I’d heard of Tofino before we came to Vancouver but I didn’t know much about it. Over the last few months of living here so many people have told me they’ve just got back from a weekend there or that I should go because the beaches are beautiful. So that’s what we decided to do over the Canadian Thanksgiving long weekend.
We’d previously thought we needed more than 2 days to get over to Tofino from Vancouver. However it turns out you can explore the beaches and the towns of Tofino and Ucluelet (and we even managed to fit in dinner in Nanaimo) before catching the 8pm ferry back to Tsawwassen ferry on Sunday night.
Vancouver Island is absolutely gorgeous. Once you leave the hubs of Victoria and Nanaimo it’s pretty much all forest and mountains, lakes, beaches and small towns and villages. It’s island life at its best.
However long or short your trip to Vancouver then do your best to make time to head over to the island. And, when you do here how to spend a weekend in Tofino and Ucluelet.
How to spend a weekend in Tofino and Ucluelet
After work head over to either Horseshoe Bay or Tsawwassen to catch the ferry over to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island.
The ferry from Tswwassen which is south of downtown Vancouver takes slightly longer than leaving from Horseshoe Bay but if you’ve left it rather late to book your ferry ticket (like we did!) then it’s worth trying Tswwassen as the boats from there are more likely to have space.
We booked in for the 8.15pm ferry and stopped by Dominoes in Delta to pick up dinner (best idea)! The port at Tswwassen actually has a surprising amount of food options but they are, as you’d expect, pretty expensive.
The ferry from Tswwassen to Nanaimo takes roughly two hours. We drove until we got to Port Alberni and pulled up outside the Lighthouse Apostolic Church for the night. Camping is allowed here with donations made to the church (they also have super fast wifi!).
Saturday morning: Port Alberni to Tofino
On Saturday morning we headed into Port Alberni in search of breakfast and coffee. A quick Google search and I cam across the Steampunk cafe which promised a cool interior and some good breakfast treats. I was not disappointed.
The cafe not only served up some of the juiciest blueberry muffins I’ve had but it also has a lovely reading room, trivia cards at every table and a library and reading room attached to it. I loved it.
The drive from Port Alberni to Tofino is another two hours but it’s this section of the drive that’s the best. You’ll pass lakes, drive through forests and then travel along the coast for the last section into Tofino.
We stopped off at Long Beach on the way to Tofino. It was everything I’d heard about; long stretches of sandy beach and the water packed full of surfers. The kind of wild, unkept beach that I love.
When I asked for recommendations of things to do in Tofino over on Twitter plenty of people suggested we head to The Wolf in the Fog. In 2014 this Tofino restaurant won Canada’s Best New Restaurant.We had some very high hopes!
We’d looked the weekend before at booking a table for dinner but it was fully booked. We thought we’d try out luck and head there for lunch time and fortunately for us the weather was nice enough to be able to sit outside (with heaters and blankets!).
Since it was the weekend the brunch menu was on. The brunch menu changes weekly but is inspires, as is all the Wolf in the Fog’s food by the scenery of Vancouver Island – expect a lot of fish!
We shared a halibut sandwich with eggs Benedict with prawns and bacon. I washed mine down with a delicious cocktail with a cornflake infused foam on the top. All the cocktails were inspired by typical breakfast items and sounded very, very good.
The food was good; the eggs perfectly poached, bacon very crispy but given the reputation I expected more. The tomato sauce with the Benedict was a bit acidic and the Halibut sandwich just lacked something.. It was pretty expensive for what we got, especially compared to one of our favourites in Vancouver (Forage). Having said that I’d still be willing to try the dinner menu to see if that’s more impressive (and I’d definitely go in for another cocktail…).
After lunch we took a stroll around Tofino stopping off at a few local shops (all marked on the map below!) and took in the fews from the docks.
Merge: Merge is a very cute, artsy shop in a little pink building. Upon sliding the door open you’ll be hit with delicious scents of natural body products and candles. Besides these items you’ll also find handmade ceramics, clothing and jewellery. It’s great for a browse or a special gift!
Caravan Beach Shop: This little store was full of everything I love! Pretty enamel camping cups? Check. Beautiful coffee table books? Check. And unique stationary? Check!
L A Grocery: An independent grocery. Prices aren’t exactly cheap but if you’re staying nearby and need a film to watch them you can rent one here!
Tofino Brewing Co: Tofino Brewing Co is just outside the centre of Tofino but that doesn’t make it any less popular. There was a fairly long lineup outside the brewery with people filling up their growlers (apparently not a crude word over here it refers to the container people fill up with beer).
We grabbed a six pack of lager for later – although I was very tempted to get a growler just because they look nice 😉 !
With sunset fast approaching we wanted to get in some more beach time and made our way over to the Wickaninnish Inn which sits on Chesterman Beach. We climbed the rocks by on the north end of Chesterman Beach and watched the surfers.
Afterwards we headed further down the coast to the Wickaninnish Beach which was marked on the map as a sunset spot. I’d expected there to be quite a few people down at the beach so was surprised to find it empty. Maybe the fact that it’s a bit further out of town and there’s a short walk down to the beach put people off but the sunset was totally worth the drive and short walk!
Pretty beach sunset + beer = a great evening!
We continued our weekend in Tofino and Ucluelet by waking up next to a beautiful lake where there was absolutely no one else around.
I psyched myself up for a quick morning swim in the lake and we headed on down into to Ucluelet after for breakfast.
We went over to Zoe’s Cafe (and it seems everyone else did too!). There were a lot of people stood around outside and you could smell the freshly baked goods too. They have limited indoor seating. However, we lucked out on the weather during our weekend on Vancouver Island so soaked up the sun on the outdoor seating. We also made friends with some local dogs.
After breakfast we lazily made our way around town and found ourselves walking some of the Wild Pacific Trail. It’s a recently finished trail which hugs the coastline of the Ucluth Peninsula.
We walked along the Big Beach section which was full of histories of shipwrecks. There was even one right there on the beach!
Ucluelet is smaller than Tofino and was noticeably less busy too. It had a real island life vibe where people seemed to know each other and the whole place seemed very relaxed. A lot of places were closed for lunch too which seemed weird for a long weekend.
We did find somewhere open though – Barkley Cafe – for a quick lunch before heading down to the lighthouse at the southern most point of Ucluelet. Then it was time to drive over to Nanaimo in time for sunset, dinner and the ferry home!
Of course there’s plenty more you could do over the course of a weekend.
You could go hiking, surfing, take a whale watching trip and more. I’ll definitely be back for some more adventures in Tofino and Ucluelet.