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7 Best swimming holes and beaches in Victoria, BC

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7 Best swimming holes and beaches in Victoria, BC

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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!

Since moving to Victoria on Vancouver Island (Canada), we’ve dipped our toes and dunked our bodies in the water of many swimming holes, sussing out 7 of the best beaches in Victoria, BC.

Best beaches in Victoria, BC, to swim
Dive in! The water’s just fine…

Now, we have to be honest.

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!

But they’re awesome for stand-up paddleboarding (SUP), kayaking, picnicking, reading a book, catching some sun and snoozing.

Swimming?

Well, if you want to actually swim and spend time in the water, the lakes in Victoria, BC, are better because the water is warmer.

Beaches in Victoria, Canada

The 7 best beaches in Victoria, BC, for cooling off in summer

Of course, you can’t miss certain iconic Victoria activities when away for a week or weekend in Victoria. (Afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress, anyone?)

But 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.

Here’s our beach chair report on the 7 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 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 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.

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).

West Shawnigan Lake Park map:

West Shawnigan Lake Park Beach

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.

Sailboats at anchor in Gonzales Bay, Victoria
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. Teens who listen to music and party-goers tend to hang out at the other end of the beach.

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

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 map:

Gonzales Beach

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 Provincial 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.

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 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 map

Sooke Potholes

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 (Credit: 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.

Thetis Lake directions:

Thetis Lake

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 is one of our favorite Victoria beaches (Credit: Beach House Restaurant)
Cordova Bay Beach is one of our favorite Victoria beaches (Credit: Beach House Restaurant)

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).

The Beach House
Doesn’t this look like a lovely place for a wedding? (Credit: Beach House Restaurant)

It makes others sigh too.

Many weddings are held on the sand here, with receptions afterward on the oceanfront deck of the Beach House.

View More: http://photos.pass.us/brettbrenton
Many weddings are held on the beach in front of the Beach House Restaurant (Credit: 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 (Credit: 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.)

Cordova Bay Beach

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.

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 (Credit: 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.

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

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.)

Our summers are so short, so you’ve got to work on your tan when you can!

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).

Willows Beach

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.

These beaches are hot! Discover the best beaches in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

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 the slides, swings and giant red octopus in the children’s playground.

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.

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

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.

SUP at Gyro Beach
It’s easy to SUP at Gyro Beach (Credit: Gyro Beach Board Shop)

Gyro Beach

Public washrooms? Yes.

Warm water for swimming? Yes, on a hot day!

Sandy or rocky? Sandy.

Other summer activities in Victoria, BC

The beach may be tops on our list of summery Victoria things to do.

But we also have beautiful gardens in Victoria here – you’ve heard of Buchart Gardens? And there are great restaurants in Victoria, many with outdoor patios. And the seaside walks are lovely…

Related reading: Have fun touring Victoria’s Gorge in a “pickle boat”

Accommodation?

We’ve sussed out and stayed at several hotels and Airbnbs.

See our insider guide to the best luxury hotels in Victoria, BC.

Also read our reviews of 5 utterly charming Victoria Airbnbs.

Beautiful BC Guide

Pssst! See our British Columbia Travel Guide

It’s packed with lots of great info on unmissable destinations, wineries, secret places, other cool things to do in BC (like storm watching in Tofino!), epic hikes and more!

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 21+ prettiest beaches in the world


Pin this to Pinterest!

Like this post? Then pin to Pinterest, so others can see it too :-).

Popular Beaches in Victoria, BC

Photo credits: 4, 5, 13 and 14 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase 


Do you have a favorite swimming hole where you live?


About the authors:
Janice and George Mucalov

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

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

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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!

Lydia

Sunday 10th of June 2018

Wow! These are some awesome summer places in Victoria, Janice and George. Each one of the beaches seems like a great spot for swimming. From your pictures, I especially love Gonzales Beach!

Janice and George

Sunday 10th of June 2018

We're lucky we have some great swimming holes here in Victoria! We moved from Calgary years ago to Vancouver, then Victoria -- in part because we wanted to be by the water. We need the ocean near us to feel whole :-).

Marissa Tejada

Tuesday 30th of August 2016

I'd love to visit Thetis Lake. Great post on the best beaches there! They all look really refreshing for a summer swim.

Janice and George

Tuesday 30th of August 2016

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).

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