“If you haven’t been to Tofino, you haven’t been to Vancouver Island” said a random guy who approached us as we were writing our hitchhiking sign SOUTH to travel either to Tofino or somewhere… Being in the wilderness and cities for over 3 months, we were super excited to explore a beach town with surf and good vibes.
That day we didn’t get to Tofino but decided to push it a bit later to escape the crowds and high summer prices. Tofino is probably the most expensive town on Vancouver Island and the Summer rates last much long than the actual summer, even through till October, so to find better deal you will need to explore this area in the colder months.
The alternative to Tofino is the tiny little town of Ucluelet, known by locals as Ukee. Some people say it is what Tofino used to be before it got so touristy and crowded. We found a great place to stay at the Surfs Inn, we highly recommend this little boutique hostel, it’s clean, friendly, and close to the town but as with most accommodation options in Ukee or Tofino it’s a bit far from the surf beaches. That was our only disappointment with the area, but only due to our lack of research, we just expected that the town would be on the beach, so it makes it a little hard to surf without having a car. We found out we’d be able to jump on the Relic Surf shops learn to surf bus if we bribed the driver with a six pack.
The closest surfing spot to Ucluelet is Long Beach, 20 mins drive, about half way to Tofino. It is literally a very long beach with hard sand where if you don’t surf, you can practice yoga, run, bike ride or just sunbake. The surf was small but really fun and the water wasn’t as cold as expected. It was really great to surf in such a different environment to what we’re used to at the Australian beaches, a thick pine forest comes right up to the sand, a quick visit from a few seals and not a building in sight.
Another great thing to do in the area is hiking. There are plenty of great hikes around Ukee, most of them you find in the local guide or a town map such as the Wild Pacific Trail. One hike that is not mentioned in any guides anywhere and provides a great adventure is a hike to a crashed World War 2 bomber. We heard about this hike from a few different people and couldn’t wait to find this secret spot. So, first you need to get to the Radar Hill parking lot, walk back to the highway and count 15 electricity poles from the Radar Hill road back towards Ukee. You’ll find a tiny little drawing of a plane on the 15th pole. Turn right into the woods and the adventure begins. The hiking was super super muddy so even gumboots can’t help if it’s after rain. The trek is partially marked with ropes and ribbons and takes you up to an hour each way.
For a taste of the local eateries a must visit for the morning coffee and nice brekkie is Zoe Café and Bakery. Really good coffee and an amazing variety of pastries, cakes and breads. For an after surf session in the sun and just across the road from Zoe’s is Ukee Dogs, with Hot Dogs and Burritos, also a few beers and cocktails. Being in Ucluelet in mid September, the opening hours of a few places were very random, a lot close by 7pm. One which stays open late-ish is the Howlers restaurant. In the local tour guide it’s listed as a family restaurant, however, we were nicely surprised by its atmosphere, local vibe and nice selection of craft beers and good food.
The next morning we hitched to famous Tofino. Staying only one night, there was so much to see around town but it’s doable in a day. The Trekk Inn B&B was our choice of accommodation. Nice, quite cheap B&B located right in the downtown with breakfast. The owner Joe was an absolutely legend, very helpful and generous.
Our first stops were Tacofino, a surf check and on to Tofino Brewery. Tacofino is a food truck with tacos and burritos located a bit further out from the town center. Just next to Tacofino is a surf shop with rentals and North Chesterman Beach is just across the road. If you are renting a board and don’t drive the best way is to rent a board here as it’s the closest to the beach, though they do only have foam boards.
The surf had disappeared and the wind was up so it was time for a beer. We stopped at the Tofino Brewery and firstly went for their tasting 4 different beers just for $6. Turf Ale Pale Ale is the best fro all the selection. The crowd is mixture of locals and travelminded people which creates that nice blend of friendliness.
One of the other recommended trips in Tofino is a boat trip to hotsprings. For us being on budget we decided to skip this, but good advice is to find a local with their own boat. You can eiher walk from boat to boat down in the marina or Tofino Share Ride Facebook page offers multiple rides and other services from people travelling from/to Tofino. Maybe you can find your local guide in here.