Have you ever stood on the edge of the world? That’s what it feels like standing on Long Beach, in Tofino on Vancouver Island, on the (nearly) most westerly point of Canada. Standing on the beach, there is nothing between you and Japan except the cold, vast, churning Pacific Ocean.
The tiny village of Tofino is one of those very special places on the globe, so we were thrilled to interview local Tofino resident and guidebook author John Platenius. John is the author of the Tofino Guide, offering great advice for families wanting to visiting Tofino with kids or without. Whether you want to experience a long weekend of storm watching in Tofino in winter, or plan a summer holiday on the beach, we’ve got the low down on what to do in Tofino, British Columbia.
Storm watching in Tofino with kids
Where to Stay in Tofino
There are so many great family-friendly accommodations in Tofino. The first hotel/resort that always comes to mind for families is Pacific Sands Beach Resort. They are the original family beach resort, and it’s owned by a wonderful local family that lives near the resort. Like many of the hotels and resorts here, they have options for rooms or autonomous suites, which provides a good range of price options.
Pacific Sands is on Cox Bay Beach, which is an amazing crescent of sand that ends at Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. There are two other resorts on Cox Bay that are both family friendly too: Cox Bay Beach Resort, which provides amazing suites; and the some-what oddly named Long Beach Lodge Resort (it’s on Cox Bay, not Long Beach!).
Moving north along the beaches, I have to mention the Wickaninnish Inn. The service is impeccable — not pushy, not in your face, but everything and everyone is always present, pleasant and perfect.
The Wick (as it’s locally known) is a bit more expensive than the other resorts I’m mentioning, but the luxury, service and amenities are pretty darned amazing. And the location perched above Chesterman Beach is flat-out stunning.
Speaking of location, Middle Beach Lodge is located on a lone rocky outcropping between MacKenzie Beach and the incredibly isolated Middle Beach. It’s another great resort.
They have a unique approach to welcoming families where they have one lodge that is adult-only and one lodge that is family-friendly. Middle Beach Lodge is the only resort that provides direct access to two different beaches which makes for some excellent beachcombing and exploring.
Family-friendly activities in Tofino
Tofino is filled with family-friendly activities to keep the littles as busy as beach crabs. Here are ten suggestions for things to do with the kids in Tofino.
- Pull on puddle-jumpers and raincoats for a walk along one of the broad public beaches.
- Build sand-castles on Long Beach in Pacific Rim National Park.
- Enjoy a hike on Radar Hill.
- Visit Tuff City Skatepark.
- Take a tour of the displays at the Wicknannish Interpretive Centre
- Look for critters in the tidal pool at Chesterman Beach.
- Sign the kids up for surfing lessons.
- Play in the playground at the Village Green in town.
- Roast marshmallows over a fire while camping or at a resort.
- Visit the Whale Center Museum in town.
Best camping spots and campgrounds in Tofino
There are only a few places to camp in Tofino. The most popular is Bella Pacifica Campground. It’s located on the most family-friendly beach in Tofino, MacKenzie Beach. Of course the campground is busy in the summer months. But it’s well kept and provides direct access to the best family beach in Tofino (albeit without a summer surf break).
If Bella Pacifica is full, check out the forested campground at Long Beach Golf Course. There’s a new onsite restaurant, Wildside Bar and Grill, which is family-friendly and one of the top places to eat in Tofino. There’s also a mini golf course and a driving range, which is great entertainment for the family.
Where to eat in Tofino with kids
Wildside Grill. Hands down the best fish and chips I’ve ever had. The place is owned and operated by a commercial fisherman and an acclaimed chef. How can you beat that!? If you don’t believe me, listen to Rick Mercer who Tweeted “Wildside Grill in Tofino. Best fish taco ever. Really.” How’s that for an endorsement? They have two locations: in the Live to Surf parking lot, which offers take out or outdoor seating; and the the aforementioned Wildside Bar and Grill located at the golf course which has a great bar, indoor and outdoor seating and that location has a kids menu.
SoBo for lunch. Their Miso Udon Noodle Soup is probably the most popular kids order in all of Tofino. The soup is fantastic and the kids don’t even notice that it’s super nutritious. And if you or your children haven’t tried the Polenta Fries, I suggest you get over there pronto and order up. Solo is located at the corner of 1st and Neill Streets, across from the BC Liquor Store.
Shelter for dinner. This is probably Tofino’s most popular restaurant. The line-up can get long in the summer, so phone ahead for reservations. If you can, sit on the patio with the kids, or get a booth in the lounge section where surf movies are playing on a never-ending reel. The items on the kids menu are around $9. Our kids love the noodles at Shelter, which is located across from Jamies’ Whaling Station on Campbell Street.
RedCan Gourmet. Order the pizza and trust me — the kids will thank you. We always get a half cheese half Hawaiian pizza for the kids and it’s one of their favorite meals in all of Tofino. The bonus is that adults can choose from an incredible menu of Chef Tim May’s gourmet take out items. Takeout only, located up Industrial Way.
Best Tofino local secret
Check out the Radar Beaches hike. The guide has taken a bit of ribbing from locals for including this unmarked hike in the Pacific Rim National Park. Our six year old daughter hiked it, but she’s quite tough.
This trail is a grind, so be super prepared and know your family’s limits. Make sure you pick up a copy of Tofino Guide for the route description and for some good ol’ fashioned safety advise. The trail’s steep, muddy and requires some route finding. But the secluded beaches at the end are certainly worth it.
Surfing in Tofino with kids
Cold water surfing is THE thing to try in Tofino. Kids as young as 6 or 8 years old have been rocking it out in the surf since they were two. Kids are so much more adept at surfing than adults. I can tell you from experience that it’s a weird blend of embarrassment and pride when your 8-year old catches more waves than you do.
Even if you haven’t ever tried surfing, I’d put this top on my family’s list of things to do in Tofino. I recommend a surf lesson, if you do decide to get the kids in the water. There are two well-established surf schools – Surf Sister and Bruhwiler Surf School. Both of these will provide a great surfing experience.
Photo Credits: Wickaninnish Inn
Have you visited Tofino? What was your favorite thing to do in this beautiful oceanside village?