While planning a trip to British Columbia, I asked Canadian friends for recommendations of places to go. Several recommended Vancouver Island. One simply said, “Go to Tofino.” It was more of a command than a suggestion, and now I understand why. Tofino is a must if you are going to be in British Columbia in the summer.
My favorite thing about Tofino is that everything is nice and well done, yet nothing is fancy. It has a zen cool vibe without trying too hard. There’s no Hermes store or Michelin star rated restaurants, instead there is amazing food, good places to stay in a natural setting that makes everyone realize you don’t need over-development and consumerism. Tofino is one of the few places where less actually is more.
Located on a peninsula on the western shore of Vancouver Island, the almost 2,000 residents of Tofino enjoy pristine beaches, ancient forests and great food. While most tourists head there in the summer to enjoy the sunshine and perfect temperatures, some storm chasers go in the winter to see the area sailors call “the graveyard of the Pacific.” Tofino is referred to as one of the top storm chasing destinations in the world and hotel rooms come with your very own Paddington Bear yellow rain jacket to use.
HOW TO GET THERE
Tofino is a 4 1/2 hour drive from Victoria where Victoria Clipper ferry arrives from Seattle and BC Ferries arrive from Vancouver. And a 3 hour drive from Nanaimo where ferries come from Vancouver. It is worth noting that the BC ferries are impressive and the drive from Nanaimo is stunning. However, I don’t recommend doing it at night as it might be more dangerous and you’ll miss the gorgeous scenery of the old growth forests of Cathedral Grove, Sutton Pass and through Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. I also recommend if you’re bringing a car on the ferry during the summer, get a reservation ahead of time on the BC Ferry website.
WHERE TO STAY
Wickanninish Inn – THE place to stay in Tofino. Amazing service in an upscale rustic setting. Nestled in the rocks, surrounded by trees on the far end of Chesterman beach. Their restaurants are excellent, both for the food and the ambiance.
Pacific Sands – If traveling with children in the summer, I highly recommend Pacific Sands. Pacific Sands is the epitome of summer. They create a family camp feel, where you can rent bikes or surfboards, buy food at their restaurant or buy food to make in your kitchenette. For children, they have s’mores every night, popcorn & movie nights, and short day camps. Perfect for parents who want a break to bike or surf, then spend family time before dropping children off for movie night, while parents sneak off for dinner alone.
Other accommodations to check out:
Long Beach Lodge Resort – Right next to Pacific Sands Resort.
Cox Bay Beach Resort – Next to Long Beach Lodge resort.
Tofino Resort and Marina – Sometimes there are specials on their webpage.
Ocean Village Resort – Ocean Village is the adorable curved “beehive” beachfront cabins that you see in a lot of Tofino marketing. If you’re looking for rustic charm, this is the original beachfront resort for Tofino. If the 1970’s cabins seem a little too groovy for your taste, don’t worry, they were remodeled in 2009. They book up way in advance during the summer, so if you can score a space in one of the cabins, it’s still a great place to stay.
Black Rock Oceanfront Resort – 20 minutes away in Ucluelet, Black Rock is build on top of oceanfront rocks.
Waters Edge Shoreside – In Ucluelet
If looking for an Airbnb, all of Tofino is safe and nice, but if you want to be near the beach, I suggest looking near Chesterman Beach or The Dunes at Chesterman beach. Also, downtown is great and there is hiking and things to do nearby.
WHAT TO DO IN TOFINO
Many people come to Tofino for the surfing, hiking, camping, wind surfing, whale watching, fishing, offroad touring, storm watching, kayaking, paddle boarding and skilled divers come to see Canada’s first underwater heritage site, the shipwreck of schooner Hera in 1899.
Frank Island is an island that moonlights as a peninsula. During low tide, you can walk from Chesterman Beach across a sand spit to get to the island that is no longer an island, but during high tide you’ll have to boat, kayak or paddle board to get to this beautiful little enigma.
Tonquin Park – Has an amazing hiking trail where you can hike down to Tonquin Beach or Third Beach. You can walk there from downtown Tofino in about 10 or 15 minutes, or drive and park at the trail head.
Tofino Bikes – Bike Tofino. It is a must. They have a great sidewalk running from Cox Beach to downtown Tofino for pedestrians and bikes.
The Whale Center – Book a whale watching tour, or one of their other tours.
Hot Springs Cove in the heart of Clayoquot Sound, one and half hours from Tofino. Only accessible by boat or by plane. Ocean Outfitters offers boats and Tofino Air has flights. Ocean Outfitters also has an experience called Sea to Sky where you can boat there and fly back. Know that these are small and get very crowded in the summer, so best to go as early as possible during the day.
Eik Cedar Tree – Across from Shelter restaurant, this tree is believed to be 800 to 1,000 years old. Allegedly the most famous tree in Canada.
Rent a paddle board and just explore the beautiful coast.
Yoga and Art Camp – Summertime camp for kids.
Tofino Botanical Garden – Not as big and impressive as the one in Victoria, but still worth a visit.
Tofino has several annual events such as the Pacific Rim Whale festival to celebrate 20,000 migrating grey whales, Tofino Lantern Festival, Aboriginal Days, The Shorebird Festival, West Coast Maritime Festival and they also have July 1st Canada Day festivities in downtown Tofino.
But the #1 best thing you can come to Tofino for is the vibe. It’s free and available year-round. Tofino is truly a unique place. It’s like if Whistler BC and Venice Beach, CA had a baby. Tofino has the mountain/forest outdoorsy vibe of Canada while paying homage to traditional surf culture and great urban style eats. The kind of place where you can get up, surf, bike a wildflower lined path, hike a coastal old growth forest, then for lunch you can pick from some of the best restaurants in Canada.
Wolf in the Fog – One of the best rated restaurants in Tofino.
The Pointe Restaurant – Although the staff is top-notch and the food is outstanding, you really want to go here for the views overlooking the ocean.
Shed – If you need breakfast or a quick bite, head to Shed. Although a small menu, the restaurant offers big flavors.
Shelter restaurant– This cozy modern restaurant has indoor and outside seating. Although not a giant menu, their salads, seafood, tacos, burgers and beef offer a little something for everyone.
Tacofino – What started as amazing tacos out of food truck behind a surf shop in Tofino has spread to multiple locations in Vancouver and Victoria. Go get the original taco seasoned with the Tofino vibe from the original food truck that started it all in Tofino.
Sobo – Another amazing restaurant that started as a food truck. Sobu stands for Sophisticated Bohemian. The dishes are made from ingredients that are sourced from local BC seafood and local produce. SoBo a great kids menu, too.
Wildside Grill – Fresh seafood and BC beef are on this hearty pub menu. Wildside Grill is the place to go if you are craving Huevos Rancheros or breakfast tacos. They even serve them until noon.
Driftwood Cafe at Wickannish Inn. You can eat there inside or outside or grab coffee and sandwiches to go.
Chocolate Tofino – amazing gelato, and also some chocolates.
Ravenlady – If you’re over in Uclulet and need to grab lunch, here’s another food truck recommendation, but at least this one has oysters and comes with a sculpture garden. (Available seasonally.)
If you have the time, might want to spare a few days to explore the city of Victoria on Vancouver Island on your way to or from Tofino.
*As always at Finding Pura Vida, all opinions are my own. No affiliate links.
If you feel like there’s something amazing in Tofino that travelers need to know about that was missed, please add it the comments below and I will check it out next time I am on Vancouver Island. Thanks for reading!