A parrot named Little Eve sits on Lia Crowe’s hand at Butterfly Gardens. (Don Denton photography)

10 things to do and see on the Saanich Peninsula

Experience all the Saanich Peninsula has to offer

The Saanich Peninsula is a goldmine of hidden gems. While these may not be hidden – or won’t be for – here is a list 10 things to do on the Saanich Peninsula.

1. Discover a garden like no other

In 1904, when Jennie Butchart directed workmen to start lugging topsoil into her family’s limestone quarry, no one imagined that she would transform the site into a spectacular sunken garden, famous the world over.

Spread over 55 acres, the display gardens are now a National Historic Site that provides a spectacular array that is unparalleled anywhere in Canada.

The garden features great food, a classic carousel for the wee ones, live performances under the stars on their outdoor stage and Saturday fireworks throughout the summer.

This attraction is a treat, not only for gardeners but for everyone in every family.

2. Discover the heartbeat of the sea

The Salish Sea is showcased in Sidney’s amazing Shaw Centre.

The centre allows visitors to get up close and personal with a giant Pacific octopus, watch schools of salmon as they circle in displays of aquatic gymnastics, or marvel at the undulating jellyfish.

Visitors can touch a sea urchin or be tickled by a sea star at one of the touch pools and learn all about the undersea wonders of the Salish Sea from one of the many Oceaneers on site to answer all your questions.

This is an opportunity to see the hundreds of species of fish, invertebrates and marine plants that create the heartbeat of this amazing ecosystem.

3. Explore the jungle

Imagine yourself trekking through a tropical jungle. At Butterfly Gardens the sounds of water in the background and the rich earthy scents of nature surround you as you marvel at the giant tortoises, flamingos, and tropical birds that fly overhead, and there on the rocks, an enormous iguana that is watching your every step.

You encounter a poison dart frog and stop to examine the tropical flowers and even carnivorous plants.

But the real treat is yet to come as you watch thousands of tropical butterflies fly through the gardens that stretch over an area equivalent to three basketball courts.

Moving on, you enter the Insectarium, where tiny (and not so tiny) creatures from around the globe combine to fascinate and sent the odd shiver up your spine.

4. A glimpse of past flights

It’s a trip back in time when you enter the hangers of the BC Aviation Museum.

This museum has consistently earned a spot on the top attractions on Vancouver Island as it gives visitors the chance to take the stick on the cockpit of a WWII warplane, marvel at classic (and decidedly sketchy looking) helicopters, early floatplanes and more.

At the museum, visitors can take a stroll through the passenger cabin of the Vickers Viscount and wonder at the leg room and comfort of that early passenger aircraft. It could reasonably leave one longing for the good old days of air travel.

Whether it’s the fighter planes, the water bombers, floatplanes or helicopters, the museum is sure to evoke mental scenes of the classic ages of aircraft.

The museum recently acquired one of the last remaining Lancaster Bombers and visitors can learn about that aircraft and the plans to bring it back to life and into the skies.

5. Take the train for a ride into the past

At Heritage Acres visitors can take another trip into the past of the Saanich Peninsula on a miniature railway that circles the park.

Children and adults alike get on the unique railway for a fabulous ride through Heritage Acres.

But the train ride is just the beginning. Visitors can stroll through the village-like historical displays and can visit the two-storey museum on the site to marvel at the antique cars, and curiosities or make their way to Newman’s boathouse where small historical boats are on display. Newman, by the way, was a boat builder and Olympic rower almost 100 years ago and his boats are there for all to see.

There’s a chapel, a general store, a nature trail and food concessions on site – all combining to offer a fascinating afternoon of fun and education.

And we haven’t even mentioned the tractors and antique steam threshers … but you’ll have to visit the site to learn all about them.

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6. Wine, cider, and gourmet food… Oh my!

The rolling pastures set on the backdrop of ocean views and majestic mountain vistas make a self-guided tour of the Saanich Peninsula’s wineries, cideries, and distilleries a must for any wine or liquor enthusiast.

Most of the small wineries and cideries have, not only fabulous sipping rooms where folks can taste the fruits of the region’s vines but some pretty spectacular food options.

There are bakeries, gourmet restaurants and casual cafés along with some of the most amazing wine, cider and distilled products.

There are self-guided tours, of course, but options for guided tours and even cycling tours are also available.

7. Get out and active

Sure, there are all kinds of great attractions on the Saanich Peninsula, but to truly explore the region, you should really get out on the water.

There are a host of kayak tours and rentals available on the Peninsula that offer an active and up-close look at what has made the area famous.

Explore the coves, witness the marine wildlife and marvel at the beauty of land and sea from a unique vantage point.

There’s always a chance that you’ll see some of the whales that frequent the area, or be lucky enough to see the dolphins at play.

This is an activity that you’ll be talking about for years.

8. Take a hike

No trip to the Saanich Peninsula would be complete without taking advantage of the many trails and paths available in the region.

John Dean Provincial Park and the Gulf Island National Parks both offer a return to nature that’s sure to stir a love of the outdoors in even the most citified visitor.

Walk through the ancient forests of Douglas fir that were alive before Europeans even dreamt of a new world.

The pristine wilderness is home to inspiring displays of wildflowers, spectacular views of mountains and several First Nations’ points of interest that put the natural world into a whole new context.

9. Enjoy the small town vibes

There’s something about the small town feel of some communities that sets them apart from the visitor experiences of larger centres.

Beacon Avenue in Sidney is a classic example of that special feel.

There’s a wide array of every sort of shop along this scenic walk as well as an eclectic offering of dining possibilities.

And don’t be surprised to see what, at first glance, appears to be an old man sitting on a bench hugging his dog, or an old mariner dreaming of the sea. They’re all part of Sidney’s “Bench people” – a fantastic group of lifelike bronze that epitomize the whimsical nature of the region.

10. Take in a show

It takes a little planning, but Sidney also offers some amazing entertainment at the Mary Winspear Centre.

This amazing little theatre offers a chance to see an astounding variety of entertainment that ranges from Beatles tribute bands to mystery theatre.

Special guest appearances by world famous personalities round out the season’s playbill for an incredible offering of fun and entertainment.

Didn’t think to get tickets? Don’t despair.

Sidney is also home to a host of restaurants and pubs that feature live entertainment. Local musicians take to the stage to get toes tapping while you enjoy some amazing local food.

With plenty to do and see on the Saanich Peninsula, there’s no shortage of adventure.

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