Tofino is one of the most magical little towns in Western Canada. It’s the ultimate outdoor adventure playground with some of the most stunning scenery in the world. Discover endless tree-lined beaches, thousands of islands and an incredible array of wildlife including bears, whales and wolves. We worked and lived here for the summer a few years ago, plus we’ve visited countless times throughout our lifetime and that’s why we wanted to put this list together of the absolute best things to do in Tofino, BC.
We have no doubt you’ll fall in love with this quaint little surf town on the west coast of Vancouver Island. It feels like a town from a different era and it’s hard not to enjoy the hippy culture and unique local residents that make this place special.
There are endless awesome activities here and no matter how many times we visit, we never get bored. Whether you are looking to brave the cold and go for a surf, see some wildlife, enjoy the amazing local cuisine or just sit back and relax, Tofino has a little something for everyone.
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How to Get to Tofino
As Tofino is located out on its own on the west side of Vancouver Island, it isn’t the easiest place to get to, but this all adds to part of the appeal of visiting this remote location. Here are the most common routes to Tofino and the time it will take to drive these routes:
Vancouver to Tofino – 5.5 Hours
To get to Tofino, you can either drive, fly or take a bus. Driving, which includes a ferry to the island, takes around 5.5 hours total and is the most popular option. There are two ferry routes, operated by BC Ferries, that go to Nanaimo:
- Horseshoe Bay* to Departure Bay; or
- Tsawwassen to Duke Point.
*If you leave from Horseshoe Bay and you have some time to spare we recommend checking out the Horseshoe Bay Sunset Platform for some epic aerial views over the bay. You can learn where to find this spot here.
Once in Nanaimo you will drive north to Qualicum Beach and then take the Alberni Highway to Port Alberni, continuing on to Tofino.
Check out our full guide on the roadtrip from Nanaimo to Tofino here.
Alternatively, if you are looking for the quickest and easiest way to travel to Tofino, then take one of many float planes to Tofino. The aerial view you will get as you fly to Tofino is ridiculously beautiful and worth every penny. Not to mention, it is just a short 45-minute trip and you’re there!
Victoria to Tofino – 4.5 Hours
From Victoria to Tofino the most common route is to drive, which takes around 4.5 hours if you drive directly there. The journey along the highway to Tofino is quite spectacular and if you would prefer not to drive yourself you can take the VI Connector bus from Victoria to Tofino.
The drive to Tofino from Victoria takes you north along Highway 1 to Qualicum Beach where you will exit onto the Alberni Highway. From here you will follow the road to Tofino passing through Port Alberni. If you want to break up the journey you can stop at the Hole in the Wall in Port Alberni, Coombs Market or Cathedral Grove.
Seattle to Tofino – 7.5 Hours
If you plan to drive from Seattle to Tofino there are several routes you can take. The quickest route is to drive up to Vancouver and then follow the same route from Vancouver to Tofino as mentioned above.
Alternatively, you can take a ferry from Seattle to Victoria and then follow the route from Victoria to Tofino as mentioned above.
If time is of the essence and you don’t want to spend an entire day traveling, you may want to consider a flight from Seattle (SEA) to Tofino (YAZ). The flight time is around 1.5 hours. You will need to organize transport to your accommodation from Tofino airport by renting a car, booking a taxi or if the timing works out you can take the bus.
Where to Stay in Tofino
Looking for the best places to stay in Tofino? We’ve got you covered. All of the accommodation here, not just the best hotels in Tofino, gets booked out months in advance, particularly during summer. If you are planning on staying in Tofino for a few nights in the summer, you will often need to book 4 months or more in advance. Make sure you are prepared and you book your hotel early to make sure you get one of the best Tofino hotels.
Budget: Tofino Hostel – As it is such a popular destination, there really isn’t much in the way of cheap hotels in Tofino. The Tofino Hostel is your best option if you are looking to stay somewhere on a bit of a budget. The other alternative is to camp in one of the many local campgrounds. We have personally camped many times here and always loved it.
Value: Tofino Resort + Marina – Enjoy unparalleled views out over Clayoquot Sound from your hotel room. We have stayed here numerous times and waking up to this view never gets old. It’s also located right on the edge of town making it easy walking distance to all the restaurants and shops.
Luxury: Long Beach Lodge – This the best resort in Tofino and our top pick for the best place to stay in Tofino if you want to spare no expense. The lodge is situated right on the beach at Cox Bay so you’ll have incredible views out over the water as you watch the waves roll in. The lounge here is also our favourite spot for happy hour and to spend the evening watching the sunset. If you are looking for the ultimate place to stay in Tofino then this is it.
Best Things to do in Tofino, BC
Tofino is one of the great outdoor playgrounds in Western Canada. In this guide we have tried to cover all of the best Tofino activities and we are confident there is something for everybody on this list.
Surfing in Tofino
Tofino is renowned for its icy cold waves and laid-back surf culture. What better way to enjoy your time here than hopping in to the Pacific Ocean to ride some waves? Pull on a wetsuit (and depending on the time of year – booties, gloves and a hood) and enjoy catching some waves at some of the best surfing beaches in Tofino. The most popular beaches to surf here are:
- Long Beach
- Cox Bay
- Chesterman Beach
You can rent gear from any of the local surf shop and Surf Sisters even has a rental shop right at Cox Bay. Due to its prime location, Surf Sisters is slightly more expensive but you can also rent from other local shops such as Pacific Surf Co right in town for only $45-50 for a full day for both a surfboard and wetsuit rental.
If you have never surfed before or are still a beginner, why not take a surfing lesson in Tofino to help get you up on your feet and riding some waves. There are plenty of surf schools in Tofino that you can join for a group lesson or if you are really keen, try taking a private lesson.
Visit Hot Springs Cove Tofino
There are plenty of epic day trips to choose from, but a trip to the hot springs in Tofino is the pick of the bunch. It is a 1.5-hour boat ride to reach the hot springs near Tofino and this boat trip is almost worth the money by itself. You’ll skim through the waters of Clayoquot Sound, passing tons of tiny islands and getting incredible views of the surrounding landscapes.
Consider this a 2-for-1 tour as you will look for whales both to and from the hot springs and it is quite common to see grey whales and humpbacks. You’ll also get the chance to see bears, wolves, sea otters and eagles on the boat ride.
Once you arrive at the dock for the hot springs it is a 30-minute walk through a beautiful old growth forest along a wooden boardwalk. You’ll likely smell the sulphur of the hot springs before you see them as you eventually emerge from the forest to the springs which are located right by the ocean.
Enjoy a couple of hours soaking in the hot water and numerous pools. The water flows over the edge of a rock, creating the ultimate, all natural, hot outdoor shower. The top pool is the warmest and the water cools down the closer it gets to the ocean.
If you can, visit at low tide. During high tide the waves can crash up into the bottom pool and if you’re sitting in here, you’ll get a shock as the freezing water flows in. There are many tour companies to choose from but we recommend Ocean Outfitters. They offer a great service, are carbon neutral and continually fund conservation efforts in the local area.
Bear Watching in Tofino
Jump on a boat and explore the inner waterways of Clayoquot Sound as you go bear watching in Tofino. The local black bears in Tofino come down to the water’s edge at low tide to look for food. It’s awesome to watch them from the water as they slowly patrol the beaches, tossing rocks aside with their big paws in the hunt for food.
The local guides know exactly where to look and bear sightings are almost guaranteed. It’s really cool to see them in their natural habitat and they pay little to no attention to your boat. While bears are the main attraction, you’ll also get to enjoy some beautiful scenery while also keeping an eye out for sea otters, seals, wolves and eagles. Ocean Outfitters are also our go to for Bear tours in Tofino.
Fuel up at Rhino Coffee Tofino
Start your day off right by stopping in at Rhino Tofino for a killer cup of coffee and to grab breakfast on the go. The staff are all so friendly and they offer a wide range of options if you aren’t a coffee lover. Add on a breakfast wrap or sandwich, house-baked donut, or our personal favourite, a chocolate brownie and you are ready for a day of exploring.
This is a go-to spot in Tofino as you can see by the number of people always milling about. When we lived in Tofino, Rhino was a breakfast staple for us and a trip wouldn’t be complete without a visit! You’ll find Rhino Coffee House right in the centre of town on Campbell Street.
Hike Cox Bay Trail
This might just be our absolute favourite thing to do in Tofino and we hike this trail almost every time we visit. It’s one of best hikes in Tofino. The viewpoint at the top gives you unbelievable 360-degree views of the surrounding landscapes. The best view is looking back towards the town of Tofino as you see all the way along Cox Bay and Chesterman Beach, as well as over to Lonecone Mountain and the islands on the far side of Tofino.
The trailhead is located at the south end of Cox Bay, one of the best beaches in Tofino. It isn’t an official trail so it isn’t well marked but about two-thirds of the way up from the water, look for an opening with a small stream with a beaten earth path next to it.
This trail is muddy all year round, no matter what the weather has been like, so be prepared to get a bit dirty. We promise the views at the top are totally worth it. The climb isn’t too difficult and only takes about 30-minutes from the trailhead at the end of the beach. There is one slightly trickier section where there is a rope to help you up but otherwise, we would consider it easy/moderate.
Once at the top, you’ll get what we think is one of the best views in Western Canada, not just Tofino. You could spend ages up here watching the surfers below and admiring the beautiful scenery. Even though it’s one of the best Tofino hikes, there are never too many people up here which always blows my mind.
You can also follow the trail through the trees to the other side of the lookout where you can look south down towards Ucluelet. Once you have had your fill, you can follow the same trail back down to the beach.
Hiking to Cox Bay lookout will take around 2 hours round trip, if you are leaving from the parking lot at Cox Bay beach. While there are several hikes near Tofino this is the one that should be top of your list.
Sea Kayaking Tofino
The inner waters of Clayoquot Sound are a wonderful maze of islands and waterways. While a boat tour is a great way to see slightly further afield, a kayak tour is the ultimate way to explore the waters just off of Tofino. When kayaking in Tofino we recommend going with Paddle West Kayaking, which is based out of a tiny hut next to Jamie’s Whaling Station on the edge of town.
This is who we went with and they provide all the equipment you need and their guides are brilliant. They know everything there is to know about the wildlife and the ecosystem around here and they had loads of cool stories and answered all of our questions.
You can choose either a single or double kayak, but if you are going for a few hours as we did, we recommend a double kayak as you’ll cover a lot of ground. You’ll paddle straight out from shore and get to travel right passed many of the islands and even through some tiny hidden waterways. You’ll also get a chance to sample some of the local kelp which isn’t delicious, but we were assured it was nutritious.
Keep an eye out for wildlife as you paddle around as the guides have an eagle eye for spotting animals. You may end up with some sore shoulders by the ends of it but getting to see a different perspective of this amazing place is totally worth it.
Go Shopping and Visit the Galleries
Downtown Tofino BC is home to many boutique shops selling local goods, crafts and art. It’s always so impressive to see how many talented people live in this small corner of the earth but the quirky town of Tofino seems to attract creative and expressive people.
The nice thing about the shops in Tofino is they are not full of tacky souvenirs. Instead, they stock high quality products from the local people.
There is plenty of cool places to check out when shopping in Tofino but one of our favourite little shops is Caravan Beach Shop. It’s only big enough for a handful of people to fit in at a time, but they stock a great selection of things from clothes, to local photographers’ prints, to funky camp equipment.
If you want to take some incredible photos home with you then check out Jeremy Koreski and Kyler Vos’s studios. They are both local photographers and during their time spent living here have managed to capture some amazing images of the scenery and especially the local wildlife.
The Roy Henry Vickers Gallery is another cool spot with First Nations art made by long-time local Roy Henry Vickers. He even built the building his gallery is in with some of his friends.
Due to the surf culture here, there are also a few surf shops, all of which stock their own branded clothing as well as selling other brands and surf equipment. Storm Surf Shop Tofino and Pacific Surf Co. can both be found in Tofino town centre while Live to Surf Tofino is found a few minutes’ drive from town. While there are so many awesome shops, our favourite local merchandise comes from Tofino Brewing Co!
The town and its people have done such an amazing job of creating funky boutique shops full of things you will actually want to take home with you!
Fishing in Tofino, BC
With such a vibrant underwater world it’s no surprise that people travel from all over the world to get out on the water and go fishing. Tofino has a vibrant fishing scene for both locals and visitors. If you really want the full experience then you’ll need to take one of the many fishing charters Tofino has to offer.
You can go for half day or full day excursions and your local skipper will be able to take you to all the best spots depending on exactly what type of fish you are looking for. As well as getting to fish some of the best waters in the world, you’ll also get amazing views as you travel passed the islands to your destination, plus you’re likely to see some wildlife on the journey.
Fishing enthusiasts should check out the Hatch at Tofino Resort + Marina for happy hour drink and to watch all of the fishing charters return for the day. There is a large scale at the end of the docks, which the patio overlooks, where proud fishermen come to weigh their catch at the end of the day.
Enjoy Some of the Best Restaurants in Tofino, BC
For such a small town, it always blows our minds how there can be so many incredible places to eat in Tofino. Foodies will find themselves in paradise when they visit here. Tofino is home to our favourite restaurant of all time as well as world famous chefs, some of whom have appeared on Master Chef and they have access to the freshest ingredients right on their doorstep.
Here is a list of some of the best places to eat in Tofino:
- Shelter Restaurant Tofino – This is our favourite restaurant in the world. Period. The food is absolutely delicious and it also has a great atmosphere. Sit outside on the patio under one of the heaters. They just make simple and delicious food and never once have we been disappointed and we have eaten here A LOT! They also serve frozen daquiris which are the perfect way to finish off an epic day of exploring. Definitely the best food in Tofino.
- Sobo Restaurant Tofino – Sobo offers grassroots gourmet cuisine that focuses on wild, foraged and local ingredients. Their menu is mostly seafood and they source almost everything from local, independent businesses.
- Wolf in the Fog – The food here is great but it is actually the cocktails and drinks that led us to put Wolf in the Fog on the list. They have a huge range of speciality spirits and a killer cocktail menu. The upstairs bar is a great place to sit and watch the bartenders mix up a storm.
- The Pointe Tofino – If you are looking for a special fine dining experience, head to The Pointe Restaurant in the Wickaninnish Inn. It has spectacular views over the Pacific Ocean, a sophisticated menu featuring contemporary dishes inspired by fresh, local seasonal ingredients and they have an extensive wine selection so you’ll always have the perfect pairing.
Explore the Best Beaches in Tofino, BC
Tofino is home to some incredibly unique beaches. While it may not be the usual white sand and blue water combination that often make beaches so attractive, the beaches near Tofino have more rugged beauty about them where tall trees meet cold seas.
You’ll be spoilt for choice during your visit here and you could spend your whole trip hopping between the different beaches.
Long Beach – A 20-minute drive from the town centre will take you to Long Beach. As the name suggests it is a long stretch of sand but one of the things that makes it special is Incinerator Rock, which sits a few metres off shore at the northern end of the beach. You can also surf along this beach as well. It is part of Pacific Rim National Park so you have to pay to use either of the parking lots here.
Cox Bay – The most popular beach in Tofino for surfers, you’ll find consistent waves here and a large stretch of sand to relax and enjoy the sun. It’s usually quite busy here but the beach is so large that you can find a quiet spot to yourself very easily. Explore the rocky coves at the north end of the beach or hike to the Cox Bay Lookout at the south end of the beach.
Chesterman Beach – Another of the popular surfing beaches in Tofino. Chesterman Beach is cool as there is a point in the middle of the beach that you can walk out along and be surrounded by the water on both sides.
Tonquin Beach – Follow a trail through the forest down to Tonquin Beach. This beach is right on the edge of town so it is very easy to get to. We often find it to be one of the quieter beaches and the short walk through the forest makes you feel like you are a million miles from the town of Tofino.
The waters along the West Coast of Canada are teeming with whales. You may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of whales from one of the beaches but to really get the full experience you can go on a whale watching tour.
Orcas are the type of whale that most people want to see, but they are transient to these waters so there is no guarantee you will catch a glimpse of them. Grey and Humpback whales are much more common in these waters and it’s fantastic to see them swimming in such a beautiful setting.
There are a wide range of tour operators and boats to choose from. You can head out on an open-air zodiac, to get the full experience of wind rushing through your hair, or if you would prefer something more comfortable you can take a covered boat instead. Our go to tour operator for the best whale watching in Tofino is Ocean Outfitters.
Eat at Tacofino
I know we had a dedicated section to restaurants in Tofino, but Tacofino deserves its own special mention. While you can now find Tacofino in Vancouver and Victoria, there’s nothing like eating at the original. Enjoy some of their amazing Mexican food served right out of a food truck. You’ll find the food truck a 5-minute drive from town at the back of the parking lot where Live to Surf and Wildside Grill are located, just off the Pacific Rim Highway.
This has to be the most popular food in Tofino, so expect to find long lines when you get here. Luckily, due to the nature of the food they make, they pump it out quickly so you shouldn’t have to wait too long and it’s worth the wait.
Be sure to get a watermelon basil freshie to go along with your burrito!
Drink a Flight of Beers at Tofino Brewing Co.
Like everything else in this town, Tofino Brewing Co. have nailed it with their beers. While the brewery may have started from humble beginnings, you can now find their beer all over the West Coast of Canada. But there’s nothing like knocking back a few beers in the place the beer is made and we love the atmosphere and layout of the tasting room at Tofino Brewing Co.
You can order single beers or get a flight so you can try a range of their brews. The Tofino Blonde Ale is a simple but delicious beer and we are also fond of the Tuff Session Ale and the Kelp Stout (not as weird as it sounds). They have a wide range of beers to choose from plus you can even grab some beers to take home with you. Their branding has been done so well and they also offer a small selection of clothing that is constantly changing and makes for a great souvenir from your trip.
Have a Campfire on the Beach
Tofino is one of the few places where you are actually allowed to have a campfire on the beach, as long as there are no fire bans in place. As the climate on the west coast of Vancouver Island is quite wet, you often get most of the summer with no fire bans. Small campfires are allowed on Mackenzie and Chesterman Beaches from 6am to 11pm.
Get some friends together and go and watch an amazing sunset while sitting around the campfire. There are few better places to enjoy this type of thing than on Tofino’s beautiful beaches.
Take a Scenic Flight
Tofino is beautiful from all angles, but there are few better ways to take in the scenery than from the air. You can jump in a floatplane at Tofino Harbour and enjoy a short scenic flight over one of the most incredible landscapes in the world. You’ll be blown away by the sheer beauty of this place and you’ll get to fully appreciate the vast network of islands and waterways in Clayoquot Sound.
Storm Watching Tofino
Storm watching in Tofino, BC is one of the most popular things to do in Tofino in the winter. Large storms roll in unobstructed across the Pacific Ocean and huge waves hammer the shores of Tofino throughout the winter. It’s a humbling sight to see the power of nature at work and it’s easy to see why the coastline is so rugged after thousands of years of being pummelled by the ocean.
The best time to storm watch in Tofino is from early November until the end of February. There are still some early storms in October and some late storms arriving in early March, but November to February is the peak time to visit to see nature at its wildest.
If you want the ultimate storm watching experience then you need to visit the Wickaninnish Inn. Located right out on the point at the north end of Chesterman Beach, you’ll get to experience the gale force winds, huge waves and turbulent skies first hand. You can even get some spa treatments in their Ancient Cedars Spa which has unobstructed views out over the water.
Walk Along the Forest Boardwalks
There are several boardwalks through the forest in and around Pacific Rim National Park that you can explore. They take you into the heart of the old growth forests and you’ll get a fascinating look at this amazing ecosystem.
One of the most popular choices is the Rainforest Trail, which offers two routes, A and B, which are on either side of the highway. Another great option is the boardwalk to Schooner Cove which leads you right through the forest and onto an often deserted beach.
A Few Final Things
If all of this isn’t enough to keep you busy then there are several other activities you can enjoy. You can play a round of golf at Long Beach Golf Club, hike the Bomber Trail or Lonecone Mountain, enjoy the views from Radar Hill or grab some delicious ice cream from Chocolate Tofino.
No matter how many times you visit here, there is always more to explore and you’ll never get bored. Plus, you will always want to return to your personal favourite places, like we do. Tofino really is a special place and we know you will fall in love with it just like we did.
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