Photo: Tourism Vancouver Island/Ben Giesbrecht

This Tiny Canadian Fishing Town Is One of the Best Places on the Planet for Coastal Adventures

British Columbia Outdoor Beaches and Islands Adventure Travel
by Jonny Bierman Aug 18, 2022

Tofino, BC, has earned the title of one of the best cold-water surfing destinations in the world – but travelers not into braving the brisk waters need not worry. There’s much more to the rugged, coastal destination than just surfing.

On the west coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, the laid-back Canadian town has evolved from a sleepy fishing village to a year-round outdoor adventure destination for surfers, storm-watchers, hikers, spa-goers, paddlers, and general outdoor enthusiasts. Even scuba diving is possible in Tofino for divers with the correct cold-water gear.

How to get there

tofino bc float plane

Photo: Ugur OKUCU/Shutterstock

By air, travelers can get to Tofino, BC, via floatplane from downtown Vancouver or downtown Victoria with Harbour Air, or by turboprop from Vancouver International Airport’s south terminal with Pacific Coastal Airlines. Travelers planning on driving should take one of the BC Ferries ships from Vancouver or the Lower Mainland to Vancouver Island; they leave several times a day. Reserving a vehicle spot on the ferry is recommended during the summer and most weekends.

When to go to Tofino, BC

tofino bc aerial shot

Photo: chrisdonaldsonphotography/Shutterstock

While spring, summer, and fall can offer warmer air temperatures, and summer has the least rain, winter is when the biggest swells bring in the best surf (and the best time for storm watching or photography).

In true Pacific Northwest fashion, Tofino is lush and green with towering old-growth forests, ferns, vines, and other flora all year long. But the best flowers, foliage, birding, bears, and other wildlife viewing opportunities are in the summer. Most restaurants, accommodations, camping, park facilities, and trails are open year-round, so the best of Tofino isn’t limited by time of year. That said, some guided tour operators may only operate in the summer (kayaking, for example), and some wildlife tours are limited by the animals’ seasonality, such as with bear-watching tours.

Supporting Tribal Park Allies in Tofino

indigenous tourism bc

Photo: Destination BC/Jordan Dyck

There are many Indigenous Tribal Parks throughout Canada: areas where Indigenous communities are responsible for most of the policy and management.

In Tofino, visitors can support the local Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Park Guardians by spending with businesses designated as Tribal Park allies. Allies are Tofino businesses that directly benefit from healthy ecosystems and agree to a one-percent “Ecosystem Service Fee” for Indigenous stewardship and management of the land. Spending with ally businesses is an excellent way to ensure First Nations people – who have traditionally been omitted from business and government circles – equally benefit from tourism in their homelands.

What to do in Tofino, BC

tofino bc cyclists with boards

Photo: Destination BC/Jordan Dyck

Tofino is the kind of destination where each activity compliments the next. The bike paths connecting the town and area beaches are used by bikes with surf racks and riders in wetsuits on their way to the next wave. And the many spas and wellness centers cater to travelers and locals with sore muscles from hiking, biking, surfing, kayaking, and more.

Surfing and paddling

paddling around tofino bc

Photo: Destination BC/Jordan Dyck

There is no shortage of surf shops that offer rentals and lessons, but one that stands out the most is Surf Sister. This women-owned and operated surf shop has locations in Tofino and Pacific Sands Beach Resort at Cox Bay. They offer lessons and surf camps.

Another good option is Swell Paddle + Surf. It’s supported beach life in Tofino since 2014 and specializes in rentals and lessons for both stand-up paddle boarding and surfing. It has two locations at Mackenzie Beach and Hotel Zed and offers lessons and tours.

Kayakers have multiple options for rentals and tours, including Paddle West Kayaking, Tofino Sea Kayaking, or Black Bear Kayak, among others. Tours that pair kayaking with hiking through the rainforest on nearby Meares Island are especially popular.

Hiking in Tofino, BC

tofino BC hiking trail

Photo: Destination BC/Jordan Dyck

Tofino and the surrounding area are home to thousands of acres of protected islands, coastlines, and mountains on the traditional territory of the Tla-o-qui-aht Peoples. This area is home to one of the most significant acts of civil disobedience in Canadian history: the “War in the Woods,” started in the name of conservation and protecting nature and Indigenous coastal lands.

The successful protests resulted in a new land-use management plan for Indigenous partnerships to protect the Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is primarily coastal temperate rainforest accessed by land or water.

One hike not to miss is the Big Tree Trail at Meares Island Tribal Park, where a cedar boardwalk guides visitors through ancient old-growth forests. Meares Island was successfully saved from logging and is now one of the many places under the stewardship of the Tribal Park Guardians. Visitors will need to take a water taxi or a guided tour with companies like Jamie’s Whaling Station.

wild pacific trail vancouver island

Photo: Tourism Vancouver Island/Ben Giesbrecht

The Tofino area is jam-packed with epic hiking both in and out of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Before heading out, stop at the information center to get maps, weather reports, and up-to-date information on trail conditions.

For a great hike that blends trails, boardwalks, old-growth forests, and beaches, try the Willowbrae Trail to Florencia and Half Moon Bay (this is also a great substitute for Schooner Cove, which is closed indefinitely as of August 2022). This trail is near the town of Ucluelet, also home to the Wild Pacific Trail. Other hikes not to miss include the Tonquin Trail, Cox Bay Lookout (it’s muddy and not well maintained, but the views are worth the trek), and the South Rainforest Trail.

Cycling in Tofino, BC

cycling in tofino

Photo: Destination BC/Jordan Dyck

Bike culture is alive and well year-round in Tofino and is a great way to travel between the beach, town, and rainforest. Visitors can pre-book a cruiser bike (the only type of bike allowed on the beach) at Tofino Bike Co. or Swell Paddle + Surf and take to the sand on one of the many beaches.

Shops will also rent road bikes and occasionally hardtail mountain bikes for the newly opened Parks Canada multi-use pathway. It’s called the ʔapsčiik t̓ašii (pronounced ups-cheek ta-shee) and is a 15.5-mile pathway through the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.

Storm Watching

Tofino BC thunderstorm

Photo: Joel.bourgoin/Shutterstock

A favorite pastime in Tofino is storm-watching: a name for an activity cleverly coined in the destination due to the moody skies, dramatic ocean, and sometimes sideways rain. If the sun isn’t shining (which is often in this Pacific Northwest destination), locals and visitors alike will don their rain gear and head outside anyway.

Storm watching, whether from outside on the beach or inside the comfort of a beachfront resort, is oddly exhilarating and calming as the sounds of crashing waves and rain entertain those brave enough to enjoy nature’s show. One of the best places to enjoy storm watching is from the comfort of a beachfront barrel sauna or hot tub – Pacific Sands Beach Resort is particularly known for this. Photographers will want to bring protective equipment to protect their cameras from water and lenses from blowing sand.

Wildlife viewing and whale watching

tofino bc orca in water

Photo: Chatom75/Shutterstock

No matter the season, wildlife viewing and whale watching are always possible on land and from the water around Tofino, BC. Coastal bear viewing from a boat is usually available from spring to autumn, with the best viewing between late august and the end of September. That’s when the salmon run and bears are actively trying to catch food as they bulk up for winter.

Many whale species migrate through the Tofino area between spring and fall, but it’s still common to see resident humpback, orca, and other whale species that call these waters home year-round. Tribal Park allies Jamies Whaling Station and Tofino Resort + Marina have both whale- and bear-watching tours that take guests to the best spots in the area for safe and responsible viewing.

Where to eat and drink in Tofino

Rich agriculture, an abundance of responsibly caught seafood, excellent craft breweries and distilleries that use Canadian ingredients, and – of course – wine from British Columbia’s famous Okanagan Valley create the perfect blend for mouth-watering dining experiences travelers may not expect from a small island town.

Add to that the Tofino Culinary Guild – a non-profit founded by Tofino chefs that connects restaurants and locals with Vancouver Island farmers, fishers, foragers, and food producers – and it’s not surprising that there are award-winning, sustainable dining experiences all over town.

Wolf in the Fog

wolf in the fog restaurant

Photo: Destination BC/Jordan Dyck

Renowned as one of the best restaurants in town and winner of multiple awards, Wolf in the Fog is a fine dining experience not to miss. Reservations are usually booked months in advance, so make reservations immediately after booking travel and lodging.


New to the Tofino restaurant scene and located in the funky Hotel Zed, ROAR is a live-fire and charcoal-fueled restaurant with retro-chic inside decor and comfortable fireside lounging outside. It’s known for shaking up some of the best cocktails in town and is open for brunch, lunch, dinner, and evening cocktails.


In the heart of Tofino, Shelter provides a modern surf-meets-ski-lodge vibe with log architecture and wood-burning fires. It serves casual fare; expect to see people in plaid having Tofino Brewing beers at the bar after a surf session – though there’s elevated dining at the tables.

Rhino Coffee House

rhino coffee

Photo: Tourism Vancouver Island/Ben Giesbrecht

Rhino Coffee is Tofino’s go-to for breakfast, lunch, coffee, and freshly baked donuts. Its central location makes it an easy stop on the way to or from an adventure. The shop is also a Tribal Park ally.

Surfside Grill

Not as well-known in the Tofino dining scene, Surfside Grill at Pacific Sands Beach Resort has fresh-caught fish daily and serves up the best halibut burger in BC. This casual to-go spot has covered seating around outdoor fireplaces and is a must-stop before or after visiting the beach at Cox Bay.

Tofino Brewing and Tofino Distillery

tofino brrwing

Photo: Destination BC/Jordan Dyck

Tofino Brewing‘s beers are a favorite around Tofino and most restaurants in town will have one on draft. But the actual brewery is a great place to aprés after a surf or hike. Sit down and have a pint in the brewery or get some beers to go.

Tofino Distillery is next to Tofino Brewing in the industrial area and makes organic spirits with local ingredients. Their spirits are sold in stores throughout Tofino, Vancouver Island, and the Lower Mainland.

How to get around in Tofino, BC

cycling in tofino, bc

Photo: Alexander-Connor-Sharpe/Shutterstock

Thanks to shuttle buses and bike rentals readily available at many hotels and rental shops, visiting Tofino without a car is entirely possible for travelers who like to stay active and don’t want to stray too far from town.

A free shuttle service runs from the town center to Cox Bay from late June until early September. For car rentals, flying into Victoria, Comox, or Nanaimo is the best chance for car rental availability. There are also car rentals available at the Tofino airport, but flying into a larger airport mitigates the risk of cancellations due to weather and vehicle availability.

Where to stay

Whether visiting Tofino on a romantic getaway, a family holiday, or as a solo explorer, there’s likely to be a good lodging match in Tofino. Many of the town’s accommodations are quite unique and cater to different types of travelers.

Pacific Sands Beach Resort

pacific sands hotel

Photo: Destination BC/Jordan Dyck

If a beachfront condo steps from Tofino’s best waves sounds ideal, Pacific Sands Beach Resort should fit the bill – and it also has hot tubs on some of the balconies. Also on the resort property are Surf Sister, the Surfside Grill, and Tuff City Saunas; visitors need not be hotel guests to book the latter. The resort is big on sustainability and leads multiple beach cleanup initiatives throughout the year.

Hotel Zed

hotel zed

Photo: Hotel Zed/Tofino

Somewhat newish to Tofino is the funky Hotel Zed. The hotel offers an arcade, disco, sunken-in living room, barrel sauna, hot tub, and boardwalk to a private platform on the inlet perfect for bird watching.

Hotel Zed combines surf-town vibes and modern amenities with a 1970s feel. It has family suites and pet-friendly rooms, plus on-site bike and paddle rentals. There’s even a tarot card reader who occasionally drops by. There are also Hotel Zeds in Victoria and Kelowna.

Tofino Resort + Marina

tofino resort and marina

Photo: Tofino Resort and Marina/Jill Salter

Within walking distance from the town, Tofino Resort + Marina is a great option for those who want to be centrally located to amenities but still have a view of the water. It’s known for its new floating sauna experience, which takes guests to a remote inlet for a private wellness experience. Tofino Resort + Marina is also a Tribal Park ally and offers activity and adventure booking through its Adventure Centre.

Unlike many other towns known for surfing, Tofino, BC, has activities for serious outdoor adventurers that extend well beyond the beach. With Indigenous stewardship and partnerships, sustainable culinary options, and outdoor activities based in conservation and awareness, Tofino checks most of the boxes for travelers looking for an eco-friendly British Columbia getaway.

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