For weeks before my trip to Tofino, I am greeted with awe-filled gasps and far-off smiles when I tell people where I’m headed. Words like “magical” tumble out of mouths as folks regale me with half-finished anecdotes: “You’ve just got to see it for yourself,” they all agree. A lifelong cynic, I assumed that I would surely be disappointed when my plane finally touched down on the very tip of Vancouver Island. I was — I’m delighted to report — totally wrong.

Tofino, situated in the traditional territory of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, is blessed with the kind of beauty that makes you feel bad for everyone else. When you consider the coastal town’s proximity to a series of stunning West Coast neighbours, it’s no small feat to be the best looking on the street. But beyond the majesty of the misty mountains, the wildlife that pops up with the timing of an anthropomorphic Disney sidekick, and gorgeous sandy beaches like Cox Bay Beach, there’s a special energy that permeates the region.

The origin story of every man, woman and dog here is some variation of, “I came to Tofino on vacation and never left.” Everybody drank the Kool-Aid and the result is a town of free-spirits and big dreamers, all of whom care deeply about the land they call home. The surfing capital of Canada has plenty of sustainability initiatives, from eco-friendly lodging to conservation efforts from the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust to protect the flora and fauna.

The crowds of surfers, hikers and whale watchers double Tofino’s population in high season, which runs from June to August. Though that’s not to say that Tofino isn’t a year-round destination. Due to its mild climate (even in January the average temperature high is 8 C), stunning natural beauty and culinary diversity, there’s really no bad time to go.

What was once an enclave for hippies has matured into a haven for lovers of artisanal chocolate and craft beer — though the treehugging ethos never really left. Tofino is a place where everyone is welcome and anyone who ever felt a little weird will be right at home.

Where to stay in Tofino

Hotel Zed Tofino

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I’m calling it: This 1970s-inspired hotel is the most creative digs I’ve ever stayed at. Why enter on foot when you can cycle through the lobby’s bike path? Hotel Zed has other properties in Victoria and Vancouver but this Tofino outpost is a totally unique base for exploring the peninsula located within Clayoquot Sound. Give adventuring souls (and soles) some downtime in Hotel Zed's beautifully retro sunken lounge, complete with shag carpet, or luxuriate in the hot tub and barrel sauna nestled in the rainforest. You can even speak to the concierge and request a tarot card reading in the Psychic's Den. When you need to wake yourself up, grab a cup from ROAR Coffee & Shop and boogie in their small-but-mighty disco room. Groovy.


Tofino Distillery

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Lovers of non-traditional spirits will have a field day with Tofino Distillery’s stacked roster of quirky tipples. Everything from lavender and mint gin to Jellyfish Absinthe — infused with local wormwood, anise and lemon balm — is available on its own or in a cocktail at their tasting room. The distillery takes inspiration from Tofino’s coastal temperate rainforest by using local ingredients from the region’s fertile land, all of which are certified organic.

Chocolate Tofino

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Kim and Cam’s Tofino story started with a cliché — the couple lived in a VW van by the beach — but their gutsy career change is totally unique. When the 2008 recession hit, the couple called up a tiny Tofino chocolate shop on the off chance that it was for sale. More than 10 years later, they’re still making the most delicious gourmet chocolate and gelato on the island.


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Tofino only has one Korean restaurant, so thank goodness it’s Jeju. When I nab the last seat in the tiny eatery, it feels more like a lunch spot in a busy Asian metropolis than a restaurant nestled in a Canadian surfer town. Jeju was longlisted in Canada’s Best New Restaurants 2022 when it opened for good reason — the fried chicken and aged short ribs are enough to have me routinely checking flight prices.


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Tacofino now has restaurants across the west of Canada, but it all began with the owners slinging tacos out of the back of a surf shop parking lot in Tofino. Head to the Original Truck location for handheld delights stuffed with karaage fried chicken and tempura cod, guac and chips, and an ice-cold kombucha. There's often a lineup, but you'll be handsomely rewarded for waiting.

What to do in Tofino

Chesterman Beach

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Stepping onto Chesterman Beach's golden sands at sunset is so iconically Tofino, with wetsuit-clad surfers silhouetting the pinky-orange skies. In the daytime, you'll see plenty of cyclists (the firm sand makes for a pedal-friendly beach) making figure-eights across the shore, and kite surfers gliding majestically over the Pacific Ocean. Spy tidal pools filled with crabs and other treasures, or dip your toes into the cold but beautiful waters. 

Stand-up paddle boarding with Swell Tofino

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Surfing might be the name of the game in Tofino, but if you don't love drinking copious amounts of salt water, there are alternative ways to get in the sea. Swell Tofino has a number of lessons and options to rent boards, bikes and gear, but our favourite was stand-up paddle boarding. Wiggle your way into a human sausage skin (a.k.a. a wetsuit) and paddle out into the Pacific for a hands-on lesson at MacKenzie Beach. As someone who has paddle boarded in the very serene waters of Lake Ontario, I was challenged by the waves. However, the friendly and supportive staff at Swell Tofino got me standing comfortably by the end of our session.

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

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Itching to get up close and personal with Tofino's rugged beauty? Pacific Rim National Park Reserve offers adventuring souls (seemingly) endless sandy beaches and unspoiled rainforests to get lost in. The park, located in the traditional territories of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations, has backcountry trails, surfing and even storm-watching potential, for those who don't like to sit still. And, if you have the time, The Broken Group Islands — accessible only by boat — gives guests the chance to overnight camp and kayak in its sheltered bays and beaches.   

Get rubbed down at Stillwater Nature Spa

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We're not sure if Heaven exists, but if it does we're pretty sure it looks a little like Stillwater, Hotel Zed's onsite spa. Wander through the rainforest and meander towards the white tent, where your therapist will be waiting for you. Massage pads and a fireplace inside the cozy oasis ensure that you can get a massage at any time of year. After your treatment, take some time to explore the grounds in Tofino's temperate climate or head to the hot tub and sauna for more R&R.