Where to Eat, Stay and Play in Tofino
Rugged and luxurious all at once, this Vancouver Island beach town offers year-round adventure and good eats.
A float plane takes visitors from Tofino’s habour to multiple destinations on Vancouver Island.
Misty and mystical, Tofino, B.C., with its ancient rainforest, teeming wildlife and First Nations lore, is a captivating place many know about, but relatively few have actually visited. It’s as though it’s so close (a 45-minute charter flight from Vancouver) that people put off going. Or maybe it’s because they know that, if they go, they might never leave.
Once a secluded village frequented by fishers and loggers, Tofino now plays year-round host to surfers, hikers, bikers and outdoorsy types of all kinds, not to mention foodies. Summer is peak season for most of these activities, but they’re all still possible into the fall and winter months. You might just get more wet, which, for a landlocked Calgarian, is hardly a bad thing.
If you go in winter, you’ll likely experience the rush of a storm — witnessing the fury of colossal waves crashing against the rugged shoreline — all from the comfort of your cozy beachfront hotel room, if you’re lucky.
Where to Eat
Tofino’s only brewery offers growlers of beer and a cool hangout to drink them in. The Hoppin’ Cretin IPA is smooth and refreshing, even to non-beer-drinkers, with its dry, citrus finish. Or knock back a seasonal brew featuring local ingredients like the Kelp Stout or the Spruce Tree Ale.
Industrial Way, 350-725-2899
This fishmonger serves up the most divine made-to-order seafood chowder. Chef Dylan Tilston’s recipe includes bacon, incredible on-site smoked fish, salmon, halibut, shrimp, mussels and clams in a light broth. This is also the only place you can get locally harvested Clayoquot Climax oysters.
368 Main St., 250-725-2264
This restaurant’s moniker belies the clarity of just how good its food is. Trained at SAIT Polytechnic and under the tutelage of Michael Noble, chef/co-owner Nick Nutting takes ingredients foraged from Tofino’s waters, shores and forests to create binge-inducing dishes like potato-crusted oysters and Sichuan surf and turf — braised short rib, spicy grilled octopus, sweet potato and bok choy.
150 4 St., 250-725-9653, wolfinthefog.com
Purveyor of fresh giant muffins and delicious granola, the Common Loaf is where locals line up for brekkie. For a hearty start to the day, try the breakfast pizza with toppings like bacon and potato.
180 1 St., 250-725-3915
Where to Stay
Between the gourmet kitchen, raised soaker tub and deluxe bed, you might be tempted to fritter the day away in your well-appointed beach house. That is, until you look out the floor-to-ceiling windows and see the spectacular ocean vistas. Located a scenic seven-kilometre drive from downtown Tofino (or a 25-minute borrowed cruiser-bike ride), Pacific Sands provides comfort and luxury, right on the beach. Have breakfast in bed or mosey down to the espresso bar for a shot of caffeine and tasty baked goods.
Three kilometres south of Tofino on magnificent MacKenzie Beach, one of the area’s first waterfront retreats still offers unobstructed ocean views and direct beach access. Affordable and adorable, the beehive-construction cabins are private, family-friendly and renovated for maximum comfort.
What To See and Do
Kayaking in Clayoquot Sound, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, can be a profound experience. Explore Tofino’s shorelines and mud flats and get up close and personal with fish, crab and other marine life. Pack a lunch and stretch your legs on the landing point at scenic Lemmens Inlet, part of nearby Meares Island. Paddle West Kayaking offers trips from two hours to several days with sociable and knowledgeable guides.
Hot Springs Cove
photograph by jeremy koreski
A soak in these small natural hot pools, carved between deep rock crevices, will awaken your senses, especially if you also take a dip in the cool Pacific Ocean. Access is via an hour-long boat ride or 15-minute float plane flight (Jamie’s Whaling Station offers a Sea to Sky adventure that incorporates both), plus a half-hour boardwalk trail from the dock. Go first thing to beat the crowds. As a bonus, you’ll likely see wildlife on your way there and back.
Tofino’s palpable creative vibe is made even more obvious by its plethora of locally owned boutiques and galleries. Recently opened Merge: An Artisan Collective showcases handmade goods such as jewellery, cards and decor in a sunny, blue house-turned-shop. Even cured meats, preserves and cheese can be artisanal, like those at Picnic Charcuterie. Pick up some hunter sausage or spicy coppa for a mouthwatering snack.
Travel tips from a Calgarian
“I go for so many reasons — the people, the ocean, the food, the amazing spirit,” she says. Gomes made her first visit when her friend, Nick Nutting, former chef at the Wickaninnish Inn, invited her to guest-chef there. “Since then, I can’t get enough of the place.”
Despite Tofino’s small size (the permanent population was measured at 1,876 in 2011), it is big on food and flavour, especially when it comes to fresh seafood. Gomes’s favourite Tofino pastime is cooking dinner over a fire on the beach with friends.
“And maybe a little wine,” she says, with a laugh. Gomes suggests going out fishing while you’re there. “If it’s spot prawn season, eat them raw as you catch them.”
As a regular at SoBo, Shelter, Tacofino and, of course, Nutting’s current restaurant, Wolf in the Fog, she’s a big fan of Tofino’s restaurant scene. “Love the Pointe Restaurant [at the Wick],” she says. “Love the breakfast and brunch. Stellar service and a real treat to stay there.”
Above all, Gomes recommends rubbing shoulders with locals: “You never know where it will take you.”