Sidney by the Sea | An Adorable BC Stopover
Our visit to Sidney by the Sea was one of those random flukes that happen while traveling that turn out to be the highlight of the whole trip. We had planned a week on Vancouver Island. I had a week’s worth of vacation to use up at work. After 2 years of COVID, I was going a little stir crazy. Sidney turned out to be the perfect small town for two or three nights – and filled with no fewer than 6 bookshops!
The flight from Halifax to Victoria is long and included a stopover in Toronto. Luckily, everything went smoothly. We took a cab in the evening from the airport to downtown Victoria- about a half hour drive. But on the way back, our flight would leave early. We wanted to be closer to the airport to avoid traffic. As it turns out, Victoria airport is actually in Sidney by the Sea, which is a proper little town! Unlike so many airports – think Gatwick, Glasgow, Toronto, etc. – the Victoria airport is walking distance from Sidney. And it’s super cute and really worth a visit of its own. (In fact, if you had a car, you could just stay in Sidney as your base for touring around, since it was cheaper than Victoria and more compact but… That’s a discussion for another day.)
No need for a car!
Job #1 when we got to Sidney by the Sea was – crucially – to return the rental car, with gas. This was surprisingly easy also (the theme of this post could really be “I’m shocked how easy this was.”). The signage was clear, the Google Map worked as expected, and the airport parking lot was tiny and easy to navigate. The woman at the info desk at the airport also gave us directions for how to WALK back to town. Walk. From the airport. For someone who has only lived in places where the airport is freaking hard to get to, this was mind blowing.
This seems like a bizarre story to be telling but really the point is: save yourself some money and return your rental car before spending your days in Sidney. Or, don’t bother picking it up until you’re leaving town. You can walk to and from downtown to the airport where the car rental is and keep your money in the bank.
Looking for more to see in Canada? Check out this itinerary for New Brunswick!
There’s a lovely walking/biking trail that runs straight from the airport to downtown called the Flight Path. So we dropped the car and just meandered back into town through the Sidney neighbourhoods! Cute cute.
With that job done, we got to eat and poke around town.
I booked two nights at Sidney Pier Hotel and Spa. Breakfast was unfortunately not included, but the location was great: right on the water, and easy access to several restaurants. The room was clean and modern with a fridge and couch – and a fantastic shower situation. We didn’t have to negotiate the parking situation, but it didn’t look complicated. The staff were very friendly, and the cafe downstairs offered a convenient breakfast option on our second morning when we had to leave early. Sadly, we didn’t have time to take advantage of the spa (maybe next time!).
The big hit in Sidney by the Sea was The Farmer’s Daughter Fromagerie and Wine Bar. (Not to be confused with the Farmer’s Daughter Country Market on the other side of the country.) Wine and soup and cheese are served on sweet Parisian-style tables in a little courtyard covered with colourful umbrellas. They only had one glass of the wine we had chosen, so they offered us a tasting of two different wines instead which was really lovely. The menu was small but everything was good; I had a swanky grilled cheese with tomato soup.
Quince Cafe was another favourite. They too had outdoor seating, and beautiful cakes, pastries and buns (and ice cream!). And we got deli goods and scones from the Fickle Fig to take on the plane, but really could have eaten everything in sight.
We had both our dinners as take out from 10 Acres at the Pier, a farm-to-table style restaurant, and whose sister restaurant we had dined at in Victoria. The food was only okay (not as good as what we had in Victoria at their other venue, Commons). We had takeout, but inside was absolutely packed (causing a fair amount of stress for the manager it seems, who had a bit of a hissy fit as I watched!) so I’d suggest a reservation if you plan to eat in.
For a place that’s all about the ocean, Sidney by the Sea didn’t offer much by way of seafood, but if we’d stayed longer perhaps the fish would have revealed itself.
Sidney is known as one of Canada’s “Booktowns” for hosting not one, not two, but six bookshops in its tiny town centre. I managed to find choral music and other treasures at the secondhand shop Beacon Books, and new non-fiction at Tanner’s.
Flush Bathroom and Travel Essentials was much cuter than its name suggests, and Nest & Nook Housewares had lovely things to look at (luckily none would fit in our suitcases).
We’re usually not much good at doing anything other than walking and eating (see this post if you need further proof) but we did manage to see most of the sights in Sidney by the Sea. The waterfront walking path is lovely; I was up early with the dogs and the children so got to have the little beach to myself.
We opted to visit Sidney’s big attraction: The Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea (that’s very hard to say out loud). It was very busy, full of small children, and for more than $17 per adult I’m not sure it was worth it (though you could come back any time later in the day for the cost of one admission, so that’s a perk).
There was a very nice exhibit at the end about the First Nations people who lived in the area, and their connection to the Salish Sea as well which was a helpful context-adding piece. And who doesn’t like to watch jellyfish bobbing around?
And, because we have a thing for libraries, we wandered down to the Sidney library, which was in part worth it just to see another part of town. The library had a lovely garden out front, and nearby a labyrinth to walk. The library itself was clean and modern, with lots of locals sitting and enjoying the magazines and newspapers.
In many ways, Sidney by the Sea was the highlight of our trip. Certainly if I were to go back to Vancouver Island, it would have a significant presence in the planning. This time it was just fluke that it worked out to stay in town before heading to the airport. But I highly recommend that this stopover becomes a proper stop on the itinerary.
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