Tofino's Cox Bay boasts great surfing, whatever the weather (photo: Kirsten Rodenhizer)

Storm Watching, Surfing & More Fall Things to Do in Tofino

By Kirsten Rodenhizer

When autumn arrives rolls into Tofino, British Columbia, so too do thick clouds, steady rainfall, chilling winds and roiling seas. And yet the cooler months are still wonderful for visiting this community of around 1,800 on the western edge of Vancouver Island—where the misty rainforests stay green year-round and surfers flock to the sprawling, sandy beaches to ride epic waves.

Surf lashing against rocks, trees bowing in the wind—there’s nothing quite like watching a West Coast storm unleash its power on the beach. The best time to storm watch is between November and March: Book a waterfront cabin, B&B, lodge or hotel (there are many options, ranging from bare bones to ultra-luxe), then snuggle up at a window with a blanket and watch the show. Or if you’re feeling adventurous, layer on your rain gear and walk out to see and feel the squall up close.

When the storms subside, get in the water. Autumn brings waves galore to the local surf beaches of Cox Bay, North and South Chesterman and Tonquin. Sign up for lessons or rent gear from one of the local surf shops: Surf Sister, Tofino Surf School and Pacific Surf School, to name but a few. You’ll have to don an insulated wetsuit complete with gloves, booties and hood, and you’ll likely swallow a few gulps of frigid seawater, but it’s all so much breathtaking fun.

For a less literally immersive ocean experience, try sea kayaking. Tofino Sea Kayaking offers year-round paddle tours among the forest-fringed islands of Tofino’s harbour, and farther afield into Clayoquot Sound. Alternatively, T’ashii Paddle School, run by members of the local Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, provides paddling tours through October in a traditional 25-foot hand-carved dugout canoe, combined with education on local Aboriginal culture. Year-round, the school also gives daily stand-up paddleboard (SUP) and paddle surfing (SUP on waves) lessons and tours.

It’s worth timing your Tofino trip to coincide with the Clayoquot Oyster Festival. The event celebrates its 20th anniversary this November 18 and 19, 2016, at a spacious new venue, The Shore. Saturday night’s Clayoquot Sound Oyster Gala features live music, oyster-based culinary challenges, a shucking relay and as many delectably briny oysters as you can slurp.

Things to do in Tofino - Pointe_Restaurant_Anthony_Redpath
The Pointe restaurant offers a stunning ocean view (photo: Anthony Redpath)

Although a tiny outpost, Tofino is a gourmand’s paradise. Your first dining stop should be the much-lauded Wolf in the Fog, downtown, where SAIT-educated chef Nicholas Nutting cooks up wildly creative fresh seafood and modern West Coast fare. Also pay a visit to the The Pointe, at the oceanside Wickaninnish Inn, for fine dining with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean.

Shelter and Sobo offer locally sourced seafood and seasonal dishes in more casual settings downtown, while taco-truck phenom Tacofino slings the best fish tacos in the West. There are now multiple locations of the latter in Vancouver and Victoria, but the original is a bright orange food truck parked off the Pacific Rim Highway, south of town. Pop next door to Chocolate Tofino for handmade sweets like organic lavender truffles, wildflower honey ganaches and wild blackberry buttercreams, then head two minutes up the highway to Tofino Brewing Company for a flight of small-batch beer—plus a growler of Kelp Stout to go.

Roy Henry Vickers’ Eagle Aerie Gallery, on Campbell Street, displays the Canadian artist’s original works, and sells prints and other gifts. A few blocks away, on the waterfront, shop for Northwest Coast Native Art at House of Himwitsa. For stylish handcrafted goods from around the world, stop by downtown’s Merge Artisan Collective.

Or visit a seasonal market for local wares: The Make Merry Market, November 25 at Tofino Botanical Gardens, and the Winter Artisan Market, December 4 at the community hall, bring together some of Tofino’s most talented craftspeople.

Tofino boasts a number of intimate, affordable accommodation options, most of which are close to—if not directly overlooking—the Pacific shore. Among them is the beachfront Best Western Tin-Wis Resort. Its comfortable rooms include free Wi-Fi, and the rustic-chic Beachfront Bistro serves breakfast and dinner with a panoramic ocean view. AMA members save 10% or more on the best available room rates. Or check in with AMA Travel for even more hotels, inns and resorts in B.C.’s hottest coastal town.

There are no direct flights to Tofino from Alberta, but the journey is part of the fun. West Jet and Air Canada fly to Nanaimo, on Vancouver Island’s eastern (inland) coast. From there it’s a very scenic 200-kilometre drive west to Tofino. AMA members can also access exclusive savings on car rentals. Alternatively, you can fly into Vancouver or Victoria and then connect to one of the various charter airlines that serve Tofino-Long Beach Airport, 11 kilometres southeast of Tofino.