Take a little bit of Hawaii, mix it with a bunch of New Zealand, and you’ll come out with something like Vancouver Island, Canada. Tofino holds it down as the “surf city” of the north, and with a backdrop that maintains a consistency of postcard status, it’s an adventure a surfer, traveler, kayaker, naturalist, food buff, artist, yogi, or hiker will be raving about for years to come.
Here’s what you need to know about traveling to Vancouver Island:
–Border Crossing. Bring a Passport. Yeah, its just Canada, but it’s also a law to have one when crossing the international border. I got hassled pretty heavily a few years ago, crossing back into the US without one, so don’t forget it, or you’ll have to deal with the not-so-friendly Canucks at the border who won’t be easily amused with your witty Californian excuses.
–Travel. While you can easily fly into the beautiful garden city of Victoria to access the goods of the island, it’s really easy to combine a trip to Vancouver Island with a trip to Washington State via ferry. It’s not too expensive to take your vehicle, and it will be much easier to get around the island with your own ride unless you plan on renting one.
If you’re continuing your travels through Washington, away from the Olympic Peninsula, try the ferry that leaves from Sidney, and arrives in Anacortes. Anacortes is a world-class mountain biking destination, and only a few hours away from North Cascades National Park. The ferry trip is also beyond pleasurable in that you sail through the San Juan Islands, and get unreal views of the North Cascades as you get closer to Washington.
–Accommodations. This one is pretty easy since there are ample campgrounds and low-priced motels strewn about the Tofino and Ucluelet area. There is an abundance of posh type places that’ll set you back 2-300 bucks a night if you’re so inclined, or if you’re into camping, just pick one of the many gorgeous spots around Tofino and post-up. The place I stayed had wireless internet that you could get at your campsite, a hot-tub, pool, gorgeous little camp spots caked in temperate rainforest groves, it was walking distance to the beach, and an easy bike ride into town.
–Surfing. The “Surf City” of the north is a haven for beginner surfers. Even Cowell’s in Santa Cruz has nothing on the sheer amount of surf schools and beginners that flood into Tofino each summer. This is a great thing if you’re looking to try out surfing in a very serene, laid-back atmosphere, where no one will bark at you for flopping on every wave you paddle for. If you surf regularly, then you might want to choose where you paddle out wisely, or just keep a watchful eye out for the 20-40 soft-tops that might show up at any given time over the course of a summer day. But there’s also a reason Tofino is in fact the epicenter of surfing in Canada. In winter, or with the right swell, this place lights up , and can throw barrels as big as a car when everything combines in just the right way. We also found it pretty easy to walk away from the surf schools and surf an empty sandbar, even at a place as popular as Long Beach.
–Pacific Rim National Park and Clayoquot Sound. Once you’ve gotten off the ferry you’re looking at about at 4-5 hour drive to Tofino. By the time you hit Highway 4 things start to get rad. Clayoquot Sound surrounds you for the rest of your drive. This biosphere reserve is all-time in its beauty, and harbors an interesting story of balancing community needs with environmental sustainability. Part of the island is also home to Pacific Rim National Park. Long Beach, the most surfed beach in the Tofino area is right in the middle of the park. There’s also several more surf breaks in and around Long Beach and the National Park, and several amazing rainforest trails to walk and hike through that draw just as many visitors to the area as the plentiful waves that pound the coastline.
–Food and Drink. I didn’t have the time to visit any of the wineries on Vancouver Island, but I did hear several positive reviews. If you’re a beer snob, I wouldn’t recommend going too big on any of the over-priced offerings at the local liquor store. 16 or more bucks for a so-so sixer is not really my cup of tea, or cup of beer if you will. However, there’s a brand new brewery that just opened near Tofino, and they “get it”. When I told them where I was from, and that my palate is more accustomed to top-notch IPA’s, they understood my harsh critique of Canadian microbrews. The brew masters are just getting going in Tofino, but the tasters I sipped of their current offerings were by far and away the best beers I had during my visit. That’s where you should go for beer, no question. They have growlers to-go, and have a great little spot, right next to the indoor climbing wall , which is perfect for a few après-beers post-surfing. For food there’s a few supermarkets in town and they have pretty much all you need if you’re camping. Going out to eat can be spendy, but if you make the trip, seafood caught right offshore and delivered to your plate in a matter of a few hours can’t be beat. The pizza place in town that just opened is also a good spot for tasty, reasonably priced fare, and they’re open a bit later than the other restaurants in town.
–Good Vibes. There’s certainly no scarcity of those going around the Tofino area, and on Vancouver Island in general. I’ve been very fortunate to travel all over the world and once in a while you come across one spot that really speaks to you. Vancouver Island is one of those places. I can only imagine backcountry skiing on some of these unreal looking peaks in winter, which one guy definitely gave me the run-down on, sharing it’s a small but sick crew that shred these peaks all winter long, without much competition. We didn’t necessarily get the best waves during our stay, but there was something to slide down everyday, biking and hiking was ideal, and the constant characters tramping all over the island were well above par. People are stoked to live there, and stoked visit there as well. It’s definitely a spot I hope to make a yearly pilgrimage to in the future, and would recommend to anyone looking for a little adventure north of the lower 48.