Tofino is a Cozy Surf Town With a Stellar Food Scene

Come for the waves, stay for the dining.
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 
A view of the Wickaninnish Inn from which guests look out onto the Pacific Ocean.

Tofino, B.C., is one of our 12 Best Northwest Vacations.

When you drive the 78 miles on a harrowingly narrow road from Port Alberni, British Columbia, to Tofino, choose the driver’s seat, if you can. From behind the wheel, it’s easier to adjust your focus to what’s outside: rain forest layered with greens and browns, wisps of fog creeping up steep valleys, Douglas fir trees dependably stripped of their bottommost branches by harsh winter winds. That twisting east-to-west road across the belly of Vancouver Island proves that anyone willing to live in the little beach hamlet of Tofino, moored at the end of a peninsula that juts into the Pacific, is a person with an ends-of-the-earth sense of adventure. And, likely, a solid stomach.


Image by Ivan Hunter
A walk on one of Tofino’s expansive beaches; 

But you will arrive intact, and it will be worth it—especially if you love surfing, food, and a good dose of peace and quiet. I arrived with my family in the spring, ostensibly to surf, when Pacific waves tend to be the most dependable. 

As a more budget-friendly alternative to the uber-luxurious Wickaninnish Inn, we chose a “beach house” at the recently renovated Pacific Sands Beach Resort Hotel, on Cox Bay where a generous two-bedroom space provided plenty of room to sprawl out, a lovely fireplace, a kitchen with all the requirements for cooking the snapping shellfish we bought from The Crab Lady, and an unimpeded view of the ocean. 

Image by Anthony Redpath
Follow it up with a massage at the Wickaninnish Inn

We could have surfed all day every day (with enthusiastic instruction provided by Pacific Surf School) and eaten only crab every night, but surprisingly for a town whose vending machines stock surf wax, Tofino puts up a mean fight in the food department. Out we went. 

The Pointe Restaurant at “The Wick,” as locals call it, amounts to a five-star yurt whose floor-to-ceiling windows perch over the crashing Pacific. Plates feature pools of this and pavés of that. It’s all exceedingly delicious and excruciatingly perfect. And admittedly, it’s exhausting to eat such thought-provoking food when the point of a week in Tofino is to relax.

The next night, after a day exploring the tidal caves on Cox Bay beach and a tour of the coast in a traditional First Nations dugout canoe, we went for some satisfying food with less pretense at Wolf in the Fog, a few miles away in Tofino proper. The bilevel restaurant opened by Pointe alum Nick Nutting includes the informal “Den” on the lower level (your best bet in Tofino for a burger)while upstairs, we snuggled into button-tufted leather banquettes that pay homage to a sculpture of surfboards, each used as a single petal in a 20-foot-wide surfboard daisy. We popped Nutting’s hallmark potato-crusted fried oysters like candy and dug into Moroccan-spiced octopus, thrilling at the Canadian dollar prices for B.C. duck and fancy cocktails.


Image by Kyler Vos
A fine-dining experience with spot prawns from The Point Restaurant

The next night, after a day exploring the tidal caves on Cox Bay beach and a tour of the coast in a traditional First Nations dugout canoe, we went for some satisfying food with less pretense at Wolf in the Fog, a few miles away in Tofino proper. The bilevel restaurant opened by Pointe alum Nick Nutting includes the informal “Den” on the lower level (your best bet in Tofino for a burger)while upstairs, we snuggled into button-tufted leather banquettes that pay homage to a sculpture of surfboards, each used as a single petal in a 20-foot-wide surfboard daisy. We popped Nutting’s hallmark potato-crusted fried oysters like candy and dug into Moroccan-spiced octopus, thrilling at the Canadian dollar prices for B.C. duck and fancy cocktails.


Image by Christopher Pouget
A ling cod and shrimp platter from Wolf in the Fog

The food in Tofino is so great, in part, because, while the town is close to nothing geographically, it is close to almost everything from agricultural and aquacultural standpoints. Wolf in the Fog’s  seafood is sensational. The lingcod in Tacofino’s tacos launched a B.C.-wide taco phenomenon. The jig-caught tuna at Kuma Tofino, the town’s new Japanese joint, makes a killer rice bowl.

I intentionally avoided asking our server at Wolf in the Fog why the restaurant has such a creepy name. It’s easy to assume that the owners were collectively inspired by the life-size driftwood wolf that prowls the dining room, or that they wanted something that paid homage to Tofino’s tempestuous winter weather. But I wonder now if Toficians, having embraced Wolf in the Fog as a restaurant, think of the restaurant the way I think of Tofino itself: as a legend that appears out of nowhere, baring culinary teeth, when and where people least expect it.



GETTING THERE
The combination of drive and ferry ride to Tofino takes about seven and a half hours. Drive to Anacortes and catch a Washington ferry to Vancouver Island, or drive to the city of Vancouver and catch a British Columbia ferry from Tsawwassen or Horseshoe Bay to Vancouver Island. Once there, drive across the island to Tofino.

INSIDER TIP
Pack a picnic and head to Hood River's kid-friendly Waterfront Park (hoodriverwaterfront.org), where you can watch windsurfers jumping the waves by the dozens. Try to time your visit to coincide with the Fruit Loop's Cherry Days Celebration (hoodriverfruitloop.com) in July, when farm stands on the Fruit Loop offer special food, drinks and entertainment.



DETAILS
Stay
The Wickaninnish Inn, from CA $380 wickinn.com
Pacific Sands Beach Resort Hotel, from CA $239 pacificsands.com

Eat
Kuma Tofino kumatofino.com
Tacofino tacofino.com
The Crab Lady Facebook, “Live Crab Tofino”
The Pointe Restaurant wickinn.com/pointe-restaurant
Wolf in the Fog wolfinthefog.com

Do
Surfing: Pacific Surf Co. pacificsurfschool.com
T’ashii Paddle School (canoeing and stand-up paddleboarding) tofinopaddle.com

Check out the rest of our 12 Best Northwest Vacations here.

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