Perched on the western fringe of Vancouver Island, Tofino is a nature-lover’s dream. In the summer months, especially, visitors come in droves to surf, paddle, hike and simply enjoy the many natural wonders of the area’s two wilderness playgrounds: Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. But, if you want to see just how wild nature can be here, the best time to visit is storm-watching season (Nov. to March). Exhilarating bouts of driving wind and rain, dramatic waves crashing against weather-beaten rocks, brilliant bursts of unexpected sunshine and cozy afternoons by the fire—all of it awaits on a Tofino winter escape.
Morning Start with a breakfast pizza from Common Loaf Bake Shop, then, with your rain gear at the ready (many Tofino resorts provide complimentary slickers), grab a free trail map and head out to explore some of the highlights of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Wander beneath towering, ancient canopies on the board-walked Rainforest Trail, which consists of two one-kilometre loops, then check out Schooner Cove Trail, another rainforest gem that leads directly to Long Beach—a 16-km stretch of sand and the epitome of West Coast beauty. Lean into the winter wind, feel the salt spray on your face and peer into tidal pools teeming with miniature marine life.
Afternoon Have lunch at SoBo, a long-time favourite offering a varied menu of fresh, organic West Coast cuisine—the bean burrito and fish tacos are standouts. After your meal, check out the serene and arsty Tofino Botanical Gardens (open year-round), then, if conditions permit, continue your outdoor adventure with a private surfing lesson through Surf Sister Surf School or one of the many other surf shops in town.
Evening After a day outside, head for Shelter—a homey, rustic-looking restaurant that’s almost always hopping at night. Ask for a fireside table, dine on seasonal fare like the Pacific lingcod burger or B.C.-raised grass-fed meat, then linger in the lounge.
Morning Begin with an energizing Hatha yoga session at Ancient Cedars Spa, located in the Wickaninnish Inn. Offered daily at 9 a.m., the class, suitable for all skill levels, is held in the spa’s intimate, tree-fringed Rainforest Haven room (reservations required; non-guests welcome). If yoga isn’t your thing, consider a restorative massage at the spa, then follow it up with a gourmet breakfast or brunch at The Wick’s breathtaking Pointe Restaurant where floor-to-ceiling windows offer expansive, 240-degree views of the Pacific Ocean and Chesterman Beach.
Afternoon Bundle up for a leisurely stroll down Chesterman Beach, making sure to stop in at the Carving Shed (at the north end of the beach) to see talented wood carvers at work. Breathe in the mingling scents of wood shavings and sea air as you chat with friendly artists about their creations. After your walk, head into the heart of town to browse Tofino’s one-of-a-kind boutiques and galleries. Don’t miss the iconic Eagle Aerie Gallery on Campbell Street. Housed in a traditional longhouse, it features the works of First Nations artist Roy Henry Vickers.
Evening Opt for a casual dinner at The Fish Store and Oyster Bar on Main Street. Owned by the same team that runs West Pacific Seafood (the company that provides most of the restaurants in the area with their smoked fish), this modest, welcoming place serves up some of the very best and freshest seafood in town. The menu is limited, but the food is divine. Order the smoked fish platter and the seafood chowder—you won’t regret either choice.
Morning Grab a quick bite at Rhino Coffee House, then drive 40 minutes south to Ucluelet. Pronounced You-Kloo-Let (but known as Ukee to locals), this no-frills community is home to the Wild Pacific Trail, one of the best trails around for storm-watching thanks to myriad viewing areas that bring hikers close (but not dangerously so) to the roiling Pacific as it crashes over rocks and reefs. If the weather isn’t too stormy, opt to walk the whole trail (nine km), which twists through mossy forest and weaves along the rugged coastline. Or you can stick to the 2.5-km Lighthouse Loop portion, which passes the century-old Amphitrite Lighthouse.
Afternoon After your hike, warm up with a bowl of homemade soup at Zoë’s Bakery and Cafe on Main Street, then spend some time exploring Ukee. If you’re in town in November, visit the Ucluelet Aquarium, a charming facility that teaches visitors about Pacific Northwest marine life.
Evening Drive back to Tofino. If there’s a break in the clouds by late afternoon, stop at Long Beach to catch the sunset—an always-dramatic, fiery spectacle of orange, pink and yellow hues. Later, enjoy a memorable meal at award-winning Wolf in the Fog restaurant. Sink into one of the black leather banquettes, order a cedar sour (cedar-infused rye, lemon, thyme and egg white) then tuck into expertly prepared, freshly caught or foraged fare like the potato-crusted oyster. End with a nightcap in the lounge to fortify yourself for the brisk conditions outside.
Where to stay in Tofino
There are a number of excellent hotels and guesthouses in Tofino, but, for the ultimate storm-watching experience, a stay at the lovely Wickaninnish Inn is a splurge worth making. Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, The Wick offers panoramic views of the ocean and Chesterman Beach from all of its guest rooms. Each room also has a gas fireplace, a soaker tub and a private balcony—the perfect trifecta for a cozy stay and front-row seat to nature’s stormy spectacles. This Relais & Châteaux property also features an unforgettable spa, the celebrated Pointe Restaurant and a library filled with books, games and massive windows looking out onto the Pacific.
[This story appears in the November 2016 issue of WestJet Magazine.]
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