If you were to meet Tofino in a bar, she’d be the girl quietly drinking alone at the end of the counter, undisturbed by the hubbub around her and perhaps reading a book. If you spoke with her, she’d seem shy. And while her beauty is obvious, she’d keep her secrets close. After only a few dates, you’d wonder how you ever overlooked her in the first place.
In other words, Tofino is Canada’s best-kept secret.
Let me tell you why.
It’s both rough and refined
Tough City (or Tuff City) is a nickname Tofino has worn proudly for years. The name originated in the days when logging and fishing were the primary industries, referring to the tough nature of both the jobs and the people who did them. The pure wildness of the land echoes the sentiment of resilience. Slanting pine trees beaten with years of relentless wind and rain, remote beaches are strewn with driftwood, and salty barrels slapping the shores make it feel as though you’re the first explorer to discover this piece of ragged paradise. On the other hand, Tofino offers luxurious beachside accommodations and prime dining experiences. Did someone say oysters?
The journey is its own reward
Tofino is not easy to get to, which in itself is one of the reasons that make it so special. But as arduous as it may be, it is equally astonishing. It wasn’t until 1959 that a road was wound through the mountains connecting Tofino and its neighbour, Port Alberni. Today, it is a white-knuckling, breathtaking drive that twists through sheer cliff faces and stunning coastal shores. Alternatively, you can take a small plane that lands directly in Tofino’s tiny airport.
Local businesses only
No golden-arches, no Starbucks, no big-box stores. In 2010, Tofino banned new franchise operations, in a commitment to the overflowing creativity and entrepreneurial endeavours of its locals. Similarly, if a new business wants to open in Tofino they must do so in November. If it can survive the harsh and slow winter season, it is allowed to reap the benefits of a booming summer of tourism. Whether grabbing a coffee or purchasing from a local artisan, you know you are supporting real people.
Every day is a beach day in Tofino. And if you thought surfing was only for tropical climates, think again. All year round, surfers slip on thick wetsuits, grab their boards, and splash into the frigid Pacific Ocean to catch some waves. Surf spots tend to be pretentious, but as an Australian friend recently put it, “Tofino is a surf town that doesn’t think it’s better than anyone else.” It is this quiet welcoming that makes it the perfect place to try surfing for the first time. Check out any of the surf shops in town for surfing or paddleboarding lessons, and feel the rush of riding the ocean.
Hidden hot springs
If splashing in cold ocean water isn’t your thing, try soaking in natural hot-spring water. Between rocky crevasses in Maquinna Marine Provincial Park, there are geothermal pools naturally heated up to 50ºC. Reaching them is its own adventure: a 1.5-hour boat ride during which you may spot seals, otters and – if you’re lucky – whales and Black Bears, followed by a 1km stroll through the rainforest atop a boardwalk. For a real treat, take the floatplane back and soak in Tofino’s ethereal ruggedness from above.
Relax, or don’t
The dreamy, laid back lifestyle is epitomized in Tofino, where things seem to run by a different, slower clock. Take full advantage of this by lazing on the beach or wandering the town, or do something a bit more active. Beyond the beaches there are endless places to hike or bike – you’ll have no problem burning off your dinner.
One word: Tacofino
Speaking of dinner… It started as a small orange food-truck slinging tacos in the back of a surf shop parking lot. Although it’s grown into multiple restaurants and food-trucks both in Vancouver and the island, the original Tacofino truck is still there, and the tacos are just as good. Today, the only difference may be the line which often stretches through the parking lot. (Don’t worry, it’s worth the wait!)
It feels like the edge of the world
In short, Tofino is an escape. It’s a place of paradox – it’s a place both to unplug and recharge, a place of both relaxation and adventure. The ancient landscapes are just as much home to youthful imagination as they are to a treasured history.
So, what are you waiting for? Come and experience the magic for yourself.
Written by Katrina Martin