By Janice Greenwood-Fraser, Travel Media Manager
Tofino’s location on the rugged west coast of Vancouver Island is stunning, and with its long sandy beaches and open Pacific ocean, it’s popular with beachcombers and surfers. And with views like this, need we say more about what makes it a great place to visit?
But not so fast: there’s a lot more to this quirky town on the edge of the continent than just pretty views. For instance, it should come as no surprise that the town’s beautiful surroundings create an inspiring setting for artists. Roy Henry Vickers, a renowned First Nations Artist, established his Eagle Aerie Gallery in 1986, in the centre of Tofino. As the small town changed and grew so too has his work, and visitors will find an incredible collection of his traditional and contemporary-style prints on display and for sale. Down the road, Sol Maya creates colourful and elaborate blown-glass pieces from his tiny studio, and visitors are welcome to stop by to watch him work or contribute to the artistic process.
For a small and remote town, Tofino has more than its fair share of excellent places to eat. Spotted Bear Bistro, Shelter Restaurant and SoBo Restaurant are three small-but-mighty restaurants with such solid reputations that Vancouverites have been known to consider the 5-hour, one-way journey just for dinner. Seafood, of course, dominates the menus so pay special attention to the items featuring local salmon, halibut and Dungeness crab. If you suffer from a sweet tooth, don’t pass by the Chocolate Tofino shop without stopping in for locally made gelato, or a handful of whimsical chocolates. And just a few steps away you’ll find the Tacofino truck for a taste of Mexico, left-coast-style.
But maybe it’s time to step up and find dinner the old-fashioned way: catch it. Head out on a guided fishing charter to reel in your own fish story and something tasty to eat. Tofino Sport Fishing can take guests offshore for a day-long fishing adventure, or a simple motor around the harbour any time of year to collect a delicious crab feast.
There aren’t any roads past Tofino, which means it’s time to ditch the car in favour of a more useful way to explore the area’s rugged coastline. Boats and seaplanes are the favoured mode of transportation for this coast, but don’t worry if you haven’t brought your own: Jamie’s Whaling Station has a range of day-tours with options for both. The company offers whale watching tours throughout the summer (Grey and Orca whales frequent the coastline), trips to Meares Island and Hot Springs Cove as well as bear-watching excursions in Clayoquot Sound.
Hot Springs Cove is one of the special places worth the extra effort to find. Accessible only by boat or seaplane followed by a short 2 kilometre (1.2 mile) boardwalk hike, the natural springs emerging from a crack in the earth at around 50 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Farenheit). The waters cascade down a small waterfall into a series of small natural pools created by the rocks near the tide line. As the tide rises, ocean and hot springs waters combine to create a soaking experience with ever-changing temperatures.
Tofino’s location makes it a popular destination for surfers: the wide sandy beach and open ocean swells make it one of Canada’s best (and only) surf destinations. If you’re interested in a more gentle introduction to the water, give paddleboarding a try. Tofino Paddle Surf is conveniently located beside the beach at the Tin Wis Resort and offers rentals as well as lessons and guided tours. Don’t underestimate this sport: it’s a full- body workout requiring exceptional balance skills, and participants wear a wetsuit for a reason: you’re guaranteed to get wet when you inevitably fall in!
At the end of an adventurous day, sleep comes easily when listening to the roar of the ocean waves in the background. Tofino has plenty of accommodation options, from B&Bs to luxury resort, but naturally the most sought-after options feature a location on water. Pacific Sand Resort is popular with guests for its beachfront suites just steps from the surf on Cox Bay. Because no matter how many activity choices there are, sometimes there’s no better vacation than rolling straight out of bed and onto the beach, without any other plans in mind.