Waterproof jackets, rain boots, and heavy-duty umbrellas are usually must-pack items for travellers heading to Tofino, British Columbia throughout the storm-watching season. But during a mid-February weekend getaway to this gem of a town on Vancouver Island, we realized that even when you’re determined to chase heavy storms, there’s a possibility of blue skies and rays of sunshine—and no one should be complaining.
For starters, we needed clear skies to start our journey. Opting to save on valuable travelling time, we take a late-morning flight from Downtown Vancouver to Nanaimo via Harbour Air Seaplanes after the fog rolls out. It’s the largest seaplane airline in the world, and is known for efficient and convenient air travel throughout various B.C. destinations.
The short 20-minute journey is the perfect experience for anyone who loves aviation and west-coast scenery: passengers get birds-eye views of everything from the city to mountains to ocean, which make for great photo opportunities. Harbour Air operates seasonal direct flights to Tofino, which resumes on April 18—just in time for the Easter long weekend.
After we land and retrieve our carry-on luggage from the local airline’s helpful and attentive crew, it was time to pick-up our rental car from Budget. Guests can use the direct hotline to ring the rental company inside Harbour Air’s check-in counter in Nanaimo, and a Budget team member will come and escort them to its nearest location.
Its regional fleet of vehicles is massive, which range from sedans to SUVs to trucks. Equipped with mud-and-snow tires, it makes driving through snowy and rainy conditions a breeze. We pick up our car rental without trouble, and soon continue on with our trek to Tofino.
45 minutes into our drive, we stop at a site one of the Budget crew members recommended to us: Goats on a Roof (or Old Country Market—but we prefer the cooler name). Word of mouth says there are actually goats that hang out on its roof in the summer, and we can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t stop to embrace the view. We grab a quick lunch in the form of a sizable poutine and fresh-made doughnuts before hitting the road again, but it was hard not to ogle at the market’s inventory of artisan cheese, charcuterie, imported treats, home-made bread and pastries, and much more.
It’s not a long drive from Nanaimo to Tofino—three hours on a smooth-sailing day sans traffic and construction delays. Many stretches of roads are highlighted by tall, looming trees carrying ancient history. A fresh snowfall briefly hit, leaving many dusted with beautiful specks of white. Approaching Tofino, travellers will enter Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, which is characterized by lengthy coastlines and temperate rainforests. A gorgeous, scenic route that will cater to all, but especially west coast-lovers.
We arrive at Pacific Sands Beach Resort, a 41-acre beachfront jewel with direct and private access to Cox Bay—undoubtedly one of the most breathtaking spots in Tofino with more than 1,000 feet of beach. We check into our one-bedroom Oceanside Suite, which features a laidback and contemporary interior design with coveted amenities like a fireplace and full kitchen. During the winter, the resort is known for its great limited-time offers and packages, which can cater to all types of travellers.
If you had to stay put in one place while visiting Tofino, Pacific Sands would be the spot. Its list of services ranges from free Wi-Fi to barbecue facilities, onsite bike rentals to seasonal surf rentals and lessons, as well as beach and lawn games to complimentary kids’ camps. Its in-house eatery, Surfside Grill, offers tasty bites like fish-and-chips, fish tacos, and gourmet burgers, among other items.
As soon as we drop off our luggage and personal belongings, we decide to head down to the beach to catch the sunset. The skies were full of clouds, but the sun peeked through and it looked promising. As we were heading out the door, we spotted a few bright yellow waterproof jackets hanging in a nook that Pacific Sands provides in each guestroom. “Let’s wear them because it’ll look good in our photos!” my travel companion suggested. We put on the oversized gear and waddle out like baby ducks.
The sand on the beach was covered with a liquid sheen because it was low-tide, which reflected everything like an upside-down mirror. The skies were moody, like a storm had just cleared up to make way for the fiery star in our solar system to take the spotlight. Time for the camera to come out.
When people say Tofino sunsets are always amazing and never the same on any given evening, you expect them to be over-exaggerating. But everything they have said about the sunsets here are 100 percent true—you stop blinking and moving to try to take it all in, before the sun finally disappears and you’re left with the anticipation of tomorrow’s sundown to catch the beauty of mother nature again.
Dinnertime rolled around and our appetite was building up. Although our list of restaurants to check out seemed ambitious, we took on the challenge to try as many spots as we could. First stop: Kuma, a cozy eatery that serves up Japanese comfort food. It doesn’t take reservations, but luckily there was no wait for a table for two. We order chicken karaage (with house-made spicy mayo and yuzu-infused salt), the “Bear” tuna (albacore tuna tartare with tamari and truffle vinaigrette, and avocado pureé), and kimchi stew (udon noodles with shredded pork shoulder, cabbage, green onion, and marinated egg). The chicken karaage was the clear winner for us, but dessert was also a show-stopper—warm matcha brownie with white chocolate.
With satisfied bellies, we make our way back to the resort and kick back with a free DVD rental, as well as complimentary popcorn and hot chocolate from the resort’s lobby.
The next morning, we were surprised to be woken by bright rays of sunshine. The clouds were gone and the sky was a beautiful baby-blue hue. It was the middle of storm-watching season, but spring felt closer than ever. Nothing beats a steaming cup of tea in the morning, courtesy of our fully-stocked coffee counter.
Before heading out to town for brunch, we take a walk on the beach—it’s pretty much an hourly pastime in this town. Families stroll with their dogs and small children, and surfers brave the cold waters in wetsuits. Listening to the sounds of big waves crashing onto the shores erases any kind of stress and concern you have at the moment. You feel small when you stare into the ocean as the waves roll back out, and an idyllic sense of content washes over you. This is why people keep coming back to Tofino.
It’s a long weekend, and although this tourist destination isn’t overly packed with crowds, there’s a long line-up outside of Rhino Coffee House. We make it our pit-stop before brunch, and get some doughnuts. I try the London Fog, and it's easily one of the best doughnuts I’ve ever had. We make note to come back for its savoury breakfast items the next day.
Next stop: Wolf in the Fog. This critically acclaimed restaurant is arguably one of the most popular dining establishments in B.C., offering a menu with locally sourced creations. The space is rustic and charming, and it’s a staple for both tourists and locals. We start with two house cocktails: The Sun has Reached the Yard Arm (Jamaican rum, apricot, allspice, ginger, honey, lime, sparkling wine, and black-walnut bitters) and Pickle & Smoke (double Caesar with smoked salmon-infused vodka, and garnished with house-made pickles and local seafood).
For food, we go for the shrimp benny (side-stripe shrimp, English muffin, slaw, and shrimp hollandaise), a side of maple bacon, and a special brunch dish of the day: seafood laksa with papaya salad and coconut rice. Each dish features its own bold flavours, paired with great balance and contrast. Chef Nicholas Nutting makes it a point for his plates to taste good and look good, which shows the level of attention to detail at this well-loved eatery. We leave with our thirst and hunger overwhelmingly quenched.
To digest, we stroll around town and pop into local souvenir shops, a specialized leather-goods store, and an Indigenous art museum. Not content with our level of exercise versus gluttony-consumption ratio, we head back to Pacific Sands to rent bikes. The resort has a fleet of cruisers on the ready, and biking on a beach should be on any person’s bucket list, especially in Tofino.
As central as beaches, surfing, and the great outdoors are here, the food scene is just as popular. After visiting the top two places on our must-try list, we continue food-hopping around town. With our trusty rental bikes, we make it to Chocolate Tofino for house-made gelato and artisan chocolates, Wildside Grill for fish-and-chips, and even pick-up a cheese-and-charcuterie platter from Picnic Charcuterie for a sunset picnic later in the day.
The beach sports a completely different look as we make our way back for our second sunset of the trip. Forget storm-watching season, it feels like we're viewing the sun go down during the peak of summer. The majestic orange glow was a stark contrast to the darkening blue sky. We set up our picnic just in time to watch the evening show, which ended as quickly as it began.
Our bellies weren’t quite ready for dinner, so we decide to go for dessert instead. A few people had recommended SoBo Restaurant’s key-lime pie, and we order that along with an apple crumble. As bloated as we were from our multiple meals throughout the day, there are no regrets to order the pie here.
This blissful getaway was short but sweet. Although we intended to visit Tofino for its winter storms and massive waves, we ended up with sunny skies and a cool ocean breeze. Maybe we’ll remember to check the weather forecast the next time we make a trip to this special corner of the Earth.
Photo credits: Tammy Kwan.