We completely fell in love with Tofino when we visited British Columbia in the summer. This small town is Canada’s almost most westerly point and is simply stunning. There is lots for families to do, so much so that we’re half tempted to pack up and move here permanently! At the very least we plan to return soon for a longer stay.
Here are our Top 10 pick of things to do in Tofino with kids.
1. Go Rock Pooling
Tofino has some beautiful beaches; miles of windswept beaches bordered by ancient cedar forests with hardly anyone on them. Stand and look out to sea and there’s literally nothing between you and Japan but the vast Pacific Ocean. One of our kids’ favourite things to do was to explore the rock pools. When the tide goes out, the sea reveals some incredible sea life. We saw enormous emerald green sea anemones, stuffed starfish in orange and purple hues and crabs and hermit crabs. Some of the best beaches for tidal pools are Chesterman Beach, MacKenzie Beach and Lismer Beach.
2. Visit the Botanical Gardens
Tofino’s Botanical Gardens are wonderful. A network of paths wind their way through twelve acres of gardens, forest, and shoreline. There are herb and kitchen gardens, a duck pond and a whimsical Children’s Garden. Raised wooden platforms take you into the forest where clearings reveal pocket gardens and garden buildings. Art installations and sculptures are dotted around the gardens, which are fun for kids to try and find. The “historic” Bernardo O’Higgins homestead shows how pioneers to Tofino lived (“No lights! No TV! No Kitchen!” said my kids). There’s a lovely cafe on site too. You can definitely spend a couple of hours here wandering around. If travelling with an infant, as we were, forget the pushchair and bring a baby carrier or sling instead.
3. Eat Ice Cream at Sugar Shack
During our two-and-a-half week road trip around BC we visited some incredible places. We saw otters at the Vancouver Aquarium, visited the island of Galiano, witnessed a mother bear finding food for her cubs and drove through 800-year-old cedar forests. We took ferry rides, had s’mores on the beach and went kayaking. But despite all these so-called trip highlights, what was my 5-year-old daughter’s favourite thing about the entire holiday? Ice cream from Sugar Shack.
Address: 400-460 Campbell St, Tofino
4. Go on a Bear Hunt
We went on an early morning boat ride in search of bears with Westcoast Aquatic Safaris. We had the boat to ourselves and seeing the day break over the water was truly magical. Clayoquot Sound is home to a large number of black bears and you can often spot them close to shore, foraging for food. We were fortunate enough to spot a couple of bears on our trip, including a mother bear searching for food for her cubs that we could hear calling from the forests. We also spotted seals sunning themselves on rocks. The best time for bear watching is late spring through early October. There are a handful of bear and whale watching operators in town offering tours that are suitable for families – we had a 4-month old with us when we went!
5. Learn to Surf
If you can get over the cold water then Tofino is an excellent place to surf – it’s home to some of the best surfing in Canada. But even if you’re a novice surfer, there are gentle waves to learn on. There are a handful of schools offering surf lessons for families including Pacific Surf School and Tofino Surf School. We didn’t get a chance to try surfing when we visited, owing to not enough time and a small baby, but we’ll definitely be organising a lesson when we next go.
6. Watch the Winter Storms
Although the summer months are Tofino’s most popular, the town also has a reputation as being a great spot for winter storm watching. The rugged west coast is wild at the best of times but the winter months bring an orchestra of crashing waves and howling winds. It might sound crazy, but witnessing the angry skies and dramatic seas during the winter months is really quite spectacular. The Wickaninnish Inn actively promotes storm watching season and even provides raincoats and boots for kids.
7. Eat at Sobo
I would go back to Tofino just to eat at Sobo. This is, hands down, one of the best restaurants I have ever been to. It’s casual and relaxed, as you would expect from such a laid back town, with an innovative menu to rival some of the best city restaurants. Food is fresh and, not surprisingly, the seafood is fantastic. There’s a kids’ menu and a playhouse on the deck shaped like a purple bus. Sobo gets busy! Get there early or make a reservation.
8. See the Fishermen in Action
At its heart, Tofino is still a fishing village and the Fourth Street Dock is still a working dock. It’s open to the public and a great way for kids to see fishermen in action. Commercial and fishing boats as well as whale- and bear-watching boats moor here and there’s also a fish weighing station. My (very urban) kids commented on the smell but were fascinated watching the fish being hauled in. Make sure to keep an eye on children here.
9. Take a Hike
There are some amazing walking trails in this part of Canada ranging in degrees of difficulty. Some of the most popular hikes include the Wild Pacific Trail, an easy 8km walk that is divided into three sections. The trail takes in the rocky coastline and ancient forests before opening onto a beautiful shoreline with stunning views. Radar Hill Trail is just 0.2km but is the best spot for a panoramic view of Clayoquot Sound and Long Beach. In the Pacific Rim National Park, the Nuu Chah Nulth Trail (the Wickaninnish Trail), is the longest trail in the park at 3.8km and links Long Beach with Florencia Bay. For more walking ideas take a look here. If you do plan on doing some hiking, make sure to bring good walking shoes as the trails can get very muddy.
10. Visit the Aquarium at Ucluelet
We didn’t get a chance to visit the Ucluelet Aquarium when we were in neighbouring Tofino and I really regret it! My good friend Tara, at Pint Size Pilot, visited recently and raved about it. It’s one of those wonderful aquariums that houses only local marine life; in this case, marine animals found in the waters of Barkley and Clayoquot Sounds. On view are incredible sea anemones in oranges and greens, abalone and kelpfish, sea cucumbers and jellyfish and more. It’s a wonderful way for children to learn about life in the sea with lots of touch pools for a genuine hands-on experience. Every year the aquarium returns the marine life to the sea and fills their tanks again from the harbour.
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