Seven Things to Do in Tofino

I’ve been bogged down with schoolwork, two jobs, and moving out, but Halloween weekend finally gave me an excuse to travel.
My boyfriend and I loaded his car with supplies to last us the 10-hour roadtrip from Kelowna to Tofino, spread out over two days with an overnight stop in VanCity.

From Horseshoe Bay, we hopped a ferry to Nanaimo. It’s not cheap – $88 one way for a car and two passengers – and the unnecessary reservation fee is an extra $20. We arrived an hour early and borded easily, although we nearly fell asleep and missed our ride waiting in the vehicle line. Whoops!

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The drive from Nanaimo to Tofino is a 3-hour trip down curvy, rough-edged terrain. The interior of Vancouver Island takes me back to The Land Before Time while the coastline looks like a scene from Narnia. About half an hour outside of Port Alberni is an awesome waterfall, excessible by a metal staircase next to a giant fallen log. After a total of 8 hours in the car, Mark and I finally made it to Tofino.

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Hailed as one of Canada’s premier surfing spots, Tofino also draws in avid storm-watchers. The laid-back, island vibe captured me immediately as my best friend welcomed us into his cozy flat. Our first stunning ocean view came atop the pier, which we literally drove straight on top of.

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Tof (pronounced “Tuff”) is made up of about 3 intersecting streets, all of which hold a grand total of around 8 stores and under 12 restaurants. In the summer, Tofino bursts with outdoor adventurers, but in off-season, the population drastically declines. Island life is pricey, but knowing the right people can go a long way. We felt like locals when we were invited to an outdoor DJ Halloween house party at the community rave spot Crab Apple. The bubble around Tof reminded me of the snow globe that surrounds ski resorts – everywhere you go, there’s someone that you know (and a shit-ton of Aussies).

If you’re planning to check out this cozy community, there are a few things you should not miss:

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1. Mackenzie Beach
The photo speaks for itself. Surf, sun, sand… beer 🙂 This place is perfect for a picnic (or a hangover cure).

2. Tofino Brewing Company
I ran into an old friend in this garage bar & stocked up on quality brewskis!  Tuff Ale was my favourite: red, smooth, and flavourful. The 2L Growler jug makes a great souviner and can be refilled for $10 . A word of warning, it must be consumed within 48 hours 😉

3. Jack’s
I’m a little bit biased as my friend cooks here, but if you’re looking for quality pub food, a place to play pool, and live music on top of the ocean, this place is my number one pick. Oh, and when you go, say hey to James for me 😉

4. Native Art Gallery
Mark Hobbson masterfully creates glowing nature pieces that contain underlying animal images. Although a print may be too pricey, a $4 card will definitely brighten someone’s day.

5. Tacofino
This quaint food van is an attraction to tourists and locals alike. Featuring fantastic fish tacos, the best burritos, and tasty nachos, the little complex- okay, parking lot – it’s held within is also worth exploring.

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6. The Botanical Gardens
Due to a lack of time and an onset of rain, I didn’t actually make it inside the Botanical Gardens. But even from the outside, I was entranced by carved logs, bleating goats, and a peaceful garden that I will certainly take my time to wander through next time.

7. Cox Beach
You can’t go to Tofino and not try out surfing (unless you’re me). The winter waves at Cox were sparsely spread with a thin layer of black wetsuit-clad surfers, always in search of the best spot along the bay.

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There’s so much more of Vancouver Island I want to explore – but I’m not in a huge rush. Don’t expect to get too much done over only a weekend. Instead, slow down and sink into the easy-pace that makes Tofino Tuff.

My Top Five Winter Travel Spots

As crisp, colourful leaves tumble into a light dusting of floury snow, the world seems to transform before our eyes. The changing of seasons always brings me back to where I was last year, and makes me wonder where I’ll be spending next season. Although I still have so much to see, these are my top five picks for a winter getaway.

1. German Christmas Markets

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Easily one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in Europe, the cluster of Weihnactsmarkts strewn around Germany’s smooth white winter open in mid-November and welcome tourists and locals alike until early January. Like something straight out of a fairy-tale,  the Christmas markets sweep you up into an 800 year-old unbelievable backdrop, where a maze of wooden stalls offers easily-strolling xmas shoppers intricate crafts, homemade liquors, and tasty treats beneath a stream of live caroling and mistletoe. Grab a pipping hot mug of Gluhwein and a bratwurst smothered in sauerkraut to ingest while you admire the displays and snag a few samples. To get the most out of your experience, stick to the markets in the smaller cities and go with a local. If that’s impossible, Nurnberg has the world’s largest Christkindlesmarkt and is sure to grant an unforgettable experience.

2. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

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Nothing says “Canadian” like a mid-winter escape to a warm destination. Puerto Vallarta, my favourite city in Mexico, enjoys a mild climate year-round, with October – January temperatures dipping to 23 degrees Celsius (73 Fahrenheit). Despite my experience last year being soaked in constant rain, Puerto Vallarta usually receives at least 322 days of sunshine a year – enough to get a holiday tan that’ll make your co-workers at least a little jealous.
My advice – if you’re going to do the resort thing, opt out of all-inclusive. This will force you to get out of your relaxing resort and experience the vibrant Mexican culture first-hand – and try some spicy fish tacos while you’re at it!

3. Alps d’Huez, France

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Although this incredible ski resort is still associated with the trauma of breaking my back, it only holds good memories for me. The snowed-in village up the hill from Grenoble is full of raging nightclubs, celebrity appearances, and (much to the detest of the French) English-speaking skiers. Nicknamed ‘i’le du soleil’ or the island of sun, this stunning mountain range receives a minimum of 300 days of sunshine a year, which I can attest to. During my time working at the French restaurant Rendez-Vous, I was snowboarding in a t-shirt and still sweating. Unfortunately, a lot of sunshine means a lack of snow, and the conditions were nothing like the powdery foam I was used to at home. The slopes are compact and icy, which was a great factor in my epic fall and broken bones. If you’re going to risk the gondola to take in the gorgeous view across the Alps, my best advice is to simply be careful.

4. Copenhagen, Denmark

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One of my favourite European cities anytime of the year, Copenhagen has a special place in my heart as I spent last Christmas with my Danish cousins celebrating in the countryside. Attending a church service completely in Danish, eating hoards of fresh seafood, and dancing around the Christmas tree whilst singing carols (again, completely in Danish) were only a few of the traditions I was lucky to experience. Outside our cozy community, iconic Nyhavn was much less crowded than usual, though still sprinkled with the most fashionable (and attractive) young adults. Instead of licking soft ice (as in the summer), small stalls were selling Glogg, a type of hot wine, to sip along the wet pier. Tivoli is especially stunning during the holidays; lit-up and buzzing with a crisp air of excitement. If you get the chance, check out Christiania, a small hippy community claiming to be its own country, where pictures and running are illegal, and pretty much everything else isn’t.

5. Power King, Canada

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PK is a hidden gem for avid skiers and snowboarders. Located in the True North (northern BC) PK is perfectly situated to get the most snowfall anywhere in the world at least once a year. Combine this with little traffic due to the absence of nearby cities and the remote northern location, Powder King is a true powder heaven for those who dream of coasting across deep, untouched snow. Lift Tickets are only $55 a day, nearly half of the price to ski overcrowded Whistler. Powder King is too small to support night skiing, but daily buses run from Grande Prairie, Alberta leaving around 6am and returning by 5pm. After snowboarding throughout Europe and the Rockies, PK is easily the best and most affordable place to strap in to your board and ride.

No matter where this winter takes you, remember to absorb and appreciate this wonderful world we are blessed to explore! Happy travels 🙂