VANCOUVER ISLAND, TOFINO WITH KIDS: The tiny town of Tofino, on Canada’s Vancouver Island, is one of those magical places that stay with you long after you’ve returned home. Positioned at the southern end of an area called Clayoquot Sound, it forms part of the Pacific Rim National Park and is Canada’s almost most westerly point.
Although the town was discovered in 1792 by Spanish explorers, it took more than 100 years for Tofino to become an official township. This relative isolation (the first road to Tofino was only completed in 1959), has been key in shaping the town today. Small, laid back and extraordinarily pretty, it still feels like somewhere relatively unknown.
Despite its compact size, however, there’s a lot in Tofino to keep the family busy. For starters, take a look at these four family-friendly activities, plus one great place to eat (one of my favourite restaurants, ever!) and one great place to stay on your vacation in Tofino with kids.
Activity 1: Explore the Tofino Tide Pools
Tofino’s beaches are beautiful: wild, rugged and windswept. At the right time of day, they are also home to large tidal pools where plump orange starfish fluorescent green sea anemones and giant hermit crabs cling to rocks. My kids spent hours searching for sea life in these shimmering pools, armed with a bucket and net kindly supplied by our hotel.
Be warned, however, despite the pretty setting the ocean waters here are cold! If you feel brave enough to take a dip in the Pacific, then you’re best bringing a wetsuit. We visited in August and were more than happy to keep to the sandy shoreline.
Activity 2: Hop Aboard an Early Morning Boat Ride
And go in search of bears! Clayoquot Sound is home to a large number of black bears and they can often be spotted close to shore, foraging for food. If you’re doubly lucky, you might even spot seals sunning themselves on rocks or a falcon soaring overhead. Whale watching tours are also available.
Almost more of a thrill than spotting a bear, was watching the daybreak over the waters from our boat. The stillness, the early morning sunshine and the awe-inspiring landscape made this a truly memorable start to the day.
There are a handful of bear- and whale-watching operators in town. We went with Westcoast Aquatic Safaris and found them to be very good. Website: www.whalesafaris.com
Activity 3: Discover Tofino Botanical Gardens
Tofino’s Botanical Gardens are fantastic. Set over 12 acres of gardens, forest and shoreline, it’s a wonderful place to discover with children. Follow the network of paths and raised wooden platforms as they wind their way through the herb gardens, the ‘historic’ Bernardo O’Higgins homestead, and the fanciful Children’s Garden.
We spent several happy hours here learning about Tofino’s native plant life as well as some of the town’s history. There’s a lovely café on site too. If you’re traveling with an infant, as we were, leave the stroller behind. A baby carrier or sling will be much more useful. Website: www.tbgf.org
Activity 4: Lace Up Your Walking Boots
Of the many things that Canada does well, hiking has to be near the top of the list. This area of Canada is no exception with a huge range of walking trails to suit all abilities. Among the most popular hikes is the Wild Pacific trail, a gentle 8km walk that follows the rocky coastline and ancient forests. For a panoramic view of Clayoquot Sound and Long Beach, try the Radar Hill Trail. The Pacific Rim National Park also boasts a number of absurdly pretty trails. If you do plan on doing any walking, make sure to bring good walking shoes as the paths can get muddy. For more information on trails, take a look at: http://www.tofino-info.com/hiking-trails-tofino-bc-canada/
1 Great Place to Stay in Tofino with Kids: The Wickaninnish Inn
Positioned at one end of Chesterman Beach with views over the ocean, the Wickaninnish Inn has one of the best addresses in town. The Wick, as its more commonly called, is also one of Tofino’s best-loved hotels and where we spent three nights as a family.
My children loved everything about this hotel; from the fantastic goody basket waiting for them upon arrival (complete with nets for rock pooling, buckets and spades, and giant cookies) to the s’mores that we enjoyed at sunset on the beach. The Wickaninnish also provides those kind of amenities that parents really appreciate such as baby cots (cribs), kiddie-sized raincoats and bicycles suitable for young children.
1 Great Place to Eat on Your Tofino Family Vacation: Sobo
I would go back to Tofino just to eat at Sobo! This really is one of the best restaurants that we’ve found on our travels and during our three-night stay, we must have eaten here at least three times. Casual and relaxed (as you would expect from a town like Tofino) but with an innovative menu usually found in capital cities, Sobo really delivers.
The menu is seasonal, the food freshly prepared and the service is excellent. There’s also a kids’ menu and a playhouse on the restaurant deck area, that’s handy for keeping children busy while their food is prepared. Sobo gets busy so make a reservation or get there early. Website: www.sobo.ca
For more ideas on visiting Tofino with kids, take a look at: 10 Things to Do with Kids in Tofino and