Nestled on the western edge of Vancouver Island, Tofino is a charming coastal town surrounded by the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Its rugged landscapes, ancient rainforests, and sandy beaches create a unique and tranquil setting that attracts surfers, artisans, and nature enthusiasts alike.
We’ve been to Tofino several times over the years. It’s a bit of a haul from the Lower Mainland – a 2 hour ferry ride to Nanaimo then another 5 hours to your destination. But it’s absolutely worth a visit. At least once.
The West Coast of Vancouver Island feels primal, rugged and pristine – less spoiled than other areas with beaches and forests. There is something humbling about looking out onto the water from Chesterman Beach realizing that the next land mass a seafarer would encounter is Japan!
Best Things to Do in Tofino
You’re spoiled for choice in Tofino. Laze on the beach; go surfing; take an art tour; sample some oyster burgers or gelato; pick a forest walk; get out on the water fishing, boating or whale watching.
We visited Ucluelet last year, which is about 30 minutes down the road from Tofino. Both towns have their distinct charm. Both also have equal access to the Pacific Rim National Park where you can pick up the West Coast Trail, described as an “iconic backcountry, multi-day backpacking trail that is a bucket list challenge for many hikers.” Or if back-packing is not your thing, consider embarking on one of the many temperate rainforest walks in the area. The old growth trees with their mosses and lichens soar up into the canopy and give you an appreciation for the nature that has been here for millennia.
Pick up the Rainforest Trail on the Pacific Rim between Tofino and Ucluelet. The walk on either side of the road is about 2 km with a number of stairs.
Another easy, flat walk (0.8) in the area is the Bog Trail (access from Wickaninnish Beach Road, off the Pacific Rim Hwy). This area is magical and peaceful and suitable for families. The extremely acidic soil in this area means very little vegetation can grow here. The main plant is Sphagnum moss, which covers all the surfaces. The only tree that can survive here is the Shore Pine. You will find them growing in odd twisting and turning shapes making the area very ethereal and perhaps reminiscent of some futuristic, post apocalyptic film. (Wheelchair and stroller accessible; no stairs.)
You can also take the Tofino Water Taxi (book online in advance) over to Meare’s Island and spend a morning walking through the old-growth forest there. The steps are a bit rickety and it’s not a place for young children, strollers or people with disabilities. It’s a 15 minute boat ride over and will take you less than an hour to do the walk.
Although we aren’t sun worshippers, I know a lot of families head to Tofino especially to visit some of its incredible beaches. Chesterman Beach at sunset was divine with its white sand, gentle surf, glistening water and peaceful atmosphere.
During the day, of course, it’s a popular place for surfing and wading. I loved picking up the different seashells and exploring the sea stars and anemones in the tide pools.
The north end of Chesterman beach is where you’ll find the Wickaninnish Inn (itself worth a visit – especially during the winter storm season).
Other beaches in the area include Cox Bay Beach (quieter), Long Beach (16 km long of glorious sand and the “surf capital” of Canada), Wickanninish Beach (driftwood and sand dunes), and Mackenzie Beach (the most sheltered; gentle waves; great for small kids).
All are a little bit different. All are worth a visit.
Art Galleries of Tofino
Considering the town of Tofino has only around 2500 permanent residents, it’s surprising that it has at least 7 art galleries including the Roy Vickers Gallery, the Mark Hobson Gallery and the Jeremy Koreski Gallery. Even the coffee shop we found had original art on the wall for sale.
We stayed at the House of Himwitsa Lodge which has a wonderful gallery/gift store in the front with hundreds of Native Art carvings, paintings, clothing, jewelry and giftware. No, we did NOT escape without dropping several hundred dollars!
The town of Tofino has street art all over – from murals on walls of buildings to recycling bins. Every Saturday from the May long weekend til Thanksgiving weekend in October, you will find an artisan market at the Village Green in the centre of town. There are about 30 different vendors selling West Coast arts and crafts as well as fresh produce and homemade everything. Most afternoons you can listen to a local musician while browsing.
Dining in Tofino
There are several good choices for dining in Tofino, although you will be hard-pressed to find “haute cuisine” here, (unlike in Uclulet, 30 minutes down the road where, remarkably, you will discover one of the best restaurants in Canada, PLUVIO.) We had a nice meal at SHELTER restaurant (634 Campbell St. Tofino). The usual burgers, chowder, fish, mussels and salads are on the brief menu.
We had a lot of fun checking out L’il Ronnie’s Beach Side BBQ – where we enjoyed some excellent beef brisket and were entertained by a delightful quartet of musicians.
There is a lot of choice for hotel, motel and lodge accommodations in Tofino, although reservations need to be made months in advance. We really enjoyed the spaciousness of our suite at Himwitsa Lodge which looks out over the waters of Clayquot Sound located right downtown on Main Street. We had a kitchenette, sitting area, 2 queen beds and a big deck that faces Meares Island.
There are some unusual options for staying in Tofino, too, like WildPod Glamping – 6 “geodesic domes” sitting on the edge of the water in “downtown” Tofino. Definitely something we are going to look into next time!
Other great choices in Tofino include:
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