Three people wearing wetsuits and carrying surfboards walk along Cox Bay in Tofino. A dog scampers along the beach. The sun is setting and the light is dim. Behind them there is a large rocky outcrop with a tree on top.

Plan your trip to Tofino

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Cox Bay in Tofino | Brian Caissie

Tofino’s location on the rugged west coast of Vancouver Island is nothing short of stunning. With long sandy beaches and open Pacific ocean, it’s popular with beachcombers, anyone who enjoys a leisurely walk (or beach run), and surfers. But there’s more to the magic of this place, enticing new visitors and compelling many longtime visitors to return.

Wolf in the Fog | Jordan Dyck

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 the Northwest Coast longhouse-design Roy Henry Vickers Gallery in 1986, in the centre of Tofino. As the small community 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. To marvel at the works of artisans who create across multiple mediums—textile, pottery/clay, sea glass, jewelry, metal, and more—visit the Tofino Market.

Even as a smaller, remote destination, Tofino has more than its fair share of excellent yet casual places to eat. Wolf in the Fog, Shelter Restaurant, and SoBo are three restaurants with such solid reputations that Vancouverites have been known to consider the five-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 Chocolate Tofino 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.

Tofino is situated at the tip of the Esowista Peninsula, so 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 whales and orcas frequent the coastline), trips to Meares Island Tribal Park and Hot Springs Cove, as well as sea otter tours and bear-watching excursions in Clayoquot Sound.

Hot Springs Cove, located in Ahousaht traditional territory on Flores Island, is one of the special places well worth the effort to travel to. Accessible only by boat or seaplane followed by a short 2-km (1.2-mi) boardwalk hike, the natural springs emerge 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.

Pacific Sands Beach Resort | Jordan Dyck

Tofino’s location makes it a popular destination for surfers, from beginners to seasoned wave riders: 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 by the beach at the Tla-o-qui-aht-owned 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 luxury resorts to beachside campgrounds, but naturally the most sought-after options feature a location on water. Pacific Sands Beach Resort is popular with guests for its 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.

Originally published in May, 2014.

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