British Columbia's Vancouver Island is best known for its southernmost colonial-era city, Victoria. But this vast island stretches nearly 300 miles from end to end and is home to rugged wilderness, old-growth forests, mountain peaks and gorgeous beaches. On the west side, the little surf town of Tofino is making waves as an adventure and culinary destination. Summers, while fabulous, can be crowded, so try a visit in the shoulder seasons or throw caution to the wind and experience a wild winter storm (considered a “signature experience” by Destination Canada, the former Canadian Tourism Commission).
Drive north on I-5 through the Canadian border and board the Tsawwassen ferry to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. Continue onto BC-19 to BC-4 across the island to Tofino.
Take the Victoria Clipper from Seattle to Victoria. Rent a car and drive via BC-1 and BC-4 to Tofino.
Fly to Vancouver BC (YVR), take the 15-minute shuttle to the Airport South terminal, fly Pacific Coastal Airlines to Tofino (YAZ). Or fly in a Harbor Air seaplane from Seattle’s Lake Union directly to Tofino Harbour.
Where to Stay
For a little surf town, Tofino has a great range of lodging options. Luxury resorts like Long Beach Lodge Resort and the Wickaninnish Inn along the Pacific coast provide serene comfort within a shell’s throw of the ocean, while Tofino Resort + Marina, located a few kilometers inland along Tofino Harbour, features views of wooded islands and mountains beyond.
Long Beach Lodge Resort
Built in 2002 to resemble a West Coast residence, this hotel offers 41 guest rooms and 20 private cottages along eight acres of oceanfront property (family-friendly with pet-friendly options). It is the only “surf-in/surf-out” property in Tofino, and its Surf Club Adventure Centre features spa-like amenities including an outdoor hot pool, sauna, showers and changing rooms. At the Surf Club you can rent surf- and SUP-board equipment and book lessons.
The Wickaninnish Inn
“The Wick” has been part of the Tofino shores since the mid-1950s, but its current incarnation began in 1996. The resort now includes beachfront accommodations along Chesterman Beach, the Ancient Cedars Spa, dining options and a fitness facility. The hotel is filled with incredible wood sculptures and carvings—even the beams were hand-adzed by Henry Nolla, the inn’s longtime neighbor. Though Nolla passed away in 2004, his carving shed (open to guests during “business” hours) remains occupied by artists continuing the craft.
Tofino Resort + Marina
Recently remodeled with comfortable Austrian-style King beds, the King suites also feature separate living room spaces with pullout beds. This is the only resort close to the town of Tofino, making it a perfect location for checking out the local dining and shopping scene.
Where to Eat & Drink
All three resorts have great restaurants on-site. At Tofino Resort, 1909 Kitchen serves fantastic wood-fired pizzas as well as numerous entrées featuring Chef Paul Moran’s locally foraged ingredients and Michelin-starred culinary experience from Pujol in Mexico City.
Or try local beers and tasty pub grub in the Hatch next door. If you only dine in one place during your stay, make it Wolf in the Fog, named Best New Restaurant by Air Canada’s enRoute magazine in 2014. Chef Nick Nutting brings Tofino’s best local fishermen, foragers and farmers to the forefront with inventive brunch, lunch and dinner menus. The potato-crusted oyster is a must—a succulent Pacific oyster wrapped in a nest of shoestring potatoes and deep-fried to crisp perfection atop a bed of pickled leeks with truffle. While you’re at it, pair it with a Cedar Sour from the excellent cocktail menu—cedar-infused rye, lemon, thyme and egg white.
Over on scenic Industrial Way, stop in at Picnic Charcuterie for its selection of cured meats, cheeses, pickles and preserves. They’ll pack all that deliciousness onto a platter to take across the way to Tofino Brewing Co. or Tofino Distillery (try the absinthe!). When your sweet tooth strikes, only Chocolate Tofino will do—the quality is impressive in this tiny chocolate chapel. Truffles, bars and house-made gelato will satisfy that craving and then some.
What to Do
The beach rules this surf town. Now that the Olympics committee approved surfing as sport for the 2020 games, those men and women riding the waves are potential gold-medal winners. Founded in 1999 to encourage more women to try the sport, Surf Sister is the largest all-female surf school in the world with more than 30 instructors. The gear shop also caters toward a mostly female audience. Surfing is a year-round sport in Tofino. And, yes, wet suits are required. Enjoy the water from the relatively dry comfort of a boat with a kayak tour by Tofino Sea Kayaking. The afternoon-length tours take guests into the Clayoquot Sound past numerous islands harboring wildlife such as bald eagles and other aquatic birds.
Or hop aboard a boat at Tofino Resort + Marina’s Adventure Centre for a longer tour of the sound. During the summer months, the wildlife count may include bears, wolves, seals, porpoises and occasionally whales. Throw in a crab pot or two and catch your dinner. Chef Moran at 1909 Kitchen will prepare your catch at dinner. Winter activities include an epic storm-watching season. With nothing between Tofino and Japan but ocean, weather rolls in on a grand scale. “The Wick” offers Storm Watchers packages that include special rates, brunches, wine and cheese, a book of storm-themed stories and oilskin hats. Book a suite and watch those storms rage from the comfort of your bubble bath.