Sometimes the best destinations are defined by what you don’t find. I was reminded of this during a recent visit to Sooke, on the southwest coast of Vancouver Island, B.C.
As my travelling partner and I left the busyness of urban Greater Victoria, we found a community unique from the rest of the region, where towering trees yield to rocky cliffs and hidden beaches, wide rivers flow to the ocean, attracting a variety of wildlife, and unique, local businesses yield delicious surprises.
What we didn’t find during our recent mid-week getaway to Sooke Point Ocean Cottage Resort were crowds or the chain businesses so common everywhere else. We also were pleased to skip the hours-long drive needed to visit some other popular destinations with the same features. In fact, for those coming from off-Island, the drive to SookePoint is just over an hour, depending on time of day, from the Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal or Victoria International Airport.
Our visit started in downtown Victoria – it’s about a 40-minute drive from Sooke, but with a single-lane highway heading both in and out of town, and many commuters, planning your arrival outside prime travel time will make for an easier drive.
Discover the West Coast
Sooke has long been home to the T’Sou-ke First Nation, whose members continue to shape the community today. Settlers arrived in the late 19th century as the area became a hub for logging, alongside fishing and even gold prospecting. Throughout its history, the west coast’s rugged beauty has been a constant, with the waterfront community wrapping around the Sooke Harbour and Basin, backdropped by densely forested hills.
While you’ll find the odd fast food restaurant in Sooke’s downtown core, it’s far more enjoyable to experience the unique local offerings. On the way to town, we stopped for an early lunch just off the highway at the family-friendly 17 Mile Pub, one of the oldest pubs in the region and a fun, kitchy mash-up of old-English pub and local history-keeper. The burgers were delish, enjoyed on the inviting patio.
Right next door, thrill-seekers will also find Adrenaline Zipline Adventures, an exhilarating treetop adventure delivered alongside insight into Sooke’s wildlife, history and natural beauty.
(Note that recent highway upgrades mean you’ll need to look for the Gillespie Road turn-off to loop down to the pub and Adrenaline.)
Arriving in Sooke, it was time for an easy, 2.7-kilometre out-and-back walk along Whiffin Spit, a flat sandy stretch popular with families, dog-walkers and wildlife enthusiasts. Reaching almost to East Sooke on the far side of the harbour, the spit creates a small entrance to the harbour, where you’ll often find anglers, kayakers, paddleboarders and others sharing the waters with seals, waterfowl and even whales.
From the spit, we were also treated to our first glimpse of our home for the next two days – SookePoint Resort, overlooking the ocean from a rocky outcrop at the very tip of East Sooke. While we were excited to check in, the afternoon had a few more adventures in store first…
Heading away from Sooke along West Coast Road, visitors with a passion for outdoor recreation are spoiled for choice. Rocky beaches offer beachcombing opportunities before you reach the small community of Shirley, where must-visit destinations include the celebrated Shirley Delicious café and the historic Sheringham Point Lighthouse, a designated National Heritage Lighthouse.
Continuing west, beaches at Jordan River and Sombrio are popular with surfers, while Juan de Fuca Park stretches from China Beach to Botanical Beach, offering a variety of camping, daytripping and hiking opportunities, including the 47-kilometre Juan de Fuca Marina Trail for those looking for a multi-day hike.
Leaving those pastimes for a later visit with more time to explore, we instead turned inland toward the rural community of Otter Point, where we unpacked our paddleboards for a shoreline loop of Kemp Lake, popular with locals for swimming and trout fishing, before following the eye-catching signs to Bad Dog Brewing Company, one of Sooke’s three craft breweries.
Out of the way, but well worth the visit, this family-run micro brewery offers a well-rounded selection of beers on tap, from refreshing sours and a honey blonde to winter ales and IPAs – pull up a seat at the picnic tables to enjoy on-site or take your favourites to go, and be sure to watch for the resident not-so-bad dogs, Duke and Molly.
After a full afternoon, it was time to return to Sooke, where we picked up dinner fixings, and then drove around the harbour to check in at SookePoint.
Stepping into our two-bedroom cottage, we were greeted with spectacular 180-degree views from the floor-to-ceiling sliding glass patio doors and spacious balcony. Yes, while you’ll find everything you need in these beautifully appointed suites, including outfitted kitchens, their setting really takes centre stage.
And while we were treated to endless blue skies during our stay, I have to think that the same would be true during the wild west coast storm-watching season.
Enjoying our dinner on the patio, watching the fishing boats make their way home against the setting sun, we were struck with the sense of being ‘away from it all,’ just a short drive from home.
Exploring close to home
After a restful night’s sleep nurtured by the waves outside our window, we awoke refreshed and ready for the adventures ahead. Savouring bakery treats picked up from Sooke’s Little Vienna Bakery, which we’d heard (rightly) makes some of the best baked treats on the South Island, we reviewed the map for East Sooke Regional Park, a vast wilderness park whose western-most entry is just steps from the resort.
Connecting to the Silver Spray Trail, we made our way first along the forested Pike Point Trail then down to the beautiful Iron Mine Bay – empty, but for two families exploring the tide pools, and the perfect place to cool off with a saltwater dip.
Trails of varying lengths and difficulties criss-cross the park from several entry points. For the sure-footed with a full day to spare, the 10.5km Coast Trail is stunning, connecting Iron Mine Bay to Aylard Farm, at the park’s eastern entrance.
Back at the car, we turned toward toward residential East Sooke, stopping at the East Sooke Grocer and General Store, where you can pick up any forgotten essentials, along with a keepsake or two.
A pleasant surprise was the family-run Hide ‘n Seek food truck, serving fresh-made Asian comfort food that’s available to go or to enjoy on their shady patio. We chose the latter for our Vietnamese mango salad and salad roll, and a deliciously filling Rainbow Pride dish with tofu scramble, shitake mushrooms, edamame, carrots and egg.
Fuelled up for our afternoon explorations, Roche Cove Regional Park yielded quiet mid-week trails, including the forested out-and-back Matheson Creek Trail – offering cool respite from the afternoon heat. For those looking for a longer trek, the creek trail connects to the Matheson Lake Trail, a loop trail around the lake popular with angers, paddlers and swimmers.
Ready for some refreshment, it was time to visit Sheringham Distillery. The distillery has its roots in Shirley – originally named Sheringham – and Sooke, but recently moved to bigger digs about 20 minutes away in the neighbouring community of Langford.
The growth is a testament to the quality of spirits produced by Alayne and Jason MacIsaac and the renown they’ve earned, including World’s Best Contemporary Gin honours at the World Gin Awards in London, England, for their flagship spirit, Seaside Gin. Jason, both a chef and master distiller, crafts quality, often local, ingredients into decidedly unique spirits, and at their new distillery and tasting room, we got a glimpse into the process while tasting the results.
Looping back to SookePoint via the rural farmlands of Metchosin, we ordered a fresh-baked pizza from MyChosen Pizza that we warmed up for dinner back at our cottage. And as we enjoyed another spectacular sunset, with swaying kelp waving up from the water below, a river otter scampered ashore, reminding us that this west coast is still a little wild, indeed.
If you go:
- SookePoint Ocean Cottage Resort – Choose from various room / cottage configurations, all with high-end details and breathtaking Pacific Ocean views from East Sooke; pet-friendly cottages available. Learn more and book your stay at sookepointresort.ca
- 17 Mile Pub – Stop for a beverage or a meal at this landmark pub on the way to Sooke at 5126 Sooke Rd. Learn more at 17milehouse.com
- Bad Dog Brewing – Visit the craft micro-brewery at 7861 Tugwell Rd., Sooke. Food truck on-site. For more information, visit baddogbrewing.ca
- Little Vienna Bakery – Eat in or take out at this bakery in the heart of Sooke at 6726 West Coast Rd.Learn more and browse their offerings at littleviennabakery.com
- Sheringham Distillery – The tasting room, at 103 – 4382 West Shore Pkwy. in Langford, offers a peek into the distillery and complimentary tastings of the spirits they’re known for and new introductions. Plan your visit at sheringhamdistillery.com
- My-Chosen Pizza – The family-run business crafts fresh ingredients, artisan dough and homemade tomato sauce into something delicious at 4492 Happy Valley Rd. Learn more and order online at mychosenpizza.com
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