A few weeks ago, David and I took a weekend trip to Tofino and Ucluelet to celebrate his birthday. For us, it’s an annual tradition that we visit these two lovely ocean-side towns in early spring. While it’s a bit of a trek to get there, we always have fun along the way. Plus, it all pays off when you take that first breath of ocean air and feel calm, relaxed and completely serene. I look forward to that feeling every year.
Located about four hours away by car from Victoria (and five hours from Vancouver), these two small towns are nestled on the very west coast of Vancouver Island. They are located about 40 minutes away from each other and are separated by the beautiful Pacific Rim National Park.
Fishing vessel in Ucluelet
Of these towns, Tofino is the most popular. It has become world-renowned for its hippie vibe, outdoor activities, nature and amazing local and sustainable food– especially seafood. Additionally, Tofino has varying types of accommodations available at just about every price point. You can stay beachside at the luxurious Wicanninish Inn or Pacific Sands Resort, rent a campsite, or even find a happy medium by glamping at WildPod Tofino.
Ucluelet on the other hand is a bit more low key, but it is growing steadily. There are lots of great local stores, restaurants and cafes, and tons of outdoor activities. We have always stayed in Ucluelet when we visit and rent an AirBNB. By saving a bit of money here, we are able to spend it on the things we love most: food and drinks! One day we would love to stay at Black Rock Resort in Ucluelet!
If you are heading to Tofino or Ucluelet, check out my list of places to eat and things to do!
Where to Eat
- Tacofino- You can’t come to Tofino without stopping at Tacofino’s famous taco truck. Try their famous Fish Tacos, made with battered and fried ling cod fillets and topped with crunchy cabbage and the juiciest, most flavourful pico de gallo there is! I also recommend their Tuna Tacos, made from seared albacore tuna and topped with wasabi mayo, wakame (seaweed salad), pickled ginger, and shredded cabbage. If you are very hungry from all your activities, go for a burrito– I highly recommend the Crispy Chicken Burrito or Vegan Burrito.
Tacofino Fish Taco (in back) and Tuna Taco (in front)
- Kuma Tofino- Kuma is a new restaurant located in downtown Tofino. Kuma (meaning bear in Japanese) carefully crafts Japanese-West Coast dishes and cocktails made with the freshest ingredients. We tried a bunch of dishes including Okonomiaki (made with local bacon), Tuna Takaki with wasabi mayo, Agedashi Tofu, and Miso Squash Salad. All the dishes were amazing, but the one that stood out the most was the Miso Squash Salad. I have never enjoyed a salad so much in my life! Make sure to stop by here for lunch or dinner, or even happy hour (3:30 to 4:30) for discounts on food and drinks!
Miso Squash Salad from Kuma Tofino
- Sobo- Sophisticated Bohemian, a.k.a. Sobo is a long-standing established restaurant that everyone loves. Chef Lisa Ahier takes pride in creating a variety of global dishes, with a West Coast spin. This trip was the first time we visited Sobo, and we will definitely be back again. We enjoyed a few of their lunch specials including Tuna Melts and Gnocchi, and their popular Smoked Salmon Chowder. I’ve never had a chowder that was so full of fish and vegetables before; so if you love salmon, you have to try this chowder out!
A cup of Sobo’s famous Smoked Salmon Chowder
- Wolf in the Fog- Wolf in the Fog is by far, my favourite restaurant in Tofino. You may have heard of this restaurant before, since a visit and rave review from Neil Patrick Harris and his husband really put this place on the map. Again, Wolf in the Fog uses local ingredients to produce wonderful dishes with a West Coast spin. The dishes change based on the season and the ingredients that are available, so their menu changes constantly. While we were there, we enjoyed some fresh shucked oysters, Dungeness Crab Arancini, Kale Salad, Charred Octopus (a must!) and a Tuna and Pork Jowl main dish. You also must have a cocktail or two at Wolf in the Fog since they have the best cocktails in town!
Fresh shucked oysters at Wolf in the Fog
Dungeness Crab Arancini with Crab Mayo
Tuna and pork jowl main dish
- Tofino Brewing Co.- Tofino Brewing Co. is one of the most popular breweries in Tofino. It’s a great place to go if you are looking to relax with a few friends and have a few beers. Tofino Brewing Co. produces a variety of beers, from blonde ales to dark porters. Some of their beers truly embrace the West Coast with special ingredients such as seaweed and spruce tips. No matter what the season, you will find some friendly faces ready to serve you a nice glass of local beer!
Entrance to Tofino Brewing Co.
- Heartwood Kitchen Food Outfitter- Heartwood Kitchen is a new restaurant located in the heart of Ucluelet. We decided to try it out for brunch and I have to say we were not disappointed! I opted for a delicious plate of Eggs Benedict, made with the most flavourful hollandaise sauce! David went for his favourite, Chicken and French Toast. I snuck a few bites from him and loved the crispy and fluffy texture of the baguette (genius idea), mixed with the fatty fried chicken and sweet maple syrup. Also, they have really credible hashbrowns, probably the best I’ve had on Vancouver Island so far! Stop by if you are looking for brunch or dinner! I can’t wait to go back!
Heartwood’s French Toast and Fried Chicken – a cool play on Chicken and Waffles!
- Zoe’s Bakery- If you are looking for a quick place to grab a coffee and a pastry, you need to visit Zoe’s Bakery in Ucluelet. They make wonderful coffee and a variety of sweet and savoury pastries including quiches, muffins, and cinnamon rolls that are the size of your head! When we visited, we enjoyed some lattes, a slice of quiche and a breakfast burrito. Those kept us fueled and full while we enjoyed all of our outdoor activities!
Zoe’s Bakery and Cafe entrance
Things to Do
No matter what season it is, there are tons of things to do in Tofino and Ucluelet (that goes beyond wining and dining :P). Here are some of our favourite activities to do, and some that we want to try out next time we visit:
- Hike (part of) the West Coast Trail- This 75km long trail stretches along the west coast of Vancouver Island. This trail was traditionally used as a trade travel route by the Ditidaht First Nation and the Pacheddaht and Huu-ay-aht people, and is a popular hiking trail for many more visitors and locals today. You can access the trail from Ucluelet and through Pacific Rim National Park. Enjoy walking through ancient rainforests while taking in beautiful ocean views and connecting with nature.
David and I along the West Coast Trail
Beautiful ocean and forest views from the West Coast Trail
- Go surfing! (or watch from the beach)- Tofino is world-renowned for surfing and is enjoyed by thousands of people year-round. I would say that these people are incredibly brave to face the chilly Pacific waters and high waves…I would never get in there, even with a wetsuit! If you are into surfing, stop by at one of the many surf shops in Tofino and pick up a wetsuit and surf board. If you aren’t as brave, take in all the action from the warm beach!
Surfing at Chesterman’s Beach
- Visit the beaches- One thing that we love to do in Tofino and Ucluelet is to visit the beaches and go on nice long walks. Chesterman’s Beach in Tofino is our favourite, but we also enjoy Long Beach and Wicaninnish Beach as well. The beaches are a bit more rocky in Ucluelet, but it’s always nice to stop at Little Beach and Big Beach!
Sunset at Chesterman’s Beach
- Go whale watching or bear viewing- There are tons of ecotourism activities in Tofino and Ucluelet due to the diverse marine and terrestrial species that live there. Many people enjoy whale watching in Tofino where you can catch a glimpse of orcas, humpback whales, and maybe even some Pacific dolphins. Alternatively, bear viewing is also very popular since there are beautiful black and brown bears that live in the area. While you may not always be lucky on the tours, you are bound to see some harbour seals and bald eagles for sure!
- Check out the local art galleries and shops- There is never a shortage of art and shops to visit in Tofino and Ucluelet. We love to stop by the House of Himwitsa in Tofino that sells beautiful First Nations art, clothing, and souvenirs. Just behind the House of Himwitsa is Dockside Smoked Fish Store where you can buy smoked fish from the local First Nation. We also love stopping by the Roy Henry Vickers Gallery to see (and buy) beautiful First Nations art. Pop into Piña Styles or the Wreckage in Ucluelet if you are looking for west coast fashions and decor!
- Go hotel-hopping- OK, I can’t be the only one that likes to go check out hotels that I can’t afford! LOL! There are so many beautiful hotels in Tofino and Ucluelet and they are all decorated with beautiful, natural elements. When you find a hotel that you really like, pop into their restaurant for a drink or snack, or make it a point to stay there next time you visit!
Sunset from downtown Tofino
I hope that these recommendations help you out if you are planning a trip to Tofino and Ucluelet. If you need any more information or have questions, write to me in the comments below!