Set amidst the natural beauty and unspoiled charm of the Saanich Peninsula, the vibrant community of Sidney-by-the-Sea is the gateway to the BC Gulf Islands and the US San Juan Islands. This bustling commercial hub of the Saanich Peninsula is blessed with majestic views of the ocean, the Olympic and Cascade Mountain ranges. Sidney is a tourist’s dream – a friendly port with modern marinas and a multitude of unique galleries, gift stores, antique shops, restaurants, bakeries and coffee bars.
Sidney-by-the-Sea appeals to those who enjoy both seafaring excursions and land-based adventures. There are many inlets and nearby islands, 3 km of public accessible waterfront – including many beaches and great beachcombing – and several interesting attractions in and around this pretty little resort town. Sidney enjoys a moderate Mediterranean type climate with year-round mild temperatures, low rainfall and very little snow.
Historically, Sidney was a small farming community and the location of Vancouver Island’s first flour mill. The heavily wooded forests of the region soon fostered sawmills and a thriving lumber industry.
The Saanich People have lived on the Saanich Peninsula for thousands of years prior to contact with Europeans. The Hudson’s Bay Company obtained large tracts of forested lands from the Saanich People in 1852. James Douglas purchased much of the land in North Saanich in 1858, and one year later William and Charles Reay became the first settlers on the northern portion of the Saanich Peninsula when they purchased land from the Hudson’s Bay Company. Some of this land is now the town of Sidney, incorporated as a village on 30th September 1952.
Sidney takes its name from nearby Sidney Channel and Sidney Island, originally known as Sallas Island. Captain Richards of the survey ship Plumper renamed it Sidney Island in 1859, after Fredrick William Sidney (later captain), also a member of the Royal Navy. The Saanich People knew the site as Tseteenus, meaning ‘sticking out’.
Sidney is ideally situated close to all the major arrival points to South Vancouver Island. By Air, visitors arrive at Victoria International Airport, which is only 5 minutes away. BC Ferries provides year-round service to and from Swartz Bay, immediately north of Sidney. Sidney is also the departure point for pleasure craft sailings and ferry traffic heading to the San Juan Islands and Washington State in the United States.
Location: Sidney is located on the Saanich Peninsula at the southern tip of Vancouver Island, just east of the Pat Bay Highway 17, five minutes south of the Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal and just 16 miles (26 km) north of Victoria.
View maps of the area
Booktown: Sidney is known as Canada’s first Booktown. Twelve unique bookstores are all within easy walking distance of each other, featuring a browser’s bounty of new, second hand, antiquarian, and specialty books.
Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre is an aquarium and marine education centre showcasing the extraordinary marine life and amazing ecosystem in the waters surrounding the Gulf Islands and the Salish Sea. From microscopic plankton to Puget Sound King crabs, wolf eels to giant Pacific octopus, the vast aquatic exhibits fascinate visitors of all ages. With 87 tonnes of sea water and 17 habitats, the Centre’s ever-changing seascapes and touch pools offer an unforgettable and unique hands-on, hands-wet experience that reveals the mysteries of the ocean to all ages. Located on the waterfront in Sidney. Open daily from 10:00 am to 4:30 pm.
Sidney Museum and Archives is devoted to the history of the early lives of Sidney and North Saanich pioneers, portrayed through photographs and artifacts. Photographs explore the stories of settlers such as the Brethour brothers, and the Roberts family, while brickmolds and egg crates create connections with Peninsula businesses of the past. Insight into turn of the century domestic life is given with displays such as Critchley’s Store, The Classroom and The Kitchen. The museum is operated by the Society of Saanich Peninsula Museums and located at 2423 Beacon Avenue.
Mineral World and Scratch Patch offers an incredible world of gems and minerals for discovery. A very popular attraction for children, the Scratch Patch is an outdoor adventureland designed to turn anyone into an enthusiastic rockhound. Features include walk-in caves, a waterfall and river, a volcano, and displays that show how rocks are formed. Pick and choose from millions of beautiful semi-precious stones and tropical shells, or try panning for gold. Located at 9891 Seaport Place, across from the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre.
British Columbia Aviation Museum is dedicated to preserving aircraft and aviation artifacts related to the history of aviation in Canada, with an emphasis on British Columbia. The showcase of Canadian aviation history displays twenty vintage airplanes, including Canada’s first planes, wartime fighters, and a full-size replica of the Gibson Twin Plane that beat the Wright brothers’ famous accomplishment set in 1903. Other displays at the BC Aviation Museum include engines, uniforms, memorabilia, a reconstructed radio control room, and a Memorial Room with aircrafts dedicated to the two world wars. Located on Norseman Road in Sidney, next to the Victoria International Airport.
Butchart Gardens: The world-famous Butchart Gardens are located just a short drive west of Sidney. The influence of the neighbouring Butchart Gardens is showcased in the community parklands and individual gardens of Sidney businesses and residences.
The Saanich Historical Artifacts Society tells the story of farming, country life and industry on Vancouver Island, with rural artifacts dating back to the early 1800s. View one of Western Canada’s largest collections of working steam engines, tractors, agricultural machinery, antique farm equipment, historic buildings, and household and industrial artifacts. The society hosts an annual Summer Fair on the farm and museum grounds, held on Father’s Day each June, and Fall threshing on the third weekend in September. The 29-acre park offers picnic tables, nature trails and a pond. Located at 7321 Lochside Drive in Saanichton, alongside the Pat Bay Highway, between Victoria and Sidney.
Victoria Butterfly Gardens enables visitors to stroll among hundreds of dazzling buttterflies in an indoor tropical garden, featuring the brilliant Blue Morpho, the delicately pattened Giant Owl, and the huge Atlas Moth. Knowledgeable guides help you find well-hidden eggs, caterpillars and pupae in the lush rain forest vegetation. Rare South African Turocos and tropical ducks can also be found.
Vineyards: Visit one of the local vineyards to sample the new and burgeoning vintages of Vancouver Island. Flanked by the fertile soil and benign climate of the Saanich Peninsula, Sidney lies within easy reach of four wineries and a ciderhouse.
Beacon Avenue Market is held every Thursday evening (5:30pm to 9pm) from the first Thursday in June to the last Thursday in August, when Beacon Avenue is closed to vehicle traffic. Shopkeepers, businesses and pedestrians fill Beacon Avenue, creating a carnival atmosphere, with food, entertainment, and crafts and arts. Sidney bills the event as the largest outdoor market in Western Canada.
Celebrate Canada’s birthday at Sidney Days on the Canada Day weekend, with activities and entertainment for the whole family.
Centennial Bandstand: Local residents and visitors alike enjoy musical interlude at Sidney’s Centennial Bandstand from July through August.
Whale Watching: Experience the thrill of a guided whale-watching tour. The waters off Sidney are home to three pods of Southern resident Orca whales, as well as Dahl porpoises, sea lions and seals. From Port Sidney Marina you will view the Gulf Islands and marine wildlife from high-speed boats that track the whale pods and wildlife to ensure a memorable trip every time.
Adventure Cruise: Treat yourself to a two-hour sea cruise around Sidney harbour and islands with a close-up view of local wildlife; porpoises, bald eagles, sea lions, harbour seals, and marine birds. Eco tours include karst rock formations and undersea forests of bull kelp, the fastest-growing plant in the world.
Golf: Glen Meadows Golf and Country Club in Sidney is a challenging 18-hole championship golf course. Nearby golf courses include Sunshine Hills Golf Course (9 hole – Par 3) on Central Saanich Road in Saanichton and the challenging 9-hole Prospect Lake Golf Course on Prospect Lake Road in Central Saanich. The Victoria area boasts 8 championship golf courses in close proximity, including Cordova Bay Golf Club, Olympic View Golf Club, Gorge Vale Golf Club, Royal Colwood Golf Club, and Bear Mountain Golf and Country Club. Nearby Oak Bay has the Victoria Golf Club and Uplands Golf Course.
Victoria Golf Vacations.
Vancouver Island Golf Vacations.
Tulista Park is a little gem of a seaside park and boat launch at the very end of Lochside Drive, next to the Washington State ferry terminal. With emerald green lawns and sparkling ocean waters, Tulista offers a place for picknickers and boaters to relax, have a barbecue, and toss a frisbee. The park offers a children’s playground, concession stand, walking trails, plenty of free parking, and is wheelchair accessible. There’s a covered picnic area with ample benches and picnic tables as well as public washrooms. The paved waterfront walkway joins with the scooter-friendly Lochside oceanfront walkway. Visitors can access beaches, benches and take in the fabulous view. The double-wide boat launch off Lochside Drive is open daily and tickets can be purchased on site.
Need some exercise?: Flight Path is a 9.3-km paved walking, running and biking trail around Victoria International Airport. The three-metre-wide path borders the airport lands and connects with West Saanich Road and Ocean Avenue along the Patricia Bay Highway, as well as Beacon Avenue into downtown Sidney. Those out for exercise will be able to see ocean and mountain views from the path, and watch anything from a 737 to a military helicopter or small flight-school aircraft take off.
Biking: The northern trailhead of the Lochside Trail is near the Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal. The picturesque multi–use Lochside Regional Trail, formerly a railway line, stretches from Swartz Bay to Victoria, passed beaches, farmland, and wetlands, down country lanes and beside suburban backyards. The trail has a more civilized personality than its more rural cousin, the Galloping Goose Trail, to which it connects near downtown Victoria. While some parts of the Lochside Trail are off-road, and others downright pastoral, in some places trail visitors must share paved or gravel public roads with motor vehicles and farm vehicles.
Fishing: Sidney is a hub for saltwater fishing excursions. Year-round salmon fishing is available, as well as cod, snapper, halibut, sole, crab, prawns and shrimp in local waters. Landlubbers can cast off the Bevan Avenue fishing pier. Boaters can launch at the Van Isle Marina, or at the Tulista Park boat ramp on Lochside Drive, beside the Anacortes Ferry Terminal.
Diving: Sidney has a reputation as one of the most sought after dive sites on Lower Vancouver Island. Underwater marine parks rich in spectacular natural scenery attract divers from around the world. Divers can explore the wrecks of the G.B. Church and the HMCS Mackenzie, two sunken diving reefs providing opportunity for some great underwater exploration. Graham’s Wall, Tozier Rock, The White Lady, Burial Islet, Octopus Point, and other hot spots off the peninsula’s coast are all accessible from Sidney, either as day charters or liveaboards.
Diving around Vancouver Island.
Kayakers will find the sheltered waters, secluded coves, islands, and nearby marine parks ideal for exploring. Take a guided multi-day expedition to D’Arcy Island Marine Park, Reay Island, Rum Island or Princess Margaret Marine Park (Gulf Islands National Park) on Portland Island.
Mandarte Island is a small, uninhabited, rocky island in Haro Strait, east of Sidney Island off the town of Sidney. The island is a Tseycum First Nation reserve, and protects the largest seabird colony in the Strait of Georgia, with over 8,000 sea birds actively nesting on the island. Species on the island include glaucous-winged gulls, pelagic cormorants, double-crested cormorants, rhinoceros auklets, tufted puffins, and pigeon guillemots. River otters are occasionally observed. Mandarte Island Ecological Reserve is the only place in BC where rhinoceros auklets and tufted puffins breed in protected waters, and it has more cormorants and pigeon guillemots than any other place in British Columbia. Mandarte Island also has a high population density of song sparrows, believed to be as a result of the simplicity of the habitat, which favours song sparrows and not their potential competitors. Access is by boat only, and visitors are urged not to go ashore, but rather to observe the nesting birds from a distance.
Marinas: Sidney is the centre of the largest concentration of marinas on Vancouver Island. Several marinas and boating facilities are located along Sidney’s eastern shoreline, including the fabulous Port Sidney Marina. Sidney is popular with the Northwest boating fraternity, with boaters from California, Oregon, Washington and Vancouver choosing Port Sidney as the best destination marina on the west coast.
Sidney Spit Marine Park: Take the little ferry to Sidney Spit and spend the day beachcombing. No stores or restaurants here, so pack a picnic lunch.
The Gulf Islands National Park Reserve Operations Centre in Sidney is certified as the most environmentally friendly centre in Canada. Ocean water provides the heat, low-flush toilets use rainwater, and even the temperature rises and falls depending on the number of people inside.
McDonald Park (Gulf Islands National Park) provides an overnight stop for campers arriving on a late ferry. You’ll find a lot of marine traffic swirling around the area during the day. In the evening the pulse slows to a sleep-inducing rhythm, especially once the last ferries have sailed or docked for the night.
Island View Beach Regional Park south of Sidney offers a gentle cobble- and driftwood-strewn beach, with good views of James and Sidney Islands and wildlife viewing in the open fields behind the beach. Locals use the beach area fronting Indian reserve land north of the park for discreet, clothing-optional tanning. Island View Beach is a favourite beachcombing area, and a boat ramp is conveniently located at the entrance to the park.
North of Sidney are the alluring Southern Gulf Islands, snug in the Georgia Strait between the BC mainland and the east coast of Vancouver Island.
South of Sidney is Saanichton, well known for flowers and rose gardens. Bed and breakfast homes and riding stables are nestled alongside parks, campgrounds, old-growth forests and small farms.