There aren’t many places where you can fly into your own wedding on a seaplane, but that’s exactly how Sepi Bordian and Adam Denny arrived at their ceremony when they were married this year in Tofino. This tiny outpost on the western edge of British Columbia is a watery paradise of mountainous rainforest that spills into the Pacific Ocean, a place where winter storms pummel miles-long beaches, much to the delight of surfers who come here from all over the world.
And one of the best ways to see it all is by plane. “It was such a great experience,” says Bordian, who surprised her wedding guests with a fly-by before landing. Minutes earlier, she and Denny had visited two remote lakes accessible only by air. It was a gray, misty day, but Bordian didn’t mind. “Tofino is spectacular no matter what season or weather,” she says.
Home to fewer than 2,000 year-round residents, the town swells to several times that size with visitors, making it a destination not only for outdoorsy activities but also for eating and drinking. It’s accessible by driving across the scenic mountains that run like a spine up Vancouver Island, but you can also fly directly into Tofino-Long Beach Airport, which has daily hour-long flights to Vancouver, a major hub with connections to Asia, Europe, and the rest of North America.
Around here, the Wickaninnish Inn is synonymous with luxury. Perched on the craggy shore above Chesterman Beach, the hotel was built in 1996 after its original location was converted into a marine interpretive center for the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, which protects 317 square miles of coastal wilderness.
Defined by its sweeping views of the Pacific and its rugged West Coast architecture, each of the 75 rooms contains a handmade driftwood chair by artisan Maxwell Newhouse. There’s also a gas fireplace that is perfect for snuggling up during a winter storm as giant waves break against the rocks. The hotel even offers a winter storm package, which includes oilskin hats, wine, and local cheese, daily brunches and a book of local storm stories.
Chef Nicholas Nutting was working in Montreal when he was invited to take up a job at the Wickaninnish Inn’s fine-dining restaurant, The Pointe. He knew he needed to move to Tofino as soon as he stepped off the plane and smelled the sweet, fresh air. Today, Nutting is the chef and co-owner of Wolf in the Fog, one of the most acclaimed restaurants in Canada thanks to its masterful use of Tofino’s natural bounty.
“We do spot prawn fishing, jigging for different types of cod, fishing for halibut, crab traps in the river, salmon fishing–they all have a season,” Nutting says. “At any time of the year there’s something amazing to pull out of the water or pick out from the woods.” Right now it’s mushroom season, and when he isn’t in the kitchen, Nutting ambles into the woods to pick chanterelles, porcini, hedgehogs, and more.
Although the food at Wolf in the Fog is top-notch, the atmosphere is remarkably casual. “At the time we were conceptualizing the restaurant, we did a lot of outdoor activities, ate a lot of meals with large groups of people, and that became the concept of our restaurant,” Nutting says. “If you’ve ever been to a Thanksgiving dinner in Tofino, it usually involves going to the forest for a mushroom pick and someone will show up with a salmon they caught.”
As you would expect, local seafood, greens, and foraged mushrooms populate the menu at Tofino’s other eateries, too. The Pointe’s tasting menu is a wide-ranging introduction to the area’s terroir. Tacofino offers contemporary tacos made with local Albacore tuna and other fish. Kuma works local flavors into izakaya-style Japanese cuisine.
The cocktail menu at Wolf in the Fog is something to behold, with concoctions like the Cedar Sour, made with cedar-infused rye, and Pickle & Smoke, a take on the classic Canadian Caesar made with smoked salmon-infused vodka. But there’s plenty to imbibe elsewhere, too. Tofino Brewing Co.’s stylish taproom serves up excellent IPAs, lagers, and a stout made with kelp. Next door, the Tofino Distillery produces a suite of gins, including one made with local cedar. For the morning after, Tofitian pulls an excellent shot of espresso from British Columbia roasters.
Walk up, smell the cedar, check out the surf, and you’re set for a day in Tofino’s untrammeled nature. Although locals are keen to head straight into the woods for days of hiking, camping and foraging, visitors can enjoy the guidance of a number of local excursion companies. Many of the best adventures start with a boat. Tofino 1st Class Fishing, run by lifelong Tofino resident Joel Nikiforuk, takes you to some of the best fishing groups around the Clayquot Sound. West Coast Aquatic Safaris organizes daily whale watching and bear-spotting tours, as well as trips to a natural hot springs in an isolated cove. It’s a 6.5-hour round trip by boat–but you can also fly back by seaplane for an extra thrill.