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Tofino is one of my favourite places in the world. I have amazing memories of visiting as a kid and I was so excited to share it with my own kids! I loved running out onto the wild west coast beach with my daughter for the first time.
As Tourism Tofino says, “In Tofino, the beach is the thing.” There are lots of them. When we camped at Greenpoint National Park we spent a lot of time at the beach in front of the campground. Most of the beaches are fine sandy beaches so be prepared for sandy kids. There are always lots of interesting treasures on the beach – shells, washed up jellyfish, other sealife, large bull kelp, seaweed, and other items that have drifted in. Sometimes you can even see grey whales from the shore.
When we stayed at Cox Bay we spent our time on the beautiful beach in front of the resort.
Surfing: I rented a wetsuit and surfboard for myself and my daughter from Pacific Surf Co. My daughter ended up not wanting to wear the wetsuit but it was cool they had small sizes for toddlers! They also offer lessons. If you stay at Long Beach Lodge (and maybe some of the other resorts) they have their own surf school and boards. I surfed at Greenpoint and was the only one in the water.
Chesterman Beach and Long Beach are also amazing. More info about beaches on the Tourism Tofino site.
On a recent trip to Tofino we discovered the Kwisitis Interpretive Centre – amazing! At certain times they have presentations and you can easily spend a couple hours exploring the two floors of exhibits and taking in the views. There were also some coastal themed art exhibits from local high school students and a local artist. Next time I’ll pack some food and spend the rest of the day on the beautiful beach after. Definitely worth the visit!
Whale Watching: We went whale watching with Jamie’s Whaling Station and had a great time, although the 3 hour trip was perhaps a bit long with the little kids. I kept my 9-month old in a backpack for most of the trip. We saw a pod of orcas put on a big show of jumps and splashes for about an hour – very impressive. Next time I’d like to take the boat trip to Hot Springs Cove.
Festivals: In September we went to Carving on the Edge – an art and carving festival. One year I hope to be there for the Pacific Rim Whale Festival in March – it’s a 2 week festival with tons of events. Check out the Tofino Time festivals page for more festivals.
Next time if it was raining I would also consider the nearby Ucluelet Aquarium.
Some spontaneous fun
We went into Mermaid Tails bookshop (we forgot bedtime books for the kids!) We picked up a couple great books and then discovered their kite section! Lots of colourful, unique shaped kites for all abilities and conditions. We bought a triangular tube-shaped kite and now take it on every road trip we go on – it is easy to fly and good simple fun for the whole family.
For meals that we made ourselves we got supplies from the Coop grocery store in Tofino – they have just about everything you need. There is also a farmer’s market on Saturdays in the summer – Tofino Market.
When we camped one day it was pouring (as it can do in Tofino) and I made an early dinner reservation for us at The Pointe Restaurant at the Wickaninnish Inn.
We got there at 445 and stayed until 730, which was easy to do with the amazing food and dessert menu (featuring lots of Vancouver Island ingredients), fun ocean-themed kids colouring sheets and beautiful ocean views. That way we went straight back to the tent and went to bed early! If you call and make a reservation you can request a view table. If you want to treat yourselves I highly recommend the Wick!
Some other favourite meals were at The Long Beach Lodge. Again, breathtaking ocean views and amazing food. They have fancy stuff as well as stone oven pizzas and burgers. Their breakfast was also fantastic with nice touches like housemade bread for toast and fancy preserves, as well as parmesan home fries. Dinner reservations required.
Sobo in downtown Tofino has a great kids menu. They also have a play pirate ship on the enclosed back patio where the kids can entertain themselves while you wait for your meal.
Rhino Coffee House downtown has casual breakfast and lunch as well as AMAZING housemade donuts! Offerings include maple bacon, beer donuts, colourful sprinkle donuts, chocolate mint and even a donut breakfast sandwich. We have now hit this place up three trips in a row so safe to save we love it. They also serve pizza in the evening and there is some great shopping next door.
On our last visit we discovered Ukee Scoops – an Ice Cream store in Ucluelet with a great selection (they were serving some Mario’s Gelato mmmm) and even some house-made ice cream sandwiches! They have a bar with some stools which was a good place to station my youngest with his ice cream while I finished up with our order. They also have a small fenced in porch and bench outside which was a great place for the kids to sit. They serve espresso coffees and have a selection of local gifts including some children’s books.
We camped at Pacific Rim National Park (Greenpoint) using the equipped campsites. It is a really cool program from the national park system where they provide tent, sleeping mats, campstove, lantern and tarp all set up. We just had to bring sleeping bags and pillows, and we brought our own mats which was good because the ones provided are pretty thin.
After our last night we didn’t want to leave and ended up staying an extra night in a beautiful cabin at a place called Wya Point resort, which is on a small beach located on an old summer village site of the Ucluelet (Yu-klew-ith-aht) First Nation. Each of the cabins has a different totem pole built right into the middle of the main floor.
We went again in November for a one night trip and stayed at Cox Bay Beach Resort – the units are condo style, with a little kitchen and BBQ so you can have some meals at home, however we mostly ate next door at Long Beach Lodge resort – they have amazing food including some fine dining and casual fare, as well as great breakfasts.
We drove from Lake Cowichan, on southern Vancouver Island. It is a bit of a windy road between Port Alberni and Tofino and Ucluelet (the two towns are about 30 minutes apart), but once you get there it is really easy to get around. There is basically one main road connecting the two towns the runs along the coastline and thus has a lot of the accommodations (which all strive to be ocean front, ocean view or walking distance to the ocean) along this strip. In downtown Tofino there is a main street, a 1st 2nd 3rd and 4th street, and a handful of others, so everything is easy to find. Also because the town is small and their main industry is Tourism, most of the staff in shops and restaurants are happy to help with directions.
Favourite Pit Stops
There are a couple great pit stops on the way out – one nature type stop is Cathedral Grove, an old growth forest of douglas fir trees up to 800 years old. It has a small network of trails through the monument-like trees. It is accessible from the side of Highway 4 (the highway that goes out to Tofino), and is about 25km after you turn on to highway 4, and 15km before you get to Port Alberni. There are outhouses.
Another convenient place to stop is Port Alberni, a medium sized town with grocery stores, fast food etc. There is a cute kids store with new clothes and toys and some consignment if there is anything you forgot to pack – Klubhouse for kids, a couple doors down from Subway on the main drag.
It can be cold and wet, even in the middle of summer so be sure to pack enough warm clothes, and waterproof jacket if you don’t want to be stopped by rain. Muddy buddies were great for the beach for my not quite walking toddler.