

Car rental: Renting a car is often one of the best ways to explore off the beaten path. Discover Cars searches car rental companies so you get the best rates.

Travel insurance: SafetyWing is designed for frequent travelers, long-term adventurers and digital nomads. It covers medical expenses, lost checked luggage, trip interruption and more. We also have and recommend Medjet for global air medical transportation and travel security.

Travel gear: See our travel shop to find the best luggage, accessories and other travel gear. (We suggest these comfy travel sandals for city walking, the beach and kicking about.)

Need more help planning your trip? Check out our travel tips and resources guide for airline booking tips, ways to save money, how to find great hotels and other crazy useful trip planning info.

Pssst! If you make a booking or purchase through our site, we may earn a small commission (at no cost to you). Thanks!


Like this guide to Victoria’s beaches? Then pin to Pinterest, so others can see it too :-).


Photo credits: 2 to 7, 9 to 12, 21 to 24 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase 


About the authors

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George Mucalov are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents. See About.

Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, luxury hotel reviews, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, cruise reviews, insanely useful travel tips and more!

Lori

Tuesday 23rd of August 2022

As a long-time local resident, there are several tricks to warm-water ocean swimming in Victoria.

1. Choose the right location, ideally shallow protected bays like Cadboro Bay and Arbutus Cove in Saanich; Patricia Bay and Coles Bay in North Saanich; and Island View Beach in Central Saanich. They all offer long stretches of shallow water.

2. Choose a hot day.

3. Check the tide tables. Choose the afternoon and as the tide is beginning to go out. The water has had several hours to warm up.

Using these hints and a water thermometer, I have been swimming in these locations about twice a week this summer. On days when the air temperature is around 28-30°C, I have recorded water temperatures around 24-26°C in Pat Bay and Coles Bay.

Janice and George

Tuesday 23rd of August 2022

Hi Lori,

Very good information! It's definitely more pleasant to swim in the ocean when it's warmer :-).

Thanks for writing in.

Ron

Wednesday 30th of June 2021

Thank you very much for an excellent article-very informative and clear. It will be useful for my upcoming visit to Victoria. This land-locked Albertan and former East Coast beach bum can't wait. I typically swim lengths along the water's edge, going about 50 meters and turning around. I am used to swimming in the cold Atlantic Ocean. Which beach(s) would you recommend?

Janice and George

Sunday 4th of July 2021

Hi Ron,

Well, if you're used to swimming in the cold Atlantic, you might be okay with swimming in the cold Pacific :-).

For ocean swimming, the best place is probably Willows Beach. Several people do, in fact, do laps there, even when it seems too cold to do so! Each year, we see more and more people venturing out for these cold water dips.

Also, lately, with the heat wave and hot weather, the water at Willows Beach doesn't seem so ice-cold anymore. We've even gone swimming there lately - something we wouldn't have braved in the past.

Willows Beach is a good long stretch of beach, so you can swim alongside it for a long distance. And there are many sections with a sandy entry.

Enjoy your visit to Victoria!

James Lee

Sunday 24th of May 2020

Hi Everyone, As a local resident let me put it together for you: - There is no way, you can comfortably swim in the ocean in Victoria. The water is freezing cold. The closest swim-able beach is in Parksville, 180 km north. - We have four warm lakes where you can feel like in Hawaii (well, almost...). These are: Beaver lake, Elk lake, Thetis lake and Durrance lake. (There is a fifth, Prospect lake, but surrounded with private lands not so popular.)

Janice and George

Sunday 24th of May 2020

You hit the nail on the head :-). The ocean is cold here!

But we've seen some 20-year-olds chest-deep in the water at Gonzales Beach already in April and May. Don't know how they do it!

Thanks for chiming in :-).

Joanne

Monday 6th of August 2018

Beaches really are the best place to enjoy and relax on summer vacation with your family and friends.

Janice and George

Tuesday 7th of August 2018

Absolutely - especially when it's hot outside (and Victoria is having a glorious summer!)

Amit

Tuesday 12th of June 2018

You live in a beautiful place surrounded by water and beaches, how lucky you are. Thank you for posting this with the locations of the beaches.

Janice and George

Tuesday 12th of June 2018

We love where we live!