Perched on the wild west coast of Vancouver Island, in Canada’s westernmost province of British Columbia, the former remote fishing village of Tofino beckons adventure seekers to explore its temperate rainforests, wide, windswept beaches and the beauty of its rugged coastline.
Accessible via car ferry from Vancouver’s Lower Mainland or by a scenic flight by float or airplane from the city’s harbor or Vancouver International Airport, Tofino is quite literally at the end of the road, with nothing to the west but the Pacific Ocean and Japan, 4,600 miles/7,000 km away.
Tofino gets a lot of rain – more than 10 feet (3+ meters) per year – and its wild weather has created a popular winter storm-watching season. The shoulder seasons of spring and fall are ideal time of year to enjoy a slower pace of Tofitian life, while summertime makes the village come alive with visitors and families exploring Tofino with kids, walking or biking along the beach, surfing the ocean waves, and heading out for hikes, whale watching or the simple joys of exploring tide pools. This three days in Tofino guide will show that there is no shortage of active and fun things to do in Tofino.
Visitors to the community will find a many accommodation options in and around Tofino. In town, Tofino Resort + Marina is in walking distance to the village, and its marina home to whale watching, pleasure boats and fishing charters. For luxury accommodation on beautiful Chesterman Beach, it’s the Relais & Chateaux Wickaninnish Inn. Other excellent options include Long Beach Lodge and Pacific Sands Beach Resort on Cox Bay, Middle Beach Lodge, and the newer, funky Hotel Zed. There are also quite a few Bed and Breakfasts, Airbnbs and VRBO house rentals to choose from in Tofino, and in the village of Ucluelet, 30 minutes to the south.
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Three Days in Tofino
First Day: Boats and Bikes
Fuel up with great coffee, breakfast sandwiches and donuts at Rhino Coffee in the village. If you need something more substantial, take a seat at 1909 Kitchen at the Tofino Resort + Marina for bowls of warm oatmeal, pancakes or spicy fried egg sandwiches.
Head over to the Tofino Resort’s Marine Adventure Centre for a whale watching or bear watching tour, depending on the season. These half-day tours bring guests up close (but never too close to harm the wildlife) to Tofino’s many land, bird, and ocean wildlife species, including black bears, wolves, otters, seals, loons, cormorants, orcas and humpback whales.
If you have older children or are traveling with adults, book a day at the West Coast Floating Sauna Experience. Launched in winter 2022, the wood-fired floating sauna is just 30 minutes by boat from Tofino, deep within the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Relax and enjoy the warm sauna or get active with a paddle on a SUP or kayak before catching your crab or shrimp dinner on the way home.
Afterwards, pop over to the Naas Seafood Market across the parking lot from the Adventure Centre. This Indigenous-led organization specializes in the creation and sale of hand-harvested kelp products, including kelp seasoning and savory smoked kelp flakes, ideal to sprinkle on seafood, eggs and roasted vegetables.
Head south of Tofino to the Live to Surf complex on the Pacific Rim Highway, where you’ll find bike rentals at Tofino Bike Co. After picking up your pre-booked beach or mountain bikes, pedal towards Chesterman Beach (if beach biking) or along the bike trail that connects to the new Parks Canada multi-use pathway, – ʔapsčiik t̓ašii (pronounced ups-cheek ta-shee). This 25 km/15.5 mile pathway through Pacific Rim National Park provides all ages and abilities a safe and accessible way to experience this spectacular national park reserve.
Enjoy dinner in the village at local favorite, Wolf in the Fog. The menu is inspired by the oceans, forests and shoreline of Tofino’s beautiful backyard. The craft cocktails (try the Cedar Sour), beer and wine pair well with dishes like potato crusted oysters, seaweed salad, house made pasta, steaks and seasonal dishes.
Second Day: Sand and Surf
Rise and shine for a morning of cold-water surfing lessons at Cox Bay Beach with Surf Sister. Founded in 1999, the local female-owned company has taught everyone from ages 4+ to surf the waves off Tofino’s coast. Surf sessions include wetsuits (you’ll need them!), surfboards and lessons with supportive female instructors, in water you can stand up in. This is a Tofino Must do.
Surfing is hard work and by the end of your lesson, you’ll be ready to head straight for the Tacofino food truck, located across the Pacific Rim Highway from the beach. Tofino’s original food truck serves tacos and burritos made to order, including vegan, fried baja-style fish, crispy chicken and pork & kimchi tacos. Share a picnic table and swap surf stories with new friends.
If you need a sweet ending to your post-taco feast, stop in at Chocolate Tofino for fresh, hand-crafted chocolates and homemade gelato. Don’t leave without a few chocolate Tofino Bears for home – they’re filled with little chocolate fish and sea creatures, a tasty souvenir.
Change into dry clothes and pull on your outer layers and wellies for a long beach walk along one of Tofino’s wide, sandy beaches. Chesterman Beach is a calm and scenic beach in Tofino, while Cox Bay Beach is more active with surfers and beach bikers. Long Beach is within Pacific Rim National Park, and actually includes several beaches within its 16 km/10 mile stretch; Florencia Bay, Combers, Wickaninnish, Lismer and the small jewel of South Beach.
Walking on the firm sand while the wind blows, fog rolls, rain falls (highly likely) and the surf pounds the shore is a quintessential Tofino experience. Remember beach safety! Never turn your back on the ocean, walk carefully on wet rocks and always be aware of your surroundings.
Dress up for dinner at The Pointe Restaurant at the Wickaninnish Inn. Start with an après cocktail at the restaurant’s On The Rocks Bar (the Feather George was my favorite), then take a seat by the window, overlooking the magnificent view of the Pacific Ocean and Chesterman Beach below.
The Pointe’s fine dining menu features sumptuously prepared dishes of local and seasonal ingredients like local crab and prawns, fish, game, and can be made vegan and vegetarian. The outstanding multi-course tasting menu can be paired with local and international wine.
Third Day: Beach Day
Linger over a leisurely brunch at The Pointe Restaurant at the Wickaninnish Inn. The menu is served until 2 PM and features everything from steel-cut oats to crab fried rice and a delectable smoked salmon rösti.
Head out for a guided walk with Long Beach Nature Tours along one of Tofino’s many hiking trails. Stroll through a coastal temperate rainforest of salt-loving Sitka Spruce, hemlock and red cedar trees, or venture on the Nuu-Chah-Nuulth trail to appreciate totem poles and learn of the region’s First Nations history. Continue to Florencia Bay to investigate the tide pools, or take the path towards South Beach to enjoy the rolling waves from a rocky outcrop.
Enjoy a Tofitian lunch in the village at Shelter Restaurant; sit outside on the large patio if the weather is fine. Shelter’s extensive seasonal menu features everything from burgers to tacos, chowder to tofu bowls, with lots of options for vegetarians and gluten-free diners.
Before leaving town, head to the very tip of Campbell Street towards a small ‘container bakery’ for authentic French baguettes and croissants to go from the excellent Ouest Artisan Patisserie. Or if craft beer is more your jam, stop in for a tasting flight (or buy a 6-pack) of ales, lagers and IPAs at Tofino Brewing Company.
And don’t miss stopping in to admire the local flora and learn about First Nations plants and conservation at Naa’Waya’Sum Coastal Indigenous Gardens, formerly the Tofino Botanical Gardens.
If time allows, venture into the fishing village of Ucluelet for a final scenic walk along the Wild Pacific Trail or Lighthouse Loop Trail. Take in a final breathtaking view of the wild west coast before heading home from your memorable trip to Tofino.
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Photo Credits: Claudia Laroye, Tourism Tofino, Marcus Paladino