First Nations have been paddling its wind-whipped shoreline for 10,000 years, but locals will tell you that the tiny West Coast town of Tofino was a neglected backwater until the late 1960s, when surfers began camping on Long Beach. Soon after that, Pacific Rim National Park on Vancouver Island was created and a paved road was punched through, making Tofino the unofficial western terminus of the Trans-Canada Highway.
And what a terminus it is. Blessed with a stunning natural backdrop of old-growth forest and the mesmerizing Pacific, this surprising little town is a place of contrasts: tourists and locals, cultured and scrappy, historically preserved and rustic.
Here’s our itinerary for the perfect weekend escape.
As soon as you arrive in town, ditch your car and go for a walk on one of Tofino’s famous beaches—Chesterman, Cox Bay or Long. You’ll likely see hardcore surfers bobbing in the froth. Afterwards, salute your weekend with a cocktail in the Great Room at Long Beach Lodge and watch the sun stain the Pacific a bubble-gum pink.
Saturday, 8 a.m.
Beat the crowds at the Common Loaf Bake Shop in downtown Tofino. A longtime gathering place for lefty rabble-rousers, this popular spot offers memorable wake-up fare, including a breakfast pizza (piled high with caramelized onions) and gooey cinnamon buns.
10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Wiggle into a sea kayak and paddle over rubbery kelp beds and tidal pools to Meares Island with Jamie’s Whaling Station & Adventure Centres. Guides will lead you through the wet rainforest tangled with ancient cedar trees, some of which are 1,500 years old.
2:30 to 4:30 p.m.
Scoop up a gourmet hoagie-to-go at the RedCan Gourmet and then take a surfing lesson or rent a stand-up paddleboard. Lessons and rentals are available at numerous spots in town.
5 to 8 p.m.
If you’re staying at the Wickaninnish Inn, sign up for one of its seaside crab cookouts (available on select dates). If you’re not a guest, you can still dine at the Wick’s Pointe Restaurant, famous for its locally sourced produce and seafood and its sweeping views of the Pacific.
Sunday, 8 to 9:30 a.m.
Plenty of hotels have funky beach bikes to borrow or rent. Grab one and pedal along North and South Chesterman beaches.
10 to 11:30 a.m.
Bike into town (or, if you’re staying at the Wick, use its two-hours-for-free car service) and poke around Tofino’s little art galleries, boutiques, bookstores and coffee shops.
Lunch on seafood tacos from Tacofino, one of B.C.’s most-lauded food trucks. The truck sits at the back of a parking lot on Pacific Rim Highway, and folks of all stripes line up for its tuna ta-tacos, lime-mint freshies and chocolate-diablo cookies. If you’re heading south to catch a flight in Comox, Nanaimo or Victoria, buy a few of these bad boys for the road and let the taste of Tofino linger a while longer.
An Insider’s Guide to Vancouver Island
If you could shape a piece of clay into your ideal destination, it might look a lot like Vancouver Island: sandy beaches that feel subtropical; valleys where flowers bloom and spring seems eternal; widely acclaimed artists, musicians and festivals that could fill weeks with mind-expanding experiences; and farm-fresh produce, artisan cheeses, local wines and handcrafted spirits in overwhelming abundance.