What do 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!
We’re lucky. One of the most beautiful places 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 summer.
Since moving to Victoria, we’ve dipped our toes and dunked our bodies in the water of many swimming holes – making it our mission in summer to suss out the best beaches in Victoria, BC!
Best beaches in Victoria, BC, for cooling off in summer
Now, we have to be honest.
Yes, these are beautiful beaches and swimming spots.
But none of the ocean beaches around Victoria are warm like, say, the Los Cabos beaches in Mexico we’ve swum in. In fact, they’re kinda frigid!
In winter, the sea temperature averages about 46 F (8 C). In summer, it rises to 52 F (11 C); sometimes it gets a little warmer.
But Victoria’s beaches are awesome for stand-up paddleboarding (SUP), kayaking, picnicking, reading a book, catching some sun and 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…
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, 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 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 almost have the forest park 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 then).
West Shawnigan Lake Park map: 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 log-strewn sandy shores – 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. Teens who listen to music and party-goers tend to hang out at the other end of the 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 SUP Gonzales Beach ourselves!
Gonzales Beach location: See this link
3) Sooke Potholes Regional Park
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.
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 that 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.
Sooke Potholes map:
Sooke Potholes Regional Park location: See this link
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.
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.
The main beach can be a bit crowded for our taste. But there are great spots further away which are quieter.
Thetis Lake directions:
Thetis Lake Regional Park map: See this link
5) Cordova Bay Beach
Picture-perfect is the word – it really doesn’t get any prettier than Cordova Bay Beach.
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 or inside the Beach House.
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).
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.)
Cordova Bay location: See this link
6) Willows Beach
Along with Gonzales Beach, Willows Beach gets our vote as one of Victoria’s top beaches to splash about in during summer.
It’s probably the 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. An esplanade and walkway runs alongside the beach, popular for strolling along.
Willows Beach is also ideal if you want to SUP in Victoria.
Brian at South Island SUP operates a mobile SUP rental service, delivering SUP boards to you on the beach, and he’s often seen at Willows Beach. (We rented boards from him several times before buying our own.)
If you want to go 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 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
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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 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 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.
Your 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 #4), 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 and 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 in 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 the day at (like West Shawnigan Lake, #1) because it doesn’t have any lawn or beach area for lying out.
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 in future.
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 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.
There’s a great flat walking path around the lake, about 6½ miles (10 km) long, which we’ve enjoyed for some exercise.
But we’ve not gone swimming at Elk Lake because of the Swimmer’s Itch advisories that have been issued some summers. We’ve seen many people swimming there each summer though.
We understand that if you towel dry immediately after getting out of the water, this will significantly reduce the chance of developing the pesky rash and itch.
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 long walk (especially at low tide), exploring and staking out the perfect log to lie back against for a well-deserved nap.
Paddle boarders 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 in 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. We’ve even gone full-body swimming at Willows Beach (see #6 above) on super hot days in Victoria.
Victoria’s lakes are great for swimming in summer though (with ideal water temperatures).
In spring and fall, there are often still beautiful sunny days where you can sunbathe on the beach. 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 to go storm watching when the weather is wicked.
Now you know when and where to swim in Victoria, BC. So don’t forget your bathing suit when you visit Victoria. And enjoy our lakes and beaches!
More beach love!
Yes, we go to the beach in Victoria, BC, as often as we can when we’re here…
But the world is a big place, and there are so many other fabulous beaches!
Recommended reading: Discover the prettiest beaches in the world!
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Photo credits: 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 20 to 23, 26, 27 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase