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A plucky pair of adventurers prove that you can do Tofino in a weekend—but stay longer if you can.
Can you do Tofino in a weekend? From Vancouver, the trip to the seaside town requires a drive, a ferry, and another (longer) drive. Earlier this fall, my partner and I set out to see if it’s possible to cram 48 hours with as much Tofino time as possible—and it is. All you need is a flexible schedule, a good attitude and a lot of food-focused pit stops (and, if your partner is a shutterbug like mine, a grand total of seven cameras—not including the ones on our phones). Here’s how we did it.
Throwing packed bags and camera gear into our hatchback at 4 a.m. feels less like embarking on a romantic getaway and more like committing a crime in the dark of night. But my partner Chris and I are dead-set on making the absolute most of our precious weekend. The goal is stormwatching—a popular draw to Tofino from November through February—but it’s the first week of October, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed for miserable weather.
An hour west of Nanaimo, Chris wants to stop in MacMillan Provincial Park to take pictures of trees (he’s brought a DSLR camera, a GoPro, a 360-degree camera, a drone and two film cameras on this trip—no shortage of enthusiasm here). We pull over in Cathedral Grove, home to enormous Douglas firs that are several centuries old. Chris is set on capturing the largest one, so we head down the route creatively named “Big Tree Trail” and meet the monster (nine metres in circumference) almost immediately. It’s about the lowest commitment, highest reward pit stop I’ve ever made.
To further break up the drive (and to lessen our chances of killing each other in a hangry rage), we stop at Wildflower Bakeshop and Cafe. The Port Alberni bakery opened in 2020, and serves pastries and coffee as well as beer, wine and cocktails. Their weekend brunch doesn’t start until 10 a.m.—a cold, hard truth that almost has me in tears—and the only non-sweet baked goods on offer are pizza (yes, we are somehow too early for brunch but right on time for pizza) and something called “breakfast buns.” We get the latter, which turn out to be incredible. A warm, pillowy pastry topped with cheese, bacon, a crazy-good tomato-y jam and a sunny yellow egg is the perfect refuel.
We’re finally realizing the benefits of our grossly early departure—we’ve arrived in Tofino, and it’s not even noon. Time to responsibly contribute to the local economy (read: shop without consequence because we’re on vacation and money isn’t real). We start in the Roy Henry Vickers Gallery, a stunning longhouse showcasing the Indigenous artist’s original work.
I’m amazed by the selection at Mermaid Tales Bookshop—despite the folksy name, the small space is stocked with new releases from local authors. Merge’s clothing and homewares are the stuff of Pinterest dreams (think handmade checkered ceramics, vintage glassware and funky jewellery).
We grab a burger and spicy mango margarita at Shed—gotta keep this party going.
It’s check-in time at the Wickaninnish Inn, our chalet-style digs for the weekend. The Wick is right on the point between Chesterman and Mackenzie beaches, so it’s seriously oceanfront—there are views of evergreens, sandy shores and crashing waves aplenty. It’s tough to compete with that kind of beauty, but the hotel’s interior comes close: managing director Charles McDiarmid takes us on a tour, pointing out the western red cedar beams hand-chipped by master carver Henry Nolla. He tells us that the late Nolla often liked to carve naked, giving his work area the nickname “Henry’s End”—because it was the end of the property, and because passersby might get a glimpse of his “end.” Views, indeed.
We dress up (or, look as good as two people running on three and a half hours of sleep can look)—and walk from our room to the Wick’s Pointe Restaurant. The circular dining area is perched right on the edge of the point, and during storm season the onslaught of waves sometimes reaches all the way under the restaurant. At least, that’s what we’re told—it’s been an annoyingly gorgeous day. We order the “Natural Pastures” buffalo mozzarella (which I affectionately nickname “bread salad” because of the toasty chunks of grilled focaccia), confit halibut (light and tasty, a good companion to the bread salad) and strawberry and pistachio cheesecake (made with goat’s cheese, crazy decadent). We watch the sunset and vow to slow down a bit. Tomorrow, we’ll relax.
Okay, not quite a sleep-in—but I learn that Roar restaurant is within walking distance and figure every millennial in Tofino will probably try to eat Sunday brunch there. I’m not wrong. Roar opened in 2021 inside Tofino’s new Hotel Zed, and it has that kitschy-cool mid-century vibe that the Zed hotels are known for (a sunken living room, rotary phones, vintage furnishings, you get it). Our breakfast—a smoked salmon benny and a cast-iron pan with sizzling eggs, sausage, baked beans and chunky potatoes—is cooked over a wood-fired stove, and it’s delicious. Getting in early was worth it; by the time we leave, the restaurant is packed with thirtysomethings in Patagonia Synchilla.
This would have been the perfect time to stare out our Wick Inn window at a symphony of rain, wind and waves. But we’re cursed with what locals confirm is some of the best October weather, ever. Instead, we watch families walk the sand, surfers wipe out and couples sunbathe. It’s no storm, but we’re not complaining.
After a very difficult day of eating and lying down, it’s time for a beer. Tofino Brewing is the obvious choice. We grab the Wonders of Nature kettle sour (unseasonably warm weather calls for a summer-y beer) and chill on the covered patio. Next to us, a spotted dog begs for a snack from the Toki Doki food truck. He is unsuccessful, and wanders away okonomiyaki-less.
We have reservations at Jeju for dinner—the little eatery opened in late 2021 and is Tofino’s only Korean spot. We take our server’s advice and get the Korean fried chicken. It’s perfectly crunchy, topped with a killer gochujang sauce and served with diced pickled radishes that add a nice freshness to the plate. Another win for Alyssa and Chris.
Okay, so we didn’t stormwatch. But a night walk on the beach reveals a crisp full moon, a few sparkly stars and a gentle fog settling over the ocean. It’s not quite the dramatic nature experience we were going for—but who needs more drama?
READ MORE: 5 More Awesome Places to Visit in B.C. This Winter