Tofino: A West Coast Weekend
Tofino, the little coastal town on the west side of Vancouver Island, is known for its long stretches of sand, its ruthless, unrelenting waves, and its wild weather. It’s renowned for its tiny town full of charming stores, local artisans and highly celebrated restaurants. It’s talked about for its world class hotels and resorts, its considerable wildlife, and its breathtaking views. We’ve been to Tofino many times before and we’ve loved our experience, but somehow, this recent trip was different. This place has won over our hearts, and we felt completely immersed in the lifestyle and essence this wild, island town has to offer. Even if you only have a weekend free, Tofino is the perfect getaway. Here is, in our opinion, the perfect way to spend a weekend in Tofino, any time of the year.
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Tofino - A West Coast Weekend
We live in Vancouver but we also spend a lot of time in Victoria. Our favourite way to get to Vancouver Island is via the BC Ferries, because in our opinion, island life is considerably more enjoyable when you have a car! However, it is possible to get to the island via plane, float plane, or helicopter.
If you’re heading from Vancouver, you will cut down your island driving time if you take the Horseshoe Bay to Duke Point ferry, which brings you to Nanaimo. From Nanaimo, the beautiful drive to Tofino is approximately 3 hours, with some amazing spots along the way. Alternatively, you can take the Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay ferry, which will take you to Sidney, a short drive from Victoria. The drive from Swartz Bay is about 4.5 hours, depending on traffic.
On the drive up to Tofino, don’t forget to check out some of our favourite spots:
Settle in, breathe in the salty air, and get used to the slow, beach town lifestyle. One of our favourite places to stay is the Ocean Village Resort, an incredible collection of domed cottages lined up along MacKenzie Beach. You get your choice of a one or two bedroom individual cabin, or an upper or lower studio. The cozy vibes you get from these cabins are unparalleled, and the beautifully arched shape and warm wood panelled walls will make you want to move in and never leave. The best part? Every night you can have a fire on the beach (depending on seasonal fire restrictions) and watch the sun go down, and warm up in the resort’s hot tub. If it’s raining? No problem, the front desk has an awesome selection of cards and board games, feel free to borrow one and settle in for a games night at your suite’s comfy picnic style table, and bring out the hot chocolate and popcorn.
Breakfast at Rhino Coffee House in Tofino. Be tempted by their crazy selection of in-house baked donuts and pastries, (we loved the sugar cinnamon beer and the Pettinger coconut cream donuts, YUM), their delicious coffee, and – trust us – order the breakfast bagel. You won’t regret it.
After breakfast, grab your coffee to go, and sip it while exploring the little shops in town. Mosey down Campbell street and check out the art stores, surf shops, and make sure you visit one of our favourite vendors, the Caravan Beach Shop. Nestled in a boat-like building adorned with buoys, the Caravan Beach Shop has the cutest curated collection of both local goods and outdoorsy clothing, homeware, jewelry, and artwork. Check out their Instagram feed here.
When you’re done shopping, it’s time for your whale watching trip or your hot springs tour! When it came time to pick, we chose the hot springs tour for a couple reasons; visiting Hot Springs Cove has been on our bucket list for a long time, and depending on the season, there’s a good chance you’ll see some whales and wildlife along the way. We booked our tour with Ocean Outfitters with their Sea to Sky Package – and we’re so glad we did. With this package, Ocean Outfitters takes you on a fun, 1.5 hour boat ride on a covered boat up to Maquinna Provincial Park, where the springs are situated. After your afternoon at the springs, the Sea to Sky Package includes a breathtaking 15 minute flight with Atleo River Air Service back to Tofino.
On the boat ride, the guides will do their best to find local wildlife along the way, including sea birds, wolves, otters, seals, and most excitingly, whales. We were so lucky to see otters and seals on our journey, and we even stopped to watch a grey whale milling around. Make sure you book ahead, especially if you’re interested in the Sea to Sky Package! You can book your tour and find out what to bring here: Hot Springs Cove Tour.
To get to the springs, the excursion starts with a 30 minute easy hike through a beautiful temperate old growth forest. The path mostly consists of a boardwalk through the woods, with beautifully carved cedar planks with the names of adventurers and vessels who have visited before. The hike is so lovely that it goes by quickly – then suddenly, as you turn a corner, steam begins to rise like magic from a trickling brook that’s moving towards the sea. The hot springs are virtually untouched, with natural pools of swirling, wonderfully hot water and waterfalls spilling over the fissures in the rocks. At the top of the springs, there are naturally built change rooms, and a spot to leave your belongings to keep them dry. (In these hot springs, bathing suits are required!)
Hot Springs Cove truly has to be seen to be believed. the rocky outcrops and jagged coastline are stunning on their own, but to sit in perfectly hot water while the rain falls on your head is a dreamlike experience.
After what felt like a perfectly timed dip in the springs, your tour will ask you to head back to the boat or plane – depending on how you’d like to travel back. We opted for the sea plane, and it was literally magical. Rather than take the 1.5 hour boat ride back, why not take a 15 minute flight, with a dreamy bird’s eye view of the different west coast islands around Tofino? So worth it, in our books.
We like to spend late afternoons in Tofino cruising the different beaches, but it won’t be long before it’s time for dinner. Check out our list of some of our recommended restaurants:
Depending on the time of year, our absolute FAVE way to spend a Tofino evening is to have a fire on the beach. MacKenzie Beach, just in front of Ocean Village Resort, is the perfect spot. Grab some cozy blankets and some camping chairs, (or just sit in the sand!) roast some marshmallows and toast your toes – and make sure you follow the beach fire guidelines.
To see the fire restrictions, click here
Ahhh. You’re still in Tofino, life is good. We think it’s an unspoken rule that the first thing you should do in the morning is take a long walk on the beach. We like to toss around an aerobie or wade in the ocean if it’s warm enough, and if you’re lucky, Tofino will show off with a perfect misty, magical morning.
Being in Tofino, you may want to check out as many beaches as you can, because they are ALL incredible for different reasons. Some of the beaches we never miss include: Long Beach, Chesterman Beach, Cox Bay, and the must see Incinerator Rock. Make sure you pack gumboots or shoes you can wade in, because you’ll want to walk for miles. There are plenty of places you can surf if you’re adventurous (even in the winter!) or if you’re not brave enough to jump in the frigid water, it’s still super fun to watch. Kayaking is one of our fav pastimes, and it’s a great way to explore by water.
There are tons of hikes you can do in Tofino with varying degrees of difficulty, but depending on the time you have, here are some of our favourites:
- Radar Hill
- Florencia Bay Trail
- Nuu Chah Nulth Trail (Wickaninnish Trail)
After you’re done exploring, hit up the original Tacofino food truck for lunch – you’ve earned it! (Our favs are the fish taco and the tuna taco!)
Time to hit Tofino Brewing Co. This is the place in town to grab a pint or even some growlers to go, and it’s hopping at any hour of the day. There’s an awesome tasting room where you can order flights, and the staff are super friendly and accommodating, much like the rest of the Tofino community. We never visit Tofino without stocking up on beers, and while you’re there, don’t forget to check out their sweet collection of Tofino Brewing Co. branded clothing. (Reuben has a plaid jacket from here that he never takes off…)
As afternoon settles into evening, hike the short (but steep!) path up to an incredible overlook of Cox Bay and take in expansive views of Tofino and Clayoquot Sound. If you’re in the area, this is the perfect place to end your day – the sunsets from this lookout are killer.
To get here: from the northern end of Cox Bay Beach near the parking lots and access trail, walk along the beach south until the beach turns into forest. There you’ll find a few entries to the trail, with some large rocks marking the beginning of the path. As the trail is slightly unclear it may be hard to find at first – but of the many entries we found, they all seem to lead to the same place.
Your adventure in Tofino has come to an end, and, alas, it’s time to go home. After getting a taste for this small island town lifestyle and its warm community, we know you’ll be back.