Travel
2 min

Majestic beauty of Tofino

Explore Vancouver Island's rugged coastline

Ocean life abounds. Credit: Aefa Mulholland

Perched on a peninsula off Vancouver Island’s exposed and rugged west coast, Tofino is the gateway to Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and the stunning Clayoquot Sound. Today a beguiling mix of frontier town and gourmet getaway, Tofino amounted to a few homesteads in the 1890s and remained an isolated logging town until 1959, when the road finally reached it — and surfers and tourists followed. Look north across Tofino Harbour and you’ll see Opitsaht, a Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations village that has been continuously inhabited for at least 5,000 years.

Tofino itself is walkable, with fantastic island and ocean views on all sides, but to really soak up the atmosphere, you’ll want to go the distance. Long Beach, a stunning sweep of sand backdropped by towering stands of pines, is seven kilometres south of Main Street. Other recommended places for sandy sojourns are popular Chesterman Beach, surf spot Cox Bay and driftwood-strewn Wickaninnish Beach. Rainforest trails and beach hikes lace the area. The diminutive, but delightful, Tofino Botanical Gardens (tbgf.org) are on the south side of town. Ninety minutes north by boat (oceanoutfitters.bc.ca), Hot Springs Cove offers the chance for things to get steamy in the old-growth rainforest. Half an hour along a boardwalk brings you to a series of steaming pools that drop in temperature as they near the always-icy ocean.

The town of 1,700 is a culinary gem, with many enticing eating options, including The Schooner (schoonerrestaurant.ca), which offers local seafood delights. If the night is cold, heat lamps and thick wool blankets are provided for outdoor dining, and if you’re there between September and April, you might see the northern lights as you dine. But the star in Vancouver Island’s culinary crown is the 75-seat post-and-beam Pointe at the Wickaninnish Inn (wickinn.com). Arguably Western Canada’s top restaurant, the kitchen serves fantastic Canadian fare and the windows offer 240-degree views of the thundering waves, but you’ll have to reserve months in advance if you want a surfside seat.

If you think of Canada’s most westerly bits as solely summer vacation spots, think again. Spring is the best time to admire the once-endangered grey whales as they lumber up the coast from Baja California to Alaska, but you can catch sight of orcas and humpbacks in the bays around Tofino and Ucluelet all year round. Fall offers spectacular views of the northern lights. Winter used to see Pacific Northwest beaches left to the bald eagles. Today, windy West Coast spots such as Tofino have become destinations for all seasons, with millions of visitors arriving for the extreme weather that has become the star attraction of the breezier months. From November through March, visitors flock to watch the powerful storms that crash on Tofino’s driftwood-strewn beaches — all from the safety of a cozy cabin with a roaring fire or a well-stocked hotel room. It’s definitely an invigorating way to shake off the city.

Accommodations

Set on a jut of rock, looking out over craggy Chesterman Beach, the famed Wickaninnish Inn is the perfect romantic or literary perch. Rooms boast binoculars, fireplaces, libraries, writing desks and oversized soaker tubs.

Built from 45,000 recycled bricks and crammed with character, the Inn at Tough City (toughcity.com) is a quirky, comfortable eight-room hotel with bargain rates, a sushi bar and rooms that feature 100-year-old stained glass, plus balconies or decks overlooking Clayoquot Sound.

Bars and Clubs

Although not really known as a drinking destination, all-welcoming Tofino has some brew stops worth making — and a few beers worth sampling. Tofino Brewing’s Dawn Control Coffee Porter, Tuff Session Ale and Hoppin’ Cretin IPA can be found on tap at The Schooner, the Wickaninnish Inn, Shelter (shelterrestaurant.com) and Tough City’s sushi bar. Otherwise, stock up in advance, order in some artisanal creations from RedCan Gourmet (redcangourmet.com) and retreat to your room.