3 Days in Tofino: Everything You Need to Know

3 Days in Tofino

Known as the surf capital of Canada, Tofino is a small coastal town located on the western coast of Vancouver Island. Mat and I had never been so in August, as travel restrictions in British Columbia began to ease, we booked a trip to the island and spent 3 days in Tofino. 

We immediately fell in love with its wild, untamed beauty and had a wonderful weekend exploring the town and the surrounding area. There are so many things to do in Tofino but we managed to experience a lot in a short space of time. 

If you’re thinking of planning your own trip to Tofino, I’ve put together a guide on how to spend 3 days in Tofino, complete with details on how to get there and recommendations on where to stay and eat.

Tofino Sunset

3 Days in Tofino: Itinerary Overview

DAY 1:

Travel to Tofino and enjoy a spectacular sunset

DAY 2:

Explore Tofino’s beaches, walk the Tonquin trail, and wander around the town

DAY 3:

Head to Ucluelet and discover the Wild Pacific Trail

How to spend 3 days in Tofino

Tofino lies in the traditional territory of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation and is part of the Clayoquot Sounds UNESCO Biosphere region which is home to temperate rainforests, ocean, and rocky coastal shorelines.

There are so many things to do in Tofino. From surfing and hiking to whale watching and fishing, if you’re looking for an outdoor adventure you really are spoilt for choice! Even if you only have 3 days in Tofino, you can still fit a lot in.

Tofino is also a wonderful place to visit if you’re in need of a relaxing escape. After a busy and stressful few months, both Mat and I just wanted a leisurely weekend to explore Tofino as it was the first time either of us had been.   

This 3-day itinerary combines the best of both worlds. At the end of the itinerary you’ll find a map with all of the places listed here. To save the map, click on the star on the right hand side of the title. This will save the map to “Your Places” in Google Maps.

Day 1: Travel to Tofino and enjoy a spectacular sunset

If you’re coming from Vancouver, book an early ferry to the island so you can make the most of your 3 days in Tofino. We took the 8:25am ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo on the Friday morning and arrived just after 10am. The ferry usually takes about 1h 40m and the views from the decks are beautiful.

Vancouver to Nanaimo Crossing
The views from the deck on the crossing to Nanaimo are beautiful, especially on a clear morning.

The drive from Nanaimo to Tofino takes about 3 hours (207 km) but luckily it’s broken up with some lovely stops along the way. We took a leisurely drive to Tofino as it was my first time on Vancouver Island and we wanted to make a day of it. Here are a few places you might want to check out on your way to Tofino:

Port Alberni

Port Alberni is nestled in the Alberni Valley northwest of Nanaimo. It’s a gateway for kayaking trips into Barkley Sound and is also a hub for river and ocean fishing. As it’s only a one hour drive (85 km) from Nanaimo, it’s a great spot to stop for some food after an early start. We went to Mag’s 99 Cantina as Mat insisted that I had to try the fried chicken and tacos. And I’m so glad he did! The beef and sweet ancho pork tacos were incredible and are definitely worth trying if you stop here!  

Sproat Lake

Located on the Pacific Rim Highway 4, Sproat Lake is a beautiful place to stop on the way to Tofino. It’s situated 13 km from Port Alberni and is a popular spot for fishing, swimming, water skiing, and canoeing. Sproat Lake is one of BC’s best freshwater lakes and I was surprised at how lovely and warm the water was. 

Kennedy Lake

Drive another hour down the highway and you’ll reach Kennedy Lake. It’s the largest body of fresh water on Vancouver Island and is surrounded by steep mountains. Camping is not permitted but you can swim, fish, windsurf, and canoe during the day. The winds can often be quite strong so extreme caution is required if you choose to go in the water.

Kayaking at Sproat Lake
Sproat Lake is a popular place for water sports and was the perfect spot to stop and test out our new inflatable kayaks on our way to Tofino.

If you end up stopping at all of these places like we did, you’ll get to Tofino around 5pm, which gives you time to check in to your accommodation and have some dinner before sunset.

Sunset watching is one of the best things to do in Tofino – they really are spectacular and during our 3 days in Tofino we saw two of the most stunning sunsets I’ve ever seen. All of Tofino’s beaches are located on the west coast which makes them ideal for sunset watching.

For a truly magical evening, book a sunset tour with Tofino Air and watch the sun go down as you fly over Clayoqout Sound. We decided to book the tour to celebrate our one-year anniversary and my 30th and it was the most incredible experience. We flew over the rugged coastline and saw the mountains and forests of the Pacific Rim National Park turn golden.

Tofino Air Sea Planes
Views over Tofino
View of Tofino from the air
The sunset tour with Tofino Air costs $145 per person. Whilst it isn't cheap, it is a lovely way to celebrate a special occasion and see Tofino from a completely new perspective.

Day 2: Explore the beaches, the Tonquin trail, and the shops

Tofino is home to some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. You probably won’t be able to explore all of them during your 3 days in Tofino but if you wake up early, you can certainly visit a few on your second day. Whether you’re looking to surf, swim, or sunbathe, here are some of the best beaches in Tofino:

Mackenzie Beach

Sheltered by tidal rocks, Mackenzie Beach is a great spot to learn to surf and is popular with inexperienced surfers who want to practice in a safer environment. It’s also a lovely place to go kayaking and paddle boarding in the day, and warm up by a beach fire in the evening.

Chesterman Beach

Chesterman Beach is divided into two beaches – north and south – stretching 2.7 km. It’s said to be Tofino’s most popular beach and if you visit you’ll understand why. The landscape is so picturesque and the low tides make it an ideal surf spot. 

Cox Bay

Continue past Chesterman Beach and you’ll find Cox Bay, a gorgeous beach known for its consistent and powerful waves. Out of all the beaches we visited, Cox Bay was my favourite. For a beautiful view overlooking Cox Bay and Clayoquot Sound, take a short hike up to Cox Bay Lookout. It does require some scrambling but it’s worth it for the view, especially at sunset. Make sure you have a headlamp for the descent and check tide times so you don’t get caught out on the way back to the car park.   

Long Beach

Stretching 16 km between Tofino and Ucluelet, Long Beach is aptly named! The scenery is breath-taking, especially during the winter when storms are rolling in. The beach can be easily flooded by the powerful tides so make sure you check the tide charts before venturing out onto the rocks.

There are plenty of places to surf in Tofino whether you’re a beginner or a pro. If you want to try surfing during your 3 days in Tofino, you can rent gear and book lessons at the following places.

Cox Bay Beach in Tofino
There is no shortage of beautiful beaches in Tofino which offer plenty of opportunities to surf or sunbathe. Cox Bay was my favourite; it's a large, sandy beach surrounded by trees which makes it very picturesque.

In the afternoon, head back into Tofino and spend some time exploring the town and browsing the local shops and galleries. You’ll discover some unique coastal goods made by BC artists and Canadian makers, such as printed wall art, home décor, jewellery, soaps and candles. My favourite shops were Two Trees Tofino and Salt which both had beautiful souvenirs. We ended up buying lots of candles and a lovely painting designed by Salt Spring Island artists from Big Bear + The Wolf.

After you’ve finished perusing the shops, pack some drinks and food, and take the Tonquin Trail through the rainforest to Tonquin Beach for sunset. It’s a short and easy trail which is approximately 3 km. It’s the closest beach to downtown Tofino and the trail head is less than 1 km from the town centre.

The trail consists of several boardwalks and which meander through the lush green forest before reaching the stairs that lead down to Tonquin Beach. Here you’ll find a sheltered beach with lots of hidden caves to explore. 

Tonquin Trail Stairs in Tofino
Tonquin Beach
Tonquin Beach in Tofino
Tonquin Trail leads through the forest to Tonquin Beach. It’s a lovely spot to watch the sunset as the beach doesn’t face the Pacific Ocean directly so it’s calmer than the other beaches.

Day 3: Head to Ucluelet and discover the Wild Pacific Trail

Have you ever been somewhere and wondered how a place so beautiful could even exist? That’s pretty much how we felt about Ucluelet. If you have 3 days in Tofino, don’t miss the chance to visit Ucluelet on your last day. Affectionately known as Ukee by the locals, Ucluelet has a rugged and unspoiled beauty. Whereas Tofino has stretches of pristine sandy beaches, Ucluelet’s coastline is rocky and dramatic, with secluded beaches nestled along the shore.

This landscape is best experienced on the Wild Pacific Trail. Built by the Wild Pacific Trail Society, the trail traces 8 km of dramatic shoreline on a series of loop hikes which offer stunning ocean views out to Barkley Sound and the Broken Group Islands.     

There are three sections to explore: Lighthouse Loop, Artist Loops, and Rocky Bluffs. Each section of this spectacular coastal trail is unique and showcases Ucluelet’s wild and rugged landscape. Watching the waves crash against the rocks, discovering endless ocean vistas, and walking among some of the oldest trees on Ucluelet peninsula is what makes this trail so special.

THE LIGHTHOUSE LOOP

If you don’t have time to explore the whole trail during your stay, I’d recommend just doing the Lighthouse Loop. The 2.6 km loop is an easy and accessible trail which takes about 45 – 60 minutes; although you’ll want to take your time as the views are incredible and the scenery is breath-taking.

There are safety measures in place to help with social distancing. The trail is currently a one-way loop (counter-clockwise) to decrease cross traffic. Please be respectful and walk counter-clockwise, keep 2 metres apart, and move out of the way to let others pass. For more information about the trail and the safety measures they have in place, visit www.wildpacifictrail.com.

Wild Pacific Trail Sign
Views from the Wild Pacific Trail
Wild Pacific Trail in Ucluelet
The Lighthouse Loop trail starts from the parking lot on Coast Guard Road and takes you through the dense forest before reaching the rocky headlands, dramatic coastline, and the iconic Amphitrite Lighthouse.

Once you’ve completed the trail, stop at Zoe’s Bakery and Café on Main Street for some lunch. They serve a delicious selection of savoury and sweet treats. Their carrot cake and cinnamon buns are hard to resist, especially after being outside with all the fresh ocean air!

If you have time, wander around the town before driving back to Nanaimo. There are so many cute shops which feature products from local artisans. My favourite shop was The Den which offers a wide range of local handmade goods and zero waste products. They have some beautiful gifts and you could spend ages just looking around the shop, smelling the candles and essential oils, browsing their collection of books, and picking up some interesting things for your kitchen. 

Zoe's Bakery and Cafe in Ucluelet
Zoe's Bakery and Cafe have some delicious sweet and savoury snacks which are the perfect treat after exploring the Wild Pacific Trail.

Location Details

Here are the locations of the places listed above. You can save the map by clicking on the star next to the title so you can use it to plan your own itinerary. 

3 DAYS IN TOFINO: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO PLAN YOUR TRIP

How to get to Tofino

By car

From Vancouver, the journey is about 6 hours door to door. You will need to take the ferry from West Vancouver (Horseshoe Bay) to Nanaimo (Departure Bay) on Vancouver Island which takes just under 2 hours. Once you arrive in Nanaimo, take Highway 19 for 43 km before taking exit 60 onto Highway 4 (Pacific Rim Highway). Continue driving west along this highway for 160 km until you reach Tofino.

Please note: There are significant upgrades to Highway 4 near Kennedy Lake underway at the moment, with completion expected in 2021, so expect delays on the journey.
By air

If you don’t fancy the long drive, you can actually fly non-stop to Tofino from Vancouver. There are daily flights with Pacific Coastal Airlines from Vancouver South Terminal to Tofino-Long Beach Airport. Alternatively, you can fly from downtown Vancouver to Tofino Harbour with Harbour Air.

When is the best time to go to Tofino?

Tofino is beautiful all year round but there are a few things you should consider when planning your trip. Summer is a popular time to go as the weather means you can camp, hike, go on whale watching adventures, and enjoy beach fires; however, it can get very busy in the summer season and accommodation can get very pricey.

The winter months are colder but a lot quieter. Winter in Tofino is also a great time for surfing or storm watching as it brings huge waves. You can usually find some really good deals for accommodation during this quieter season.

Where to eat in Tofino

We only had 3 days in Tofino so we didn’t get to try all the restaurants that our friends recommended to us. Here are a few of the ones we tried and loved, as well as a few that came highly recommended:

Wolf in the Fog

Wolf in the Fog is an award-winning restaurant and it’s not hard to see why. We ate here on our first night and managed to get the last table upstairs on the terrace which made it even more memorable. The menu features a range of dishes made with fresh, local ingredients, and the cocktails are simply out of this world.

1909 Kitchen

If you’re looking to dine on the water, then 1909 Kitchen is a must. This restaurant is located at the Tofino Resort & Marina and offers a creative menu along with beautiful views of the inlet. They have a waterfront patio which is a great place to watch the sunset after dinner, but the views from inside are just as good!

Shelter

Even if you haven’t been to Tofino before, you’ve probably heard of Shelter. It’s one of the most popular restaurants in Tofino and has a lovely patio with fire pits and views of the inlet. We didn’t have a chance to dine there but it was recommended to us by quite a few friends so we’ll definitely be trying it next time we’re in Tofino!

Shed

Located in the heart of downtown Tofino, Shed has a warm and relaxed atmosphere. They serve a variety of dishes from burgers to healthy salad bowls and have a big year-round patio area which is a great spot to eat in the summer. 

Rhino

Rhino is said to be one of the best coffee shops in Tofino and it certainly didn’t disappoint! They have a great selection of breakfast and lunch treats. We stopped here on our second day to get some lunch and again the next morning to pick up some breakfast.

Where to stay in Tofino

Tofino has plenty of different accommodation options. From campsites and hostels, to cozy guesthouses and luxury resorts, there are lots of options depending on your budget and taste. Reservations are required for all stays from June through to October.

Cable Cove Inn

We stayed at Cable Cove Inn during our 3 days in Tofino and I can’t recommend it enough. Located at the end of Main Street, this boutique inn is perfect for those looking for a tranquil escape. The owners are so friendly and attentive and nothing was too much trouble.

Each of the six rooms have French doors opening up onto your own private deck which overlooks the pretty Cable Cove. What makes the inn even more special is the lovely Cove Cabin which is perched on the water’s edge and has floor to ceiling windows. It’s a lovely place to sit and relax after a busy day. The inn also has a wet/ dry sauna and a hot tub facing the cove.  

Cable Cove Inn
All the rooms at Cable Cove Inn have a private deck with views looking out over Cable Cove Inn. It was lovely to wake up and open our patio doors onto this view.

Where next?

Tofino is a magical place and somewhere I could go back to time and time again. There’s so much to see and do but even if you just have 3 days in Tofino like we did, you can cover a lot in that short space of time. I hope this itinerary gives you some ideas and inspiration to plan your own trip.

If you have any questions about Tofino and need some help organising your trip, please let me know in the comments below and I’ll be happy to answer them!

Love from Steph
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