We know Tofino as a magical place of raw and rugged beauty. It has drawn us back to visit dozens of times over the years, even in the depths of winter. Indeed, the stormy months shouldn’t deter anyone from considering a trek to the west coast of Vancouver Island; Tofino in winter is quieter, moodier, cozier and a welcome change from when it’s overrun with tourists in summer. It just feels more like itself without the crowds, but with the same great restaurants, accommodations, and shops, not to mention bigger, better surf. We’ve put together a selection of our favourites below, plus some notes on a few seasonally-specific events and activities that you might want to check out. Take a look…
WHERE TO EAT
Tofino is a special place for many reasons, and superb dining options is one highlight of the trip that you can always count on. If the weather is on your side, grab Tacofino’s famous fish and tuna tacos or hearty burritos from their original food truck. You can also depend on delicious lunches and dinners at SoBo, where chef Lisa Ahier creates super flavourful and restorative dishes made with locally sourced ingredients. Don’t leave before trying their polenta fries, smoked wild fish chowder and powerful margaritas (limit of 2 per person – they are that strong!). Head over to Kuma Tofino on rainy nights to share okonomiyaki and tuna tataki, or slurp bowls of richly flavoured ramen all by yourself. At Shelter, enjoy pints of beer with oysters and burgers on their warm and cozy 20-seat heated patio, and explore as much of the seasonal menu as you can at Wolf in the Fog. For a west coast culinary experience with a stunning view, head to The Pointe at the Wickanninish Inn where you can dine in warmth and comfort overlooking Chesterman Beach.
ESCAPING THE RAIN
Rain is likely in varying degrees of intensity. In the month of December alone it rains more in Tofino than it does for the entire year in Penticton. While embracing the wet and getting outside to explore beaches and rainforests is encouraged, it’s also comforting to know that there’s lots to explore indoors as well.
If you’re in the market for a good book to melt into during your stay, check out Mermaid Tales Bookshop in town. The shelves are stocked with popular books (both fiction and non) plus a great selection of works by local authors. For caffeination, there’s no shortage of options like Tofitian, Tofino Coffee Roasting Company and Rhino Coffee House (the latter two roast their own beans).
Beer lovers will likely head over to Tofino Brewing Co.’s tasting room more than once to stop in for a pint, flight, or growler fill. Try their winter staples like Kelp Stout and Coffee Porter. If you time it right, you might get a chance to taste their anticipated Dark Lager.
Back in town proper you’ll find the whimsical Caravan Beach Shop, which owner Jen Thorpe self describes as “woolly and woodsy”. It features locally sourced and carefully curated products that reflect the rugged surrounds. A modern spin on the traditional gift shop, she has collaborated with Ed Juan of Forest & Waves and offers a variety of surf lifestyle goods.
Another place to get lost in is the beautiful Eagle Aerie Gallery, which was built in a traditional Northwest Coast longhouse owned by the local artist Roy Henry Vickers. His artwork embodies the spirit and essence of the region with stunning use of colour and First Nation symbolism.
If you’re looking to be pampered, head over to Sacred Stone Spa, which offers a range of spa and RMT treatments, or head back to The Wick and its Ancient Cedar Spa for a massage with a view of the Pacific Ocean.
CLAYOQUOT OYSTER FESTIVAL (Nov 20-21) – If you’re in town on the weekend of November 20 & 21, the Clayoquot Oyster Festival will be on with the Mermaid’s Masquerade with music, dancing, fresh shucked oysters, and costumes (Friday, November 20) and the Oyster Gala with oysters prepared by Tofino’s culinary community (Saturday, November 21). Both events are sold out, but you might get lucky talking to the right locals (extra tickets might be floating around). If you’re out of luck, there are many oysters to be enjoyed in the restaurants, as well as at a cocktail reception held at The Wick featuring Out Landish Shellfish Guild oysters and drink pairings on Friday, November 20th between 7-9pm.
THE MAKE MERRY MARKET (Nov 27 & 28) – The holiday season is upon us and what better way to buy locally handcrafted goods than at a market serving wine and beer with local live music? The 2nd annual Make Merry Christmas Market will be held at Darwin’s Cafe in the Tofino Botanical Gardens Friday November 27th 5-10pm and Saturday November 28th 10am-4pm. You’ll find handmade soap and skincare products, pottery, jewellery, leather goods, cupcakes, illustrations and books, candles, woodworks, prints from locals artists and photographers. Watch out for Julie Boocock’s Tofino made Market Canvas Leather bags with timeless elegant design that you’ll want to buy for yourself and Lisa Fletcher’s west coast inspired handcrafted jewelry that will make any girl happy to find in her stocking.
WHERE TO STAY
There are great deals to be had in the off-season, which is good news as peak season rates can be difficult to swallow! There’s no shortage of accommodation options available from rustic cabins to the total luxury. Likely the most well known is the Relais & Châteaux Wickaninnish Inn on Chesterman Beach, with its beautifully appointed Pointe Restaurant overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Though outstanding year round, it’s especially cozy in winter with all its fireplaces.
One of our more approachable favourites is Ocean Village on Mackenzie Beach, with its adorable beehive cabins. It’s an easy choice that’s affordable, kid- and dog-friendly, equipped with kitchens, and with direct access to the beach.
If you’re looking for a more homey vacation rental option, there are many gems to be found including the modern, cabin-style Lucky Eagle Guest Lodge with architecture utilizing the richness of locally salvaged and milled materials (including a cedar sauna). Also worthy of note is the Tofino Tree House, which is tucked away in the rainforest with a heated wet-room and a big soaker tub with a view of the forest. For a smaller rental, check out The Loft cabin with its private outdoor shower.