What do Victorians do when clear blue skies and sunshine beckon, temperatures rise and brains get too mushy to work?
We’re surrounded by water, so the answer is – hit the beach!
We’re lucky. One of the most beautiful cities in Canada, Victoria is blessed with many great beaches. You don’t have to drive far to find a pretty lake either.
So when it’s hot outside, an outing to a freshwater lake or beach is one of the best things to do in Victoria in the summer.
Since moving to Victoria, we’ve dipped our toes and dunked our bodies in many swimming holes – making it our mission in summer to suss out the best beaches in Victoria, BC!
Best beaches in Victoria, BC: Can you swim at them?
Now, we have to be honest.
Yes, the following are beautiful beaches and swimming spots in Victoria.
But even the best beaches in Victoria for swimming are never as warm as, say, the Los Cabos beaches in Mexico we’ve visited. In fact, the 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 it does get a little warmer.
But Victoria’s beaches are awesome for stand-up paddleboarding (SUP), kayaking, picnicking, reading a book, catching some sun and even snoozing!
For actual swimming?
Well, if you want to really swim and spend time in the water, the lakes around Victoria are better than the ocean because the water is warmer.
10 Best beaches and lakes in Victoria, BC
Here’s our beach chair report on the 10 best Victoria, BC, beaches for swimming and relaxing…
1) West Shawnigan Lake Park
Encircled by holiday cabins and fancy homes, Shawnigan Lake is a pretty 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.
Formerly a provincial park, it’s larger and far less busy than the other two. Except for occasional powerboats and waterskiiers 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: See this link
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 of Victoria and has 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!
As it’s quite long, the beach can 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 other end of the beach.
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: See this link
3) Sooke Potholes Regional Park
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.
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 location: See this link
4) Willows Beach
Along with Gonzales Beach, Willows Beach gets our vote as one of Victoria’s top beaches to splash about during the summer.
Of all the city beaches on Vancouver Island, it’s probably the “it” beach to chill on if you only have time for one.
Larger than Gonzales Beach, this long sandy beach 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 Club (a volunteer-led organization).
Below the lawn lies a long stretch of sandy beach lined by logs.
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.)
For us, Willows Beach is the best beach in Victoria, BC (ocean beach, that is) in summer – especially if you’re looking for an unsurpassed mix of beautiful ocean scenery and late afternoon sunshine.
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).
Up a set of stairs just north of Willows Beach is Cattle Point.
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.
Many people even enjoy the 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: See this link
5) 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 and hiking trails weave through the forest around the lakes, 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 #4) 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 the best swimming beaches in Victoria, BC. And there are great spots along the edge of the lake, farther away from Main Beach, which are quieter.
Thetis Lake directions and trail map
For the Thetis Lake Regional Park map, see this link.
Thetis Lake location: See this link
6) Cordova Bay Beach
Picture-perfect is the word – it really doesn’t get any prettier than Cordova Bay Beach. It’s one of the most chilled ocean beaches near Victoria, BC.
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 along Cordova Bay Road may line much of the beach – but as all beaches are public, you can still enjoy its whole length.
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 or inside the Beach House.
This is our go-to place for the perfect combination of a late afternoon beach read and toe-dip in the sea, followed by sunset cocktails and appies (or perhaps dinner) at the Beach House.
(Bring an umbrella and sun hat to the beach for shade.)
One time we ate at the Beach House, a full moon rose in the sky, huge and pink, and despite the evening chill, we couldn’t bear to leave the deck for inside – the moonlight was just too magical on the water.
A paddleboarder caught our eye as he paddled out into the early moonlight. It turned out he was retrieving his catch from a crab trap.
We watched as a new bride, also intrigued, padded barefoot with her long white wedding dress trailing on the sand, to peek at the huge crab he’d caught.
Sadly, we understand the Beach House is for sale and the restaurant will close August 27, 2023.
Cordova Bay location: See this link
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.
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.
Cadboro-Gyro Park location: See this link
8) Durrance Lake
Like Thetis Lake (see #5), Durrance Lake is another one of the best places to swim in Victoria, BC. 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 – a favorite of ours 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.
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, #1) 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 Beach location: See this link
9) Elk Lake (Hamsterly Beach) and Beaver 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.
For several summer, we didn’t swim here due to advisories of swimmer’s itch that had been issued (though we’d seen plenty of people swimming in the lake).
But as of 2023, there have been no advisories. And we’ve recently enjoyed many a hot afternoon cooling off at Hamsterly Beach here.
The main beach on Elk Lake (at the north end of the lake), Hamsterly Beach has now become one of our favorite Victoria beaches for swimming.
The lake is so warm you can actually stay in the water for an hour or more, doing laps or splashing about.
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 (#4 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 also a great flat walking path around the lake, about 6½ miles (10 km) long, which we’ve enjoyed for some exercise.
Elk Lake location: See this link
10) 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.
The long sandy 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: See this link
Best time of year to visit these Victoria, Canada, beaches?
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).
We mentioned earlier that the sea temperatures are pretty cold – not the most comfortable for swimming, even in the summer months. Some people, however, do go swimming in the ocean.
Cold-water swimming has become more popular these days, and we regularly see locals stripping down to their swimsuits 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 #4 above) on super hot days in Victoria. And lately, George has started doing daily summer dips in the ocean too.
So it is possible to swim in Victoria.
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.
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
Now you know when and where to swim in Victoria, BC.
So don’t forget your bathing suit when you visit! As you can see, we have many gorgeous lakes and beaches.
Willows Beach is probably our favorite chill-out beach (it’s close to where we live). But for an actual swim, nothing beats Elk Lake.
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 lazing about on the beautiful beaches in Victoria, BC, 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!
Like this guide to Victoria’s beaches? Then pin to Pinterest, so others can see it too :-).
Photo credits: 2, 4, 7 to 9, 13 to 16, 28, 29, 30 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase