Your Ultimate Tofino To-Do List
Craving a hit of West Coast wonder? Tofino awaits.
May 1, 2018
Whether you’re scoping out the almost-magical coastal wilderness or feasting on the world-class dishes that are served up with small-town charm, Tofino has got a little something for every itinerary.
Caffeinate and Carbo-Load
There’s no room to sit down in the compact Tofino Coffee Roasting Co. café, but the small square footage appropriately reflects the small-batch ethos of the roasting process. Besides, there’s no shortage of picturesque spots nearby to enjoy your strong Americano and perfectly flaky twice-baked almond croissant.
Open since 2004, Shelter has got their casual-fine experience down to a science at this point. The vibe is that of a laid-back island version of Cactus Club (no surprise that Richard Jaffray is a silent investor), but the local focus of the menu gives it a delicious sense of place: think BLTs with house-smoked salmon, Marina Island littleneck clams and free-run salt-and-pepper wings.
Nice to Meat You
It’s a carnivore’s dream in Picnic Charcuterie’s tiny storefront, where the display cases are packed to the brim with salamis, sausages and cured meats that are butchered and aged on-site. Stock up on thick slabs of hand-cut bacon for tomorrow’s breakfast, or slice up chunks of chanterelle salami to eat then and there.
“Artisan” and “hoagie” aren’t usually used in the same sentence, but there’s no other way to describe the excellent sandwiches RedCan Gourmet whips up using fresh-baked baguettes and smoked brisket. Get yours to go and bring it across the street to Tofino Brewing Co.—it’ll pair perfectly with your tasting flight.
The Happiest Hour
Pop in for happy hour (and a mod take on Japanese izakaya) at Kuma—though it’s a struggle not to spoil your appetite for dinner here. Pair your Sapporo tallboy with the grilled chicken karaage rice balls, house ramen with braised pork belly and Bear tuna (local albacore with tamari-truffle vinaigrette spread onto crunchy crostini).
In 2014, Wolf in the Fog was named EnRoute’s best new restaurant in Canada, and four years later chef Nicholas Nutting is still at the top of his game. Each dish—from crispy potato-crusted oysters to a shiitake-infused seaweed salad to the fall-off-the-fork hot smoked char—is a forager’s dream, spotlighting regional treasures and the seasonal harvest with stunning presentation and an impeccable depth of flavour. The excellent cocktails (we loved the cedar sour) are just a bonus.
The Hatch may be under new management—part of a revitalization of the Tofino Resort and Marina property this past summer—but it boasts Tofino’s oldest liquor licence, so it’s the only place in town open until 2 a.m. On tap at the horseshoe-shaped bar, find options from West Coast craft brews (and sourdough-crust pizzas from the kitchen’s wood-fired oven, should you somehow feel hungry again).
Soak Up the Natural Hot Springs
This isn’t a below-ground hot tub in the woods. When you finally reach Hot Springs Cove (more on that later), a winding wooden trail through the rainforest delivers you at a deep rock crevice that snakes down to the oceanfront. It’s filled with small pools of steaming natural hot-spring water (which typically sit at around 109°F), with the hottest temps at the most inland point, spraying madly from the rocks up top. Sit in the narrow waist-deep pools and enjoy the hydrotherapy session against a score of waves crashing down below. If you bring in food, the local husky-mix dogs will find you and sniff you up and down for scraps (don’t give in!). Getting there: At 27 nautical miles northwest of Tofino in Maquinna Provincial Park, it’s boat or plane. We recommend you do both: Jamie’s Whaling Station and Adventure Centre tours you around Clayoquot Sound for two hours to spot grey whales on your way there, and then you get to pile into a float plane to zip back—20 minutes and you’re back in Tofino, ready for the next adventure ($199 for adults; $179 for kids three to 12).
Easy (Even for You) Beginner Surfing Lesson
Surfing scares the pants off many a non-Olympic swimmer, and that’s why Tofino is the best place to try it. Long, flat beaches mean the rising water gradient is slow, and therefore the swimming chops required are totally average. Yes, you can drown in an inch of water, but at waist-deep with your feet firmly planted in the soft sand, the ocean seems far less threatening. First-timers should book a lesson, and Surf Sisters is one of the originals on the coast. Super-positive (and patient) instructors teach you all the basics on the beach before assisting you in the water with everything from getting on your board to holding your board while you flush your nostrils of sea water. Catch one wave, even in a half-crouch, and you’ll be hooked.
How to Get Around
Rent a bike from Tons of Fun Cycles and pop from Long Beach Lodge and into town via the easy-riding highway-adjacent cycling path. From $30 for four hours.
Hop on a scooter from Tuff City Scooter and Bike Rentals and speed along the winding Vancouver Island roads for maximum beach access. $89 per day.
Where to Stay
Pacific Sands Resort
The resort’s roomy two- and three-bedroom villas sit in the treeline framing Cox Bay Beach, so with the windows open on both floors, the steady sound of the Pacific Ocean waves will have you sleeping like a baby. When you’re not cooking up crew meals in the full kitchen (guests also have access to a gourmet pantry for specialized kitchen appliances), there’s Pac Sands’ on-site restaurant: the Surfside Grill. Picnic tables on the patio keep things feeling very West Coast surf shack, but with a menu sourced from local waters and Vancouver Island growers, you wouldn’t dare call this farm-to-fork classic beach fare pub food. Another perk: a whole fleet of hybrid bikes are on standby for when you want to cycle to town—or just as far as Tofino Brewing. Private beach houses from $549 per night, pacificsands.com
Tofino Resort and Marina
From the exterior, the freshly painted black-and-white buildings of this rejuvenated resort (now under the ownership of former Vancouver Canucks Willie Mitchell and Dan Hamhuis) pop against the lush greens, blues and greys of the Tofino landscape. Inside, the 62 coastal-cool guest suites have been renovated to perfect simplicity: cozy beds, patios with a view and oh-so-Instagrammable photographic wall wraps from artist Jeremy Koreski. King rooms with an inlet view from $159 per night, tofinoresortandmarina.com
1. Holding a Flame
Proceeds from this Cloud Factory cedar smoke candle ($48), made locally from Vancouver Island beeswax, are used to protect old-growth rainforests. caravanbeachshop.com
2. Wrap Up
Even if you’re not hitting the beach, the bold prints of Tofino Towel Co.’s signature round towels ($100) make for a beautiful throw blanket. facebook.com/pg/salttofino
3. What’s the Word
Hand-stamped High Waters Design necklaces ($56), from the owner of carefully curated creative market Merge, get the message across. mergetofino.com
4. Flipping Out
Designer Julie Boocock’s hand-cut bags—like the Flip Bag in caramel ($195)—work equally well for your laid-back island adventure and your big-city commute. marketcanvasleather.com
Orca Airways’ daily flights get you from YVR to Tofino in a super-scenic 40 minutes, and if you pay attention you might even spot a whale or two among the waves below. One-way flights from $175, flyorcaair.com