My husband and I have always been travellers. The story of us began with travel, from meeting in university in Alaska, to living abroad in Copenhagen, London, Singapore, Toronto and Vancouver; including numerous trips in between. Of course we knew life would change when we had kids. I remember lamenting to my Mother in Law when I was pregnant with my first, about not being able to travel anymore. She said, in an elevated voice and very matter of fact, ‘Of course you can still travel!! You just take the baby with you!’ Being from Scandinavia, she has this very liberal, sort of hippy mentality and I loved hearing the words coming out of her mouth. Why didn’t I think of that?
One of the best trips we’ve ever taken was to Tofino B.C., where we spent 3 weeks on a beach for my husbands paternity leave. For anyone who hasn’t ventured that far west, Tofino is an absolute gem. At the time, our daughter was only 11 months, and we lived in Vancouver, so proximity to home was high on our list of requirements when we started looking for a place to vacation. Tofino seemed to check all the boxes. If you’re driving from further away, check out my post on How to Take Long Road Trips With Kids HERE. Here’s the complete family guide to Tofino to help you plan your next trip there
Tofino – A Small Surfing Village on Vancouver Island
Canada’s west coast is part of the beautiful pacific temperate rainforest and has lovely moderate weather in summer and winter although lots of rainfall. Luckily, Tofino – a small surfing village – offers something year round. Surfing is not just for the summer months, you can also surf in the winter, (cold water surfing requires the right gear, i.e. wetsuit year round) along with storm watching.
First you’ll need to get to Vancouver Island, either by air or sea. Here is a link to help you plan your trip: https://tourismtofino.com/plan-your-trip/getting-here/
Tips for Picking a Place to Stay
There are so many different options depending on your needs; hotels, inns, resorts, Airbnb’s, cabins and wild pods, etc. but for families, I recommend renting a house or apartment where there are separate rooms for the kids so you don’t have to tiptoe around after bedtime. It’s also super helpful to have a kitchen or kitchenette to prepare some meals like breakfasts and lunches so you can sleep in some mornings (you’re on vacation after all) and work around naps. For us, this was essential as we were there for 3 weeks. It also helps to save a bit of money, not eating out 3 meals a day.
Ocean front accommodation is ideal (book early – like a year early), or find a place to stay a short distance walk from either of the 4 beaches, Cox Bay, Mackenzie, Chesterman and Long Beach. Finding a place with an outdoor shower is a huge bonus. If you haven’t tried it, you are missing out! My favourite “me” time was taking showers in the rainforest. They are PERFECT!
We stayed at Slack Tide Inn, just a short walk from Cox Bay. You can find the property on AirBnB. Rachel, the owner was beyond accommodating and really made the place feel like home. She had a lot of outdoor toys for kids including a trampoline which was perfect as we wanted to be outside most of the day. She also recently added a hot tub and sauna. Wild blackberries grew in the bushes next to the house and you could hear the waves of the ocean, especially at night.
If you prefer a resort, Pacific Sands Beach Resort is amazing and offers 2 and 3 bedroom beach houses with full kitchens for families. They also have lots of extras like beach toys, rain gear for the whole family and a huge library of DVD’s for rainy days in.
What to Do and Where to Eat Downtown Tofino
In the heart of Tofino, there is much to do from local markets, cool hipster stores to booking day trips to see whales, bears, hot springs and outdoor activities like hiking, stand up paddle boarding, surfing and more (check out The Marine Adventure Centre). Did I mention great food?? One of the things that surprised me most was how many wonderful options there were for really good food in Tofino; even for foodies, you’re bound to be impressed! From the famous west coast cult taco food truck, Tacofino to Rhino Coffee House for great breakfasts, sandwiches and coffees to go, Wolf in the Fog for a truly mouthwatering experience and check out Kuma for Japanese comfort food. Also a big shout out to Sobo, another food truck success, that focuses on locally sourced and seasonally inspired food. Grab their book, The Sobo Cookbook, forward written by Sarah McLachlan; who I happened to pass on the street my last trip there, so you can bring a little taste of Tofino home with you. Every dish was excellent. It was my favourite place to eat.
While in the centre, check out Mermaid Tales Bookshop. We always bring home a book as a souvenir, usually photo related as being a photographer, there is nothing better than sitting with a wonderful picture book and cup of tea. We bought Great Bear Wild, by local photographer Ian McAllister, which serves as both a photo album and wealth of information about animals of the northern rainforest. Check out one of the many galleries like, House of Himwitsa where we found a sculpture of the Sitka tree, native to this area and widely used by the aboriginal people of the west coast. Habit Clothing and Apparel and Caravan Beach Shop are also killer stores. When you need to take a break, head to Village Green, a park in the centre of the village. There is a skatepark there as well for older kids.
What to Do and Where to Eat Closer to the Beaches
Days can be spent people watching, taking in the beaches, surfing, hiking, bike riding, exploring and my favourite evenings included a walk along the beach and a bottle of wine with my husband at sunset. There are also some great ocean front restaurants that shouldn’t be missed. The Great Room at Long Beach Lodge was a favourite spot of ours as we could walk along the beach with our daughter in the stroller (she loved falling asleep to the sound of the waves); and have a late dinner here while enjoying panoramic views of Cox Bay. There are a couple of window tables, right beside a balcony that overlook the bay. Our daughter would sleep in the stroller out on the balcony right in front of our table, listening to the waves of the Pacific, while we enjoyed lovely food and wine. Doesn’t get better than that! Also try The Point Restaurant at Wickanninish Inn on Chesterman Beach, boasting panoramic views of Chesterman and incredible food and service. Both restaurants are well worth it.
When you decide to go surfing, I recommend renting from Live To Surf on the Pacific Rim Highway close to the beaches. They are knowledgeable, friendly and closer to the waves than other surf shops. They also offer lessons for newbies. While you’re there, grab a taco from Tacofino or Wildside Grill (their breakfast tacos are amazing!), hit up Chocolate Tofino for a sweet treat and a coffee from Tofitian Cafe. Lastly, pick up some snacks from Beaches Grocery. I recommend the vegan pate, I’m obsessed.
Tofino has so much to offer and so much love to give those who make the journey there. We spent an unforgettable 3 weeks on Cox Bay and returned again the year after. Even the prospects of California’s Oregon’s coast and beyond couldn’t keep from returning to this tiny surfing village. Embrace your inner hippy, surfer babe, beach bum, conservationist, nature loving persona and get to Tofino!