Retail Therapy: An Insider's Guide to Shopping in Victoria

Although Victoria has its share of big box stores, you won't find any of them downtown. Shoppers will be pleasantly surprised by the density of small, locally-owned businesses found within Victoria's downtown core and local neighborhoods. From haute couture to Canadiana; First Nations art to vintage thrift shops, you can find just about anything you might need (or didn't know you needed) in downtown Victoria.

Lower Johnson Street: The Boutique District

Shopping

There's no question that Johnson Street is the best place for shopping in Victoria. With Market Square anchoring the street at the base, you can easily spend a whole day shopping within this area of just a few blocks. Here you can find everything from vintage clothing to handmade soaps, comic books, toys, cosmetics, and local designer fashions.

One retailer that has quickly become a local favourite is Still Life, which has expanded into two locations across the street from each other: For Him on the south side of Johnson Street, and For Her on the north side. Just down the road from there is Hip Baby, where you'll find everything you need for kids ages 0 to 6 for playtime, mealtime, bedtime and bathtime in eco-friendly format, with most of the products made right here in British Columbia.

Zydecois the quirkiest shop on the street with a selection of rubber duckies, funky action figures, cocktail party supplies, and pirate themed novelties.

The Smoking Lily is quite possibly the smallest shop in Canada at a whopping 4 x 11 feet. Their one-of-a-kind handsewn and silk-screened clothing is beautiful, and has become so popular that Smoking Lily has opened up several other much larger shops in BC, although this tiny boutique remains their flagship store.


Insider's Tip: Paradise Boutique has been designing and locally manufacturing beautiful vintage-inspired bathing suits for over a decade. Their coveted one-pieces and bikinis, which are sold separately as tops and bottoms, are designed to flatter any physique. For anyone who struggles to find a comfortable and flattering swimsuit, look no further!

Government Street: Victoria's Heritage Mile

Oceanside Gifts

Starting at the Visitor Information Centre at the corner of Government and Wharf Streets, be sure to visit Oceanside Gifts, located just down the stairs. If you're looking for a souvenir, they have a wide selection of Canadian gifts and mementos. As a family owned business, they strive to source unique items, including Canadian-made products which can be shipped abroad.

Another great place to stop for souvenirs is Dockside Gifts.

Walking north along Government Street from the inner harbour (the water is to your left, the Empress is to your right) you'll find a wealth of unique treasures in the subsequent kilometer.

First up, no trip to Victoria would be complete without picking up some Victoria Creams at the world famous Roger's Chocolates, which has been at this location since 1891.

Readers will want to stop and visit Munro's Books, which is located in a stunning neo-classical building that was originally designed for the Royal Bank. They have a great selection of new and “up and coming authors,” much like one of the founders, Canadian author Alice Munro, would have been when they opened their doors in 1963.
If accessories are a must-have, then be sure to peek into Trounce Alley to get your fix of shoes at She She Shoes and Bags, just off of Government Street.

Other gems on Government Street include Roberta's Hats, Kaboodles Toy Store, and Cowichan Trading Company, which is known for its First Nations Art and Cowichan sweaters.

The Original Christmas Village is a great place to find Christmas ornaments in an atmosphere of a winter wonderland, no matter the temperature outside. The owners are always on site and they stock some amazing European treasures.


Insider's Tip: Be sure to look both up and down on Government St. Below, you'll find several interesting tidbits of historical information inscribed into the many plaques that line this sidewalk. Above, you'll see some of the best details of Victoria architecture near the rooflines of Government Street's Victorian-era buildings.

Fort Street: Antique Row

Fort Street is the original street leading out of Fort Victoria, and today it is the city's main eastbound thoroughfare. A walk up Fort Street is like a lesson in the history of Victoria's architecture.

At the corner of Fort and Government Streets is the Bay Centre, with Hudson's Bay as it's anchor store. The Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) once controlled most of the land that is now Canada, and its vestigial department store offers plenty of classically Canadian HBC brand items, along with a wide range of upscale and affordable clothing and home selections. The adjoining centre contains over 80 stores, so if you prefer not to walk too far, this is the place to be to get a lot of shopping done within a small area.

If you're heading out for the morning, start by grabbing a Danish or a Vanilla Slice at the Dutch Bakery, a 3rd generation family-owned landmark.

Music aficionados will need to visit Ditch Records, which sells used and new vinyl, CDs and DVDs, as well as local concert tickets.

Insider's Tip: Many concerts in Victoria sell out online before they sell out in-store, so ask Ditch Records if they have any tickets left for upcoming events.

Continuing up Fort Street, the subsequent blocks are part of what is known as "Antique Row." Famous for its numerous antique stores and estate-sale auction houses like Lunds and Kilshaw's, Antique Row has recently blossomed into a hub for small businesses, restaurants and cafés. This makes it easy for you to stroll, snack in hand, up and down historic Fort Street. This neighborhood is the place to find jewellery, coins, stamps, silver, china, carpets, musical instruments, and other antiques and collectibles.

If you're hungry for lunch, we recommend Choux Choux Charcuterie, a delicatessen that sources their meat locally and creates their own artisanal pâté, sausages, and cured meats.

Further along are boutiques such as the eco-friendly clothing store Not Just Pretty, and Leka, whose playful clothes include brands like Finnish designer Marimekko. If you turn right on Cook Street the shopping continues at one of the funkiest women's shoe stores in the city, Heart and Sole Shoes. Their eclectic collection of brands like Vancouver's John Fluevog and New York's Miz Mooz exemplify Victoria's flair for vintage design.

Insider's Tip: Kilshaw's Auctioneers holds weekly auctions on Thursday nights at 6pm. Lund's Auction House holds their auctions on Tuesdays at 6pm. No registration is required; just show up and raise your hand to bid. But be forewarned - buyers from around the world bid on these lots so prices for rare items can be staggeringly high .

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