Best Things To Do In Tofino – Vancouver Island’s Ultimate Beach Destination
Located on the west coast of Vancouver Island, Tofino is British Columbia’s ultimate beach destination. Tofino is a popular weekend trip from Vancouver and can be done in a few days, although I recommend exploring the whole of Vancouver and taking a road trip! This surf town still holds close to it’s small town vibe and there is plenty to see and do here. This post features the best things to do in Tofino, as well as where to stay and eat.
Tofino is quintessentially “West Coast” with it’s laid back surf culture and artisan coffee shops. It has the rugged rocky coastline you’d expect of the Pacific Northwest, but with that pristine flat soft sand you might find in Southern California. Although Tofino’s famous beaches are what draws most visitors here, this area is also home to temperate rainforests with the landscape changing with each season.
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How To Get To Tofino
The best way to get to Tofino is by car. What better way than to grab your road tripping buddies and head out on an adventure?
There is little to no public transport in Tofino so having a car with you will mean easily getting to see the best of what this town has to offer.
To get to Tofino by car you’ll need to get to Vancouver Island. If you’re already on Vancouver Island – yay! You’re halfway there! For those who are on the mainland, your journey starts with a ferry.
If you are in North Vancouver or Whistler, I’d recommend driving to the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal. For people closer to the Tsawwassen Terminal you can get the ferry to Nanaimo or Swartz Bay.
Once you reach Horseshoe Bay/Nanaimo you’ll get the ferry to Nanaimo and from there drive 4/5 hours to the opposite side of the island via the Pacific Rim Highway.
It’s possible to fly into Tofino directly if you are coming from elsewhere on Vancouver Island. For example, you can fly from Victoria to Tofino.
It’s also possible to fly from Vancouver to Victoria then onto Tofino, or you can opt to fly from Vancouver into another Vancouver Island airport such as Nanaimo or Comox.
If you want to try your hand at getting to Tofino by bus, then the Vancouver Island Connector will get you there. If you’re already in Victoria or Nanaimo, you’re in luck as the bus leaves from both of these cities. However, if you’re in Vancouver you might have a little more of a journey.
You’ll need to get yourself to either Victoria or Nanaimo first off. The BC Ferries Connector can get you from downtown Vancouver to both of these places
2021 UPDATE – Please note all the above bus schedules are currently suspended until February 15th 2021.
Where To Stay In Tofino
The great thing about Tofino, is that there are plenty of lodging options from budget camping to luxury suites.
Since Tofino is all about it’s beautiful coastline, staying directly on one of the many beaches adds to the overall experience of this surf town.
The Pacific Sands Beach Resort sits on Cox Bay beach and offers steps-from-the-sea accommodation.
Ocean Village resort boasts breathtaking ocean views and is a few minutes walk from the throng of Mackenzie Beach
Budget-Friendly options include the Maq Hotel, situated at the Tofino Marina, this hotel is a perfect location for those wanting to explore on foot and many local businesses are within walking distance.
For camping options, look no further than the Bella Pacifica campground. This quaint campground can be found at Mackenzie Beach and offers on-the-beach camp sites. These fill up fast so if you wish to wake to the crashing sounds of waves each morning, make sure you book ahead! For those who want somewhere a little quieter, the other sites are just a 5-10 minute walk down to the beach.
The Best Things To Do In Tofino
Are you wondering what to do in Tofino? There are tons of fun activities in Tofino, from lounging on a beach to kayaking through Clayoquot Sound.
Below are my favourite things to eat, see and do in Tofino…
Explore The Beaches – Tofino’s Biggest Attraction
The biggest attraction in Tofino is by far it’s array of beaches. Whether it be watching the surfers from the lounge at Long Beach Lodge or chilling with friends by a bonfire on Mackenzie Beach as the sun sets, each beach in Tofino offers something unique.
A morning walk on the beach is equally enjoyed with a coffee in hand, soaking in the fresh ocean air to help wake yourself up and get ready for a fun filled day ahead.
We spent most evenings throwing a frisbee around and generally enjoying the relaxing sound of the waves before heading back to our campsite each night. If there is one thing you can do at any of Tofino’s beaches, it’s simply relax and enjoy your surroundings.
Go For A Hike
Tofino offers some amazing hiking trails ranging from easy to difficult. Many of them will take you through old growth rainforests and some are literally a walk on the beach!
Tonquin Beach Trail
Tonquin Beach is my absolute favourite of all the beaches in Tofino. It’s like a small secret cove hidden in the forest. It reminded me of the cove from The Goonies movie.
The only way to access Tonquin Beach is by taking a 10-minute walk along a well-maintained boardwalk through a shaded forest. The walk to get to Tonquin Beach is an adventure in itself. The boardwalk beneath you has names of several businesses and people carved into each slab, take a moment to take in your surroundings and enjoy the finer details.
Eventually the forest starts to open up and you are greeted with snippets of the ocean, eventually revealing the most stunning beach scene.
Cox Bay Lookout Trail
The Cox Bay Lookout hike showcases one of the most iconic and recognisable views in Tofino. It’s somewhat of a hidden secret and a hidden gem that’s easily missed.
Lone Cone Trail
The Lone Cone hike is not only one of the most stunning in Tofino, it’s also one of the hardest. The hike to Lone Cone is often very muddy and easy to get lost as there’s no real trail, however it does lead to the most stunning views of Clayoquot Sound
If you have no hiking experience and do not have access to hiking equipment such as good hiking boots or trekking poles – do NOT attempt this hike!
This hike is definitely for experienced hikers and the trail is not well maintained. However, if you are a seasoned hiker, and brought all of your hiking essentials with you – then I’d recommend tackling Lone Cone!
I chose not to hike this trail for several reasons. I’d read about how difficult it was and was not physically prepared, I had very little hiking equipment at the time and the hike involves taking a water taxi to Meares Island which can take up a fair bit of your time.
If you’re really keen on doing this hike, I’d recommend saving it for a return trip or extending your trip to Tofino to make extra time and dedicate a whole day for it.
Take A Surfing Lesson
The shores of Tofino attract surfers from all over the world, it is the surfing capital of Canada after all, and no trip to Tofino would be complete without dipping your fins in the water.
The best places to rent surfboards in Tofino are Storm Surf Shop, Pacific Surf co and Live to Surf. Or opt to take a surfing lesson. Both Mackenzie and Chesterman beaches are good for beginners as the waves are smaller and overall calmer than that of Cox Bay and Long Beach.
I will confess – I’ve never taken a surfing lesson in Tofino, or anywhere in fact! For one I’m scared of deep water, so not a great start, but I also found the water too cold in Tofino. (Yes, I chickened out!) The bravest I got was dipping my feet in the water, and it was actually really nice!
If surfing isn’t your thing, you can always try stand up paddle boarding or kayaking. The Harbour/Marina side of Tofino has much calmer and gentler water, which is perfect for SUPing and great for those of you like me, who don’t want to brave the big waves!
For Paddle Board and Kayak rentals head to Tofino Paddle Surf.
Take a Scenic Flight Over Tofino
If you’re looking to do something extra special during your time in Tofino, look no further than Tofino Air, offering daily scenic flights over Tofino.
The Coastline of Tofino is one of the most stunning in the Pacific Northwest, and the best way to see it is from above. There are a multitude of tours to choose from depending on how long and what in particular you’d like to see.
Sample Craft Beer At Tofino Brewing Company
Craft and micro breweries are always on my list when visiting a new place. Tofino Brewing Company is the place to come for small batch locally brewed handcrafted beer. This place is pretty popular among locals and visitors and gets quite busy on the weekends when the weather is nice.
Their most popular beers are the Tuff Session Ale and Tofino Lager. If you’re feeling more adventurous try their Wonders of Nature Kettle Sour or Cosmic Wave Double IPA.
Go Look For Bears
Okay, don’t take that as literally looking for bears, but rather take a bear watching tour! Vancouver Island is home to many black bears, and if you’ve never managed to see one in the wild then taking a bear watching tour is a Tofino must do!
When you move to Canada you’re not considered a local until you’ve had your first bear sighting (it’s in the manual, no?)
We decided not to take a bear watching tour because we’d already seen a few on the drive here. And since we live in Whistler, this is Bear country, they even visit our very own backyard. But those of you who don’t have Winnie the Pooh visit your garden, and are visiting Canada on Vacation – do the Bear tour! They are the funniest animals to sit and watch (from a safe distance)
Go Whale Watching
Tofino is a prime location for Whale watching, many species grace the coastline of Vancouver Island, including Orca’s, Humpback and Gray whales. The whale watching season in Tofino typically runs from March through to October. Taking a Whale Watching tour is the perfect opportunity to witness these majestic creatures in their natural habitat.
Ocean Outfitters are one of the top whale watching tour companies in Tofino, along with Jamie’s Whaling Station. These tours also offer the chance to see Bald Eagles, Seals and Sea Lions, so plenty of wildlife to see.
Make sure you bring a toque and warm coat when heading out on a tour as it can get pretty chilly!
We opted not to do this during our time in Tofino, as we were once again very lucky to have experienced seeing a wild pod of Orca’s during our ferry journey from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo.
Soak In A Natural Hotspring
One of the best day trips you can do from Tofino is a tour to Hot Springs Cove. Located inside the Maquinna Provincial park, Hot Springs Cove is only accessible by plane or boat. Most people opt for the boat and make a whole day of it. The boat takes approximately 1.5 hours each way.
Once you arrive at the Provincial Park, you’ll then make your way through old growth rainforests along a boardwalk trail until you reach the springs. The total walking time is approximately 30-minutes.
This is something I’ve always wanted to do in Tofino, but as I read reviews online the springs are quite small and there are quite a few boat tours per day which leads to very cramped conditions. If I’m going to a hot spring I want there to be as little people as possible! If you do decide to take the tour, going on the first tour of the day or in the quiet seasons may be a better option.
2021 UPDATE – currently the springs are closed until further notice.
Walk Through The Tofino Botanical Gardens
Spread over a total of 12-acres is the Tofino Botanical Gardens, featuring a collection of plants and gardens native to the temperate rainforests. There are boardwalks and paths meandering through the gardens showcasing the many pocket gardens.
The Tofino Botanical Gardens is an awesome place to go grab a coffee and take a leisurely walk. I actually started my first day in Tofino checking out this often missed place in Tofino. It was such a beautiful area and on a sunny day it’s so nice to sit and enjoy the surroundings with a coffee. They even had chickens freely roaming around.
The Tofino Botanical Gardens aims to educate people on the conservation of Temperate Coastal Rainforests and is well worth a visit.
Wander Through A Native Art Gallery
First Nations art is a huge part of British Columbia’s history and culture, and Tofino is home to some of the best Native Art Galleries.
Make sure you stop in at the Eagle Aerie Gallery on Campbell Street. This gallery is housed in a traditional first nations longhouse and features artwork by local artist Roy Henry Vickers. Some of the artwork you’ll find in here is very traditional while other pieces take on a more modern look. My favourite piece was the surfboard painted with traditional native motives.
The House of Himwitsa is located just at the Tofino Marina and sells native art and souvenirs of all kinds. You have standard souvenirs such as water bottles, agents etc adorned with native artwork, along with hand-made wall art and native first nations masks.
Watch The Sunset
Of all the things to see in Tofino, my favourite was by far watching the sunset. The West Coast is known for it’s spectacular sunsets and Tofino does not disappoint. It’s also one of the best free things to do in Tofino. I’d go as a far as saying this was the best sunset I’ve ever seen.
The sunsets in the below photos were taken in Mid-June at the Tofino Marina, the best spot in Tofino to watch the sunset. We waited until our last day to watch this, and it was the perfect way to end our trip.
The weather in Tofino can change throughout the day, and even in the summer months it can be cold and foggy. A great sunset isn’t always guaranteed but if you have a clear sunny day, make sure you make time to go and watch it. You won’t regret it!
Best Places To Eat In Tofino
What I really loved about Tofino is that there are no major chain restaurants or businesses here which means it will always retain it’s small town charm. The independent shops and restaurants are what makes Tofino… well, Tofino!
As much as I love my Starbucks there is nothing better than venturing out and tasting locally brewed coffee, and Tofino is home to many places to sample artisan coffee.
And I haven’t even started on the food! There’s so many different types of eateries here you’d need a long weekend at least to try it all. Here are my favourite places to eat in Tofino…
The Hatch Pub
Featuring one of the best views in Tofino, the Hatch pub is a great option for casual dining and drinks. The Hatch offers both indoor and outdoor seating, and is located right on the harbour with fantastic views of the boats and islands of Clayoquot Sound.
I like to start and end any trip with something sweet. Rhino Coffee not only offers locally roasted coffee, but it also sells some of the best donuts this side of the Georgia Strait.
The maple bacon donut was to die for, and a great snack to go when shopping in Tofino’s downtown area.
Common Loaf Bake Shop
If your sweet tooth is still unsatisfied, stop in down the street at Common Loaf Bake Shop. This bakery will make your mouth water with it’s baked goods ranging from fresh bread to decadent chocolate chip cookies.
As much as I loved Rhino Coffee, it was Tofitian that stole my heart for coffee in Tofino. Besides the awesome latte, their whole vibe stood out to me. I love their branding, a skull with a surfboard and fishing rod as a logo? How could i not! Their slogan “The swords with which we slay” was very appropriate for Matt and I and so very “BC”
This cute coffee shop and café is located at the Outside Break area along with many other eateries mentioned in this post.
For something extra special on a warm day, head to Chocolate Tofino, a chocolate and gelato shop nestled away at the “Outside Break” group of stores. The pistachio gelato cone was phenomenal and the perfect treat to cool off on those clear sunny days.
The chocolate boxes also make for an awesome gift to take home, just make sure they don’t melt on your drive home!
Wild side Grill is one of the highest rated food outlets in Tofino. This small wooden shack can be found just behind the Tofino Chocolate store and Tofitian Coffee shop. It features an amazing menu with a range of burgers, tacos salads and soups. But it is their seafood and fish and chips they are most famous for.
The food truck culture is alive and well in Tofino. Tacofino is a local business that started in a food truck and they now have stores dotted around Vancouver and the lower Mainland.
However, I don’t feel you get the full experience of Tacofino without having been to their original food truck and sampled the wonderful food on offer.
Mexican happens to be one of my favourite cuisines and the burrito here was just… mmmmm!
Wolf In The Fog
If you have time and your budget allows, book a reservation at Wolf in the Fog. Continuously rated as one of the best fine dining options in Tofino, this restaurant offers an outstanding menu perfect for any special occasion.
Best Time To Visit Tofino
The best time to visit Tofino is in the summer months. Since most people come to enjoy the beaches, the summer offers the best weather.
You may also want to consider the shoulder seasons, either later spring or early fall since you’ll since get some sunshine but the lodging prices will be cheaper.
Although Tofino is best visited in the summer, a trip during winter has it’s perks too. Not only is the winter cheaper than the summer but it’s storm watching season. Imagine being copied up inside a cabin with floor to ceiling windows and watching the waves rage against the rocks.
How Long To Spend In Tofino?
You could do a trip to Tofino in 2 days, depending on where you are coming from. However if you are coming from the mainland, I would recommend a minimum of 4 days in Tofino in total. It is a 5-7 hour drive one way and you won’t want to rush a trip to Tofino!
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Wow, I never heard of Tofino before, but it looks so beautiful. I definitely put this place on my bucket list for when I visit Vancouver! 🙂
I think you would love it!
I had not heard of this place before, but it looks absolutely beautiful! I hope within the next year or so, I’ll be able to visit Canada and take in all of the natural beauty it has to offer, it all just looks stunning! Great post, thank you!
It’s always good to discover new places. Canada is full of beautiful off the beaten path places too
Great insights! One of the things on my bucket list is seeing the orcas. Maybe this will be the place to do it!
I was really stoked to see the pod of orca on the ferry, what are the chances!