On a recent two-night stay in Tofino, I checked into the rustic yet elegant Relais & Châteaux property Wickaninnish Inn, set on Chesterman Beach. Tucked into Vancouver Island’s Clayoquot Sound, Tofino draws close to a million visitors each year. The town’s notable rugged surf (in 2010 Outside Magazine awarded Tofino the Editors’ Choice award for the best surf town in North America), winter storms (blow in from Japan during November through February that bring up to 15 feet of rain), natural wildlife (with poplar outfits offering whale, bear, and bird watching tours), First Nations cultural history and touring, along with the island’s unpretentious cool have made Tofino a hot West Coast destination.
I arrived with a group of fellow travelers in the early evening and as I settled into my room, chocolate-covered strawberries arrived at my door. Too early to enjoy the fireplace in my suite, I sat on the balcony and watched the chilling Pacific surf. The sun was bright until it was time to meet for dinner at the award-winning Sobo (short for Sophisticated Bohemian) Restaurant. From its roots as a taco truck to the current brick-and-mortar spot on Neill Street, restaurant owners Artie and Lisa Ahier brought inventive locally sourced foods to town, a bit of Tofino meets the world. Sobo makes finely curated honest food inside a warm familial place and should not be missed.
The next morning, I ventured for a short walk on the beach before I went down for a soothing massage at the resort’s Ancient Cedars Spa. Afterward, I sipped tea and ate fruit salad on the spa patio. Feeling completely relaxed, I returned to my room to write until the next meal: local-style tacos at Wildside Grill (an upscale taco stand run by commercial fishermen Jeff Mikus and chef Jesse Blake). An order of bean and rice tacos loaded with avocado, fresh salsa, cilantro, and green onions are worth a meal or two while in town.
By afternoon, I was well sated and ready for my bear-watching adventure, where I joined a full boat of enthusiastic eco-tourists. Several black bears and bald eagles were spotted along with harbor seals and a salmon fish farm on our return through Clayoquot Sound. I was nearly lulled to sleep by the boat ride.
Before dinner, I went back to the Wickaninnish Inn for another stroll on the beach, where I spied a few sandpipers along with The Carving Shed. It's where the infamous wood carver Henry Nolla worked and mentored West Coast carvers. We dined at the Inn’s Pointe Restaurant where Nolla’s work could be seen in the intricately carved beams throughout the dining room. Prepared by chef Warren Barr, the food was bright and fresh with stellar bursts of local flavors. My only regret the next morning was leaving town too soon. Unless you count the short beach walks, I missed hiking Tofino’s beach and rainforest trails leading into the Pacific Rim National Park, just one of the many reasons to return.