A place where the ocean meets the sand, the sand meets the forest, and the forest meets the end of the road. That’s Tofino.
It’s a place where the WiFi is newly updated, the cell reception spotty, and the days move slow. A place that feels as though it’s been plucked from time and preserved from the bustle.
The charm is undoubtedly due to its remote location. Prior to 1959, the only sustainable way to reach Tofino was a long, and slightly dreary, boat ride up the coast of Vancouver Island. But when HIghway 4 was expanded, the adamant traveler could tackle a 3-hour trek around hairpin curves and frequent rainstorms that visit the Pacific Rim National Park to the end of the road. (Quite literally, Highway 4 leads directly to Tofino’s First Street Dock.)
In those early days, these travelers were often outdoorsy hippies, looking to find a place beyond the crowds. Today, any number of visitors still take this long trip. But for those in the know, a charter flight can take them directly to Long Beach Airport — a small and friendly airport situated between Tofino and Ucluelet.
Top Things to Do in Tofino
While the famed hot springs have been closed until further notice, the town of Tofino isn’t short on fun things to do year-round. Located on the west coast of Vancouver Island, you’ll find hiking in the Pacific National Park Reserve, a spa with ocean views at Ancient Cedars Spa, a food scene that’s bursting with seasonal flavor, and so much more.
Tofino rests just 1,200 miles from the Arctic Circle. Despite the low-temperature water streaming down from the north, it’s fondly been dubbed the Canadian capital of surfing. Tiny Tofino tots have been known to start honing their riding chops at just three- or four-years-old, boggie boarding above the sand.
But undoubtedly, it’s learning to stand atop a wave that brings the ultimate thrill. Thanks to the gentle swells during the summer months, the sandy-bottom beaches stretching up and down the coast are ideal. Chesterman Beach is particularly beloved by locals and visitors alike. It’s the closest beach to town (and right next to the Wickanninish Inn).
Stretching 1.7 miles, it receives year-round swells that range from mild to challenging. It is here, that many of Tofino’s surf schools hold classes — like Surf Sister, a woman-owned and operated surf shop and school.
Fun Fact: You’ll want to wear a wetsuit year-round while surfing in Tofino. The water temperature stays relatively consistent, ranging from a brisk 48°F degrees in winter and a ‘toasty’ 59°F degrees in summer.
Floating Wood-Fired Sauna
Anchored in a remote section of Clayoquot Sound, the traditional territory of the Tal-o-qui-aht First Nation, bobs a floating wood-fired sauna. It’s outfitted with dock hammocks and equipped with paddleboards. A rope swing dangles overhead and an outdoor firepit is rimmed by Adirondack chairs.
Moving from the steamy heat to an icy plunge, and back to the warmth again is an exhilarating mix of relaxation and timeless fun. But there’s also a stillness amongst the forest-lined waters, even as laughter ripples through the air. Perhaps it’s that you’re completely unplugged. Because while you can now find WiF in Tofino, it’s nowhere to be found in the sauna. It’s just you and those you travel with, savoring the shocking disparity between fire and ice.
Looking to fill your soul and your belly? Round out the excursion by foraging for crab and prawns. For the ultimate treat, bring your catch back to the tainted chefs at 1909 Kitchen where they’ll give it the love it deserves.
Watch Storms Crash
It’s said that Tofino’s ‘storm season’ falls during late autumn and winter. And while that may be the best time to witness the gale force winds, towering waves, and moody skies—Mother Nature has a way of rearing her head when least expected.
The storms that shaped Tofino’s coastline (and shape it still), pound the rocks mercilessly. A spray-filled fireworks display of salty water, the storms often ebb and flow, raging full force with interluding moments of calm.
Watching a winter storm from the comfort of a warm room, perhaps with a steaming cup clutched in your hand, is to be mesmerized. Listen closely as the ocean surges into the forest and you’ll hear the trees moan. And as the waters reside, slip on a pair of boots to explore how the shoreline has been given new form before your next round of storm watching begins.
Experience Luxury at the Wickaninnish Inn
There’s something about a building that was literally built among the trees, the ground hand-cleared to prevent unnecessary damage. It offers a sense of refugee, like a childhood tree fort. And yet, there’s nothing rough around the edges about the Wickaninnish Inn.
While the lively wonderscape of its setting perched atop a rocky cliff immerses you in the untamed wilderness, the Relais & Châteaux accommodations of this luxury destination are pure serenity. It has all the trappings you’d expect to find in a place of its stature. It also has something a little more. It has spirit.
Take a look at the wood fireplace mantles that adorn each room. They are carved from logs where the resort once stood and shaped in the Inn’s Carving Shed. Touches such as these can be found throughout the Inn, like echos from the forest beyond. You’ll also find such echos in the Ancient Cedars Spa, The Inn’s exquisite sea-side spa that incorporates local ingredients into the healing and restorative treatments.
At the heart of the Inn, The Point Restaurant sets the stage for fine dining with panoramic views. The exquisite seasonal menus are loaded with freshly caught seafood and island-grown goods, creating a meal that’s only rivaled by the restaurant’s impressive wine list.
Taste the Sea
Make no mistake about it, the seafood in Tofino is fresh. The tiny surf town is tucked beside the Pacific Ocean. And the chefs are well-versed in sea-to-table cuisine that’s amped further amped up with foraged goodies.
In addition to The Point Restaurant at the Wickaninnish Inn and 1909 Kitchen, local favorites include Wolf in the Fog, which Bon Appétit heralded for its menu that “highlights the best that the area’s foragers and fishermen have to offer, with an emphasis on hands-in, family-style feasts.”
Wildside Grill is beloved for its reasonably priced, seafood-forward menu. A take-out eatery, the Fried Oyster Burger is a consistent crowd-pleaser. Big Daddy’s Fish Fry tempura-battered selection of local halibut, lingcod, and wild Chinook salmon is hard to beat. And for those who are all about the oysters, look no further than The Fish Store and Oyster Bar — which is indeed a store and a bar.
How to Get From Seattle to Tofino
It’s indeed possible to make the Seattle to Tofino drive. The classic route begins with a nearly 2-hour jaunt on the highway to the Peach Arch border crossing just outside of Vancouver, BC.
Travelers then catch the Tsawwassen ferry to Duke Point in Nanaimo, a 2-hour sail to the eastern edge of Vancouver Island. The remainder of the nearly 8-hour Seattle to Tofino drive follows BC-4 West testing along a two-lane highway of switchbacks and hairpin turns.
Alternatively, you could reach Tofino in roughly an hour. Kenmore Air’s Seattle to Tofino charter flights are a direct and beautiful trip offering stunning views of the coastline and mountains to Tofino’s Long Beach Airport. Yep. It’s that simple.