Have you ever wanted to try surfing and thought the closest place was somewhere down south like Mexico or Costa Rica? Well, you’d be surprised to hear that on Vancouver Island, you can explore this small surf town – Tofino. This town is home to some of the best surfing on the West Coast, gorgeous sandy beaches, vibrant rainforests and the most delicious restaurants. I am certain that this surfers town will capture your heart, just like it did mine. It’s an adventure lovers paradise, filled with activities for everyone!
How to get here:
If you’re renting a car and coming from Vancouver then the journey will take about 5 hours, It’s best to reserve your spot on the ferry before hand in the summer months. From the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal, it takes about 1 hour and 40 minutes to Nanaimo. From there you’ll drive all the way on highway 19 and then to highway 4 until you reach Tofino. The drive is very straight forward and there’s many pit spots you can make along the way.
Since I don’t drive I had to take public transport, a ferry and a shuttle to reach Tofino. It was one of the longest travel days ever and one I don’t recommend doing unless you absolutely have to or if you spend at least 3-4 nights in Tofino. I took the 257 express bus from downtown Vancouver to Horseshoe Bay and bought a walk on ticket for the ferry which costs about $18 one-way. Once you reach Nanaimo, there’s a long wait for the shuttle so bring something to keep yourself company. At 12:30 the shuttle bus picks you up right outside the ferry terminal and takes you directly to Tofino. The journey takes about 4 hours and it drops you off around 4:30pm.
Surfing in Tofino:
You can’t visit Tofino, BC’s best surf town and not give surfing a try! Whether it’s to rent a board and suit or taking lessons from one of the many companies. I promise it’s a must do activity in Tofino and it’s such a blast!
There are a bunch of places in Tofino to rent surfboards, we found the best deal at Pacific Surf Co. Their surf shop is on the main strip and they have very competitive prices to the other shops near by. I paid $85 for a 2 day rental which included a board, wet suit, booties and then paid $5 extra for board insurance in case anything happened in the water. They also offer lessons if you’re a complete newbie and I definitely suggest at least 1 lesson before you go out in the water yourself. You’ll feel so much more confident and it will ensure you don’t get hurt.
Top things to do:
rent surfboards from pacific Surf co. and surf at chesterman beach or cox bay
We went to Chesterman beach both days to surf and the waves were great! I’d ask the shop staff for their recommendations depending on your level and also search up the tide charts. You don’t want to be caught in 10 foot waves as a beginner. A sunset surf sesh at Cox Bay looked amazing, we saw a bunch of people out enjoying the waves. Since all of my friends at the hostel didn’t have cars we all decided to rent bikes and the bikes came with a board rack so we could have our boards strapped to one side of our bikes.
try a flght of beers from tofino brewing Co.
What better way to finish a surf or hiking day than grabbing beers at Tofino Brewery Co. All their beers are crafted in Tofino and supposedly really good! I’m not a beer person myself so go give it a try and let me know how it is.
whale watching as a half day trip around the surrounding islands and inlets
I haven’t done Whale Watching in Tofino specifically, however, I did do a tour in Victoria and it was a blast and we did see Whales. I would think it would be even better in Tofino because the islands aren’t as trafficked and you’d probably see loads of other animals as well. Most whale tour companies have a policy that if you don’t see whales then you can come back free of charge.
hike along one of the many trails
Tofino is surrounded by many trails right in town and if you have access to a car you can get to some that are farther down the peninsula. Here are a few trails that you can check out; Tonquin beach, Cox Bay lookout, Radar Hill, Canso Plane Crash Site.
explore pacific rim national park reserve
This park is huge and takes up most of the peninsula. You will need a national parks pass to access the hikes. You can buy a day pass or a year pass if you’re visiting others in Canada. Here are a few trails that you can check out; Rainforest trail, Shorepine Bog trail and South Beach trail.
catch sunset at mackenzie beach
While there are many beaches to be found near Tofino, Mackenzie beach is supposed to be one of the best for sunset. Also it’s one of the only beaches where you can have a beach fire, all the others beaches it’s not permitted. We watched sunset at Cox beach and while it was very pretty, the inlet blocked our full view of sunset.
Visit the boutique shops in town
There a many boutique shops on the main strip and most of them sell local Tofino products and brands from Vancouver island. One of my favorites is Merge Goods. I wanted to buy everything in that store, it’s all very aesthetic. Their Coffee and Surf T-shirts are a must as a souvenir. Pacific Surf Co. also has an awesome product line of clothing and accessories for really great prices. Definitely pick up a few souvenirs at their shop, the prices are way better than some other stores on the strip and the designs are super cute!
Best places to eat:
Rhino – This cafe is probably THE place to grab breakfast before a long day of exploring or surfing. They almost always have a line but it’s worth the wait. The breakfast sandwiches are delicious and definitely fill you up. The chai lattes are some of the best i’ve had and you got to pick up a donut! I went there twice for breakfast and it was so worth it.
Wolf in the Fog – This restaurant is probably one of the most well known dinner spots in Tofino. It’s a more upscale spot and the prices reflect that. They have super creative cocktails and dinner menu.
Shed – If you’re looking for yummy bar food and drinks this is your place. A few friends from the hostel and I all got different types of burgers and they were really good! Great prices and friendly service.
Shelter – This restaurant is a great romantic date spot, it’s in this beautiful wood cabin like venue. I recommend making a reservation beforehand especially in the summer months. Can’t recommend enough the delicious clam chowder, it’s so fresh and flavorful!
Tofitian – We stopped off at this coffee shop on the way to surfing one morning, it’s a little ways down from the main strip. They had great coffee and mostly sweet pastries to pick from. If you’re looking for savory breakfast items to go then you may have to grab it elsewhere. The ginger cookie was soo good!
Tofino is definitely famous for a little food truck called Tacofino. If you’ve visited or lived in Vancouver than you may know it expanded into multiple restaurants around the city. Of course I had to try out the original food truck…let me tell you the 1.5 hour wait in line to order and another 30mins to receive food was not worth it. It was a bit underwhelming to say the least. I think the restaurants are much better in quality and of course efficiency. I won’t go back to the food truck but I’m glad to say that I did try it once.
The small town surfer vibes of this coastal town are infectious and have a way of sucking you in. I’m not sure if it’s the people, the rugged raw outdoors or the small town feel that I love the most. Vancouver Island has a way of constantly surprising you and exploring BC’s Best Surf Town – Tofino will have you wanting to return time and time again. There seems to be an endless amount of things to do during all seasons, from hiking, surfing, storm watching and loads more just waiting for you to discover it all.