Tofino B.C., located on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, may just be one of the most unique places to visit in the entire Province of British Columbia. Why? It is most famous for its incredible sandy beaches and fantastic surfing. People who picture Canada as being a frozen land of igloos are more than surprised when they discover that world-class beaches filled with soft golden sand exist within reach of the country. Not only that, but the beautiful beaches are right next to towering rainforests and tucked beyond a cropping of incredible mountains. It proves that you really can have the best of what nature has to offer, all in one, perfect place: Tofino. With so much glorious, natural resources around, there’s no doubt plenty to do in Tofino on top of cruising the beaches and surfing. First, let’s get the lowdown on the rest of this small surf-vibe tourist town.
Tofino was originally inhabited by Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations thousands of years before the first Europeans reached its shores in 1778. It wasn’t until 1855 that the first non-Native settlement arrived and from there, Tofino slowly began to expand. With the paving of the road from Port Alberni in 1959, Tofino truly began to flourish for its fishing and logging markets. As more and more people came to the coast, word of the rugged beauty of the area spread like wildfire. The sixties turned Tofino into a paradise for campers and the first pioneer surfers of the west coast arrived. The Pacific Rim National Park was established in 1971 and Tofino’s population continued to expand and grow to the 4,000 people that live in the town year-round. Now, Tofino is a surfing hotspot and offers tons of other activities like whale watching, hiking, kayaking, spas and plenty more. Explore the top ten things to do in Tofino below.
Considering that Tofino is proclaimed to be the Surf Capital of Canada, it comes as no surprise that surfing is the top of the ten things to do in Tofino. Tofino’s beaches, being all sand rather than rocks or reef, are incredibly forgiving to learn on, and it is said that if you learn to surf in Tofino, you will be able to surf anywhere. Numerous companies exist in the small town that offer lessons, equipment rentals and plenty of surf-themed souvenirs, too. Any time of year, even in the heart of winter, you can spot surfers out braving the waves.
The beaches of Tofino and the surrounding area are easily one of the top reasons why visitors are drawn to the coast. These incredible stretches of land are filled with soft, unbroken sand and areas that provide perfect tide pools to explore. During the summer, the beaches are filled with people doing all sorts of activities: reading, relaxing, playing Frisbee or volleyball, surfing, running, having bonfires, or walking their dogs. Despite all the people, you’ll always be able to find your own little slice of paradise, as there are so many beaches, with so much space! Some of Tofino’s favourites and most famous are Long Beach, Chesterman and Cox Bay, but there are plenty of hidden treasures to stumble upon during your exploration.
Exploring the harbour, Clayoquot Sound, or any of the numerous islands located just off of Tofino is made easy and spectacular by kayak. Book a kayaking tour to get an immersive experience into life on the coast and enjoy the unique offerings the talented guides can give in terms of west coast knowledge, kayaking skills and fun out on the ocean. If you’re well versed in paddling, you can even just rent boats and set out to explore yourself, just be sure you’re aware of the tides and weather.
Whales live on the coast nearly year-round, and except for the when the winter storms keep the boats off of the water, you can schedule yourself an exhilarating charter at any time. Gray Whales pass by in incredible numbers during their migration beginning in February-April, and the Humpbacks are a summer spectacle, splashing and waving goodbye with their tails as they deep dive below the waves. Even occasional orcas can be seen in pods as they hunt and explore the rugged coast. There are numerous options in terms of boats, companies and departures, and you’ll be able to see more west coast creatures than whales during your charter – the healthy waters of the Pacific off the coast of Tofino plays host to an incredible amount of sea life!
The towering trees of the west coast rainforest wait with numerous breathtaking trails to hike. Thanks to the Pacific Rim National Park and other amazing areas surrounding Tofino, the hiking trails here are plentiful and well-kept. From easy-going strolls to heart-pumping ascents with incredible lookouts, Tofino’s trails offer something for everyone.
The west coast of Vancouver Island offers fantastic fishing for salmon and halibut, as well as lingcod. Anglers will reel in some prized-winning chinook salmon, as well as a steady supply of coho in the summers. The halibut and lingcod are nothing to laugh at either, and many a happy fisherman will fill their freezer in a single day with both salmon and tasty white meat. If you don’t find a charter to your liking in Tofino, Ucluelet, just thirty minutes south, also offers great fishing in the neighbouring Barkley Sound, which, some may argue, is better than Clayoquot.
Just a hop away from Tofino is Hot Springs Cove, an incredible, natural delight for those who head out to explore it. Whether by water taxi or float plane, the way to the cove is a scenic adventure on its own. Once you arrive, you are taken on a winding boardwalk through the stunning coastal rainforest, while listening to the rush of the springs and keeping an eye out for the rising steam of the water. The pools are geothermic and spill out overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Waterfalls, various levels of pools and plenty of other places are there to recline in and enjoy literally bathing in the beauty of the west coast.
Tucked within the naturally healing atmosphere of the rainforest, and opening up to face incredible beaches, Tofino is lined with spas that bring a touch of luxury and relaxation to the west coast. Enjoy a massage or soak to the natural sound of waves beating against the shore, while breathing in the fresh scent of the coastal rainforest. Many spas even use products both sourced and made right in Tofino. For those who truly want to relax during their holiday, a visit to any of the beautiful spas will do the trick. Plus, you’ll still be getting back to nature – they’ll be rubbing it directly onto your skin.
Tofino’s Botanical Gardens are a labyrinth of west coast treasures, lush greenery and plenty of other finds. It is often the site of festivals such as Winter Lights. The garden consists of 12 acres spanning forest, shoreline and garden with a web of paths and boardwalks cruising around a charming café, small gift shop and what they describe as “a series of pocket gardens.” There’s even a Children’s Garden and art installations to take in. It makes for a great afternoon and a deeper understanding of what can grow in Tofino’s temperate rainforest climate.
Tofino is very influenced by its First Nations history, which often shows in the incredible art you can find in town. For those that love to dig into the heart of the culture of where you’re visiting, look no further than Tofino’s art galleries. There are some incredible displays of carvings, paintings and more to see throughout town. On a less cultural side, Tofino is also home to many magnificent photographers and painters as well. There are numerous galleries featuring stunning, west coast shots and inspired images on canvas through various mediums. When it comes to talent and the creative side of things, Tofino is chock full of inspiration.