Last time I visited Tofino, it was a rainy November long weekend. Kyla and I were celebrating an anniversary, and the theme of the trip was to relaaaax and enjoy lots of hygge time without too many plans. That was a fabulous way to spend a weekend there, and you can read more about it here: Hygge Holiday: Tofino Hot Springs and Other Relaxing Things
This month, I had a chance to go back with my parents, and this time it was hot and sunny! Like uncharacteristically HOT; 20+ degrees Celsius made for a totally different Tofino experience!
We were able to fit a lot into just two nights, without it feeling rushed*. Of course, the more time you have, the better. If you plan to surf, you’ll probably want to spend more time there, and if you want to visit the hot springs, you may also want to have at least one more night. If your plan is to do a bit of hiking and beachcombing, soak in some sunsets (or get a little soaked, if it’s rainy season), and eat some tasty food in a place where the views are never less than stunning, it’s the perfect amount of time.
Here are some ideas for three days and two nights in and around this little surf town on the west coast of Vancouver Island:
Day 1 (from Nanaimo):
Be sure to check this schedule of road closures around Kennedy Lake and plan accordingly; you could be stopped for up to an hour.
Head out early! The Old Country Market in Coombs is a great place to grab some snacks for the road (local produce, baked goods, and more) and to see the famous goats on the roof! Disclaimer: the goats aren’t always outside. Don’t worry, if you miss them, you can apparently send them an email!
Cathedral Grove is another good place to stretch your legs before you really get going. You can visit some ancient, old growth trees – some as old as 800 years!
The road between Port Alberni and Tofino twists and turns alongside lakes and streams, with views opening up every once in a while to reveal imposing (often snow-capped) mountains. It’s hard to find safe spots to pull over along the road, so embrace the beauty of the drive!
On your way into Tofino, take a detour to Ucluelet to hike part of the Wild Pacific Trail. The Lighthouse Loop is an easy grade trail (no stairs and made to be accessible for strollers, with a paved trail from the lighthouse to a parking lot), and takes about 45-60 minutes. It took us a little longer because we stopped sooo many times for pictures, and then sat for a while at the lighthouse counting whale spouts! Based on the tally of whales seen that day, just on the cusp of whale season, I’d say there’s a good chance of spotting them! There are benches all along the route to sit and enjoy the views. More info on the other trails here.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, it’s time to head towards Tofino and stop for a well-deserved lunch at the original Tacofino food truck! Make fish tacos a part of your order, no matter else you get! If you want a sweet and spicy treat, DEFINITELY get a chocolate diablo cookie.
Once you’re satiated, check into your accommodation. If you have the energy, go for a meander around town. It’s tiny, with plenty of surf and souvenir shops, as well as the Roy Henry Vickers Gallery, housed in a traditional Northwest Coast longhouse and owned by the artist.
Depending on where you’re staying (and how much you love beer), you may want to stop in at the Tofino Brewing Company on your way in or out of town. You can enjoy some beers in their tasting room, or buy some bottles to enjoy later. I’m a big fan of their kelp stout – pro/con: it doesn’t have a strong kelpy flavour!
There are lots of good restaurants in Tofino, and a couple of grocery stores if you’re planning to do your own cooking, but whatever you do, plan around sunset! The beaches face west, which usually means spectacular skies (Mother Nature can get in the way, but fingers crossed). Unless you’re picnicking on the beach (great but potentially chilly idea), plan to eat before or after the sun goes down.
Sunset! Pick a beach, any beach. We caught our first one at Mackenzie Beach. It doesn’t really matter where you go, it’s gonna be great!
Again, there are lots of great breakfast options, including.. BYOBreakfast on the beach! Common Loaf Bake Shop in town has delicious baked goods and lots of veg and vegan options; they even have breakfast pizza.
Head out for a coastal or rainforest hike – you may want to check the Visitors Centre to get an up-to-date map, and to see if any are closed. I love these Tofino and Ucluelet adventure maps (also available on ferries):
The hike to South Beach is a great option, as it can be a shorter or longer hike, depending how your group feels. Start by the Cultural Centre at Wickaninnish Beach (there’s a National Park fee). There’s boardwalk for part of the way, but the path eventually gets steep for wheels. Follow the trail, past the totem pole. Along the way, there’s a picnic area by a smaller beach. Right before South Beach, a path forks upwards. This is the Nuu Chah Nulth trail towards Florence Bay; it’s 3.8KMs one way, which is the longest hike in the national park. South Beach was great for us, opening up to a rope swing and lots of rocky hideaways to explore.
If you’re me, you’ll want to have Tacofino round 2 after your hike! If you like a little more variety, the same area as the food truck also houses the Wildside Grill, where you can try the taco competition (or something else). There’s also a surf shop, chocolate shop, and awesome cafe (more on that in Day 3) in that same highway-side complex.
This afternoon is for relaxing! If the sun’s out, grab a book and head to the beach. If it’s not? Grab a book and listen to the rain inside! You can’t really go wrong.
For sunset this evening, try Tonquin Beach. You need to hike a very short trail (maybe 10 minutes), which starts within walking distance from town. If you time it right, you may get to see the sun peeking through the trees at the golden hour.
Try SoBo around the corner from the trail for dinner. We weren’t super hungry, so I can’t vouch for much on the menu, but the atmosphere was nice and the food was decent. Personally, if I were only planning to eat a few meals out in Tofino, I’d bring groceries for dinner and prioritize all my meal $$$ on Tacofino and some breakfast cafes! You won’t regret it! But I guesssss it’s good to have soooome variety.
Get your morning meal and caffeine kick at the Tofitian Cafe. (Coincidently, this cafe is in the same complex as Tacofino so… jk jk not for breakfast! But, you know, you could grab something for the road!) So, the Tofitian: it’s been a coffee hub in the area for almost 20 years (much longer than the taco truck that I won’t name again), and has a cool logo that will make you want to buy merch. (… I bought a tumbler.) Their coffee’s great, their cafe is cosy, and their baked goods area heavenly (prosciutto and brie scones? fig muffins with a dab of cream cheese icing? Oui, merci!). Eat in or grab something for the road.
Long Beach is a great stop on the way out: it looks good in the morning mist!
We headed out around 11 to avoid the road closures at Kennedy Lake, which led to a perfectly-timed lunch stop in Port Alberni. After a glance at google maps, my dad suggested we stop at the Steampunk Cafe, and we were sooo glad we did! It’s a locally-owned place with very cool decor, including a reading room with a free library and a little conference room at the back decorated like Jules Verne’s Nautilus submarine (complete with sound effects). They had an outdoor patio as well – I managed to fall flat on my face while leaving it, but I think that was more about my lack of motor skills than anything else!
Head back to Victoria or your next destination, and spend the evening reminiscing about your trip (maybe at Tacofino Victoria or Vancouver?? JUST KIDDING, for real this time! #notanad #Ijustlovetacos)
If you do end up with a bonus day, I’d definitely recommend a visit to the hot springs.
*I’d only recommend going if you have a minimum of 3 full days for the trip. Getting to Tofino takes a while: it’s about 3 hours driving from Nanaimo and 4.5 from Victoria. If you’re coming from the mainland, you should factor in another night in Tofino or elsewhere on the island, otherwise you’ll be spending entire days travelling.