Globetrotting Mama's Travel Guide to Tofino

One of the many delicious meals in Tofino, BC. This one was at Shelter.

There are so many gems to discover when travelling Canada. Tofino continues to be one of my favourites. A small town that swells in size each season, thanks to the many tourists that flock there for rest, romance and a little something else: some stormy beauty as mother nature does her thing to this coastal town. Here is a piece I wrote for the Toronto Star about my trip to Tofino, and the many wonders of storm watching.

“Kiiiiids. Storm’s on!”

It’s what I imagine must’ve happened in the room of the family I’m now watching out on Cox Bay Beach.

Mom, dad, a baby learning to toddle and a slightly older boy playing fetch with his dog have just come running out. Dressed in their colourful slickers and gumboots, they act as if the rain streaming from the skies isn’t anything but a blessing.

Behind them the waves swell and the sky is so grey it looks like a black-and-white photo, yet they are having a fantastic time.

Before arriving here I’d heard lots of things about this northern British Columbia city on the west coast of Vancouver Island: Great culinary destination and perfect for romance. But families?

The very thing that brings most people to Tofino is what would turn most families away: bad weather.

The town’s population of less than 2,000 can grow to 10 times that in winter when “storm watching” (the waves not the skies) becomes the reason to be here. A direct path from Japan, the storms bring 20-foot waves that beat the rocky shore, spray the windows of the beachside properties along the coast and carry beautiful sea glass bobbles and thick, drifting logs up onto the beaches.

And kids love it.

Between the puddle-jumping, nature walks and surfers, Tofino is a reminder that it’s fun to play outside. And the opportunity to sneak in some snuggle time with your partner and warm up with a good meal makes the vacation possibilities even better.

Thinking of taking your gang for a family vacation? Here are three spots that will keep it fun:

  1. Pacific Sands Beach Resort

The cottagey feel of these well-strapped rooms along the protected inlet of Cox Bay is immediately inviting. Have more than a couple of kids? Consider a three-floor, two-bedroom luxury villa that easily sleeps six and sports a full kitchen, private deck, two gas fireplaces, laundry room and floor-to-ceiling windows that make the most of your location.

Family fun: Kids will love exploring the beach right outside your door, evening crab boils on an outdoor fire pit, marshmallow roasts under a starry sky, the free daily kids camp in the summer (and during March Break) and more.

What to order: Well-travelled resort director Stephen Peters has a 10-year plan that will see even more amenities added to the mix including a full-service spa and restaurant. For now, you can keep things casual in your villa kitchen, grab a “Sobo to go” gourmet heat-and-serve dinner from the front office or sample the oft-lauded cuisine in the downtown restaurants that are only five minutes away including the casual elegance of Shelter or the grab-n-go hippie flavours at the Common Loaf Bakeshop.

  1. The Wickaninnish Inn

To understand the “rustic elegance” vibe of the Wickaninnish Inn you have to take a 360-degree turn on arrival. On this side of the hand-carved wooden doors with native motif is a full lush rainforest and trails to Chesterman Beach where you’ll step into a view that steals your breath. On the other side, the cozy, upscale trappings of a lodge that is immediately comfortable and perfectly set in its surroundings.

Family fun: Don’t miss the complimentary Sunday morning nature walk where a local naturalist will walk with you, rain or shine, through the area explaining the age-old, sky-high Sitka trees with an enthusiasm that is infectious. Or set the kids free on a property-wide scavenger hunt, complete with prize at the end. Inside, the kids can play games and unique puzzles in the library, while you make the most of the multi award-winning Ancient Cedars spa.

What to order: Poutine! A unique combo of blue cheese and short-ribs will quickly make it a favourite. Pair it with a made-on-site Ginger Beer for a powerful lunch combo. Or step down into the Pointe restaurant and take in the panoramic view, roaring fire and upscale take on local, organic ingredients. The children’s menu which has some favourites — while managing to avoid the hot dog trend — will keep the kids smiling as well. They’d rather be in the room? No problem, there’s complimentary babysitting while you dine at The Pointe.

  1. Long Beach Lodge

This place feels like Christmas. The beautiful community of 20 two-bedroom, dropped-into-the-rainforest cottages (including full kitchens and private hot tubs) and 41 lodge rooms spans eight acres on Cox Bay. Kids will quickly feel at ease and a pet-friendly policy means Fido can come too.

Family fun: You’re probably wet anyway so why not head out into the waters? Tofino is the surfing capital of Canada. Sign up for lessons at the onsite Surf Club and slip into the dry suit that makes you look like a seal but serves its purpose. Pros will teach you how to stay safe before you waddle out to the unique coastline that makes wave-riding a guarantee. Kids can’t get up on the board? No problem. Even body surfing is guaranteed to produce giggles. When they’ve had enough, head inside, get warm by the fire and choose from the selection of board games in the front hall to wile away the afternoon.

What to order: Head into The Great Room and order a round of hot chocolate (say “yes” to the whipped cream) and an open-faced peace river bison striploin steak sandwich served with some of the best French fries I’ve tasted. Kids 12 and under eat free at the 5:30 dinner seating.