Updated: Sep 1
Tofino is a magical place.
What I love most about Tofino is the incredible sense of space; expansive beaches on the open Pacific that make you feel like you're on the edge of the world. It's this sense of space and openness that makes you feel like you're away from it all and that there's a great big world out there beyond your own little life. Being away from the hustle & bustle of the city and the noise, both internal and external, is so restorative. I can feel my tank being filled when I'm there.
If you haven't been, you must go! If you have been, you must go again!
As with most beautiful places in the world, Tofino has been discovered. It's become extremely popular, not only locally but internationally. There's been a lot of growth and change but the expansive feeling of nature is still intact.
As a result it's no longer that affordable but there are a few affordable options.
Tofino has wisely protected itself from getting too overbuilt (although it is much more built up than it was). It has not allowed chains like McDonald's and Starbucks to set up shop - thank goodness! So it's managed to maintain it's charm.
There's so much to see and do that I'm always left us wanting more. I dream of one day having extended stay.
I always have the intention of lying around and relaxing but I never seem to be able to as there was just too much I want to do.
WHAT TO BRING
Even in summer, make sure to pack some warm clothes and jackets (even an umbrella) - the weather can fluctuate a lot! One day it's hot and sunny, the next cold and rainy.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT BEFORE YOU BOOK
Whenever I go away I always ask locals for tips. One tip I got was to go to Tofino around the summer Solstice, June 21, as the tides are super low and it's apparently incredible. Also it would be longest days of the year.
Another thing to do while there is to look at the night sky as you're far from the city lights. A moon is beautiful, but I think it's the perfect place to see billions of stars. If you agree, check the moon tables before you book.
From Vancouver it's about 5.5 hours
Take the 100 min ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo, then it's a 3 hr drive to Tofino.
I recommend making a ferry reservation - imperative in the summer if you want to avoid a 1-2 sailing wait!
Take the earliest ferry you can.
*Note: the highway past Port Alberni to Tofino is under construction & there are closures:
CHECK HERE Make sure to check before you go! If there are closures, ask your hotel if they have any exact details at what time the highway opens in each direction.
We brought, what I like to call, our "hot dog buns" and used them on the ferry. It was the best! Made the ferry trip so relaxing. These things fold up into a small bag, then you just open one end towards the wind to fill up and roll up to close. Super easy! Especially on the ferry where there's lots of wind. Get one HERE
STOPS ALONG THE WAY
Part of me thinks it's best to drive straight to Tofino and get there early, you want as much time there as possible. I guess it depends on how much time you have in Tofino. If it's a short stay, go straight there.
However, there are some good stops along the way should you wish to explore:
A great buffer to transition into holiday mode.
From the ferry terminal in Nanaimo drive 30 minutes to Rathtrevor Beach in Parksville (it's on the way to Tofino).
The tide goes way out and you can go for a beautiful early morning walk. Check the tide charts before you go, although I think the tide is out every morning.
For instance you could take the 6:25am ferry arriving in Nanaimo around 8:00am
Drive to Rathtrevor for 8:30ish and go for a 1 hour walk in low tide, tons of sand dollars!
First time I've seen a live black sand dollar!
There is also a campsite should you want to make this part of your trip.
Top Bridge Park
If you fancy a swim, this a great swimming hole.
It's quite popular, so expect lots of people on a nice day.
15 minutes from Rathtrevor Park
35 minutes from the ferry
It's on the way to Tofino, before Coombs.
Old Country Market
This is the famous market with the goats on the roof that has made Coombs a destination.
It's actually quite an amazing store with everything under the sun, food, trinkets & more. Food quality is not great however or the coffee.
40 minutes from ferry
15 minutes from Rathtrevor Beach
On the way to Tofino
I can't believe I didn't know about this! Feels like you're in Italy!
This restaurant is tucked in behind The Old Country Market. It's a beautiful space with large patios. The line up was big but it moved quickly as the restaurant is huge.
Opens at noon.
Make sure to check what day's they're open if you plan to go, when we were there they were closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays due to staff shortage.
Cathedral Grove *highlight
This is a must stop!
I recommend doing it on your way back, make sure to leave enough time.
You can make it a quick walk through the forest in 20 minutes or take your time.
Mind blowing 800 year olds trees!
It's a very busy stop right on the highway, if the parking is full, just wait a few minutes and a spot will open up quickly.
Taylor River Rest Stop
A local told us about this stop, I'd never noticed it before.
It's not actually marked as "Taylor River Rest Stop", there's just a sign that says "Rest Stop in 400 metres", then after you pass there's a small sign that says "Taylor River".
The river here is a beautiful turquoise, it looks tropical, but it's cold!
There's no beach but there's a rope hanging off a tree to jump in. There's picnic tables and bathrooms. We drove just past the stop and found a small pebbly beach to lay down and swim.
1 1/2 hours from the ferry
Past Port Alberni
It will show up in maps if you type in "Taylor River Rest Stop".
A bit further on there's another river stop.
You won't miss it because there will be a lot of cars parked on the side of the highway.
A gorgeous place to stop for a swim and a picnic.
Incredible rock formations and super clear fresh water for swimming!
Worth a stop.
At 2.5 hrs from the ferry you will arrive at a T-junction where there is a Visitor's Centre should you wish to go in and gather information on the area:
Left to Ucluelet and right for Tofino.
Ucluelet is the little brother to Tofino.
I'm sure it has it's charms, but we did not feel compelled to explore.
The beaches and forest in Tofino are the highlight!
It's a 30 minute drive from the junction to the town of Tofino.
Most of the campgrounds and lodges are along this drive in.
PACIFIC RIM NATIONAL PARK:
The first 20 minutes, you will be driving through the Pacific Rim National Park.
If you left early and are arriving early, I recommend stopping in the park on your way in to Tofino to save time driving back later.
There is a park fee to be paid in the parking lots. Fee depends on your length of stay, for instance, $12.50 for 4 hours. There's also daily and weekly rates. I wouldn't pay for the week unless you have planned to spend a lot of time in the park.
There are some gorgeous beaches outside the park and all accommodations, except Greenpoint Campground, are outside the park.
Make sure to find out when reservations start as they sell out very quickly.
Try and get one of sites overlooking the ocean, beware it can be cold with the wind off the ocean. Always be prepared for rain!
There are many stops of interest in the National Park:
Rain Forest Walk *highlight
A must do!
Two gorgeous loop walks on either side of the highway built on wooden walkways. Stunning old growth forest including a 400 year old tree with informative signs. Each walk is 20-30 minutes.
A beautiful very quiet bay, because it's not close to town, which is protected from the wind, unlike many of the other beaches.
Long Beach *highlight
This is the longest beach and probably the most popular. Lots of surfers.
Even when there are lots of people, it doesn't feel crowded because it's so big.
My favorite thing to do here is ride our bikes to the end and then cross to the next beach, which is practically empty and ride to the end of that one. Usually there's a mist or light fog and it's breathtaking.
We brought our bikes but you can also rent bikes. If you bring your own bike make sure to hose it off thoroughly right after with the hose by the bathrooms, if you don't, the salt can ruin your bike.
WHERE TO STAY:
For inexpensive, camping is your best bet. The government campsite (Greenpoint) is the best with large spots in amongst the trees. There are a number of private camp sites but they are small, crowded together and usually no trees.
If possible, stay somewhere with some sort of view of the ocean or as close to the ocean as you can, it makes your stay one thousand percent better.
The Middle Beach Lodge *highlight
On the point between Middle Beach & Mackenzie Beach, last resort before the town.
This is my favorite place to stay by a mile!
It's a beautiful rustic Ralph Lauren style lodge (without the hoity toity).
It's super low key and quiet. Here you feel like you're in Tofino not just staying in a hotel, the resort is so well integrated into the land.
There are two sides: an adults only lodge and a family lodge.
Both have a large main lodge with big couches and a huge fireplace where you can relax, read, play a game or have a drink.
The adult side has smaller more affordable rooms. We stay in these as you don't spend much time in your room anyway.
The family side has rooms of varying sizes and larger cabins.
The "one bedroom end suites" on the family side are nice as they have a separate bedroom and a fireplace for rainy days, they also have a big double tub (unless you can do cabin, which is superb but very pricey).
If you want to do your own cooking get a room/cabin with a kitchen.
Stays include a continental breakfast with muffins, croissants, cheese, ham, jam, hard-boiled eggs (I ate way too many croissants! I have breakfast and lunch in one sitting).
Coffee and tea available all day and any left over muffins and croissants.
Fresh baked cookies at the adult lodge in the evening.
On Chesterman Beach
I include this because it seems to be the most well known.
I find it way too hoity toity and $$$$$.
If money is no object and you like luxury then it's for you.
The restaurant The Pointe is a beautiful wood octagonal room perched on the rocks overlooking the beach - gorgeous and worth a visit.
Long Beach Lodge
On Cox Bay
Another higher-end hotel that's very busy and bustling with lots going on.
Great location and amenities.
Of course there are many other options for accommodations!
If you want to rent a house or B&B I recommend Chesterman Beach.
THINGS TO DO:
They are the highlight! Here is a great description of the different beaches:
Tonquin Trail *highlight
I'm so glad a friend told us about this trail, it's so magical!
It starts in town and goes all the way to Middle Beach (at Middle Beach Lodge).
We started at the lodge and went towards town.
If you're starting at Middle Beach Lodge, walk North across the small beach adjacent to the adult lodge and find the trail head.
Right away you enter another world, an enchanting forest. It feels like a hobbit might pop out at any moment. There are all sorts of trees wrapped around each other, moss, vines and secret little nooks and cranny's. Make sure to explore all the little pathways that lead out to view points, it is so special!
It took us 90 minutes to walk to whole trail to the edge of town (we didn't go into town) but only 15 minutes to walk directly back. There were so many little corners to explore.
If you're starting in the town, make sure you go all the way to Middle Beach Lodge as the forest by the town is not old growth and not as special.
Right before sunset is the best time to as the sun hits this area, also go at low tide so you have access to the beaches.
Tofino Naa’Waya’Sum Botanical Gardens *highlight
A charming and enchanting garden. They also have a cafe and lodge with accommodations (although I think it's better to stay on the beach).
Only accessible during low tide, the lower the tide, the better, either from the south end of Chesterman Beach or north end of Cox Bay. The largest cave with a built in skylight is closet to Chesterman Beach and then a couple more smaller ones closer to Cox Bay. When the tide is low enough you can just walk there along the beach. Make sure the tide is not coming in so you don't get stranded. You could also climb on the rocks to get out.
Pettinger Point *highlight
On Cox Bay walk to north end of the beach. Off the Pacific Sands resort you will find a beautiful wood walkway onto the point. There you will find quaint little paths to the end of the point where you can sit see the open ocean and on rough days watch waves crash with a huge rumble. On the north side you can watch surfers on Chesterman Beach. It's a great place to take it all in. Gorgeous! If tide is low, you can go straight from here to see the caves.
Headland View *highlight
This quick hike is absolutely stunning and worth it on a clear day. You won't see much if it's foggy.
On the south end of Cox Bay look for a "path" about midway between the trees and the water. The hike is at the same time easy and hard. It's only 15 minutes to the top but it's all rocks and roots.
The most stunning incredible views! (photo by @phuonglchau)
There's a lot of surfing going on in Tofino! We did not try, water is freezing! We'll save that for Hawaii. Should you wish to try here's a list of the surf schools:
There are a number of excursions in the area:
WHERE TO EAT
With the popularity of Tofino, if you're planning to eat at a sit down restaurant and are there in peak summer I recommend making dinner reservations before you go. Once there, you may find that everything is booked up. Also, check sunset times if you want to enjoy the view.
1180 Pacific Rim Hwy
An outdoor complex (dirt parking lot mall) with a number of shops including: a chocolate gelato shop, a small grocery store and:
Tacofino Food Truck
I'm sure you've heard of it because it is now famous.
Funnily I think we ate there the week they opened 20+ years ago! It was delicious, we still talk about the chicken tacos we had with a smokey tomato sauce (don't think they make them anymore). The original truck is there but line-ups were HUGE and long waits (we heard 1.5-2 hrs) - not worth the wait in my opinion. You could try right at opening or off meal hours and see how you fare. We went by a couple of times and the line-up was insane.
The Best Coffee
If you enjoy a goof coffee then you must go to The Tofitian in the same outoor mall. Coffee was to die for and good unusual pastries.
The Sandbar Bistro
At Long Beach Lodge
Open noon until sunset
This is a little take-out hut right on the beach (which is where you want to be!) with outdoor seating. They also have fire pits in the evening.
At The Wikkaninnish Inn, a beautiful casual cafe with pastries, sandwiches, soups, etc.
Lovely beach view and outdoor seating as well.
There are some funky places in town as well but we don't tend to go into town.
SIT DOWN MEALS:
Middle Beach Lodge *highlight
The lodge does a set dinner a few nights a week but priority is given to guests.
Go early and hang out in the beautiful lodge (check for happy hour times) and ask for a table in the main part of the lounge (there are only three).
Long Beach Lodge *highlight
"The Great Room" at Long Beach Lodge is well, great, and worth a visit.
A grand room with gorgeous views of the beach.
The food was delicious!
I recommend making a reservation.
Even with a reservation window seat is not guaranteed, so go early.
The Point at The Wikkaninish Inn *highlight
The restaurant is a gorgeous wood octagonal room perched on rocky point, it's stunning! Make sure to go in the daylight to enjoy the view and ask for a window table when you make a reservation. There are two table on the edge of the bar area overlooking the room that I think I like even more than a window seat.
There are also a number of well-known restaurants in town. We don't go into town anymore because, for me, it's all about being by the water and having a view.
Hope you will get a chance one day to visit this magical place!