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.
Where is Tofino?
Tofino is on the western side of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. It’s about 6 hours away from Vancouver by ferry and car.
A map for your weekend in Tofino and Ucluelet
Add this map to your phone for a handy map of Tofino & Ucluelet attractions while you’re exploring. It’s split into segments so you can look at things like Tofino accommodation, food and drink and Tofino attractions separately.
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
Steampunk Cafe, Port Alberni
On Saturday morning we headed into Port Alberni in search of breakfast and coffee. A quick Google search and I came 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.
Long Beach, 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.
Lunch at The Wolf in the Fog
When I asked for recommendations of what 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…).
Shopping local in Tofino
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!
LA 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.
Breakfast at Zoe’s Café
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.
Walk some of the Wild Pacific Trail
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.
If you’re wondering whether you should visit Ucluelet or Tofino then you’ll be pleased to know you can easily visit both. In fact, I’d recommend you do visit both, but Ucluelet was my fave of the two!
Lunch at Barkley Café
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!
Other things to do in Tofino and Ucluelet
Of course there’s plenty more you could do over the course of a weekend.
You could go hiking, surfing, take a Tofino whale watching trip and more. I’ll definitely be back for some more adventures in Tofino and Ucluelet.
Chill out at Hot Springs Cove
Hot Springs Cove is 27 nautical miles northwest of Tofino. It’s inaccessible by road so you’ll need to take a boat or a seaplane but this is one of the best Tofino tours you can do.
The seaplane takes about 20 minutes, the boat ride takes 1.5 hours. Whichever option you go for make sure to keep your eyes open for wildlife!
Once you’ve arrive you’ll walk 1.5km along a boardwalk until you get to these gorgeous Tofino hot springs.
There are 7 pools to soak in and they get cooler as you get closer to the ocean. It’s like a natural Tofino spa.
You’ll need a whole day for this adventure in Tofino and make sure to pack a lunch, towel and some water.
You can book tours with the following companies:
- Jamie’s Whaling Station & Adventure Centers
- Remote Passages Marine Excursions
- Atleo River Air Service
- The Whale Centre
- Ocean Outfitters Tofino Adventure Specialists
Go hiking in Tofino
There’s loads of hiking you can and one of the best things to do in Tofino is to hit the trails! Tofino is home to one of BC’s National Parks: The Pacific Rim National Park so make sure one of your hikes includes this Tofino National Park.
I love the AllTrails app for finding cool places to hike but here are a few of the best Tofino hikes.
- Radar Hill: This is a quick 0.5km hike that takes you to a great view point. There used to be a radar station here during The Cold War.
- Florencia Bay Trail: A forested trail that takes you to a beautifully wild, secluded Tofino beach.
- Nuu Chah Nulth Trail (Wickaninnish Trail): A 1.8km trail with scenic beach views.
- Lone Cone: This Tofino hike is a long one; 5-6 hours but the challenge is worth it!
- Wild Pacific Trail: a 75km long hike in the Pacific Rim National Park
Have a fire on the beach
If there’s no fire ban then you’re allowed to have a fire on the beach! MacKenzie Beach is great for this, take a blanket or two and snuggle up to the sound of crashing waves and a crackling fire.
Cox Bay Beach
Cox Bay Beach in Tofino stretches for 1.9km. It’s a popular surfing spot thanks to powerful waves. If you want to try surfing in Tofino, this is a great place and there are several companies offering Tofino surf lessons (more info below!). Cox Bay Beach is also a great place for a windy morning beach walk!
Tofino storm watching
Tofino is renowned for its storm watching possibilities. If you’re looking for things to do in Tofino in winter then storm watching is one of them!
Winter is all about dramatic skies and rain which often makes for good storms!
Watching from the Wickaninnish Inn at Chesterman Beach is a great way to stay dry during the storm. The biggest waves can be seen at Cox Bay Beach, and the deck of the Kwisitis Visitor Centre is also a great place to watch the storm clouds roll in.
Surfing in Tofino
Tofino is great for surfing beginners and pros.Plenty of people come from Vancouver for Tofino surfing and you’ll see them out in the waves. Plan your own Tofino surf camp while you’re visiting!
Some companies that offer surf lessons in Tofino include:
Don’t forget to take a look at the surf forecast Tofino before you go!
You can go whale watching in a lot of places in BC since we’re lucky enough to have plenty of incredible whales living just off our shores.
You can also go whale watching from Tofino out on the Pacific Ocean where you’re bound to see some whales!
Check out these whale watching tours in Tofino.
We love kayaking and it will come as no surprise that you can also go kayaking in Tofino. Opt for a rental or book a kayaking tour in Tofino with one of these companies.
Visit the Tofino Market
At the Tofino Market you can meet over 30 local artisans, bakers and more. The Tofino Market is open from 10am-2pm from the May to October long weekends.
Where to eat in Tofino
There are so many great Tofino restaurants. Honestly, getting a great local coffee or meal has to be one of the best Tofino activities.
If you’ve travelled to Vancouver or Vancouver Island then the chances are you’ve heard of Tacofino. Tacofino is pretty much BC’s favourite taco place and you’ll see why as soon as you eat any of their food.
The original Tacofino was a food truck in Tofino and it’s still running. Tacofino makes a great lunch or dinner option when you’re on your Tofino getaway.
The Wolf in the Fog
In downtown Tofino there’s The Wolf in the Fog which has a great reputation. I wrote more about it above and, whilst there are other places I’d return to first, it’s still a solid place to check out for dinner in Tofino.
Tofino Brewing Co.
This was the busiest place we visited during our Tofino trip. If I was living in Tofino I could easily imagine passing away a sunny afternoon here.
Tofino Brewing Co. is the go to place for you beer needs. Grab some and chat at table inside or pick up a growler for later!
Shelter is one of Tofino’s fancier restaurants. You can expect seafood, burgers and sharing plates. There’s a great patio with fire pits which makes it super cosy if you’re visiting Tofino in winter.
Sobo, Tofino started as a food truck in 2003. It’s since become an award winning restaurant in downtown Tofino and you’re sure to find a tasty lunch or dinner here!
Rhino Coffee House
Big Daddy’s Fish Fry
If you’ve a hankering for fish’n’chips then head to Big Daddy’s Fish Fry! It’s great for a casual dinner or locally caught seafood, burgers, milkshakes and ice cream.
Taking it to go for the beach is quite possibly the best idea!
The Schooner Restaurant is a popular Tofino eatery. Expect steak and seafood and some tasty cocktails too!
Kuma has a great reputation for their Japanese comfort food. Order lots of plates and share between your group so you can try as much as possible.
Jamie’s Restaurant & Lounge
Open all day long, Jamie’s Restaurant and Lounge focus on great food at affordable prices.
Whether you want a hearty breakfast, a quick lunch, dinner or a late night snack you can count on Jamie’s to be open and serving a great meal.
Zoe’s is where we headed for breakfast and it was deee-licious. I’d highly recommend going here during your trip to Tofino and Ucluelet for some great coffee. Sit outside if the sun’s shining!
We popped in here for lunch. It does your standard cafe fare (sandwiches, toasties) and it’s great for a quick bite to eat after a windy beach walk.
Places to stay in Tofino
If you’re wondering where to stay in Tofino then wonder no further! I’ve listed some of the best Tofino hotels, Tofino cottages and cabins in Tofino below.
We camped out in Elvis (our van) but for the future I’ve got my eye on one of these places!
Ocean Village Resort
Ocean Village Resort has to be one of the best places to stay in Tofino. It’s right on Mackenzie beach, has a pool, surf shack for rentals, and these Tofino cabins are just gorgeous.
Jamie’s Rainforest Inn
Jamie’s Rainforest Inn is just outside of Tofino and is super close to both Chesterman, Mackenzie and Cox Bay beaches. If you stay here you’ll be surrounded by rainforest (as the name suggests). Opt for a room with a fireplace for the cosiest place to base yourself in Tofino.
Pacific Sands Beach Resort
Pacific Sands Beach Resort is a 4-minute walk from Cox Bay Beach. The resort has daily surf lessons and bicycle rentals and Pacific Rim National Parks is just 1.5km away.
Each room has a fireplace and they have their own private patio or deck for some star gazing or storm watching.
This gorgeous lodge in Tofino has incredible views of the Clayoquot Sound and is located in downtown Tofino. If you’re looking for accommodation in Tofino with hot tubs then Himwitsa Lodge is the place!
Sienna’s Tree House (Tall Trees And Salty Breeze)
Rent out your own beach house in Tofino at Sienna’s Tree House. This is one of the cheaper accommodation options in Tofino but is very highly recommended and absolutely beautiful too.
Camping in Tofino
If you want to camp in Tofino then the best place to start is DiscoverCamping.ca where you can book all BC’s campsites.
Getting to Tofino
Getting from Vancouver to Tofino
To get to Tofino from Vancouver you’ll need to take the ferry. The drive is a little quicker if you get the ferry from Vancouver to Nanaimo, but you can also get the ferry to Victoria too.
Travel with BC ferries from either Horseshoe Bay or Tsawwassen. Ferries from Horseshoe Bay takes about 1 hour 45 minutes, and from Tsawwassen the ferry is about 2 hours.
Nanaimo to Tofino
Head north out of Nanaimo on Hwy 1 and then head east on BC 4 W following signs to Port Alberni and then Tofino.
Getting to Tofino from Victoria
Getting to and from Tofino to Victoria, or Victoria to Tofino is super easy. Head north towards Nanaimo on Hwy 1 and then head west towards Port Alberni and Tofino on the BC 4 W.
Travelling between Ucluelet to Tofino
Travelling between Ucluelet and Tofino takes about 40 minutes and you’ll pass some of the places mentioned above along the way.
Need to rent a car?
If you need to rent a car I highly recommend checking out RentalCars.com since they make it super easy to compare prices which helps you find the best rental car for you.