The Winter Wonders of Tofino: A Visitor's Guide
Tofino radiates an almost otherworldly natural beauty, and in the wintertime, when the masses of tourists have long since departed, you can have the place almost to yourself. It's a marvelous spot to spend a few days in the colder months, a true destination that really defines "getting away from it all".
Even if you only have a few days to spend here, you'll find an overwhelming sense of calm and solitude no matter where you go. Be sure to get outside for a stroll on one of the many wind-blown beaches and enjoy the company of the roaring waves. Afterwards, retreat into a rustic but cozy accommodation to watch the winter storms brewing out over the ocean. It's these simple things that make a stay in Tofino so refreshingly enjoyable and revitalizing.
Although it's tiny, in the community you'll find a completely laid-back surfer vibe. The short streets are lined with a couple independent outdoor gear stores and surfboard shops, and there are a handful of delicious restaurants and bars to keep your appetite satisfied after a long walk on one of the many beaches (bonus: there are never any line-ups for any restaurants in the winter!).
So pack your bags and explore the winter wonders in and around Tofino.
What to do
Beach-combing Even on a stormy winter day, there's something peaceful about wandering the huge beaches on the outer edge of Vancouver Island. Grab your gum boots, rain coat, and head out to explore the shores, tide pools, and treasures swept in from the sea. Long Beach in Pacific Rim National Park is the Tofino classic for visitors, but some other nice (and less busy) places include Chesterman Beach, MacKenzie Beach, and Cox Bay.
Whale Watching Although there are far more whales in the waters around Vancouver Island in the spring, summer, and fall, you do still have the opportunity to catch sight of some year-round residents. If you're fortunate to have sunny days while you're in Tofino in the winter, ask around if any tour companies will take you out to look for whales. At the very least, you'll pass by countless sea otters lounging on their back on the water's surface.
Hot Springs Cove While there aren't as many tours going out in the winter from Tofino, the guided trip to Hot Springs Cove is perfect for this season. After an incredibly scenic boat ride north of town, where you will have a chance to see whales and other wildlife, you'll dock at Maquinna Provincial Park. From here you'll go on an easy 30-minute hike over a boardwalk through the lush green Vancouver Island rainforest. This will eventually lead you right to the natural hot springs which are nestled directly into cliffs leading down into the Pacific Ocean. The constant ebb and flow of the tide ensures that the hot springs stay at just the right temperature for a winter dip.
Storm Watching This is what Tofino is all about in the winter. Nestle up in your hotel room or in a cozy restaurant and watch the storms brewing out over the Pacific, before they come crashing down on the coastline before your very eyes.
Where to eat
Wolf in the Fog My absolute favorite place to eat in Tofino. It's so good, I went back more than once. Although the service staff all worked as if they were serving in a fine dining environment, their uniforms, plaid shirts of varying colors, spoke otherwise and kept the atmosphere friendly and warm. It's this interesting mix of casual and fine dining that I found really appealing. And the food, oh my! If you have a chance to visit Wolf in the Fog I would recommend the Tempura Eggplant and the appetizer seaweed salad. (P.S. - this restaurant was named Canada's Best New Restaurant by Air Canada EnRoute Magazine in 2014!).
Tacofino A Tofino classic. What began as a solo food truck selling tacos in the parking lot of a surf shop many years ago has since become a big brand name in British Columbia, with brick and mortar locations now open in Vancouver and Victoria. You can still visit the original Tacofino truck in Tofino and try one of their famous fish tacos.
Chocolate Tofino This little fine chocolate shop is located near Tacofino and prides itself on their handcrafted sweets made without artificial flavors, colors, and ingredients. I couldn't pass by Chocolate Tofino without stopping to pick up a takeout box of treats (the Lavender Truffle is absolutely delicious!). The shop also sells homemade gelato as well as their infamous super rich and sweet hot chocolate (sweet is an understatement here - I could barely finish drinking a tiny cup so it's definitely not your typical hot chocolate).
Shelter Restaurant A beautifully constructed restaurant with a rustic vibe that features a menu inspired by local farms and the surrounding ocean. Shelter Restaurant's enclosed heated patio is especially lovely to sit in during the winter months.
Where to stay
Whalers on the Point Guesthouse Located in downtown Tofino, this HI Hostel is one of the best I have ever stayed in. The rooms are simple but well-kept and the bathroom facilities are downright luxurious for a hostel. Each men's and women's bathroom includes several individual shower and toilet stalls which were always immaculately clean during my stay. The common areas are made up of a cozy living room with a view of Clayoquot Sound, a laundry room, sauna, kitchen (there are free muffins for guests each morning), and a games room with a pool table. Whalers on the Point Guesthouse also offers guests bicycle rentals for an extra fee. There is free Wi-Fi for all guests.
Wickanninish Inn Although I did not personally stay at the Wickanninish Inn, I have heard enough good things about it from fellow travelers and friends. Built onto the rocky shores near Chesterman Beach, this magnificent inn features panoramic ocean views, an on-site fine dining restaurant, and a full service spa featuring various health and beauty treatments.
Important things you need to know
A word on remote places Tofino is a magical little community. Key word: little. With a population hovering around 2000, the medical facilities are quite limited. Unfortunately, during my visit I needed to see a doctor and had to wait two days for an appointment, during which time my situation worsened and made it quite difficult for me to enjoy any sightseeing. It wasn't until I arrived back in Vancouver several days later and saw another doctor that I could clear up and treat what was bothering me.
If you have a serious pre-existing condition, consider this before heading out to the edge of Vancouver Island, where resources are limited. By no means do I want to scare you into not going to Tofino, but it's just something that should be considered. And please, if you do have something that requires or may require treatment, don't skimp on travel insurance.
Should you need to see a doctor in Tofino, give the Tonquin Medical Clinic a call at (250) 725-3282 to make an appointment.
Planning a trip to Tofino?
There's one thing you can't leave home without: Kait Fennell's book 251 Things to Do in Tofino: And it is NOT just about Surfing. I'm a big believer in guide books and I especially love if I can find one written by a local. This one covers far more than you could ever fit into a short trip to Tofino, and you'll find plenty of reasons to come back. Happy reading!