Our latest West coast adventure started with a longing to get away from the endless greyness of Ontario winter and Tofino seemed like a good place to get away – it is as far west as we could go from Toronto. We booked our flight to Vancouver pretty last minute and we played around with a couple of different options of how we should spend 10 days in BC. We started with a plan to see everything and drive around like maniacs (the initial plan was Vancouver, Squamish, Whistler, Nanaimo, Tofino, Victoria, Vancouver). After doing more research I felt drawn to Tofino and the Pacific Rim national park. We started slowly reducing the scope of our trip and in the end we only booked three nights in an airbnb place in Tofino and left the rest to be decided later. We just ended up staying in Tofino the whole week.
We left Vancouver at 5am on a Monday morning, all ready to start our Vancouver Island adventure. We kicked things off with getting completely lost in a rainstorm while looking for the right exit to board the ferry in the North Vancouver port. We barely made it as the last car boarding. By 9am we got out in Nanaimo and we kept driving further and further west, until we got to Tofino.
Vancouver Island has the most northern rainforests and a very unique microclimate. We got to enjoy the full spectre of that – we had days when the weather would change every half an hour, we had a couple of beautiful sunny days, we got to watch a few dramatic storms and luckily we only had one day when it was pouring rain all day long. February and March are called the “storm – watching season” and some people warned us that it’s not the best time to go (our trip was in the end of March) but I have to say I really enjoyed all of it. Rainy Tofino and the rugged Pacific Rim Coast have a lot of character in all weather conditions.
When I try to describe what we liked so much about Tofino, words seem to be inadequate. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of Vancouver Island from the moment when we first stepped into the rainforest and my fascination continued as we spent hours watching the giant waves of the Pacific Ocean, listening to the rainfall and resting our eyes on the vibrant green landscape. I was hoping my photos could better express what we saw but they only partially capture what we experienced. You will have to go to Tofino to see for yourself.
Driving across the island: Nanaimo to Tofino
The drive from Nanaimo to Tofino takes around 3 hours, it’s mostly one lane winding road and the landscape is incredible. We planned a couple of stops to break up the drive and I would highly recommend all of them – if I had to pick one, the last one was my favorite:
Little Qualicum waterfalls – around 5km of trails around two waterfalls, the upper falls were very impressive
MacMillan Forest park – two trails starting from the same spot, our first peek of rainforest!
Big Cedar Trail – short and somewhat neglected trails through a truly wild rainforest, we were the only people there and we found some giant oyster shells!
Tofino & Pacific Rim Park
We spent a week in Tofino and we didn’t have to travel too far for our day trips:
Tonquin beach – small beach walking distance from the town, it has beautiful cave formations and we heard it is good for wildlife watching. Jerry was hoping to see some bears but the only wildlife we saw was a bald eagle – sitting on a tree branch just meters away from me!
Chesterman beach – the most popular beach for surfers, sunsets and people watching, you can also go there at night and make a bonfire. I highly recommend going there but be prepared that on a nice day it will be quite busy.
Long beach – my favorite beach! We came there at least three times, there was a couple of surfers but for the most part it was quiet and you can walk along more than 5km of an open beach and watch the waves and windy sand formations.
Schooner cove – smaller beach near the Long beach and a short – around 1km – loop in the forest, if you come during low tide, you can walk to some of the smaller islands on foot.
Lone Cone mountain – 730 meter high mountain on a tiny island near Tofino, you have to take a water taxi to get there. On our way there we got lucky got a $10 drive from a guy who lived on the island, on the way back we paid a lot more to go with the official Tofino Water taxis (lesson – coordinate better with your water taxi driver, the place where you get dropped off is in the middle of nowhere). The whole trip up the mountain is about 4 hours, first two hours are through very dense forest and the rest of the time it is an extremely steep uphill (you go from zero to 730m – the uphill is about 45° angle) but you are rewarded with amazing views of the Tofino inlet and all the small islands around. We were the first people to get on the top that day and we saw a few eagles and hawks circling around – once again, to Jerry’s disappointment and my relief, we did not see any bears.
Ucluelet & around
While I would suggest that you completely skip the town of Ucluelet (we spent an hour there and it seemed to be filled with big resorts and not the nicest kind of tourists), I highly recommend visiting the Wild Pacific Trail – you can park on the side of the road, it is about 10km before the town and it was the best place for wave watching. There is a long winding trail that goes along the coast with many great viewpoints – the pretties part of the trail is called Artists loops.
Tofino food and drink:
We had spent a full week in Tofino and we got a chance to try out a lot of the local restaurants, which, I have to say, I was really impressed with. I did not expect this little town to have so many dining options. For this week, we lived on Pacific Pescaterian diet – balancing amazing seafood meals from the local restaurants and picnics with pacific canned sardines.
Tofino is a small town and while there are many fine dining options, shopping is a bit tricky. The Tofino co-op is your standard supermarket, perfect to stock up canned sardines and tea but they don’t have much fresh produce. Green Soul Organic is a little organic store, they have a good selection of fruits and veggies and they sell oats and nuts and health foods in bulk – but it is pretty pricey. There is a really nice bakery – Common Loaf – their rye bread was our picnic staple all week long. Beaches grocery near Chesterman beach has the best assortment of picnic foods and they also sell hummus and some pre-made salads and sandwiches.
Restaurants & eating out in Tofino
Wolf in the fog – we came back there three times! Once for their Happy Hour (Jerry loved their Cedar Sour cocktail) and twice for dinner. Everything on their menu was great but my favorite was their wild caught salmon, they had it as their “special” both times we came. I loved the overall ambiance of the place, the first floor bar is more casual and there is a beautiful close up photo of a huge wave that I couldn’t stop staring at. The second floor is airy and spacious and has beautiful views of the Tofino Inlet.
Shelter – this seemed to be the most popular spot in town, most people would order their burgers and fish and chips (everyone in Tofino seemed to be obsessed with burgers!!) but my recommendation would be their Surf Bowl – wild salmon with rice and a ton of vegetables in teriyaki sauce, I could eat that for lunch every day!
Sobo– was our first lunch stop on our first day, I had the best salmon chowder soup I have ever tried and Jerry had a tasty salad with a perfectly cooked seared tuna. This place is very cozy, they have a play corner for kids and a fireplace in the waiting area.
Kuma – nice little restaurant with minimalist decor, they serve ramen and japanese inspired meals, we tried a couple of their small plates, the octopus was my favorite!
I was surprised about how much traffic the coffeeshops in Tofino were getting! It seemed like all the locals stop there for a chat and a morning cup of coffee and they have some excellent options to choose from:
Tofino Coffee Roasting – a tiny coffee roastery, cafe and bakery, we tried their Americano and I wish we could have tried some of their baked goods because they looked very tasty! Unfortunately, they have very short business hours – they closed at 2pm, mostly focusing the morning crowd
Tofitian – this popular coffee spot is by the Chesterman beach, further away from the town and it seems to be the spot, where everyone picks up their breakfast and snacks before a day of surfing. We stopped there twice, their cappuccino was great, the barista was friendly and I really liked their healthy breakfast muffin (hippie west coast cafes have the best baked goods!). Their soundtrack was great too, it is exactly the kind of coffee shop, where I could spend a couple of hours every day.
Tofino – places to stay
Tofino has a lot of accommodation options but it can be quite expensive, I would suggest booking a place to stay a couple of weeks ahead. We stayed in a great airbnb place for the first couple of days and then Dolphin Motel for the last couple of nights, it is a typical motel owned by an old Korean couple that adores Tofino and has been there for 25 years! It is located very close to the Chesterman beach.