Discover British Columbia through the eyes of Top Chef Brooke Williamson

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What happens when an LA entrepreneur puts her busy life on hold to spend a few days immersed in British Columbia’s wild landscapes?

The British Columbia Effect.

Science has proven that as few as three days spent in nature can make measurable changes to your brain. Stress levels go down, creativity goes up, and you feel happier. Top Chef winner and restaurant owner Brooke Williamson experienced this phenomenon on her recent trip to BC—and you can, too.

Explore British Columbia and the healing power of nature with this custom-made itinerary, inspired by Brooke’s adventures in Tofino and the surrounding area.

Vancouver to Tofino

Getting from Vancouver to Tofino is part of the adventure. Like Brooke, experience the thrill of a float plane ride with Harbour Air Seaplanes, which takes you direct to Tofino from downtown Vancouver (from April through October). Fly over the Strait of Georgia and Vancouver Island, and have your camera at the ready on this hour-long journey. If you’re travelling from November to March and still want to arrive quickly, Pacific Coastal Airlines operates a year-round service from the Vancouver International Airport‘s South Terminal.

BC Ferries | Reuben Krabbe
Harbour Air Seaplanes | @chefbrookew via Instagram

Alternatively, take your time to catch even more sights by making the journey by road. From Vancouver, connect to the Trans-Canada Highway (Hwy 1) to Horeshoe Bay, where you’ll board a large BC Ferries vehicle ferry bound for Nanaimo on the east coast of Vancouver Island. Enjoy a leisurely meal onboard and head to the upper deck for fresh air and an unimpeded view—watch for whales, harbour seals, eagles, and other wildlife (the Salish Sea is rich in marine life). Once in Nanaimo, road trip to Tofino by heading north or opt for a short detour to the provincial capital of Victoria by continuing south along Highway 1.

Tofino

Tofino is one of those special places that has the ability to nurture and to replenish the spirit. You can’t help but relax here, and just be in the moment. Whether you’re beachcombing along seemingly endless stretches of sand or finding serenity in the depths of the rainforest, paddling the protected waters of Tofino’s harbour or searching for whales or bears on a guided wildlife-viewing excursion, the power of nature is evident—and you’ll feel it as soon you arrive.

 

Where to Stay

Accommodation options in Tofino range from rustic campgrounds to beach-side cabins to luxurious oceanfront resorts. If you can swing it, staying on the water is key. Treat yourself to a luxurious stay at the Wickaninnish Inn, a Relais & Châteaux property that boasts a beach or ocean view from every room. The Best Western Tin Wis Resort is another great option with its oceanfront rooms overlooking Mackenzie Beach.

If kitchen facilities and room to spread out are a priority, consider the Beach Houses at Pacific Sands Beach Resort, or book yourself an adorable “beehive” cabin at Ocean Village Resort.

Things to Do

The two biggest draws in Tofino are the ocean and the rainforest. And there are plenty of ways to enjoy both. While Tofino is known widely as a cold-water surfing mecca, a gentler, more contemplative way to enjoy the open Pacific is with a stroll on the beach. There are vast expanses of sand all along the west coast of Vancouver Island, and the scenery is spectacular. Chesterman Beach in Tofino, and Long Beach south of town in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, should not be missed. Chesterman also has sections of rougher coastline if you prefer to explore rocky bluffs with tidepools, and you can find tranquility along the hiking and walking trails in Pacific Rim Park.

Big Tree Trail on Meares Island | Jeremy Koreski

Nearby Meares Island is home to some of BC’s oldest, biggest trees, visible along the aptly named Big Tree Trail. You can take a water taxi there on your own, or like Brooke did, paddle there with an Indigenous guide.

T’ashii Paddle School offers a unique opportunity to visit pristine Meares Island by traditional-style canoe. Your Nuu-chah-nulth guide will share an Indigenous perspective on the importance of the natural landscape and how everything, from the trees and the ocean to the animals and the humans, is interconnected.

Black bears in Clayoquot Sound | Jeremy Koreski

A wildlife tour is another Tofino must-do. Orcas, grey whales, humpbacks, and minkes all frequent these waters, and black bears can be seen foraging along the shoreline from late spring through early fall. Book a whale-watching or a bear-watching tour with Jamie’s Whaling Station to greatly increase your chances of a once-in-a-lifetime encounter. You can also take a day trip via boat or seaplane to Hot Springs Cove in Maquinna Marine Provincial Park (28 miles north of Tofino), whose healing waters flow into a waterfall and cascade into a series of natural rocky goethermal pools toward the ocean.

Where to Eat

Nature also has a profound impact on the local cuisine. Many Tofino chefs grow and harvest the ingredients for their recipes to create uniquely West Coast flavours. Freshly foraged mushrooms, for example, are a much-loved delicacy here, paired with local fare from scallop dishes to seaweed salad. Indulge in innovative cuisine with a 240-degree view of the wild Pacific Ocean at The Point Restaurant at the Wickaninnish Inn, where executive chef Carmen Ingham prepared one of Brooke’s favourite fish dishes. Another not-to-be-missed dining experience involves sampling from the stellar seasonal menu at Shelter Restaurant as you sit on their water-view patio. And be sure to book a table at the Wolf in the Fog, named Canada’s Best New Restaurant when it opened in 2014.

The Pointe Restaurant at the Wickaninnish Inn | Jeremy Koreski

Looking for something more relaxed or casual? Try the original (and now BC famous) fish tacos from local institution Tacofino. Even after a successful expansion to numerous locations in Vancouver, the tacos are still served out of their original food truck in Tofino. Also check out SoBo (short for “Sophisticated Bohemian”), which similarly emerged from modest food truck roots to offer mouth-watering seafood dishes out of their award-winning restaurant in the heart of Tofino’s village. Foodies seeking a to-go option should try RedCan Gourmet‘s fresh to order take-out menu, perfect for a beach lunch or to supplement your food prep for an overnight trip to somewhere more remote.

Surrounding Areas

While you’re in the area, consider exploring more of Vancouver Island’s west side.

Pretty Girl Lake

Atleo River Air Services  offers a number of adventures from their Tofino base. Perhaps the most unique is an overnight stay at Pretty Girl Lake, located in a remote area 20 minutes to the northwest and accessible only by air. Stay in a canvas tent complete with queen-sized bed and a wood stove and have the lake and surrounding old-growth rainforest all to yourself. Basic cooking supplies and two canoes are at your disposal, and the lake is full of rainbow and cutthroat trout.

Ucluelet

If you’d rather stay at sea level (Pretty Girl Lake sits at 335 metres (1,100 feet)), head 40 minutes south of Tofino to Ucluelet. No trip to the west coast of Vancouver Island is complete without a walk along Ucluelet’s iconic Wild Pacific Trail to watch giant swells crash against the rugged coastline at Amphitrite Point lighthouse. Stormy weather only adds to the drama. If you’re spending a night, check out the spectacular Black Rock Oceanfront Resort and wake up to the sounds of the sea. For a more intimate sleep, book one of the four boutique rooms at Pluvio restaurant + rooms. Pluvio’s restaurant was recently named in the top 10 of Canada’s Best New Restaurants.

“I feel very lucky to have been able to take this journey, to experience British Columbia and all of its beauty.”

Brooke Williamson | Photo by Jeremy Koreski
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