Tofino is on Vancouver Island. It’s a relaxed, small town that’s famed for ancient rainforests, dramatic scenery, beautiful wildlife and gorgeous beaches. A friend who used to live in Vancouver first mentioned it to me and as soon as she said it was popular with locals I knew I just *had* to go.
I popped ‘Tofino BC’ into Google and couldn’t believe the images were of a real place. It instantly became a key part of our epic family adventure to Canada and in the countdown to our trip I was longing to get what felt like the home of Mother Nature.
Vancouver to Tofino
It’s surprisingly easy to get from Vancouver to Tofino. We pre-booked our BC Ferries tickets as we were travelling at the weekend and on a pretty tight itinerary so didn’t want to get caught out. It was really simple to book them online, just paying a deposit and the rest once we checked-in. Return tickets cost us around £111.
The ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo was smooth and we even saw a whale on one way thanks to a call out from the captain. The ferry had a small kid’s corner that basically consisted of one small slide, but as the route was so short (1 hour and 45 minutes) it felt pretty easy with the kids to be honest.
From Nanaimo we drove for about three hours to get to Tofino. We stopped off at Country Market in Coombe for a spot of shopping and lunch. We had planned to take a little time out at Cathedral Grove en route, but nap times just didn’t work out. It’s home to some of the tallest Douglas Fir trees, some of which are 800 years old, and looks pretty pushchair friendly.
Luckily the drive between Port Alberni and Tofino is pretty spectacular in itself, so we didn’t feel like we missed out. As our mini-explorers snoozed in the back, we gasped as we climbed lusciously green mountains and sped back down them. It didn’t feel real and I kept saying how it looked like the part in Moana where the mountain sits up to reveal she’s actually a goddess.
We spied glistening snow on the very tops of some peaks, the slimmest and longest waterfalls glimmering down mountainsides and rippling streams twinkling in the sunlight. We hugged the coastline, cruising round some pretty tight corners. All the time, never really seeing another car.
There are so many lovely places to stay in Tofino, including house rentals, bed and breakfasts, cabins and hotels. There are also camp spots in Tofino. Accommodation gets booked up really early as a lot of people tend to visit every year. Book ahead, especially if you’re after a family cabin or room or are travelling in the popular summer months.
Ocean Village Resort Tofino
We stayed in an adorable cabin right on the beach at Ocean Village Resort Tofino. We would lock our door, walk across the lawn for three seconds and our feet would then be on the sand. I was SO ill during the middle part of our visit to Tofino and I’ve never been so grateful for a room with a view! I could lay in bed looking out on Mackenzie Beach, watching the SUP boarders paddle by, the dogs happily walking with their owners and my mini-explorers dipping their toes with daddy.
Ocean Village Resort Tofino has an indoor swimming pool, which we used a few times. Tofino weather can be a bit all over the place so the pool is great for rainy days. We never had to share it with any other guests and there were loads of floats to play with so the boys loved it.
Tofino BC Hotels
If you’d rather stay in a hotel, Pacific Sands Beach Resort is a really good choice. It has a free kid’s club, offers nightly s’mores on the beach and great views of the famous Cox Bay. It’s very popular, especially during June-August so if it’s full nearby Cox Bay Beach Resort and Long Beach Lodge are worth considering.
If you like luxury hotels try Wickaninnish Inn. They offer child care while you dine, beautiful views and all the lux touches you’d expect.
Middle Beach Lodge is another luxury spot in a different area of Tofino. This massive (40 acres) place has cabins especially for families, as well adult-only areas.
If you’re not sure where to stay you’ll find some pics and info further down.
Tofino vacation rentals (Tofino House Rentals)
There are over 100 house rentals in Tofino, so that’s also an option. There are two main sites; Tofino Vacation Rentals and Tofino Beach Homes, but we found that a lot were repeated on both sites and actually many are on Airbnb, so I’d recommend using the latter.
Tofino Bed and Breakfast
There are a handful of super cute bed and breakfast options in Tofino, including Sea Star.
Tofino weather is a climate of its own, so during our four day stay we experienced scorching heat, torrential downpours that made me re-read the Tsunami evacuation guidelines in the room, and beautiful rainbows that framed the beach like a greeting card. We were in such a beauty spot and had such a perfect base that we felt lucky to see Tofino in all its natural beauty. Early evening was always my favourite though, as the sun began to twinkle in the calm water.
Tofino Restaurants: Where to Eat
We ate at our cabin quite a bit as we had a kitchen and could sit on the lawn looking at the beach. You pay good money at some restaurants for views like that! Tofino Co-Op is a fairly well-stocked supermarket where you can get supplies.
We had a really good evening at Tofino Resort + Marina. We ate at their 1909 Kitchen restaurant, enjoying a huge plate of nachos and good local beer. The kid’s menu includes fresh salmon with steamed veg, which was definitely most welcomed by our kids who dislike the usual kid’s menu of chicken nuggets and chips.
The views are amazing and you can wander down onto the pier. They have free life jackets for the little ones to use. The boys saw jellyfish and otters within five minutes of their walk.
I wouldn’t normally mention places I don’t rate, but SoBO gets so many good write-ups that it would seem unfair not to tell you that we had to send our food back twice as it was undercooked. On the third time we gave up and went elsewhere. It could have been a bad night, but something to bear in mind if you only have one night to eat out.
Tacofino is somewhat an institution in Tofino, so it’s worth getting some of their legendary tacos.
If you’re also travelling with kids a lot of the places will let you ring ahead to order your food for you to collect and take back to your cabin/room. Tofino is fairly small so it’s totally doable if you have a car.
Things to do in Tofino
It’s all about enjoying the fresh outdoors, so think hiking, surfing, paddle boarding and kayaking. The SUP (stand-up paddle boarding) zone is in Mackenzie Beach and Middle Beach. Even if you don’t give it a go it’s quite nice watching them.
We hired bikes from Tons of Fun Cycles (TOF Cycles). Run by the sweetest and friendliest married couple, they have a great collection of practical and pretty bikes. We hired two bikes and a trailer for our mini-explorers to sit in. They were able to provide a special head rest for Kit as she was nine-months old at the time. We had tyres that allowed us to cycle on the beach in low tide, which was amazing. 100% recommend doing this – the views were magical.
If you have little ones, are on a budget or just a bit curious I’d definitely recommend walking along some of the beaches, like Chesterman Beach and Mackenzie Beach, to look for wildlife. With very little effort you can see urchins, starfish of every colour, jellyfish and loads more. You can even see eagle nests – Nova absolutely loved it!
Tofino is renowned for whale watching, so if that’s your thing you’ll find loads of companies offering boat trips and tours.
We didn’t really do too much in Tofino and that’s what I like. It’s about enjoying nature, the outdoors and getting back to basics. Nova and Kit happily played on the beach most days. The first moment we stepped onto the beach Nova skipped, splashed and sprinted like he had no control over his body. His huge smile was just the most loveliest thing and our videos and photos of our visit are so, so treasured.
The best map of Tofino is the Tofino Adventure Map, but their site is down atm – look out for a free copy when you’re on the ferry or once you’re in Tofino.
Chesterman Beach Tofino
Split into north and south Chesterman, this was the beach we enjoyed cycling on. Craggy rocks separate the north and south sections and that’s where you can see the eagle nests (obviously from afar). Those rocks are where you’ll find lots of starfish, big crabs and fishes. It’s a beautiful flat beach where the light reflects in the wet sand and the coastline is dramatically beautiful.
Mackenzie Beach Tofino
This beach is popular with families because of the big swell. We visited in June and only ever saw a handful of other people, who were usually dog walkers. It’s also in the SUP zone, so it’s nice to watch them paddle by.
Cox Bay is another lovely beach, but it’s more popular with surfers. It’s a great place to watch the locals do their thing.
Tofino is a gorgeous part of Vancouver Island, so if you ever get the chance to visit it’s worth it. I think it’s especially good for young families because the kids can wear themselves out in the fresh air, learning about things they might have only seen in books and aside from the accommodation, it’s all very low cost.
Replicate the trip…
Tofino accommodation: Ocean Village Resort Tofino