After almost 9 months living in Vancouver, in July Dave and I finally took our first ferry over to Vancouver Island. Celebrating my (significant) birthday, we decided to drive to the far side of the island to spend a few days in the small but mighty town of Tofino. With less than 2000 residents during the year, the population swells in the summer, when visitors descend on the town to soak up its surfing culture and incredible landscapes. Not to forget the local wildlife, which can be spotted both on land and under the sea.
About a 3 to 3.5 hour drive west from Nanaimo ferry port, Tofino is a magical place brimming with creatives, surfers, adventurers and zen-seekers. Here are some of our highlights over four days.
Food and Drink
There are loads of places to choose from in Tofino, but some of the places we decided to check out were:
- The Schooner
Based on the main road, this cosy, family-run restaurant is a Tofino institution. Known for its impressive seafood menu (and the large ship built into the restaurant entrance!) , The Schooner also offers some excellent breakfast fare. The first time we went, we shared a big fat cinnamon roll, which was up there with the best. The second, I had a delicious Eggs Benedict, enjoyed under the sun on the restaurant’s patio.
1909 is a part of the Tofino Marina Resort we stayed in, so it was a handy stone’s throw from our room, as well as the Adventure Centre where you can book local activities on Tofino like bear watching (more on that later), whale watching, the hot springs cove tour (this was still closed due to Covid-19 when we stayed in early-mid July), guided fishing and paddle boarding.
But back to 1909 (or 1989, 1990, 1919 as it was also known…). We went here on my birthday breakfast before heading out surfing, and it was so lovely. The restaurant has circular windows for an added nautical vibe, and offers a great breakfast menu. I had Eggs Benny (an all time fave) and a blood orange mimosa, which was a fairly ideal morning scenario.
- The Common Loaf
I loved this little place! We only popped in for a quick couple of breakfast paninis before heading off bear watching (more on that later!). They were delicious though and the coffee was great. The inside looked really cosy, so I’ll definitely be back for a sit-in experience on our next visit to Tofino!
It was sunny, so we headed into this spot on the main strip for some lunch on their decking. It gets pretty busy and has space limitations due to Covid, so we put ourselves on the wait list and wandered around the nearby shops until we got a call about half an hour later.
Since moving to Vancouver, I’ve developed what one could credibly describe as a slightly obsessive relationship with poke bowls. I’d never previously eaten one or actually even heard of them, so it’s been a bit of a zero to sixty experience. So of course, when I saw a poke bowl on the menu it was decision made, and this little poke stack was particularly delicious. Paired with a grapefruit ale, sunshine and an outward facing table for optimum people-watching, Shed delivered a gorgeous lunch experience.
- Wolf In The Fog
Wolf In The Fog is an extremely popular dinner spot in Tofino, so you need to be organised and book a few weeks in advance to get a reservation! Needless to say, we are not those people. Luckily for us, Wolf In The Fog does a daily happy hour of 3-5pm. We took advantage of their famous Cedar Sours cocktails and some pre-dinner gigantic (and very delicious) tater tots.
This great little spot can also be found on Tofino’s main road, similar to Shed with a big outdoor patio and lots of indoor seating. It was dry but a bit chilly when we went, however we were able to sit outside thanks to the restaurant’s really effective outdoor heaters. They serve up a great frozen berry daiquiri and impressively good calamari, for pre-dinner indulgence!
- The Pointe
This was far and away the most beautiful restaurant I have visited in BC so far. We went a bit all out because it was my birthday, but this place was 100% worth the extra dollars. The service was incredible and the views across Chesterman Beach and the Pacific were, to cliche the hell out of it, absolutely breathtaking. We were boring and ordered the same lamb main, which was genuiely one of the best meals of my entire life.
If we were visiting on our usual budget, it’s not a place we could normally justify going, but for a special occasion, or just a treat-yoself, it’s a complete must visit.
- The Hatch
We didn’t actually eat here, but it’s a gorgeous spot for pre or after-dinner drinks (which were, apparently, a major theme of our Tofino trip…). Perched on the marina front, this place has great views and serves up a frozen pineapple margarita, which I enjoyed many of…
…Because you can’t reasonably visit the surf capital of Canada and not do it! We booked with Tofino Surf School, who were great. Due to Covid, to get to the beach (about 10 mins drive), we had to follow the school’s van in our own vehicle rather than riding in the van itself. Most people drive to Tofino when visiting anyway, but it’s worth bearing in mind if booking at this strange time!
It’s a 3 hour lesson, including getting into your wetsuit (no mean feat at the best of times) a quick demonstration on the beach and travel there and back. We definitely had plenty of time in the water and it wasn’t cold at all when in the wetsuit.
- Beach walks
In my head, Tofino’s beaches would all be within walking distance of ‘downtown’ Tofino, but they’re mostly a short drive away (10-15 minutes), so again, unless you’re camping beachside or staying at one of the pods on Chesterman Beach, it’s good to have your own car here.
FUN FACT: Tofino was used as a filming location for The Twilight Saga: New Moon in March and April 2009. I don’t know exactly which part it was, but with the moody skies and expanse of shoreline, it’s definitely well suited. We saw a few groups roasting marshmallows and having beers round fires on the beach, which looked so lovely. The weather was slightly unpredictable when we were visiting, but I’d love to do this next time we go.
- Bear watching
This was one of the absolute highlights of our time in Tofino, when we saw our first ever bears! Booked through the Adventure Centre, this was a three hour session in a boat around Tofino to check out the bears’ favourite hangouts. It sounds long, but with the amazing views, a guide who was really knowledgeable and obviously passionate about the species, AND six bear sightings, the time really flew by.
I was surprised (and a bit amused) when we had to step into our strange, gigantic floatie suits before the tour, which need to be worn throughout the duration of the tour, but was really grateful of them when the rain and wind chill from the boat really hit!