The Best Things to do in Tofino, Vancouver Island
Tofino, BC is one of the most beautiful places on Vancouver Island and a great place for a weekend trip from Vancouver! Tofino has small surf town vibes and the most stunning beaches!
Tofino is a small surf town on Vancouver Island on the West Coast. Although quite small, it is continuously growing in popularity in the tourism industry. It is now one of the more well known areas on Vancouver Island, unlike Jordan River which is a much smaller town, much less touristy and more wild.
There are so many fun things to do in Tofino so planning a weekend itinerary is easy! Visitors of Tofino spend their time biking and surfing (the beaches there are really well known for surfing) and hiking. Then there are the sunsets which are absolutely magical!
This guide lists the best things to do in Tofino, so that you can plan your very own Tofino Itinerary! The list includes the best beaches in Tofino, best hikes and even some unique experiences such as bear watching!
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📍 Where is Tofino
Tofino is located on the West Coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia. It is around a 2 hour 50 minutes drive from Nanaimo to Tofino and from Vancouver it is around a 5.5 hour trip.
Alternatively, you could take this 2 day tour from Vancouver which includes accommodation and activities!
Click here to open the map in Google Maps!
🚗 How to get to Tofino
Vancouver to Tofino
The drive to Tofino is absolutely gorgeous so take your time and enjoy the views! Tofino is around a 5.5hr drive from Vancouver and includes a ferry trip over to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. Depending on where you are coming from in Vancouver, there are two different ferry docks in Vancouver that you can choose from. The shortest ferry trip is 1hr 40mins and goes from Horseshoe Bay Terminal on the North side of Vancouver at the beginning of the Sea to Sky Highway.
Alternatively, you can catch the ferry from Tsawwassen to Duke Point. Duke Point terminal is a 20 minute drive south of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island and the ferry ride is 2hrs.
You can book your ferry through the BC Ferries website and also check the website for updates on departure times etc.
TIP: Make sure you arrive to your ferry check in more than 30 minutes prior to the departure time. We have been caught out before. We were only 2 minutes late but were not let in for our reservation. We then had to wait an additional 2 hours for the next ferry. This is definitely not the right way to start your weekend trip to Tofino!
✈ Don’t feel like driving all of the way from Vancouver to Tofino? Book a Seaplane flight from Vancouver to Tofino instead!
Nanaimo to Tofino
The distance from Nanaimo to Tofino is 207km and will take you around 2 hours 50 minutes. To get from Nanaimo to Tofino you will take Highway 19 followed by Highway 4. Highway 4 then takes you all the way to Tofino. The drive is breathtakingly beautiful so enjoy it and don’t rush.
Once you arrive on the island and begin your drive, the straight highways doesn’t last long. The majority of the drive from the ferry terminal in Nanaimo to Tofino is along incredibly windy roads and the locals like to drive fast! Be extra careful and try your best to pull over to let faster cars pass if you are like me and a bit of a slow driver on these sorts of roads.
How to get from Nanaimo to Tofino without a car
If you can do the drive in your own car, we definitely recommend this over a bus so that you can stop whenever you want to take in the views. There is no public bus from Nanaimo to Tofino, however there is a private bus that you can book called the VI Connector. This bus will take longer than the average car at around 3 hours 45 mins. You can check out the VI Connector’s schedules here!
🍁 Check out this amazing 10 day tour which takes you to the Canadian Rockies AND Tofino!
🕐 When is the Best Time to Visit Tofino?
Honestly, any time of the year! It really depends what you are visiting Tofino for and whether you care about crowds or not. For example, if you want to visit Tofino and go on a bear watching tour, you are going to want to go any time except Winter as these tours run from end of April to Early May and finish up in October. The whale watching tours are similar in that they run from February until the end of October.
Tofino in the Summer is absolutely amazing! If you are looking for a Summer Beach holiday then Tofino is a great choice. However, like anywhere and everywhere else in the Summer, Tofino gets extremely busy so you will need to plan ahead and book everything early. It is for this reason that we prefer the off-season.
Fall / Spring
The shoulder seasons of late Fall and early Spring are great choices to visit Tofino as the weather is still not too cold and it will be a way less busy than Summer. It is also peak whale watching season during the Spring. with Grey Whale migration occurs every March during the Pacific Rim Whale Festival. Tofino locals will tell you that Fall is the best time for surfing as the water is at its warmest and the beaches are beginning to get less crowded.
Winter is the least busiest time in Tofino, so if you want this epic beach town to yourself, this is the time to go! If you love to surf and are experienced, the surf is often better in the Winter, with larger and more consistent waves. The water will be freezing so a thicker wetsuit is definitely required in the Winter. Winter is also the best time for storm watching along the coastline.
📃 Things to Know Before Booking
- Tofino is not cheap. The restaurants there are pretty nice and although there are some cheaper options, there are lots of higher end restaurants there. The accommodation is also pretty pricey with not really any cheaper options. We camped and spent almost CAD100 a night in a campsite in our own tent.
- Book early (months in advance) as accommodation will get booked up and you will end up paying more if there are less options available.
👚 What to Pack for your Weekend Trip
- Hiking Boots – Hiking boots are great for muddy, slippery hikes and some of the hikes in Tofino are quite muddy. Kerry’s loves the Oboz Bridger Mid B-Dry Boots and Dave’s favourite boots are his Scarpa Kailash Plus Gore-Tex Backpacking Boots.
- Hiking Socks – Good hiking socks are important to make your boots as comfortable as possible! Our favourites for hiking in Spring when the weather is a little colder are the Smartwool Hike Classic Edition Full Cushion Crew and the Darn Tough Hiker Midweight with Cushion Micro Crew socks and for the warmer months we prefer a lighter sock like the Smartwool Hike Classic Edition Light Cushion Crew Sock.
- Merino Top / Tee – Merino is a great material to hike in so we use Merino tops to hike. Our favourite Merino tops are from Icebreaker!
- Fleece – When hiking in Winter, Spring and Fall, we like to layer up so we don’t freeze while we are enjoying the view. Our favourite fleeces are the Patagonia Better Sweater 1/4 Zip (Kerry’s) and a Mac Pac Fleece from Australia (Dave’s).
- Puffer Jacket – We love our puffer jackets to keep warm at the beginning of a walk and then once we are at the viewpoint and also if it is a little chilly on the beach. Dave’s favourite puffer jacket is the Arcteryx Cerium LT Hoody and Kerry’s favourites are the Eddie Bauer CirrusLite Down Hooded Jacket and Rab Microlight Alpine Down Jacket.
- Rain Jacket – We always pack our raincoats just in case!
- Beanie – We never go anywhere in Winter, Spring and Fall without our beanies! Some of our favourites are from Dakine and Eddie Bauer but you can probably leave this behind if you are visiting Tofino in the Summer or even near the end of Spring.
- Leggings – Kerry wears leggings on every hiking adventure and her favourites are the Lululemon Align pant.
- Swim Suit!
- Day Backpack – Our favourite backpack for day hikes and just getting around on weekend adventures is the Osprey Tempest 20 Backpack.
- Your Camera Gear! We never go anywhere without ours!
🛌 Where to Stay
We found accommodation kind of tricky for Tofino as we were trying our best not to spend too much. The campsites turned out to be more expensive than we were used to but we still found it was the cheapest option. There is also a hostel which works out to be even cheaper than camping if you stay in a dorm.
If you are looking to stay somewhere really nice in Tofino and happy to spend the money, there are some really beautiful places you can stay at but we recommend booking far in advance to make sure you don’t miss out. Below is a list of some of the accommodation options separated by expense.
Budget Accommodation – Campgrounds and hostels in Tofino
- Surf Grove Campground – located on Cox Bay Beach – This is where we stayed and we can confirm it is a nice campground
- Bella Pacifica Campground – located on Mackenzie Beach a little further towards town.
- Tofino Hostel – A hostel with a view!
Somewhere in-between – Glamping and cabins in Tofino
- WildPod Glamping – Stay in a dome pod with an epic view of the ocean!
- The Shoreline Tofino – Beautiful Cabins within 2 km of Mackenzie Beach and 3 km of Chesterman Beach.
- Tofino Resort + Marina – located right on the Marina, the views from this hotel are awesome!
Luxury Accommodation – hotels and resorts in Tofino
- Pacific Sands Beach Resort – This resort is located on Cox Bay Beach and is absolutely stunning!
- Ocean Village Tofino – Cabins located right on the beach front!
- Cox Bay Beach Resort – The resort has a fitness centre, sauna, outdoor hot tub, BBQ’s for guest use, a lounge with a stone fireplace, and a pavilion where guests can sit, read and enjoy the beautiful views of Cox Bay Beach.
🍴 Best Restaurants in Tofino
- Tacofino – Mexican food from a food truck. You can now also find Tacofino in Vancouver and Victoria but this one is the original. This is the most popular food in Tofino so expect to wait for a while for food.
- Rhino Coffee House – We had some pretty delicious breakfast bagels from here!
- Tofino Coffee Roasting Company – The best coffee that we tried while we were in Tofino. If you love coffee, you HAVE to go here!
- Tofino Brewing Company – We went here after a hike and it was so nice to sit outside in the courtyard with a beer and enjoy the sun. They also have a food cart with Japanese style food if you are hungry.
- The Wolf in the Fog – This is a fancyish restaurant. We actually ended up sharing a burger, fries and garlic bread which was more than enough food for us. The food was delicious and the cocktails were even better!
- Shelter Restaurant Tofino – Absolutely delicious food and frozen daquiris. Need we say more?
🏄♀️ Things to do in Tofino
Tofino is the sort of place where there is something for everyone. You don’t have to be crazy about surfing to go to Tofino. There are some pretty awesome hikes you can do, or you can chill on the beach or even go on a whale watching or bear spotting tour!
Hiking in Tofino
Tofino has some really great hikes, some that take you up high with views overlooking the ocean and others that take you deep into the forest to see things like an old plane crash from years and years ago!
Distance: 1.2km | Elevation Gain: 115metres | Time: 2hrs | Dog Friendly: Yes, however your dog may struggle to climb up some sections.
Trailhead Location: Walk out on Cox Bay Beach and turn left to walk all the way to the end of the beach. Here you will see a little bit of a stream coming out from the trail above. You will need to climb up the rocks and then you will the muddy/rooty trail.
This was our favourite hike in Tofino and we have a separate guide on it which you can find here. It is also the best view in Tofino! It is extremely short but a little technical so perhaps not the best if you have young kids. Keeping to the trail is also a little tricky as there are a few especially near the start that seem to go in different directions. The best tip we can give you is to always keep to your right as you hike up to the viewpoint. For full instructions on finding and hiking to the Cox Bay Lookout, check out our guide here!
Distance: 5.2km | Elevation Gain: 35metres | Time: 1.5 – 2hrs | Dog Friendly: Yes
Trailhead Location: Park in the Lower Radar Hill carpark jut off the main road. Make sure you display your Parks Canada Parking Pass and walk back towards the main road, turning right when you reach it. If you walk along the bike/walking path parallel to the main road and count 15 telegraph poles, you will then come to a fork where you turn right down a forest path. On your left you will see a gate leading to the main road with a telegraph pole next to it with a small drawing of a plane telling you that you are on the right path.
Mud mud mud! This is the best way to describe this hike. Even though it is very muddy, it is an awesome hike in the way that the viewpoint is a view of an old plane from the Royal Canadian Air Force which crashed back in 1945. The plane wreckage is not the only interesting feature of this hike. You will also walk through an abandoned building which definitely has some creepy vibes going on. If creepy abandoned buildings are not your cup of tea however, you can walk around the building instead. For more information on this hike, check out our hiking guide here!
This isn’t much of a hike but more of a really cool viewpoint which is only around a 200 metre/5minute walk from the carpark. The viewpoint looks out over Clayoquot Sound. Radar Hill got its name as it was one of the radar stations used during WWII to warn of air strikes to North America. The carpark is located on Radar Hill road at the top of the hill and has a pitt toilet.
Distance: 2.4km per loop | Elevation Gain: 35metres | Time Needed: 2 hours total | Dog Friendly: Yes |
Parking: Make sure you display your Parks Canada Parking Pass when parking.
The Rainforest Trailhead for Loop A begins across the highway. The Loop B Trailhead is close to the parking lot.
The Rainforest Trail consists of two loops (A or B). Each loop is approximately 1.2km which will take you around 45mins-1hr to complete. Both trails are very easy so are great for families and will take you through the beautiful lush rainforest along a boardwalk.
Tofino has a great variety of tours including bear watching tours and whale watching tours!
Tofino Bear Watching Tour
One of the top tours in Tofino is the Bear Spotting Tour. You will be taken around in a boat to watch the black bears head down to the shoreline to forage for food such as rock crab, starfish and kelp. These tours are only available once the bears have woken up from hibernation which is around April – May. The tours then start to wind down in around October as the bears head up river to feast on salmon.
Tofino Whale Watching Tour
There is seriously so much marine life along Tofino’s coastline! Not only will you see different species of whales, but you might also see seals, sea otters, porpoises and different types of birds such as bald eagles and puffins. The whale watching season usually starts in mid February and lasts until the end of October. You can book your ticket here.
Tofino Kayak and SUP tours
You can choose a morning or afternoon trip or a full day trip. This tour takes you along the coastline and is a great activity for those wanting to burn a little more energy at the same time as exploring the coast. You can book a Kayak or SUP tour here!
Book a Photography Session
The beaches in Tofino provide the perfect backdrop to get some really lovely portrait photos taken of you and your family.
Surfing in Tofino is an experience you shouldn’t miss. Whether you are an experienced surfer or someone looking to learn, Tofino is great for it! The most popular place to surf, is probably Cox Bay Beach and it is great for beginners. You can rent a board or even book in a lesson with Pacific Surf Co.
Check out the Beautiful Beaches in Tofino
The beaches in Tofino are gorgeous, especially at sunrise and sunset when the golden light is mixed with the sea mist and fog. Our favourite beach is Cox Bay Beach, followed closely by Long Beach. The below is a list of the best Tofino beaches that you need at to your Tofino itinerary!
Cox Bay Beach
We absolutely loved the sunsets at this beach! If you decide to stay the Pacific Sands Beach Resort or the Surf Grove Campground, you will be right next to this beach.
The name describes this beach well. It is indeed “long.” We enjoyed watching the surfers and taking some moody photos. This is also a great beach to go for a walk along the shoreline.
There are two sections to Chesterman Beach, South Chesterman Beach and North Chesterman Beach. North Chesterman Beach is very reliable for a good surf!
💭 Our Thoughts
We think Tofino is the perfect getaway from the city! It’s an awesome place to visit if you are looking for somewhere to go with friends or family where you want a mix of being outdoors but also being able to enjoy nice restaurants. Our favourite thing about Tofino is the amazing sunsets over the ocean. The sunset colours lighting up the beaches is something that we will never forget. It is also one of the many reasons that we will go back again and again. Our favourite hike was the Cox Bay Lookout. We loved how short it was but also loved that it challenged us a little too.
The best way to describe Tofino is a beautiful and absolutely packed with fun hidden gem on Vancouver Island. We expect that Tofino will continue to grow in popularity in the years to come and will be a place that people will flock to Vancouver Island to visit specifically.
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