I am a little embarrassed to admit that I had only been to Tofino once before this trip. And I figure it doesn’t really count as I was about ten years old and spent most of my time collecting shells, sea glass, and sand dollars along Long Beach, only to forget about them in the car a week or so later. Disclaimer: they did NOT smell good. And my mother was NOT pleased.
It is such a strange thing to be galavanting all over the world but never really have the time to explore my “backyard” so to speak. The Pacific North West, however, is home to the most beautiful areas, scenery, and things to do. I am lucky to call Western Canada my home and after a long eight-month haul overseas, I am usually brought to tears of joy when I fly over the mountains in Vancouver. Coming home always feels soo good.
So when time was gifted to me before heading down for this next professional season, Tofino seemed like the perfect place to escape for a few days. Tofino is a little piece of heaven. It’s a small community on the west coast of Vancouver Island with a plethora of beautiful, relaxing, and adventurous things to do. Stunning natural beauty paired with a laid-back, authentic surf culture, it’s hard not to fall head over heels with this place. To be honest, I fell so hard in love with the town that my husband and I extended our trip by three more days. And then after we left we were scheming up ways to move here for good. It. Is. A. Dream. The only thing on our agenda for the week was to explore, rest, and spend quality time with each other. I was thinking I would have more classic down time but we were actually doing so many fun activities and trying to fit in all the restaurants and cafes that I didn’t even do that much resting. Active rest, I guess you could call it. Lush rainforests, rocky coastlines, and endless stretches of beaches; an amazing West Coast escape if you’re looking to be rejuvenated in mind, body, and soul. This is the trip to take. So here is my full compilation guide to the magical and stunning Tofino. Enjoy!
How to get there:
Ferry: depending on your location there are three routes you can take. From Horseshoe Bay, BC Ferries takes you to Departure Bay in Naniamo. From Tsawassen, you have a choice between Duke Point near Nanaimo and Swartz Bay near Victoria. On the way to Tofino we stayed in Victoria for a few nights so we eventually arrived in at Swartz Bay and then made the drive to Tofino (about 4 hours 15 minutes) but on the way back we came straight from Tofino to Duke Point (because we were heading back to Tsawassen). Depending on the ferry schedules and delays, especially if you are visiting in the busier summer months, it’s nice to have two different departure options decently close to one another.
Fly: you can fly directly into Tofino at the Long Beach Airport from Vancouver. Daily scheduled flights with Pacific Coastal Airlines or with Harbour Air will get you right into the Tofino Harbour.
Where to stay:
BriMar Bed and Breakfast: this is and will forever be a first choice for Tofino. This little gem sits right on the sands of Chesterman Beach (see three photos above). Wake up for an early walk on the beach or sunrise surf and slowly make it back to the house for breakfast at 8:30am. This breakfast was nothing like I have ever had before. Our host, Heather, had asked us prior to arriving if we had any dietary restrictions and so each morning she would curate and create individual breakfasts for each guest based on their needs. Hello. Baked avocados, freshly made walnut bread and muffin assortments, granola, fruit, coconut yogurt - it was crazy! There is an adorable shared living room and then three suites up the stairs. Oh and bonus points: a Keurig coffee maker and assortment of teas and hot coco for whenever you needed. Check out their website for more photos of this wonderful B&B! A true home away from home!
Wickaninnish Inn: a beautiful five-star resort sitting on the North end of Chesterman beach, just 2km from Tofino Botanical Gardens. Off the Pacific Rim Highway, this sophisticated hotel will not disappoint. One of the more popular hotels in the area, it boasts beautiful ocean views, balconies, and fireplaces if you’re coming in the winter months. (Hello cozy storm watching!).
Ocean Village: luxurious ocean suits for couples or the entire family. This village is a collection of little domed cabins that sit right on the edge of quiet and secluded MacKenzie beach, only minutes away from town. You have a a choice of one or two bedroom cabins or an upper or lower studio. Some bonus amenities include a heated pool, outdoor family bbq areas, an outdoor surf station, board games and kids toys!
The Shoreline Tofino: When I win the lottery I think I might buy their A-frame house. If you follow any trendy west coaster-instagrammers chances are they’ve been taking pictures in here. They offer a beautiful array of cabins and suites and like I said, one day I will make it here. (Also if you’re looking to head here before December 15th they’re giving 25% off 2+ night stays with the code: COZYAF): here.
Gold’s Cottage: Here is the darling airbnb we stayed at for the last three nights of our extended Tofino trip. You’re welcome for sharing - it's so adorable. Across from the little doctor’s office right in town, you roll down a smaller private driveway and walk for a good few minutes before coming to this “cabin in the woods.” The loveliest, most cozy, west-coast rancher there ever was. You get a beautiful ocean view right from the wooden-framed bed so needless to say you wont be jumping out of bed that quickly! Wanting to leave this oasis? Walk to the Common Loaf Bakery (about a three minute walk away!) for some coffee and mid afternoon snacks. No need to adventure too far for a great sunset when you can enjoy it right from the comfort of your own private deck. What a winner. Check it out on AirBnb here and if you sign up for AirBnb with this link, you get $33 off your first purchase of $100 or more. I love great places and I love great deals. Photos below.
Top things to do in Tofino:
All along Chesterman Beach there are amazing places to surf. We stayed at the far end of the beach and there were surfers consistently going in and out of the waters from dawn until dusk. There are a few companies who offer lessons, or if you’re more experienced and just want to rent a suit and board, that’s an option as well. We opted to rent from the Live to Surf Shop (1184 Pacific Rim Highway) and rented a wet suit for $20 for 12 working hours. If you don’t surf like me, grab a blanket and your sunglasses and enjoy a morning, afternoon, or evening being mesmerized by the waves. It is truly amazing.
Rainforest Walk: located in Pacific Rim National Park, the Rainforest trail parking area is south of Long Beach. From Tofino, drive south and into Pacific Rim National Park. Watch for signs to the Rainforest Trail and turn right into the parking lot area. The parking lot is on the west side of the road and there are two routes to this WalkAbout. Route A starts from the east side (on the other side of the highway). Route B begins at the far end of the parking area. We only took Route A and it was glorious and magical. The newly constructed stairs made it super easy to navigate the trail!
Cox Bay ‘Lost’ hike: this isn’t an official hike but we somehow managed to research and find it in and amongst the thick brush. Walk to the very south end of Cox Bay beach, find something that resembles a path and up you climb! From the beautiful beach sands you suddenly hit some rocks and then thick forest until the top. It reminded me of the old TV series Lost. As my husband and I ascended into the forest I briefly wondered if we would make it out alive. (We did, and the hike was awesome, and the views were even more incredible). Tip: just make sure to wear decent shoes if the weather has been a bit iffy - the path to get to the top was super muddy!
Botanical Gardens: okay fine, this isn’t really a hike but walking around and looking at beautiful flowers doesn’t sound that bad, does it? Grab a hot beverage and call it a day.
Radar Hill: was told this had an amazing lookout but we were slightly disappointed. Had a nice built-in cabin with some lounge chairs but I much prefer the views on the beach!
Hot Springs Tour
One thing that is on our bucket list for next time is the Hot Springs Tour. We have only heard amazing things about the entirety of the tour and if you have a full day to spare I suggest booking this trip! Jump on the boat and travel about an hour through the inlet waters of Clayquot Sound (fingers crossed you see a whale!) and arrive in Hot Springs Cove. Bring some walking shoes as it’s a 30 - 40minute jaunt through temperate rainforest which will leave roughly two hours for natural thermal hot spring-pools ie. ultimate relaxation. Many companies are offering this tour so be sure to do a little bit of research before booking. For more information you can also go here.
Find your favourite beach!
Tonquin Beach: one of my favourite beaches (pictured directly above)! It’s definitely MUCH smaller than the other ones that can stretch along as far as the eye can see but Tonquin beach has it’s own unique charm. Closer to the island, the sunset was gorgeous and it had some fun rocks to stretch out on and relax for as long as your heart desires. Tip: pack a picnic and head down here for a romantico evening. We walked all the way from the community hall but you can also park at the end of Tonquin Park Road for a small hike.
MacKenzie Beach: home to the Best Western and Ocean Village. The beach is definitely more sheltered than the others but also more private. Awesome for families for the kids to run out and play on the sands, go swimming, and explore some of the rocky areas.
North Chesterman: the North end of Chesterman beach I found to be not as beautiful as the South end and the waves didn’t seem as sublime. However, still a popular place to go. I recommend doing a full Chesterman beach walk from one end to the other. There’s a public camp ground on this end so it’s a pretty ideal spot if you’re coming camping for the weekend!
South Chesterman: this is the end of the Chesterman beach that we had the pleasure of waking up to each morning when we stayed at BriMar. There were amazing waves, a bunch of paddle-boarders and surfers (of all levels) running out into the waters at all times. For it being a very popular spot, it never felt too crowded. I loved sitting out on the beach and watching the waves crash into the rocks. BriMar + this side of Chesterman is where dreams come true.
Rosie Bay: just around the bend from BriMar. If you’re lucky and catch the tide when it’s out really far you can run from Chesterman into the bay! Just be sure not to get stuck here when the tide comes crashing in!
Cox Bay: a super long beach not to be confused with the official Long Beach. Long Beach Lodge is perfectly situated here with beautiful glass windows from the various seating areas and restaurants to check out the waves, surfers, sunrises, and sunsets, or all of the above. Beautiful waves for a great time surfing. So great in fact, it was well past dark when we saw the last surfer come in. At the south end we did our mountain ‘lost’ hike to catch an unbelievable view of the beach and the bays close by.
Long Beach: surprisingly it’s very, very long.
Wickaninnish Beach: we parked at the visitor parking at Wickaninnish beach and took the south beach trail for just over a kilometer. The trail eventually leads to a sandy beach featuring striking rock formations (there was a guy rock climbing them!) and crazy scenes of the ocean spray from the force of the waves.
*We didn’t make it to Middle Beach and Florencia Beach so you’ll have to go check that out for yourselves and let me know how they are!
Provincial parks: in order to get in to the parks and park your car at the beaches you’re going to need to buy a day or a multi-day pass. There are options to pay at each beach but it’s going to cost you some precious doughnut money so I recommend grabbing the pass at the Information Lodge on your way in (or out) of Tofino.
Relax at a cafe!
There are no shortages of wonderful cafes in Tofino. Usually one of the first things we look for in a new city or town we’re exploring is an awesome, cozy cafe. Despite Tofino being a smaller destination, you can find an abundance of great coffee! Can we get an amen!
Tofino Coffee Roasting Company: their motto is “It’s not just coffee. It’s a lifestyle” so right away I knew we were going to get along great. Their roastery is in the Industrial Area and their cafe is on the main road, in a small cozy cafe. Go in to relax and read or hop in to take a delicious espresso beverage to go (and a pastry of course).
605 Gibson Street, open daily 7am - 4pm
Rhino Coffee House: when coffee shops serve great coffee AND doughnuts during all hours of the day, it’s going to be on the top of my list. Flavours such as: sour cream beer glaze, boston cream, maple bacon, milk chocolate toffee, coconut cream, rainbow sprinkle, need I go on? They even have a few gluten-free options for us weirdos. Score! Their breakfast bagel is also a must. Might as well just stay here all morning. Carbo-load guilt free, you’re on vacation!
430 Campbell Street, open daily 7:30am - 4pm and until 6pm on Monday
Common Loaf Bake Shop: we spent our last morning here drinking some matcha lattes and doing some work before we hit the road home. They have an amazing selection of baked goods and breakfast pizza (yes, I typed that right…) and the classic set of yummy espresso bevy’s. If you’re traveling with a larger number of people or are just in need of more space, head upstairs for your own private area.
180 First Street, open daily 8am - 6pm
Tuff Beans: a local favourite due to promptness, decent prices, and quality coffee. Grab a cafe here and head down to a few of the shops nearby to take a peek!
331 Campbell St, open daily 8am - 4pm
Eat some seafood
Sobo: a charming seafood spot with a relaxed setting and a menu highlighting local, seasonal ingredients. If you’re craving seafood come here for lunch or dinner and indulge in the seafood chowder - it’s the best in town. And maybe, probably the best I’ve ever had. For sure you’ll be making a couple of trips here before you leave Tofino! A personal favourite of mine for any meal.
311 Neill St, open 11:30am - 9pm everyday
Schooner Tofino: a comfortable yet refined little spot to come for dinner which has been turning out steak and seafood since 1949. They have a fun and intriguing oyster list but make sure you come early so they don’t sell out (and be sure to make a reservation in the summer and early fall months!). Recommended: the stuffed baked halibut. To DIE for.
331 Campbell Street, open Tuesday - Sunday from 3pm - 9pm
Wolf in the Fog: I believe this is one of the fanciest places in town. Super interesting with a very trendy and unique .interior. An open concept dining hall and bar, we really liked the aesthetics it had to offer. If you’re coming just for a drink there’s a smaller area downstairs with a bar and some two-person tables. We came for the famous baked oysters (we had to run around to a few different restaurants). If you love oysters and you’re into rich flavours, I recommend them. I got three and that was more than enough - delicious but overpowering! Overall beautiful plates of local fresh foods and ingredients. Just take a peek at their website and you’ll be dreaming of your next food-coma. Recommended: potato crusted oyster baked with apple and truffle oil, as well as the house-made pasta. And don’t forget the most popular cocktail: the Cedar Sour with cedar-infused rye, lemon thyme, lemon and egg white - pictured below and borrowed from their website. (Yes it did taste like cedar and it was delicious).
150 Fourth St, open 10 am - 3 pm for lunch except Wednesdays and Thursdays, and daily from 5pm - very late
Head to a brewery
Not surprisingly, I recommend heading to the Tofino Brewery. It’s an amazing atmosphere, super chilled vibes, and most importantly great beer. You can take a peek at where and how they’re brewing their beer and then go try a drink or two or three or four under the high wooden ceilings and inviting benches. Not being a huge beer drinker myself, I opted for the light beer-cider mix. An awesome, inviting place we’ll definitely be back. Loved it so much that we ended up buying matching toques. Can you say tourists? Tip: grab some bombers or growlers to go.
D-691 Industrial Way, open everyday from 11am - 10pm
One of my favourite spots in Vancouver, I was exceptionally pleased to be going to the first Tacofino. The OG of Tacofino’s if you will. Since 2009 their iconic truck has made a home at the back of the Live to Surf parking lot. Come in for lunch or a late dinner or grab a burrito to go for in between surfs. For some reason, the tacos here taste even better than their other locations. Just the OG flavour I guess…
1184 Pacific Rim Highway, open everyday from 11am - 5pm
The Industrial Area
My husband and I went to the Industrial Area one afternoon not really expecting anything crazy and it ended up being one of our favourite afternoons! It was basically an excuse to hop around to the different shops… and eat… and drink. All within the neighbourhood, so park your car at one spot and hop back and forth between each place at your leisure! We brought our cribbage board and played a game or two at the distillery; going nowhere fast (and so had to try all the cocktail samplers!).
Summit Bread Co.: home to the best salted double chocolate cookie I have ever had in my entire life. Yes folks, I said it. The best cookie of YOUR LIFE. This is not a drill. I could go on and on at how amazing it was but better yet, just trust me and go try one for yourself. Quality, organic, hand crafted breads and pastries looking so so good, I bet you can’t leave with just one (as we took a few to go).
681 Industrial Way, open Tuesday-Sunday 7am - 4pm
Tofino Coffee Roasting Company: such an awesome space where this company roasts all of their fresh beans! A small walk-up counter makes the space seem small, but if you’re here to stay for a while - don’t fret! Head up the stairs for a few adorable corners and tables for you to relax at!
681 Industrial Way, open daily 7am - 2pm *be sure to get your drink on early!
Tofino Craft Distillery: hello mini-cocktail tasters and delicious infusions. We sat here for about an hour just sipping on their creations while battling it out on the cribbage board. Not a bad afternoon if I do say so myself. Bottles of spirits, craft tonics, and Tofino Kombucha for sale - perfect add-ins to a picnic basket.
681 Industrial Way, open 11am - 8pm everyday
Picnic and sunset!
Picnic basket you say? Of course, you could always grab your favourite snacks and spreads and head out for your own sunset-view or beach feast, but I recommend you try out Picnic Charcuterie first. This shop is also in the Industrial Area, just a hop skip and a jump away from the above establishments. We actually ate at Picnic before our Industrial-Food-Tour (their sandwiches and charcuterie boards are to die for!) but if we had a few more days we definitely would have come back and taken some things to go. While placing your order, let them know that you’re taking it to go and Picnic will deliver in well, picnic form. Fancy that! Grab your delicious instagram-worthy charcuterie board picnic and head out in search of the sunset. One of my favourite spots to do this would be on Tonquin beach; super small and quiet but still had some stunning views of the West Coast!
700 Industrial Way, open 10:30am - 5:30 pm everyday.
Caravan Beach Shop: the most adorable little shop full of carefully curated gifts, local goods, outdoorsy clothing, artwork, and much much more! Bonus points for the local decor: adorned with buoys.
346 Campbell Street, open daily 10am - 6pm
Merge Curated Goods: adorable, trendy, and just overall awesome. Tucked away off the main road, this store showcases multiple Canadian and International artisans as well as thoughtfully engineered products. The owner of this shop makes and sells her own jewelry so if you’re wandering around town one day, make sure to stop in and say hi!
Campbell St #305B, open Wednesday to Monday 10am - 5pm
Looks magical doesn’t it? That’s because it is. We were so fortunate to have amazing weather at the end of October for the entirety of our stay (at one point I was sitting in a lounge chair on the beach with just a tank top and my pyjama shorts!!). I just can’t really believe how perfect Tofino really is. From the endless amount of things to do outside: surfing, whale watching, boating, hot springs, camping, beach walks, hiking, to snuggling up indoors with hot beverages and reading a book or two in front of a perfect mountain-ocean duo view, it is the perfect West Coast vacation. My next order of business would be to come back here for storm watching. I LOVE storms and I love them even more when I am close to an ocean. Something about the magnitude and strength of mother nature all the while cozied up with coffee or hot coco. Yes please. Let me know if you’ve been to Tofino before and whether or not you would add any places to this list! And have you been to any of these places above? Let me know in the comments below!
Happy west - coasting, my friends!