Tofino: Canada’s Wild West All Grown Up

Vancouver Island’s Surf City offers luxury accommodations, world-class food and plenty of adventures

Culture, Cuisine and Comfort in the Wilderness

Tofino’s all grown up these days, providing as many luxuries as you’d expect from any big city getaway, with the enormous benefit of being nestled oceanside in the midst of breathtaking Clayoquot Sound. And do breathe deeply while you’re there. Fill your lungs with briny ocean air or cedar-scented rainforest mist. If nothing else, the air will get your appetite going for both food and adventure – and there’s plenty of both in Tofino.

Tofino used to be BC’s secret spot, our wilderness getaway at the very edge of Canada. And while it’s technically still a small town, its stunning location and mellow lifestyle have attracted enough top talent over the decades to turn the tourism tide. Bohemian earth-children and Kombi camper vans have been replaced by world-class chefs, luxury accommodations, and unparalleled outdoor adventures. In a town with a permanent population that’s under 2,000, this region annually attracts about a million visitors. The secret’s definitely out.

Where to Stay: Pacific Sands Beach Resort

The Pacific Sands Beach Resort is the type of place that will have you wishing for stormy weather so you can stay inside and enjoy its luxurious amenities. The townhome-style beach houses are decadently spacious with spectacular panoramas of Cox Bay from nearly every room. With three levels, two fireplaces and one enormous bathtub, you’ll be able to enjoy ocean views from your choice of comfy vantage points (yes, even from the bathtub).

When you’re ready to head outdoors, you’ll find easy beach access within minutes from your doorstep. You’ll be able to play along the water’s edge or walk along the boardwalk through the forest to Pettinger Point for a breathtaking view. And when you’re feeling hungry, head back to your fully-equipped kitchen where you can either whip up a feast or take it easy by picking up a couple of prepared meals at the resort’s espresso bar, which offers a selection of gourmet delights from SoBo in Tofino and Vij’s in Vancouver.

Staying indoors and eating dinner by the fireplace while watching a storm come in is definitely a winter treat. But come back in the summer and you’ll find an entirely new experience – take one of the complimentary cruiser bikes and head into town along the Tofino Bike Path, then come back in time for the resort’s famous beachside salmon bake  in the gazebo, prepared by RedCan chef, Tim Mays.

1421 Pacific Rim Highway, Tofino, (250) 725-3322

Credit: Catherine Tse

Where to Eat in Tofino

The foodie scene in Tofino has definitely been elevated to the gourmet. Epicureans won’t have to give up their gastronomic pleasures on this wilderness trip. The lure of Tofino has enticed enough creative culinary talent to really make this small town bursting with delectable options.

Tacofino: This is the birthplace of the Tacofino. If you’re an aficionado of fish tacos, this is a must. If you like food trucks, this is a must. If you just like simple, flavourful food cooked well, this is a must. Tacofino’s fish tacos are a classic, but for a Pacific Rim spin, try the Albacore tuna taco with soy, sesame, wakame (seaweed), ginger and wasabi mayo. And no matter which tacos you choose, make sure you leave enough room for their utterly scrumptious chocolate Diablo cookie, which is equally as delicious as their tacos. And their tacos are good.

1184 Pacific Rim Highway, Tofino, (250) 726-8288

shelter: shelter is bound to become Tofino’s destination restaurant, drawing people who are foodies first, outdoor enthusiasts second. If their luscious and comforting food (largely based on sophisticated seasonal ingredients) isn’t enough of a draw, you have to love and respect their ethos of keeping a minimal footprint while elevating what their immediate habitat can offer. Their menu features organic produce, ethically-raised and hormone-free meats, seafood direct from the shores of Tofino, and seasonal greens and herbs straight from their own backyard garden – all in a gracious and welcoming environment, to boot.

601 Campbell Street, Tofino, (250) 725-3353

SoBo:  “Sophisticated Bohemian.” This pretty much sums up today’s Tofino and perfectly reflects SoBo’s refined food and relaxed atmosphere. Their smoked wild fish chowder with a side of delicately sweet cornbread makes for a stellar combination. And if the ceviche is available, pounce. Don’t worry vegetarians and vegans, there are plenty of options including the dangerously more-ish shitake mushroom tofu pockets, and polenta fries. Keep an eye out for Chef Lisa Ahier’s forthcoming SoBo cookbook.

311 Neill Street, Tofino, (250) 725-2341

Chocolate Tofino: Owned and operated by Kim and Cam Shaw, ex-pats from Lloydminster who after watching The Endless Summer II during one long endless prairie winter, decided they had had enough, then packed up and moved out to Tofino. And now they make some of the finest chocolates on the island, using only the freshest, seasonal ingredients, all made in their tiny, delicious shop. If you’re there in the summer, try the gelato and ask about the “secret” (read: experimental, not-on-menu) flavour – you’ll fit in just like a local.

1180 Pacific Rim Highway, Tofino, (250) 725-2526

Credit: Tourism British Columbia

What To Do in Tofino

Surf Sister: When in Tofino, surf. You’re in Canada’s surfing mecca, home to some of the finest surfing beaches on the coast, including a few that are great for beginners. Nothing beats the euphoria of catching the perfect wave, even if it’s just three feet high.

If you don’t know how to surf, go to Surf Sister. The instructors there are all fun, patient and extremely passionate about surfing. They’re also highly qualified and certified to the highest degree in what they do, so have no fear, you’re in excellent hands. They’ll lead you through some open-water safety basics, have you do a few exercises on the beach so you get the feel of how to “pop” up on your board, then lead you out into the water and help you catch a few waves. It’s an exhilarating experience that will be your best souvenir from Tofino.

625 Campbell Street, Tofino, (877) 724-7873

Eagle Aerie Gallery: This is renowned First Nations artist Roy Vickers’ gallery. While his artwork can be found in museums and collections around the world, this is the only place where you can actually purchase his artwork, some of which is beautifully displayed in this gallery. It’s an amazing opportunity to get an up-close view of an incredible collection of original prints, paintings, carvings and other artwork. The building itself is a Tofino landmark – a stunning traditional Northwest Coast cedar longhouse, with beaten copper doors.

350 Campbell Street, Box 10, Tofino, (250) 725-3235

Solart Glass Studio: Sol Maya is a charismatic glass-blowing artist/entertainer who welcomes the public into his tiny studio to watch him create dramatic pieces of ethereal glass art. His movements are mesmerizing as he constantly maneuvers about, always spinning, hammering, pulling and heating his current work-in-progress, all while waxing poetic about art, life, beauty and surfing.

1180 Pacific Rim Highway, Tofino, (604) 925.7262

Jamie’s Whaling Station: Take advantage of Tofino’s pristine wilderness and spend some time reconnecting with the local ecosystem and its inhabitants. The fleet of boats and kayaks at Jamie’s can take you out in search of whales, bears, eagles and other wild creatures you’re used to seeing only in two-dimensions. The kayaks will keep you low and nimble, so you can easily and discreetly move about. And the boats can take you farther afield, strategically following sightings and known travel corridors for specific animals. If there’s ever a moment to feel the full reverence that comes from being in Canada’s wild west, it’ll be during this adventure.

606 Campbell St, Tofino, (250) 725-3919