I wasn’t aware of Tofino before moving to Vancouver. Thank goodness I am now. The reason we were up so early in the North Sunshine Coast was because we were going to Tofino on Vancouver Island. You may have seen my posts about nearby Ucluelet a while ago, and just how much I loved staying at the Black Rock Resort in the fall. This time, we were doing things a little differently by exploring more of Tofino and its surrounding area. We took the Powell River – Nanaimo ferry, and enjoyed a coffee with the ocean views. From here, it was a decent drive from the east to the west coast of Vancouver Island, with a few stops along the way to break it up.
Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island
I always feel a sense of relief and tranquility when on Vancouver Island. It’s not as though Vancouver is a particularly stressful place to live, but it’s always nice to escape into nature every now and again. Along our drive, we stopped off at Qualicum Beach.
Around a thirty minute drive from Nanaimo, the small town of Qualicum Beach has a tiny population of around 9,000. At the foot of Mount Arrowsmith, the town lies on the Strait of Georgia. It’s truly beautiful, and as a result, attracts thousands of tourists each year. A little fact for you – it has the oldest average age at 60.9, making it a true retirement dream.
The beach itself is long and vast, much like the other beaches on Vancouver Island. It’s the perfect break for a long drive, and a chance to stretch your legs. We wandered along, spotting the various interesting forms of sea creature and seaweed along the way.
With a long journey remaining to Tofino, we hit the road once again. There was one place we had to, however, pay another visit to.
Goats on the Roof, Coombs
You may remember Coombs Old Country Market from my visit to Ucluelet a few years ago. What once began as a fruit stall on the side of the road serving customers travelling to the west coast of Vancouver Island has evolved into an incredible store nowadays. It’s essentially now a landmark of Coombs, with shops and restaurants for both locals and visitors. Inside, you’ll find fresh and novelty pantry foods from all over the world. It’s well worth a visit and stocking up for your journey.
What the Coombs Old Country Market is even more famous for, however, is its goats on the roof. It’s a little unexplained, but fun nonetheless. The goats live there and nibble away at the grass on the roof.
We packed a box full of local goodies and hit the road again – locally produced jerky, cheese, pepperoni sticks, and even Tofino kombucha. The perfect car picnic. Next stop – Tofino.
Arriving in Tofino
Where better to stop when you arrive in Tofino feeling a little peckish? Tacofino, of course. The original truck that pioneered the chain of Tacofino restaurants across Vancouver and beyond. The taco truck lives in the Live to Surf parking lot, and is perfect for grabbing a bite in between surfs. You can fully expect a lineup due to its popularity.
I grabbed my classic chicken gringa and fish taco and we munched them in the car park. Just as divine as ever. Desperate to get a little bit of walking in after remaining stationery in the car for so long, we hit downtown Tofino. Stocking up on wine and supplies for the night ahead, we explored the coast from downtown to see what we could find. We stumbled across Tonquin Beach, so walked along the decking to get down.
Tonquin Beach is the perfect place for catching a sunset. There’s a short walking trail called the Tonquin Trail that takes you through rainforests and has views across the Pacific Ocean. It’s a peaceful beach with hardly anyone around. Ideal for a short walk to enjoy the scenery.
By now, it was time to check in at our hotel for the evening. We were excited to get there, check out the place, and perhaps fit in a surf before sunset. We got in the car and headed off.
Pacific Sands Beach Resort, Tofino
We stayed at Tofino’s Pacific Sands Beach Resort. It’s key selling point for us is a beautiful, modern hotel right on the beach, with all the amenities you need for a relaxing stay. Here, you can enjoy beautiful views of the rugged Tofino coastline, indulge in world-class surfing, and take beach strolls. All of the accommodation is surf-in, surf-out. You can choose from your own luxury beach house with a hot tub, to cosy apartments. We had a lovely oceanside suite – let me show you around.
Each suite comes with its own fully equipped kitchen, which is perfect for making it a true home away from home. They even provide Pacific Sands rain macs just in case the weather takes a turn. Tofino is definitely a vacation destination for all weathers. It’s pretty popular for storm watching in the winter, and last time I visited Ucluelet in November. You can still soak in the hot tub and get cosy in front of the fire while watching the rain with a glass of wine.
Surfing in Tofino
One of the best draws of Tofino is its close proximity to the beach. At Pacific Sands Beach Resort, you’re pretty much directly on the beach. Cox Bay Beach is great for surfing, so we made the most of it. With surfing lessons and rental available on the hotel estate at Surf Sister, it couldn’t be easier.
We hired our wetsuits, hoods, gloves and boards and squeezed them on. In early May, it wasn’t by any means warm, but it wasn’t freezing either. I’d only surfed once before, in Sydney, so I wasn’t expecting incredible moves.
You get used to the temperature of the water, and the waves are pretty strong. Make sure to be careful and avoid rocky areas as the beach isn’t lifeguard patrolled. I managed to catch a few waves, so was pretty pleased. Surfing is also such a great workout. If it’s good enough for Justin Trudeau who was surfing on Cox Bay Beach the week before, it’s good enough for us.
While surfing, the sun began to set, producing the most spectacular views. We stopped to take it all in, and to take a break from the powerful waves.
The surfing culture is paramount in Tofino thanks to its geography. With a history as a remote fishing village, Tofino is now very much a surf town in the Pacific North West. Its iconic breathtaking and rugged scenery also makes way for great waves and storm swept beaches.
After a couple of hours of fun surf, we stepped out onto the beach to enjoy the sunset views over Cox Bay Beach. Around us, people were relaxing in the nearby hammocks and enjoying a glass of wine.
Sunset over Cox Bay Beach, Tofino
We went back to our apartment to shake off the sand, get showered, and dressed for dinner. Getting dressed in Tofino usually means donning a pair of Blundstones, a sweater, and a waterproof. Before heading to the Wolf in the Fog for dinner, we went for a stroll on Cox Bay Beach where the sunset was really beginning to catch fire.
The sunset here is truly mesmerizing to watch as the colours shift and float. The backdrop is also the unmistakable rugged rocks and storm bashed trees. Such an iconic backdrop, and one that will always be my favourite.
Watching the sun finally pop under the clouds and disappear, we walked back along the beach in search of dinner. Along the way were small groups making fires and toasting marshmallows. The perfect cosy sight for a May evening.
We had a tasty meal at the much acclaimed Wolf in the Fog in downtown Tofino – Thai vegetable curry for me, which was pretty delicious. I love meals where you don’t recognize the lack of meat in a dish. We drove back and sank a bottle of wine snuggled up on the sofa with some TV.
Morning Surf on Cox Bay Beach
We woke up early to make the most of our final day in Tofino. With our surf rentals not due back for another few days, Jordan hit the surf once again. Not fancying pulling on a cold, damp wetsuit so early on in the day, I made a coffee and watched on the beach with a book.
There are surfers around in the water from early morning, which makes for some great people watching.
After a hot shower and a caffeine refuel, we sadly packed up our suitcases and went for a beach walk. One thing that always fascinates me about the coast here is the incredible sealife and plants that wash up on the shore from the Pacific Ocean. There are sand dollars, seafish, crabs, and all sorts of interesting seaweed in this part of the world. I remember it well from our trip to Ucluelet a few years ago.
There’s nothing quite like the misty, rugged backdrop of Tofino too to wake you up in the morning.
Saying a sad farewell to Pacific Sands Beach Resort after a wonderful stay, we were in great need of some good food. I’d highly recommend the hotel to anyone looking to stay in Tofino, as it offers everything you need for a relaxing (or adventurous) break away on Vancouver Island.
Long Beach, Pacific Rim National Park
We went to Shelter on Tofino’s Campbell Street and each had a tasty surfer bowl. They’re packed with local wild salmon, steamed vegetables, rice, and spicy yogurt. Delicious, and the perfect sustenance for an afternoon of walking.
Next, we drove along the Pacific Rim National Park to Long Beach, a beach we visited on our last trip to Tofino. It’s, as the name suggests, super long which makes it perfect for a relaxing beach walk. As it’s so large, it almost feels deserted too which is even better in my eyes.
We took our coffees and walked most of the length of the beach. We dipped our toes in the water, people watched, and looked on as planes swooped across the sky to Tofino Airport.
At the south end of Wickaninnish Beach, opposite to where we parked, you’ll find the Kwisitis Visitor Centre. Kwisitis translates literally to ‘the other end of the beach’ in the Nuu-chah-nulth language. There’s a pretty deck where you can watch storms, whales, and surfers outside. Inside, you can hear stories of the First Nations who lived on the coast, learn about marine mammals and local wildlife, and the exciting history of Tofino.
After the visitor centre, we checked out Radar Hill. It’s a point we explored on our last visit to Ucluelet, but it was so foggy that we couldn’t really see anything. This time, we got the full panorama of Clayoquot Sound. Once upon a time, Radar Hill was important in the WWII defence system to warn of air strikes to North America.
After Radar Hill, it was time for us to hit the road.
Driving from Tofino to Vancouver
It takes around 5.5 hours to get from Tofino to Vancouver, with a ferry thrown in too, so it’s quite the journey. We made a few stops on the way to stretch our legs.
Around thirty minutes out of Ucluelet, we came across a peaceful lake. There were people sailing, and a man out with a metal detector. We asked if he’d found anything special, and he mentioned a ring. I wondered what other treasures were buried deep in history here.
Further along on Vancouver Island, we came across these gorgeous green waters. There’s a little trail along to get closer to the water, so we followed it and looked in awe at the colour.
Our next stop was Sproat Lake. In central Vancouver Island, it’s the perfect lake for swimming, watersports, fishing, and windsurfing. There’s a trail that runs around the lake, where you can also find prehistoric petroglyphs. We took the trail and had a quick dip in the lake.
We made one final stop back at Goats on the Roof. This time, not only did we want snacks, but dinner. Little did we know, the same company owns a restaurant behind the country market, Cuckoo Trattoria. It’s tucked away, but has a beautiful European exterior and interior, with large sash windows overlooking a fountain. The food was delicious too – I had a big bowl of creamy linguine pesto, and Jordan had conchiglione. Both were tasty and filling, so I highly recommend if you’re ever passing.
It was time for the final leg of our journey home. We caught the ferry across after a quick walk around the park near Nanaimo. Another wonderful trip on Vancouver Island. Tofino, I’ll be back before you know it.
What are your favourite things to do in Tofino? Let me know.