Before moving to BC, a friend told me about a summer he spent in Tofino. He wasn’t normally a sentimental guy, but talking about his time in the town made him swoon with nostalgia. He reminisced about the countless nights he’d sit on the beach, warmed by bonfires, and the afternoons he’d spent surfing in the Pacific Ocean.
He’s certainly not the only one to love this tiny town on the west side of Vancouver Island. This surfer’s paradise attracts roughly 800,000 tourists annually, making tourism the town’s primary economic driver. Despite this, Tofino has retained its small-town feel. To conserve the town’s natural charm, the Tofino district council banned franchises eight years ago. There isn’t a Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, or Tim Hortons in sight in this seaside town.
Tofino’s busiest season is between April and August, but going offseason affords tourists a chance to stay in nice lofts for a fraction of the cost of the exorbitant summer rates. You won’t get a tan laying on one of the town’s white sand beaches, but there are still plenty of ways to have fun in Tofino offseason. I just went in January and had a blast. Here are a few things you should know before booking your trip offseason.
- Some businesses and restaurants are closed in January. I went mid-January and tried booking reservations at the top restaurant in Tofino, Wolf in the Fog, but discovered they’re closed until March. SoBo, a restaurant that serves some of the best fish tacos, was also closed seasonally. Most shops were open, but Merge, a local favourite, was closed for January.
- We had a beautiful sunny Sunday, but that’s an anomaly in Tofino in January. Always bring rain jackets, rain rain boots and thick warm sweaters.
- Pack firewood. Plenty of lodges and campsites have fire pits, but you’ll be hard pressed to find dry wood in town.
Where to Stay in Tofino
Finding dog-friendly lodging in Tofino is easy. Hotels, lodges, campsites, the Ocean Village and plenty of AirBNB’s accept dogs. You’ll have a harder time finding a place that accepts one-night visitors. Our group stayed in an AirBNB that belongs to the ex-mayor of West Van, Mark Sager. His accommodation is called Cozy Semi-Waterfront Unit in Home. It was located minutes from Chesterman Beach and was pet-friendly. Another bonus was the hot tub. Sitting under the stars in a hot tub in the chilly January air is about as good as it gets in Tofino in the winter.
What to do in Tofino
One Tofino institution that you can count on to stay open year-round is the Tofino Brewing Co. Business has been good, as the brewers have moved their operation to a much larger brew-house next door to the old location. The new brewery is fancier than their old digs, but you can still bring your dog in. The only catch is, you have to be seated at a table or bar to get served, and it can be hard to find a spot.
After drinking a couple pints, we went for a walk on Long Beach – the most beautiful beach in Tofino. You have to pay for parking to visit this beach, which is part of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, but with 16 kilometres of white sand and surf, it’s definitely worth it. Driftwood lines the edge of the beach, creating a division between the sand and the old growth forest that borders the beach.
On the Sunday, we opted to go for the a walk through the Rainforest Trail. The Wild Pacific Trail is another favourite, but it’s a bit out of the way in Ucluelet. A map in the parking lot shows Loop A across the street and Loop B in the forest connected to the parking lot. If you only want to do one trail, cross the street for Loop A. A wooden boardwalk winds through mossy Doug firs and cedars that twist up from the dense canopy, reaching for the sun.
Where to Eat in Tofino
Since Wolf in the Fog and SoBo were out of the question, we tried a new place called Shelter. This place has an enclosed patio that’s dog-friendly. The atmosphere is cozy and elegant, and the food, although pricey, hit the spot after a day of hiking.
One of my favourite Tofino traditions is going to Long Beach Lodge for fresh oysters and wine. If money weren’t a factor, I’d stay in Long Beach Lodge exclusively. This place is luxurious. They always have a fire roaring in the winter, and you can sit by the giant windows and watch waves crash in. Although the lodge has pet-friendly rooms, you can’t bring them into the restaurant.
I finally had my first experience with Tofino’s beloved taco truck, Tacofino. Fortunately, there was an avid Tacofino fan in our group who led the way, otherwise, we would have eaten at the wrong taco place. Tacofino is in the same plaza as Tofino Coffee Roasting Co., and there are two outdoor eateries there: The Wildside Grill and Tacofino. To get to Tacofino, go to the back of the parking lot. It’s the food truck with the big line.