A winter walk on Chesterman Beach. (Credit: Jacqui Windh)

A winter walk on Chesterman Beach. (Credit: Jacqui Windh)

A story: When I arrived in British Columbia over 20 years ago, we visited Tofino in October. Our campsite was rained out by a fall monsoon, and we took shelter in a local bed and breakfast, enjoying the wild weather and the local dining scene before all the restaurants closed up shop for the season. Yes, Tofino used to hibernate at this time of year.

Luckily for us today, Tofino doesn’t close for the fall or winter season anymore. The village has embraced its storm season with a passion. This time of year is a celebration of the wild, natural world that exists at the end of the road that is Tofino.

If the thought of watching the stormy ocean rage outside, while snuggling safe and sound by a blazing fire with something warm in hand is appealing to you, THIS is the season to make your way along the windy Pacific Rim Highway, on route to a one-of-a-kind autumnal experience.

Surfing the waves with The Wick in the background (Credit: Wayne Barnes)

Surfing the waves with The Wick in the background (Credit: Wayne Barnes)

Where to Eat, Sleep & Play When Storm Watching in Tofino:


Things to Do

Walking along Chesterman, Long, Cox Bay or Middle Beaches is an activity in itself that merits mention as a must-do. Bundle up in warm, waterproof gear and boots, and take in the pounding surf, eagles flying overhead, and mist rising from the ocean on your stroll. Kids will love exploring the tide pools at low tide at Chesterman Beach or finding twisted driftwood on Long Beach. Be sure to maintain a safe distance from the water, don’t lose sight of your children, and never turn your back on the ocean. Fall and winter seas can be intense.

If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path trail, try the Radar Beaches hike. The hike begins at the Radar Hill parking lot and descends a fairly steep path tot he beach. The trail is on the difficult side, so be prepared and know your family’s limits. On the easier side, the 2-kilometre Tonquin Trail winds pleasantly through the Pacific Rim National Park and opens up to the ocean at MacKenzie Beach. Watch your footing on the slippery planks of the trail boardwalk when wet, which is more often than not at this time of year.

The surf culture in Tofino is strong, and yes, you and your kids can hit the waves in the fall months. Even if you haven’t ever tried surfing, it’s become a big part of the Tofino experience. There are many terrific surf schools in the area, and the best place to start is with some surf lessons. Pacific Surf School and Surf Sister are the most established schools, and both offer fantastic lessons and surf outings. Another option is the Bruhwiler Surf School run by local pro, Ralph Bruhwiler. You can book family group lessons or private lessons for individuals from any of these surf schools.

Tofino from the air: wild, rugged and beautiful (Credit: Tourism Tofino)

Tofino from the air: wild, rugged and beautiful (Credit: Tourism Tofino)

Where to Stay

There are many family-friendly accommodation options to choose from in Tofino. Middle Beach Lodge is located on an outcropping between MacKenzie Beach and the terrifically isolated Middle Beach. Access to two different beaches makes for some fantastic beach-combing opportunities. One of its lodges is family-friendly, while the other is adult-only.

One of the original family resorts in Tofino, the Pacific Sands Beach Resort has a great choice of rooms, with options for autonomous suites, and a good range of price options. Pacific Sands is on Cox Bay Beach, which is a beautiful crescent of sand that ends at Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. There are two other resorts on Cox Bay that are both family-friendly: Cox Bay Beach Resort, which provides impressive suites; and the geographically-challenged Long Beach Lodge Resort, which is actually located on Cox Bay Beach.

If your budget allows for a stay at the Wickaninnish Inn (aka The Wick), you won’t regret it. This Relais & Chateaux property at the end of the road has impeccable service, luxurious rooms, and fabulous amenities. The location perched above Chesterman Beach cannot be beat.

What to Eat

Wolf in the Fog. A fine dining experience with award-winning cuisine. An emphasis on local seafood, inspired and influenced by its surroundings.

Wildside Grill. Fantastic fish and chips with the freshest seafood, straight from the ocean.

SoBo for a Sophisticated Bohemian lunch. Healthy soups, wraps and kid-friendly menus. Located at the corner of 1st and Neill Streets, across from the BC Liquor Store.

Shelter is one of Tofino’s most popular restaurants. An emphasis on local and sustainable cuisine, with lots of kid-friendly menu choices.

The Pointe Restaurant. Located at the Wick Inn, it’s an elegant dining room, fit for romance and special occasions. Finishing a meal with a shared s’more or dark chocolate bar while watching the waves crash below you isn’t an experience you’ll soon forget.