Tofino is a majestic little surf town on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, and arguably the only “real” surf town in Canada. It’s combination of bustling activity and rejuvenating ocean stillness makes it a special and unique destination for so many travelers every year. During the winter months, Tofino is a quiet place – and a lot of shops are even closed or operating on a limited schedule while the #StormWatching season hugs the coastline closely. Perhaps if you’re the kind of traveler that likes seeing the interesting, less busy side of popular places, the winter months in this stormy town might be for you.
Though, with every storm comes some sunshine and alternatively, in Summer, Tofino is packed with tourists. It’s so busy that if you’re planning on staying on a weekend you need to have it booked well in advance (one to two months or more) and if you’re hoping to just wing it and camp… well, that’s even busier! Popular campgrounds book out every weekend in summer early in the spring.
That being said, Tofino has optimal times for visiting if you fall into neither category of tourist or storm-watcher. The best time to visit Tofino is easily mid-Spring – May, to be exact. Most campgrounds and tour operators are just opening up for the season, making it a great time to join the stoke for the upcoming season.
So, you’re in Tofino now, let’s talk about 10 things you must do.
1.) Explore Tide pools.
There’s so much unique vegetation living under the water, and when the tide is low it makes for a perfect afternoon exploration by the rocks. Remember though – be kind to the plants. Don’t remove or damage any of the special creatures.
2. Spend an afternoon at the beach that takes you into Sunset.
The forecast can be a little tricky on the West Coast, but if you get a gorgeous sunny day – that will be the one you’ll want to use for a picnic on the beach! There’s a vast coastline of possibilities for your beach hang, and some of them even permit beach fires. Just be sure to check in before you light one.
3. Visit Tofino Brewing Company!
Whether you like light beer, dark beer, you don’t drink beer (they have awesome swag!) a visit to the industrial garage-style brewery is a must. Highly suggested – bring or buy a growler and fill up with your favourite sip for an evening beverage on the beach or wherever you’re staying!
4. Have a campfire!
As mentioned previously, a lot of beaches DO permit beach fires, and what a better way to take in the magic of the ocean than to sit by a toasty fire with great company, sand beneath your toes.
5. Find a really big tree.
But actually, Vancouver Island has some insanely massive trees – they’re captivating in size, colour and overall jaw-droppingness. A short walk into the forest along pretty much the entire Tofino coastline will have you admiring some of these incredible giants.
6. Ask a local to tell you a secret spot.
Okay, okay, this one might get a little tricky – I know locals don’t like to give away too many secrets! But chances are if you strike up a conversation with someone friendly in town, they’ll fill you in on something just off the beaten path. Then it’s your job to go explore it, and protect the secret location.
7. SURF! (or body board, or body surf…)
But just get in that ocean! Do it because it’s cold, do it because it’s Canada, do it because you’ll regret driving away and not having done it. You can rent affordable surf gear from many shops in and around town (I recommend Long Beach Surf Shop) and after a few ice cream headaches from the icy cold water, (yes, even in summer) you’ll be stoked that you swam in the sea.
8. Take a jaunt to Ucluelet
…Or even stay there! On other trips we’ve stayed at beautiful Airbnb’s that cost a fraction of the price of a Tofino hotel. This magical little town 40kms south of Tofino is still quite busy in summer months, but hasn’t experienced the big “boom” that Tofino has. Hike along the coastal Wild Pacific Trail (above) or admire the little fishing boats (and big boats) in the harbour, enjoying a truly “small town vibe.” (below)
9. Make the slog to the top of Cox Bay Lookout
Vertical, mostly boggy and wet, and surely to leave you puffing a little bit, once you make your way up to the top of the hill, you’re treated with a beautiful view of Cox Bay, the inlet and beyond. (FYI – this might be a good place for you to bring some Tofino Brewing sips.) Access the rugged trail at the far south end of the beach. Be sure to wear proper footwear and a good attitude – in the spring you might just get (very) muddy. *Important note – the trail meanders a few different ways at some points… they all mostly lead to the top, but we’ll let you figure that one out. 🙂
10. HOT SPRINGS COVE
Last, and absolutely the best is a mission to Hot Springs Cove. And don’t be naive, it is certainly a mission (it costs about $100 per person and takes 45mins on a boat each way) but this fly-in/boat-in only zone will be something you reminisce on forever. Be sure to go early (we went at 7am through a private fishing charter) because apparently they do get super busy. It’s the ultimate ocean relaxation zone and an absolute must on any style of Tofino trip. (At least once!)
There you have it friends, my list of 10 fun times in Tofino!