When we contemplated returning to Canada with our young family after a decade overseas we wanted a friendly, walkable town with plenty of local outdoor markets and (cheap or free) things to do with kids like the summertime.
We found Sidney, a former fishing town on Vancouver Island, on the tip of the Saanich Peninsula, about two hours from Washington state by ferry.
We recommend it to anyone we know visiting the Pacific Northwest with kids. Here are our favorite things to do, in Sidney, along with a few suggestions we haven’t gotten to yet, but hope to.
Our 5 Sidney favorites
1. Hit the beach
The most accessible beach for visitors is Glass Beach. At the foot of Beacon Avenue, Sidney’s main drag, a walkway stretches along the coast to a sandy beach that’s home to a large eagle population.
But our favorite beach is a nameless patch of sand off of Goddard Road, a 15-minute walk up 3rd Street from the town center.
It’s hidden from view by a thick forest of towering Douglas Firs, but if you manage to find it you’ll also find a white oyster-shell shingle, and lots of local families wading in the tidepools looking for sea creatures.
2. Get out on the water
We love the rich marine history of the town, where many people still work in boatbuilding or fish for salmon and halibut for a living. During long summer evenings we like taking our kids crabbing off the Sidney Pier (be sure to pick up a license first).
At least once a summer we still take a short ferry ride from Sidney Pier to Sidney Spit Marine Park, an uninhabited, forested island that’s popular as an anchorage with sailboats traveling to Alaska.
Our family is still a little too young for it, but many people with tweens and teens launch sea kayaks from Glass Beach to explore the Salish Sea and its nearby maze of islands (above left).
3. Learn about the Salish Sea
The Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre is a newer attraction that’s been drawing us back to the town lately.
One of the most unique and innovative aquariums in Canada, the Shaw Discovery Centre does a great job of explaining the ecology of the Salish Sea, the local name for the body of water stretching from Puget Sound in Washington State through the San Juan Islands.
There are plenty of hands-on exhibits that have staved off boredom during our rainy winter season.
4. Browse Booktown
In an era where bookstores in many cities are going out of business Sidney still has about ten independent and used bookstores dotting Beacon Avenue, earning it its status as Canada’s booktown.
You’ll find a children’s bookstore, a bookstore devoted to gardening.
My favorite would have to be the Haunted Bookshop. It always has what I’m looking for, no matter how obscure the topic.
As an added bonus, it’s just around the corner from a large toy store, an asset I confess I’ve used to bribe my kids to give me more time with books!
5. Hop on a Bike
The opportunities for cycling are one of the chief reasons I wanted to live here. Motorists are used to and generally respect cyclists, and there’s a genuine bike culture here with dozens of bike shops offering specialty parts, advice and a sense of community.
Sidney lies along the Lochside Regional Trail, a 29-kilometer bike that runs from downtown Victoria to the Schwartz Bay Ferry terminal at the tip of the Saanich Peninsula.
If your children are old enough, it’s entirely possible to do the round-trip to Victoria and back in one day.
The route passes through forests and farming country, but here are times where riders must share the road with cars.
6. Other Stuff in Sidney
The most famous attraction near Sidney is Butchart Gardens, which has a carousel for small children and hosts wonderful fireworks shows on weekend evenings in the summer.
Sidney also boasts a collection of at least a half-dozen Greek restaurants in a two-block radius. We have our favorite, but some local secrets we’ll never divulge.
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Nevin Thompson writes for the Cedarwood Inn and Suites, a Sidney BC hotel located across the street from the beach and a ferry ride away from Anacortes, Washington.