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They say home is where the heart is. But home can also be a place, maybe even one that feels like it is at the edge of the world. A place where the ocean meets the sand. A place where all roads end. A place once called home.
Tofino, British Columbia. A place I once called home. And returning felt like a homecoming. But Tofino, located in Clayoquot Sound, is a home, not just to me. Perhaps you’ve heard of it, the surf town on the west coast of Vancouver Island, situated within the traditional territory of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation. And according to the District, “for at least 5,000 years, the Tla-o-qui-aht have lived here, in several villages in the Sound.”
This spot was recently named one of Canada’s 12 best small towns by Travel + Leisure. Maybe it’s a place you’ve never heard about. And that’s what it was to me when I moved there many years ago, an unknown land in our vast country, surrounded by the UNESCO Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Region.
“Are you outdoorsy?” some would ask, while others would inquire about my surf skills. I’ve never owned hiking boots, never been on a surfboard, but it was still my home, this rugged, ocean-side town that locals say has an “end of the world culture.”
If you stand at any of Tofino’s edges — from Long Beach to any of its harbour docks — you’re bound to be overcome by the serene beauty of the town. In Tofino, immersed in its biodiversity, it feels like time is at a standstill. This ancient landscape, just one hour away by plane from Vancouver, BC, is a rare rainforest retreat, feeling far, far away from any city in Canada. Our home.
For years, including the ones in which I lived on this land, travellers from all over the world visited Tofino to marvel at its wonders. This is a place in which the day-to-day may or may not include a taste of saltwater, sand, surfing, eagles, bears, hiking, whales (orcas and grey), old-growth trees, and aspects of nature to remind you of the beauty of the earth. And it’s all here, in our backyard, as they say.
Whether it’s going for a hike with the Tribal Parks Guardians and learning about the history of this magical place, or looking up high to majestic cedar trees that have been around almost 2,000 years on Meares Island, Tofino literally brings you back down to earth. No sounds of traffic, no cellphone rings (although there is signal), no tall buildings, just immense food options from the land and sea, sounds of rare birds (a birdwatcher’s heaven) and probably a lot of rain… After all, it is a rainforest.
Between the forests and the ocean is a town with the people who make it feel like home. For those looking for a rainforest adventure, Hotel Zed is a non-oceanfront surprise in Tofino. Its retro ’70s vibe will pull you into a different era, one that suits stepping out into the magic of the forests and Tofino’s mudflats.
The hotel also has an in-house restaurant: Roar, a new kid on the block but one that is soon to be a fave among visitors and locals alike. And the staff will make you feel at home. It may be difficult to leave.
A more ocean-side experience can be found at the long-term resort Pacific Sands Beach Resort, and its name reflects its location. Right on the beachfront sands of Tofino. With a viewpoint of some of the best sunsets in the world at each end of Cox Bay Beach, you’ll want to bring your hiking shoes for those picture-perfect moments. But don’t worry, you won’t need hiking boots to go into town.
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And exploring the town is part of understanding Tofino’s charm. What other place in Canada has surfboards advertising coffee on its main roads?
The coastal town is home to a community of small business owners who offer some of the best coffee you’ll ever have (thanks Rhino), as well as surf schools like Surf Sisters to try out the favourite local sport. And if you’re looking to eat some of the best foods in the region, this extensive list will help you explore everything from breakfast to après-surf, and everything before and after.
For those looking to stay dry, many local tour outfitters like Jamie’s Whaling Station offer whale watching, bear watching, and hot springs cove tours — although the springs are currently closed.
Tofino also offers bike rentals, and of course, hiking trails. As many of these trails are located on the traditional territory of the Nuu-chah-nulth people, please hike responsibility and leave no trace.
The people, the guides, the instructors, the servers and baristas, they make Tofino what it is. They make this place feel like home. So does the ocean, the sand, the sunsets, the rainforest. They say that “everything in Tofino is connected: from the kelp in the Pacific Ocean to the black bears of the rainforest, to the people who call this place home,” and that “there’s an energy to Tofino, something you can’t quite shake once you’ve experienced it.”
When arriving, Tofino may feel like the end of the world. But when leaving, this historic part of Canada will make you feel closer to home, and maybe if you’re like me, a part of your heart will be here to stay.