The May long weekend getaway is a Canadian Institution, when holiday deprived Canucks load up their vehicles with as much stuff as possible and hit the road.
However, anyone who has lived in the Lower Mainland on Canada’s West Coast for at least one summer knows that the key to an enjoyable extended weekend break is long term planning! If you to wait to the week before, the campsites are full, the ferry reservation spots are gone and the hotel front desk can only provide a sympathetic ear rather than a room. Don’t be caught with your proverbial pants down – click here to find out my favourite 5 long weekend getaways to help you plan ahead!
Having visited Tofino every Summer for the past few years, we are always surprised by the variety and quality of the culinary offerings available from a town which is populated by barely 2000 people.
Without doubt our favourite lunch time treat while in Tofino is a trip to the original Tacofino food truck behind the Beaches / Learn to Surf store after a surf session. The tacos are varied and fresh, while the milkshakes may be the best we have every tasted. Be warned however, the popularity of this west coast Mexican street food outlet can mean big line ups, and full outdoor tables. Bring a blanket and have your own Mexican picnic!
Despite the name this is not a fisherman’s bar where minor disagreements are settled outside, but a great sushi spot with a tremendous view of Tofino’s natural water, forest and mountain geography.
This is the best sushi we have eaten in BC – the fish is super fresh, the combinations exciting and complimentary. Go for the Beachcomber Roll, you won’t be disappointed. The view from the balcony is likely to take your breath away -a stunning natural harbour surrounded by forest clad mountains and snow capped peaks. You can even enjoy the float planes taking off and landing!
While a popular spot with our friends and many others given the long wait for a table, if we are honest, this is the only restaurant we have not LOVED in Tofino. We found the food was not quite to our taste, however the restaurant had some nice views of Tofino, and the design inside allowed for lots of light, while the staff were friendly.
Shelter is a gem of a seafood based restaurant located on the main Campbell road as you drive in to Tofino. We were attracted by the large patio, modern look, cosy feel and outside flames.
The menu was fantastic – the seafood red thai curry was excellent…..Paul asked for the dish without mussels (a long story involving an allergic reaction, an ambulance and lots of oxygen) and instead was provided with a huge amount of clams. This is not just a restaurant but also has the feel of a locals’ bar, with surfers sat on stools sampling their favourite local brew.
This place gets busy – we booked so at least got a table by the window, but if you want a patio seat get there early and be prepared to wait. There is also limited parking space outside the restaurant, we ended up 200m away parking on the road.
This is a cosy bistro with super friendly service. Our pleasant tuna tartare starter was supported by an exceptional duck main, and an exciting halibut dish with octopus wrapped in bacon and pulled pork.
Our main memory of this night was the journey home. Be warned Tofino only has 2 taxis, so it can be a challenge getting back if you are staying out of the town centre. While the boys opted to run along the sidewalk in the pitch black, the girls in their heels scored a lift with a local surfer girl in her PJs. Some great local hospitality!!
Long Beach Lodge
Located a few kms outside of Tofino as part of the Long Beach Lodge resort complex, the food served in the Great Room is West Coast fine dining at its very best. The smoked albacore tuna & island scallops was sensational on the taste buds.
This food is only matched by the tremendous view of the beach and ocean as the sun sets. There is no need for music as the waves breaking provide the perfect cosy ambience. Highly recommend booking on Summer weekends, as we had a 45 minute wait with a reservation.
There are two approaches to the 200 km drive from the Departure Bay ferry terminal at Nanaimo to Tofino…
Option 1: The Hare – Put your foot on the gas as soon as you leave the BC Ferries’ ramp and race the other long weekenders to Tofino in about 2 hours. Given that this is the preferred option of the masses you will probably spend the mountain pass section of the drive between Port Alberni and the Ucluelet / Tofino turn junction getting increasingly frustrated as you sit behind an impassable RV doing 20kph. There is another way…
Option 2: The Tortoise – Our preferred option is to take our time, make a day of it and stop at some magical places on route. Here are a few places you might want to consider hitting the brakes for:
Located off Highway 4 just before Parksville, Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park features a wide, shallow beach that recedes over a kilometer at low tide combined with walking trails through old-growth forest. There is also a camp site there if you want to stay a little longer. A nice place to wake up to in the early morning sunshine, especially if you have caught the first ferry of the day!
This is a popular tourist spot signposted by slow down signs and cars waiting for a parking spot. If you are lucky enough to find a space, you will be rewarded with a beautiful walk through an ancient forest of giant Douglas fir trees.
A note of caution – despite its coastal location on an inlet and being surrounded by a stunning mountains, there is very little here in the way of local authentic eateries – your only real options are the fast food chains you see from the highway.
This is a nice spot to stop for lunch, and to have a paddle in the relatively warm waters. If you are lucky you might get chance to watch one of the famous water bombers take off or land on the lake. There are also a few camping spots around if you want to stay longer.
Rocks & Mini Waterfall
As you start your drive through the mountains you will pass by a pull out next to a river and a large mass of smoothed rocks. Take a few moments to pull over and explore the waterfall, and admire the power of the river – don’t get too close though!
Often this lake is mistaken for the Pacific Ocean by the weary traveler as they descend from the mountain pass. However, with its pristine calm waters, surrounded by mountain peaks, disappointment will be quickly replaced by the clicking of the camera lens.
Situated in the majestic Pacific Rim National Park a few kilometers before Tofino, Long Beach is the jewel that draws visitors to this westerly point on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. With miles of sandy beach, predictable swell to surf and a rainforest backdrop you may never want to leave.
A relaxing beachside lodge overlooking Cox Bay was our accommodation of choice for a long weekend trip to Canada’s surfing capital, Tofino. A conservative 3 hour drive from the BC Ferries dock at Nanaimo, the Long Beach Lodge offers visitors a luxurious yet relaxed break surrounded by lush temperate rainforest on one side, and the vast Pacific Ocean on the other.
Reasons to stay at Long Beach Lodge
– The view from the Great Room over Cox Bay at any time of the day is great, but during sunset it is spectacular, especially with an evening cocktail in hand!
– The food served in the Great Room is excellent as evidenced by the 45 minute wait for a table with a reservation – the smoked albacore tuna & island scallops were sensational on the taste buds.
– The newly built and bear proofed hot tub (apparently they like the smell of hot tub cover) is open to 11pm every night for all guests to enjoy. This was a welcome surprise usually reserved for ski resorts and was well needed after a day of getting worked by the Pacific Ocean waves!
– The Cox Bay beach front location makes access to the waves very easy and there is storage for your surf gear. Just remember though that you need the full wet suit and boots to go surfing as the water is a balmy 6 degrees (something to do with currents and proximity to Alaska we guess!)
– The young staff are extremely friendly and helpful – nothing is too much trouble!
– The resort has some magical cottages hidden in the trees which would be perfect for a family / group get away. Alternatively, you can stay in the spacious, relaxing and very comfortable Lodge rooms which have luxurious bathrooms.
– The Great Room is a nice place to chill out on a comfy sofa with a drink and enjoy a good book.
Things to watch out for:
– It’s not easy to rent surf gear from the Lodge unless you book a lesson with them. Your best bet is to head into town early (to avoid the weekend crowds) and rent from 6 hours to 3 days from establishments such as the Long Beach Surf Shop (630 Campbell Street)
– Watch out for rooms near the Great Room – Breakfast starts at 7.30am and so does the unwelcome wake up call of other guests moving in for their complimentary continental offering!
– It’s about 7km to get to Tofino – if heading out for dinner you will need to grab a cab or appoint a designated driver, walking back in the dark on the busy main road is not recommended!
– Not that you come to Tofino to watch TV, but don’t expect crystal clear pictures in your room…nothing to do with the quality of the machinery provided, probably more location of the Resort on the edge of the Pacific Ocean surrounded by mountains! We think Usain Bolt won the 100m at the London Olympics but it was a bit fuzzy!
– Grabbing a bite at lunch while in your wetsuit can be a bit tricky as there is no surf shack on Cox Bay Beach and the surf club café only serves coffee! Our solution was to order takeaway lunch from the Great Room which was a bit of a hassle but was achievable with the help of a friendly receptionist who delayed her trip home after her shift to make sure we got our fish and chips!
Facts you may want to know before you arrive:
– A standard room was $299 before tax on the August Long weekend (Tofino is often noted as being the most expensive place to stay in Canada)
– 2 course dinner for 2 with a bottle of wine with tip and tax was $150
– A yummy continental breakfast is included with your stay but upgrading to a hot breakfast is $4 per item. Smoothies are $6 each
– A fish and chip lunch will set you back $26 including tax and tip
– Check in is at 4pm (we checked in at 1.30pm without issue), check out is 11am (we made it 11.30 given how comfy the bed is)
– Parking is free and fairly secure
– Surfing lessons cost $189 for 2.5 hours for 2. Wet suit and board rental is $39 per person (but only if you are having a lesson)
– If you’re a pro surfer ask Mike at the bar about his secret spot…..you’d better be good though, this place is for pros (unlike us)!!