Most people think of one thing when they think of Vancouver Island’s small town of Tofino: surfing. (Well, maybe ‘hippies’, too, since they are somewhat related in attitude and lifestyle.) Certainly the town’s location on the wild Pacific side of the island supports the former, with its hang-ten-worthy waves and extraordinarily long beaches. And with its somewhat remote location and spectacular scenery, it’s easy to see why people who want to get away from the daily grind would make their home here, too. But as neither surfers nor off-grid-seekers, Henk and I were determined to find other grownup things to do in Tofino. Here’s our guide to the Top 7 Things to Do in Tofino for Non-Surfers:
1. Go Bear Watching from a Boat with Clayoquot Wild
You don’t normally think about viewing bears when you think of a seaside town like Tofino, but this is one of the best places to go on a wildlife viewing expedition – and you do it by boat! That’s because at low tide, bears come to the shoreline to look for crabs and other marine life under the exposed logs and rocks, and boaters who position themselves just offshore have an unobstructed view of them. Check out the 2 ½ hour tour offered by Clayoquot Wild, a First Nation family business that has been running cultural and nature tours here for 24 years. This tour was one of our favourite things to do in Tofino that we didn’t even know about until we arrived.
2. Go Whale Watching from the Sky with Atleo Scenic Flights
Sure you could go on a typical whale watching tour on a boat, but why not do it from a helicopter, and get an aerial view of not just whales, but seals, sea lions, and the spectacular landscape of Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve? Atleo Air offers helicopter tours that are not your typical in-and-out tourist rides: they will customize the trip to suit your own tastes, even stopping off on a remote island for a walkabout to explore tidal pools before returning to base. Flights start around $200 per person but the cost is well worth it for the views and the kind of experience most people don’t think of when they are searching for what to do in Tofino.
3. Hit the Deck at the Tofino Resort and Marina
There’s nothing quite like a beverage with a view and the Tofino Resort and Marina is one of the best places in town to enjoy both. Almost hidden at the bottom of a steep driveway off the main road, the deceptively large Tofino Resort and Marina is a property that was developed by a couple of former Vancouver Canuck hockey players, and they’ve done it up right. The expansive waterfront deck looking out over the Marina is the only one in town, with casual fare served at the waterfront pub, the 1909 Kitchen, and more formal dinners at the stylish Hatch restaurant next door.
4. Have a Sexy Cocktail at the Wikaninnish Inn
Known to locals as ‘the Wick’, the Wikaninnish Inn is one of Canada’s few Relais & Châteaux properties and certainly Tofino’s most luxurious. Its stellar location directly on the longest beach in the area, Chesterman Beach, makes it a must-visit just for the views alone. Even if you aren’t staying here, you can have dinner in the adjacent dining room and enjoy the expansive views of the Pacific coastline or drop by their On the Rocks Bar for a drink. If you opt for a cocktail, have the bartender create a perfectly spherical ice cube for you in his copper ice press – its worth it just to watch the process.
5. Do Dinner at Sobo
Ask the locals where to eat in Tofino when it comes to find dining and the answer is probably going to be Sobo. The restaurant began as a well-equipped purple catering truck and after expanding into a proper restaurant in 2013, was named one of Canada’s Top 10 Restaurants by enRoute magazine. Family-run by a couple who appreciate the lifestyle of Tofino, the food may be amazing but the restaurant is as laid back as the town.
6. Try a Taco at Tacofino
As laid-back, food truck fare goes, Tacofino is a must-do for every visitor, not just if you love freshly prepared Mexican food with fresh west coast ingredients, but for the history alone: the franchise which has now expanded to other locations in Canada began with the original truck here in Tofino in 2009. Located at the back of the boho retail village known as Live to Surf, the signature orange truck serves burritos, tacos and more to locals and visitors who come here for the fruit Freshies and fresh fare. New mamas toting babies are regulars (while their hubbies are out catching waves).
7. Shop for local Art
Whether you are looking for indigenous art (the real deal), jewellery or other crafts made by local artisans, Tofino can do serious damage to your credit card. A good place to drop some coin would be the Roy Henry Vickers Gallery. a long-house styled gallery that sells fine art originals by the artist of the same name. Or there’s the House of Himwitsa which sells bentwood boxes (a signature West Coast design), masks and other works by indigenous artists.
For more affordable jewellery, pop into a local artisan’s studio to shop direct from the artist. And for something beachy and really local, ask for the Tofino Round Towel at some of the local shops.
There’s More Things to Do in Tofino Than Surf
Even if you don’t come to Tofino for the waves, there’s definitely plenty of other ways grownups can enjoy their time here. These suggestions above are just a start. As for the rest? If you’ve got any favourite things to do in Tofino, share them with us here. For everyone else who has never been to Tofino, you’ll just have to go and discover some for yourself!