Victoria has some amazing local businesses, and my kids have had a blast at places like PlayZone, the museums, or the Flying Trampoline Indoor Park (seriously, they can't get enough). I still like to work these into our repertoire of activities that we do, but as many parents would understand, it can really add up.
As a Mom of 3 wonderfully active and energetic kiddos, I love finding places that get them just as excited as a giant indoor trampoline park, but that are free or really cheap. Gathering ideas for this list had us exploring Victoria like never before and had us appreciating the natural beauty that has always surrounded us, and led to some of my fondest family memories to date. I hope you find something new to try!
#1. Practice Putting at Beacon Hill & Explore the Park
Beacon Hill Park is by far the most well-known park in Victoria and for a valid reason. Not only is it surrounded by unparalleled natural beauty but the park also features numerous playgrounds, free water park known as the Watering Can, sports fields, pesky peacocks, and even a free miniature golfing green that rarely is in use (located across from the petting zoo). Don't have clubs? If you're just wanting to have some fun, you can pick a few up for $1 at a local thrift store. The Petting Zoo is a local favourite for the goats, and entrance to this is by donation. The park is an absolutely perfect spot year round to bring the entire family and great for any age.
Note: attractions such as the Children’s Petting Zoo and Watering Garden are only open seasonally.
#2. Ride the Giant Waterslide & Play in the Wave Pool at Commonwealth
I hate to say it, but I severely underestimated how fun a recreation centre is. For only $3.25 - $4.50 per kid (depending on age), the Saanich Commonwealth Place feels like an indoor water park! You can also score a family pass for $13.25 for up to 2 parent/guardians and 4 children, even if not related.
If you've never been to Commonwealth, there's a shallow tot pool, a big wave pool that features a cool shipwreck, a 10 story waterslide, activity pool, competition pools, and diving boards ranging from 1 meter all the way up to 10 meters! And of course, your hot tub and sauna.
#3. Tackle Mount Doug
If your family is keen on exploring some of the best trails on the Island and scoring an amazing view of the entire city then a trip to Mount Doug (as the locals call it) should be at the top of your to-do list. With loads of well marked trails, access to the beach and even washroom facilities this park has it all! We suggest packing a picnic lunch and spending the day. Tip: if you don’t have time for the full hike there is a full service road that will take you to the top of the hill.
Photography By: Film Victoria
#5. Bike or Roller Blade the Galloping Goose Regional Trail
Another free activity to do with your kids (as long as they already own a bicycle and helmet) is taking a bike ride on the multi-use 55 km trail. (Don’t worry we are not suggesting riding the whole thing!) Going on a family bike ride along the Galloping Goose is a perfect way to stay active with the entire family. Perks of the ride include travelling past some of the sweetest scenery on the Island including hidden lakes, coves, marshland and urban back streets.
#6. Catch a Movie at Cineplex for Only $2.99
Did you know that every Saturday morning at 11am, Cineplex shows a Family Favourite screening? The Odeon in Westshore is currently the only local theatre that participates, but still a great tidbit to know, especially on a dreary Saturday morning where you want to get out of the house. The movie changes weekly, from new favourites like Sing, Trolls, and Minions, to the classics like Space Jam. Here's the schedule.
#7. Zip Line at Caddy Bay
If you are not afraid of running into the ominous Cadborosaurus and want to take your kids to a truly one-of-a-kind ocean playground we highly recommend stopping by Cadboro-Gyro Park. This playground is one that is engrained in every Victorians memory, and thanks to recent renovations the park has all the nostalgic aspects plus features an awesome zipline, and it is more accessible for all ages and now includes wheelchair and scooter ramps.
As a sweet bonus, you're right at one of Victoria's sandy beaches which gives endless opportunity for sand castle building, constructing a fort from driftwood, and you'll see lots of paddle boarders thanks to its calm nature.
#8. Check Out the Eclectic Fisherman’s Wharf
If you are new to Victoria or just want to expose your children to the funkiest village in town we recommend taking a trip to the Fisherman’s Wharf. Here you will be able to check out the Float Home Village, see the Harbour Ferries dropping off and picking up passengers & if you are lucky see an array of sea life (like seals!) beneath the docks.
If you're up for a treat, the ice cream is amazing! There's also a great mix of restaurants right in the Wharf.
#9. Scooter or Skate Our Epic Skateparks
Many people know of the Vic West Skatepark, but it can be overrun with older kids and intimidating to my young ones. The new Sidney Skatepark was just completed in 2017 and the one time we went, we loved it! It's location is beautiful, and also has Tulista Park's playground nearby which is especially handy when you have a range in ages of your kids.
Photograph of the new Sidney skatepark by Tulista Park.
#10. Try the Beach Scene at Willows Park
We cannot think of a playground with a nicer view! For a fabulous free activity bring your kids to Willows Park. This developed waterfront park is complete with a play area, changing rooms, washrooms, picnic tables, sandy beach and large grassland area. Dogs are allowed year-round on the pathways and grassy areas but they must be leashed at all times.
When's the perfect time to go? We'd have to say during the Oak Bay Tea Party which happens every year early June. There's a small midway and fair on the grass patch to raise money for many community projects, and the throughout Saturday and Sunday features fun free activities like a parade, air show, bathtub race, and always ends with a bang of fireworks! It's free to attend, but rides and food have a cost.
#11. Find All the Items in the Free Downtown Scavenger Hunt "The Hands of Time"
Have you ever noticed any of the 12 bronze sculptures downtown that depict hands engaged in an activity? They are scattered along Victoria's waterfront, and waiting to be found! This was designed as a playful way to engage the young and old, while sparking an interest in Victoria's history and meaning. Located smack dab in in the Inner Harbour Causeway is a bronze map next to one of the clues, but you can get the map here too.
This scavenger hunt will have you walking the Inner Harbour, Beacon Hill Park, the Songhee's Walkway, and through Canada's oldest China Town! It's a great way to explore downtown in a fun way and on the cheap.
Photograph of one of the 12 Hands of Time you'll spot on the hunt.
#12. Get a Mini Cupcake and Play at Crumsby's
This option is best for younger children, as Crumsby's offers great play areas with train tables, building blocks, books, a big chalkboard, and bright welcoming colours. They have a full menu, but you can make it a special stop by indulging in one of their famous cupcakes. They even have mini ones if you don't want your kids to have TOO much of a sugar rush. We always loved it here, as it's a good spot to meet a friend for coffee or tea while your kids keep themselves busy. They are located in quaint Estevan Village, only a hop skip and a jump from Willows Beach (*their Royal Oak location recently closed*). Here's their website for menu information.
#13. Visit the Iconic Lighthouse at Fort Rodd Hill
The picturesque lighthouse at Fort Rodd Hill is a great spot to bring a picnic and let the kids play in the tide pools. Admission is only $2 for kids (free under 6) and $4 for adults, and then you'll get to explore the old Fort which has command posts, guardhouses, burracks, and three gun batteries. It's a perfect way to incorporate some history but ample room to run around and have fun.
While you're there- make sure you drive a little further down the road after your visit and check out the Esquimalt Lagoon. A narrow road with a beach on each side and water all around! It's a fun spot to take a walk, especially if your kiddos love dogs.
#14. See the Waterfall at Goldstream Park
Goldstream Provincial Park is a perfect family excursion. The old growth forest has wide trails along the river and you're sure to spot wildlife. If you cross under the highway through the tunnel of the dried up stream, you can keep following the old river bed and reach the spectacular waterfall. If you're up for a decent incline, you can access the trails from this side to get to the trestle.
Tip: The best time to go is late fall when the salmon are running! Thousands of Chum, Coho and Chinook make their journey back to Goldstream every year, and it's truly a spectacle to watch.
#15. Stay and Play at the Interactivity Board Game Cafe
For only $5, you can play as many games as you want, for as long as you want! Right in downtown Victoria is the amazing Board Game Cafe, with over 800 games to choose from, the 'game experts' are very helpful at selecting a game perfect for your group. They also have great coffee, snacks, and the milkshakes are to die for.
Pro tip- if you are able to go during the early afternoon and leave before 3pm, you only pay $3 :^)
#16. Walk the Breakwater
Another fabulous and free family activity to do in Victoria is taking a walk along the Ogden Point Breakwater. For those who don’t know the Breakwater is a narrow walkway jutting out 800m into the ocean. With a lighthouse at the far end we think this walk is as picturesque as it gets!
#17. Check Out Our Real Life Castle (Superhero Fans Especially)
Hatley Castle is a true beauty and is bursting with rich history. Did you know it has also been a site for many movies and TV shows? The most well known being Deadpool and X-Men. So if you have a child or tween who loves action movies, they might think it's cool to see this place in person.
During the shoulder season there is complimentary garden access, so you are free to self explore! However, there is a donation box inside the lattice entrance gate should you wish to give a friendly donation. Make sure you read up on their website so you can share the history with your kids as you walk through.
Photo credit: Sheri Terris on Flickr
#18. Visit the Greater Victoria Public Library
Islanders often overlook or forget to stop by the various Greater Victoria Public Libraries with their children. On a cold spring day this is the perfect place to pick out a new book. Some libraries even put on toddler story time.
Hint: while your kids are occupied you may manage to snag a few minutes with the free magazine rack. Score!
#19. Visit a Splash Park When the Weather Heats Up
Last year, the Fraser Street Adventure Park opened and I've heard nothing but great reviews. We will definitely be checking this one out in the coming summer. You may be surprised to hear there are actually TEN free outdoor water parks in Greater Victoria. So if you're ever looking to beat the heat, here's our list of all the outdoor splash parks.
#20. Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea
Just a quick commute outside the city is the Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea. Although admission is not technically under $5, the hack here is that you can get an annual membership for the entire family for only $85 (covers 2 adults and 4 children). As long as you go more than once, you're already getting a sizzling deal. Once inside your children will get to see over 20 live underwater exhibits and even a touch pool area. Here kids can tickle an urchin or even shake hands with a sea star. There's changing activities kids can take part in too, so that it feels like a different experience each visit. We have felt the initial cost is well worth it, and makes for a fun trip out to Sidney, which is such a quaint little town to walk around.
Photography By: Distinctly Sidney
One last suggestion!
Coming up for two weekends February 23-25 and March 2-4 is the Tourist in Your Own Hometown. I highly recommend getting tickets! They are $15 each, but this gets you free admission to Miniature World, the Lego Exhibit, Hop on Hop Off Bus Tours, Butchart Gardens, Fort Rod Hill, and many more popular attractions! Plus discounted admission to many others, or tasty treats. Here's all the info you need.