Once in Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, consider these places to stay and eat. Then get out on the water, where the surrounding scenery impresses no matter which way you turn.
My top choice would be whale-watching, and there are plenty of outfitters ready to take you out on the water. One of the best known is Prince of Whales (tel. 888/383-4884 or 250/383-4884; www.princeofwhales.com). You can be sure Big Brother is watching, too, and you should be glad of it. The local newspaper claims that whale-watching boats often break the rule about disturbing the giant beasts, so Straitwatch employees are ready to blow the whistle if the skippers get too close to whales or otherwise disturb them. At the moment, there are only about 240 northern resident killer whales around, so it is imperative to keep them safe from predators.
For sumptuous dining, consider the Empress Room of the Fairmont Empress Hotel (721 Government Street; tel. 250/384-8111; www.fairmont.com/empress). There are only 12 tables in this Victorian-style room, with tables overlooking the Inner Harbour. I enjoyed an appetizer of Fraser Valley game bird terrine for C$16 ($13.92) and a superb West Coast seafood risotto with sausage for C$30 ($26.10), followed by a local rhubarb and apple crumble dessert at C$13 ($11.31). If you want to splurge, ask for a bottle of Sumac Ridge sparkling wine called Stellar's Jay Brut. The jay is a northwestern version of the blue jay, and the wine comes from British Columbia's magnificent Okanagan Valley. A bottle is C$55 ($47.85); a glass costs C$14 ($12.18). You can always phone ahead and ask the chef, Jeffrey Brothers, for something special, too. Don't worry about the dress code: neckties are not required, though I should think you would want to dress up for the occasion.
Probably the best place to eat Italian in Victoria is the charming Il Terrazzo (555 Johnson Street; tel. 250/361-0028; www.ilterrazzo.com). Tucked off an alleyway not far from the Inner Harbour, the restaurant features northern Italian cuisine with attentive service in a cozy ambiance. I enjoyed a lunch of fettuccini cacciatore at C$12 ($10.44) and a campari at C$5.50 ($4.79).
For authentic Japanese in a retro atmosphere, try Koto (510 Fort Street; tel. 604/382-1514). Also near the Inner Harbour, Koto -- which means a Japanese harp -- has tatami-matted private rooms, a happy-sounding crowd at the sushi bar, and helpful service. My choices were two appetizers: seven small pieces of tonkatsu at C$5.50 ($4.79), six pan-fried gyoza (pork dumplings) for the same price, plus a small Kirin beer for C$8 (US$6.96).
Despite the imposing presence of the Fairmont Empress right on the Inner Harbour, my favorite is the Victoria Regent (1234 Wharf Street; tel. 250/386-2211; www.victoriaregent.com), which is also on the harbor but has the better viewpoint, in my opinion. Built in 1980, the advantage of the waterfront rooms at the Regent is that they allow views of the Inner Harbour core, as well as the busy docks where floatplanes and teeny sightseeing boats stay at night.
Enter the chic hotel by stepping down from the street through a lovely garden. The rooms are ultra modern in décor and comfort. Breakfast is served in a great corner location with views of the harbor. There's even a "secret entrance" for guests only, but I promised the manager I wouldn't reveal it here. You're also closer to many good restaurants here than any other hotel. Some suites have kitchens, fireplaces, and whirlpool baths. The waterfront rooms all have balconies. Rates from C$209 ($181.83), but "Hot Deals" rates on the website often run from C$179 ($155.73).
There is limited air service from Seattle to Victoria, most of it by Kenmore Air (www.kenmoreair.com). The small floatplanes carry only six to 10 passengers and land on the Inner Harbour, then taxi up to the landing right below the Regent Hotel. One-way prices start at $175, but the ride is worth it on clear days when you can enjoy aerial views of islands and mountains. United runs daily nonstop flights from San Francisco to Victoria on land-based regional jets.
Most people traveling from Seattle take the Victoria Clipper (tel. 800/888-2535 or at www.victoriaclipper.com). The fleet of fast catamarans carries no cars but each hold up to 330 passengers. The round-trip fare starts at $133. Several tour packages for Victoria and Vancouver Island start $21. You'll find food and drink on board, as well as a duty-free shop.
Contact the tourism office: tel. 250/414-6999; www.tourismvictoria.com.