When I think of both “tropical” and “Canada”, the first place that comes to mind is Tofino. One of Canada’s most westerly towns, Tofino faces the Pacific Ocean and is home to some of the best surfing in the country, as well as whale watching, hiking, paddling, and so much more.
We’ve been to Tofino many times and it’s always a charming place to visit. Whether it’s walking along the beach in the evening to witness some of the most spectacular sunsets in the country or hiking along the coast in beautiful lush rainforest, Tofino is one of our favourite places to visit in British Columbia.
We always look forward to going back, so if you do get the chance to go, here are some things you shouldn’t miss.
Getting to Tofino
First things first, you have to get to Tofino. If you’re a visitor looking for different ways of getting to Tofino, here’s some practical advice on how to get here.
Getting to Tofino by Car
Tofino is often considered the most westerly point in Canada, although that title actually belongs to Kluane National Park, Yukon. It’s on the western side of Vancouver Island and is likely the first place people think of when it comes to gorgeous beaches and surfing. It’s easy to reach as you basically just take Highway 4 west of Nanaimo. It’s about 207 km from Nanaimo and takes approximately three hours by car. If you’re on a Canada road trip, you’ll likely be coming from Victoria, which is just south of Nanaimo.
Vancouver to Tofino: From Vancouver, you simply have to take the ferry to either Victoria or Nanaimo, and then drive 3-4 hours to Tofino. The quickest path is to take the ferry to Nanaimo. For those going to Nanaimo, you should take the ferry from Horseshoe Bay, which takes about 2 hours to cross over to Nanaimo. The other option is to take the ferry from Tsawwassen, going to either Victoria (Swartz Bay, 2 hours) or to Nanaimo (Duke Point, 2.5 hours).
Calgary to Tofino: The drive from Calgary to Tofino is one of the most spectacular highway drives in the country. First, you’ll travel from Calgary to Vancouver, driving through numerous national parks along the way. Once in Vancouver, you’ll drive your car on to the ferry and go to either Victoria or Nanaimo. Nanaimo is closer to Tofino, but not by much. Plus, Victoria is another place you shouldn’t miss! Either way, once on the island, you’ll drive 3-4 hours until you reach the beautiful seaside town of Tofino.
Seattle to Tofino: Another option, specifically for those in Washington, is to travel via ferry from Seattle! Options include the Clipper Ferry, which travels year-round from Seattle to Victoria, the Black Ball Ferry, which travels year-round from Port Angeles to Victoria, or the Washington State Ferry, which operates seasonally between Anacortes or the San Juan Islands to Sidney (30 minutes north of Victoria).
Getting to Tofino by Plane
Despite its small size, Tofino does have an airport and you can fly non-stop to Tofino-Long Beach Airport (YAZ) from Vancouver daily via Pacific Coastal Airlines. You can also fly directly into Tofino Harbour via Harbour Air.
Other options include flying into Victoria Airport (YYJ), Nanaimo Airport (YCD), or Comox (YYQ), and then making the 3-6 hour drive. All the airports have vehicle rental companies.
Getting to Tofino by Bus
Frequent, year-round bus service to Tofino is available from Vancouver, Victoria and most Vancouver Island communities. This is done by The Island Bus Company, but we always recommend searching Busbud to see availability and options for bus transportation.
Getting Around Tofino
Despite its small size, there’s actually a lot of options for navigating Tofino.
- Public Transportation: Tofino Bus offers transportation in & out of Tofino to Ucluelet, Port Alberni & beyond with a set schedule. TikiBus, on the other hand, offers an on-demand, flexible route service.
- Taxis: There are two small taxi companies in Tofino, which are Whistle! and Pacific Rim Navigators.
- Water Taxis: For those that want to explore the vast areas only accessible by water, you can contact Clayoquot Connections Tours or Tofino Water Taxi.
- Rideshare: While there is no Uber in the city, there is a similar service called ReRyde. We have not used this before though and can’t confirm how it operates.
- Peddle Bike: Tofino is a great place to go cycling. Do as many of the local residents do and ride to town or to the beaches on the Multi-Use Pathway. You can rent a bike from Tofino bike Co or TOF Cycles Co.
- Flights: If you’d like to access remote points throughout Clayoquot Sound, or just admire breathtaking views, consider a ride in a seaplane or helicopter with Atleo River Air Service.
Weather in Tofino (Best Time to Visit Tofino)
This is a year-round destination with a coastal temperate climate is very mild compared to the rest of Canada. However, it’s still Canada and the weather can vary greatly between the four seasons. For the most part, the best time to visit Tofino is late spring to fall. The most popular time, and thus the busiest, is July and August. This is when the weather is at its hottest and all activities and attractions are in full force.
The temperature typically varies from 3°C (38°F) to 19°C (67°F) and is rarely below -1°C (29°F) or above 23°C (73°F).
The cool season lasts for almost four months, from mid-November to early March, with an average daily high temperature below 9°C (48°F). The coldest day of the year is around January 2nd, with an average low of 3°C (38°F) and a high of 7°C (44°F). While the winter is far less extreme than much of Canada, it is still cold, wet, and windy. However, Tofino has become a popular place for those wanting to see ocean storms or go surfing, and with much fewer crowds, it has become popular with adventurers.
The warmer season lasts for three months, from late June to mid-late September, with an average daily high temperature above 17°C (62°F). The hottest day of the year is around August 2nd, with an average high of 19°C (67°F) and low of 13°C (55°F). This is the most popular time to visit and accommodations do often sell out.
For the best of both worlds, consider the spring or fall, when the weather is still quite nice but the area is not as crowded as during the summer.
What to Do in Tofino
Okay, now for the most important part. Things to do in Tofino, British Columbia. After all, this is why you’re visiting the town! We’ve experienced most of what we’re recommending below but there are a couple of things we just didn’t get around to. Either way, the list below is all the top things to do in Tofino and a great way to experience British Columbia’s top coastal town.
Visit Long Beach in Pacific Rim National Park
The star attraction of Pacific Rim National Park and the Tofino area is 16-kilometre Long Beach. This incredible stretch of sand is accessed from numerous points, either along hikes or from a parking area on the edge of the beach. This beach is flat and very wide when the tide is out, making it a perfect place for walking. It’s absolutely stunning to walk along the beach while listening to the waves come in and out. The sound of seagulls fill the air. Whether you walk the entire length or just bask in the glory of one small piece, Long Beach is a must-visit when in Tofino. This is also a great spot for surfing, which brings us to our next top thing to do in Tofino.
When it comes to surfing in Canada, there’s no better place than Tofino. Fringed by the Pacific Ocean and a variety of sandy beaches, Tofino has become a year-round recluse for surfers, both pro and amateur. It is cold, however, and wetsuits are needed. The warmer months are definitely more popular with newbies, and there are a variety of surfing schools in Tofino for you to learn the ropes and pick up a rental surfboard.
Some of the most popular beaches for surfing are Long Beach and Chesterman Beach, although we really loved learning how to surf in Cox Bay with Pacific Sands Beach Resort. If you’re nervous, that’s okay. Beginners don’t go out very far and you’ll only be surfing the whitewash in shallow water. Try it! It’s a blast!
Hike through Lush Rainforest to Beaches and Coves
Whether you opt for a short hike or a multi-day adventure along the world-famous West Coast Trail, the areas around Tofino and Ucluelet are absolutely stunning. The old-growth forests here contain some of the oldest documented trees in Canada, including centuries-old Douglas fir, Sitka spruce, and western red cedar. Many of the trails traverse through the lush rainforest and lead to gorgeous coves and secluded beaches.
Some popular hikes include Schooner Cove Trail, South Beach Trail, and the Wild Pacific Trail. All of these offer a combination of forest and coastline. Another cool feature about Tofino is that it doesn’t get all the snow and freezing temperatures that most of Canada receives. Therefore, the hiking trails are open year-round and the winter can be a great time to visit if you want to avoid the crowds.
Go Whale Watching
With so much ocean, it makes sense that Tofino is a great spot to go whale watching. If you want to get out on the ocean and glimpse these massive creatures, a whale watching tour is certainly a must-do experience. Gray whales can be seen quite often, as well as Orcas and Humpback whales in the summer months.
There are a variety of tour operators, which offer trips in covered boats or adventurous zodiac-style boats. Plus, whether you see whales or not, a boat tour is a great way to see more of the landscapes around Tofino and Clayoquot Sound.
Kayak around Clayoquot Sound
Sea kayaking is a beautiful way to explore nearby Clayoquot Sound. One of the most popular destinations for kayaking tours is Meares Island. This is an area of old-growth forest, where you can hike trails and walk along the boardwalk of the Big Tree Trail. For those new to the sport, there are a number of outfitters that offer guided tours.
Take a Bear Watching Tour
Black bears are abundant around Tofino and they can often be spotted along the shores during low tide. While you certainly don’t want to run into them on your own, they are incredible to see from afar, especially from the safety and comfort of a bear watching tour. Tours are done from a boat and offer a safe way to see bears in their natural habitat. Tour times vary depending on the tides and typically operate between April and October.
Tofino Botanical Gardens
For those into the beauty of flowers, there’s no better place in Tofino than the Botanical Gardens, which combine art and nature. Trails lead through the forest areas, along a coastal mudflat, and through areas of beautifully designed and art installations.
There’s even a small section of the garden that is a memorial to the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami, including a variety of items that washed up along the coast over the years due to that tsunami.
Take a Scenic Flight
With so much beauty surrounding Tofino and Clayoquot Sound, you can just imagine what it looks like from a plane. If you’re looking to see mountains, rugged coastlines, glaciers, and alpine lakes, there’s no better way than to take a scenic flight over the area.
Visitors can take a scenic tour in a floatplane or in a helicopter, which range in length from 20 minutes to 5 hours. Depending on what you’re looking to do, as well as your budget, options include landing on a glacier, visiting an alpine lake, or even taking a dip in a remote hot spring.
Individuals and couples are welcome, but you’ll get the greatest variety of destinations and best pricing with a group of four.
See the Views from Radar Hill
If you’re like us, you really love a good view. Well, one of the best in Tofino is from Radar Hill. The hill was used as a radar station in the 1950s, during the start of the Cold War, although you won’t see many remnants of this today, apart from some foundations. The trees also block some of the view, but it’s easy to reach and well worth the visit. You’ll certainly see the mountains and the ocean, and there are two separate viewing areas that look out in different directions. You can just drive right to the top, and in fact, this is the “meeting place” should a tsunami ever occur.
Soak in Hot Springs Cove
Although fairly difficult to reach (accessible only by a long boat ride or a floatplane), it’s hard to beat relaxing in a hot spring surrounded by lush rainforest and crashing waves. The 50°C geothermal springs of Hot Springs Cove cascade down a waterfall and into seven rock pools that each get progressively cooler as you approach the ocean’s edge.
The best time to visit is during low tide since high tides can flood the lower pools, making them much colder. Despite being hard to reach, this place can get very busy during the peak tourism months.
Go Deep Sea Fishing
As you can imagine, Tofino is a great place to go deep-sea fishing! In fact, the waters around Tofino offer some of the best fishing in Canada. For those looking for a real adventure, consider taking a half-to-full day excursion with one of the many outfitters in town. Some of the fish available include several species of salmon, halibut, and ling-cod, and can be quite big. For optimal conditions, the best time to do this would be from mid-June through to mid-September.
Storm Watch in Winter
Although Tofino is busiest during the warmer months, it’s quickly becoming a popular place for storm watching during the winter months. From late fall and well into the winter, Tofino can be home to huge waves, often reaching up to 20-feet (6 metres) in height, revealing the true power of the ocean from November through to February.
Since Tofino is right on Canada’s western edge, it’s all open ocean, right up until you hit Japan. These winter storms attract pro surfers, photographers, and those that just love to see the beauty of nature in its rawest form. Some even consider it a romantic getaway. As mentioned at the beginning of the article, the temperatures, although cold, are mild by Canadian standards and rarely see snow.
Visit the Eagle Aerie Gallery
If you’re looking to see some beautiful artwork, or perhaps even buy a piece, consider stopping at the Eagle Aerie Gallery on the main road running through Tofino. Home to the colourful works of artist Roy Henry Vickers, a renowned Canadian artist, it’s well worth a stop, even if it’s just for a browse. Vickers was born in northern British Columbia, and his works are also on display in several prominent Canadian museums.
Where to Eat in Tofino
Although small, the popularity of Tofino has brought in a wide range of dining options, from food trucks to fine dining. We’ve only eaten at a select few, so please ask some locals and do some searching for even more options.
Chocolate Tofino: If you’re looking to satisfy your sweet tooth, consider some chocolate treats and gelato from Chocolate Tofino! Their signature gelato Salted Caramel Sundae, complete with a chocolate surfboard on top is one of the top choices.
Tacofino Truck: If you’re looking for a tasty taco or burritos, check out this eccentric-looking “truck restaurant”, which has since expanded to several restaurant locations around the province.
Pointe Restaurant at the Wickaninnish Inn: For those looking for some fancy fine dining, you’ll want to stop by Pointe Restaurant, which offers beautiful views from their clifftop location. If you want the views but not the fine dining, they also have Driftwood Cafe.
Where to Stay in Tofino
Just like restaurants, there are plenty of options for accommodation in Tofino, ranging from high-end to dorm rooms. Keep in mind, however, that Tofino gets very, very busy in the peak summer months and can easily be sold out. Book ahead.
Luxury Hotels in Tofino
Pacific Sands Beach Resort: There’s more than one option for luxury hotels in Tofino but one of the most popular is the Pacific Sands Beach Resort, which is just north of Pacific Rim National Park. We actually got surfing lessons from here and loved enjoying their outdoor hot tub afterwards. It’s right on the beach and offers both brand-new renovated suites as well as rustic-looking luxury units.
Long Beach Lodge Resort: Located near Pacific Sands is the Long Beach Lodge Resort, which offers both lodge rooms and cottages, and has become famous for romantic getaways.
Mid-Range Hotels in Tofino
Best Western Plus Tin Wis Resort: Quite possibly one of the most beautiful Best Western resorts in North America, all rooms offer ocean views and balconies. This hotel also has a hot tub and a restaurant.
Middle Beach Lodge: This lodge overlooks a relatively quiet stretch of beach and is home to lodge rooms and cabins, with gorgeous views of the ocean.
Cox Bay Beach Resort: We learned to surf on Cox Bay Beach and thought it was one of the most beautiful beaches we’ve seen. This resort is on the beach, with comfortable suites and an outdoor hot tub for guests to enjoy.
Budget Hotels in Tofino
Budget is a bit of a tricky word in Tofino. In most cities, budget is $100 or less. In Tofino, budget is less than $300/night.
Ocean Village Beach Resort: Located on MacKenzie Beach, this resort offers fully outfitted cabins with kitchens, perfect for guests who want to self-cater.
Tofino Motel Harbourview: With excellent views and reviews on TripAdvisor, this place offers great value. In fact, every room offers views of the harbour! Plus, you can walk to most of the many shops and art galleries, restaurants, marine excursions, and pubs that Tofino has to offer!
Things to Do Beyond Tofino
As you can see, Tofino is a beautiful coastal town and one of the top places to explore in Canada. But there’s much more for those wanting to venture out. From the rest of Vancouver Island to the massive province of British Columbia, there’s so much to do and see.
For more, check out these articles below:
- Things to Do in Victoria
- Victoria 2-Day Itinerary
- Things to Do in Vancouver
- Things to Do in Kelowna
- Things to Do in British Columbia
Have you been? What would you add?