Victoria, British Columbia

1 SHANK'S MARE This compact city is made for walking. Start at the landmark Empress (in summer the seawall in front of the hotel is livened by performing bands, fire-eaters, and magicians), then explore Old Town on the north end of the harbor. Walk up to Chinatown (Canada's oldest), where you can snack on treats called "honeybuns" and try to squeeze your way through Fan Tan Alley, North America's narrowest thoroughfare. On your walk back through town, diversions abound: department stores and antique shops, megabookstores and antiquarian book shops, fine restaurants and fish-and-chips stands.

2 TOUCHDOWN Getting to the capital of British Columbia can be half the fun. You can make your way to Victoria via ferry, high-speed catamaran, or commercial jet, but nothing quite matches an arrival by floatplane from Seattle or Vancouver on a clear day, when the forested islands of the Pacific Northwest stretch to the horizon. And when you do finally touch down in Victoria's harbor, you're virtually in the center of town.

3 TEATIME There's a local saying: "Business before pleasure, but never before tea." And afternoon tea at the majestic, ivy-covered, brick-and-stone Empress Hotel is the place to uphold the much-cherished tradition. Ask to be seated in the Empress No. 2 room, an intimate, dark-wood salon with windows overlooking the harbor. Then settle into one of the high-back chairs to savor scones, seasonal berries with Chantilly cream, cucumber sandwiches, and a silver teapot of the Empress's own blend - and imagine a time when "empire" was not just a Star Wars concept.

4 RAILS TO TRAILS Test your pedal mettle on the 38-mile Galloping Goose Regional Trail. Cyclists, walkers, and horseback riders all can enjoy the mostly unpaved trail, which has been built on an abandoned railway and links parks, green spaces, and scenic vistas from Victoria to Sooke, up the coast. There the trail clings to the headlands, offering some of the island's loveliest waterfront views. Pack a picnic basket - or plan an overnight stay and reward yourself with an evening of fine Pacific Northwest cuisine at Sooke Harbour House.

5 SHORE PATROL Mile "0," at an oceanfront corner of Beacon Hill Park (just a short stroll from downtown), is where the Trans Canada Highway officially begins - or ends. Forget about highway travel for a moment, and just start walking along the paved footpath that borders the seacliffs lining Dallas Road: With windsurfers racing offshore against the distant backdrop of Washington's Olympic Peninsula across the strait, it's a spectacular promenade.

6 BRIGHT LIGHTS Few cities match Victoria for after-dark charm. In summer enjoy a sunset dinner on the patio at Milestone's, overlooking the harbor. Afterward stroll along the waterfront and gaze at the dazzling nighttime display (3,333 bulbs) that transforms the majestic Parliament Buildings into a fairy-tale castle. Cap off the evening with a drive up to Mount Tolmie Park, where the city lights twinkling below provide an unforgettable view.

7 FLOWER POWER They don't call it "the best bloomin' city" in Canada for nothing. From backyard gardens to colorful flower baskets that hang from 19th-century lampposts downtown, Victoria is in love with floral flourishes. For the splashiest show of all, head out of town to Butchart Gardens, about 20 minutes away, where nearly a century of dedicated gardening has turned an abandoned limestone quarry into one of the nation's premier attractions. More than a million plants bloom here each year, and if the displays are seldom subtle, the blooms do provide bright-hued relief on even the grayest of days.

8 PUB CRAWL It is an age-old pilgrimage - the search for the perfect pub. Aficionados of ales should investigate a trio of pubs that brew their own: Hugo's and the Harbour Canoe Club - both downtown - and Spinnakers, British Columbia's oldest microbrewery, which has served up suds on the north side of the inner harbor since 1984.

9 CULTURE SHOCK There is no better way to while away a wet Victoria afternoon than with a visit to Canada's most popular museum. The Royal British Columbia Museum houses an outstanding natural history section (the life-size woolly mammoth is really big), authentic re-creations of Old Town and Chinatown, and an extraordinary exhibit of the art and culture of the region's First Peoples - with totem poles, masks, and other stunning artifacts.

10 ISLAND HOPPING The six southern Gulf Islands are British Columbia's crown jewels, Canada's answer to the nearby San Juans. Take a day trip by car ferry, and be prepared to be captivated by the scenery and the casual lifestyle. A good place to start is Saltspring, the closest (40 minutes by ferry) and the largest (about 70 square miles). Drive around the island's back roads, then dine at Hastings House, an elegant country place set on 30 acres. During your meal make plans to explore the other five Gulf Islands - Mayne, Galiano, North and South Pender, and Saturna.