Tofino is Canada's Surfing Capital — and One of Its Best Food Towns, Too Slideshow
Wolf in the Fog
Wolf in the Fog is one of the crown jewels of the Tofino dining scene. As is true of other aspects of the dining landscape in Tofino, the quality and creativity that’s served up could easily compare with that at one of the elite restaurants in a major city like Toronto or Vancouver. The restaurant offers a fantastic menu from which you likely won’t make any bad decisions. They are constantly changing things up to keep it fresh and inventive. The potato-crusted oyster is a signature that’s usually on the menu. I particularly enjoyed the grilled octopus, which had a Moroccan flair to it, and the scallops, which were served on the half-shell. That dish is one of the most Instagramable offerings on the menu. Expect long lines and wait times for Wolf in the Fog in the summer, so plan accordingly.
Sometimes even in a major city it’s hard to find hand-crafted chocolate that’s made in-house. But what else would you expect in Tofino? Chocolate Tofino is a little shop makes their own chocolates every day. They skip the artificial colors and chemicals, and emphasize quality, and are organic and local as much as possible. They even grown their own chiles for their La Maya Truffle. On a hot summer day, order the homemade lavender honey gelato; it’ll put you into a state of bliss. On cooler days, melting a wildflower honey ganache chocolate on your tongue has a similar effect.
Tofino Brewing Company
Tofino has a craft brewing company right in town and they’re making some exceptional beers. Tofino Brewing Company a small operation but they have a menu of six to eight beers on tap that runs the gamut of tastes. If you’re into stouts, dry the Kelp Stout. It offers the bold taste of a dark ale that’s fused with the savory flavors of kelp, which is locally harvested. The tap room is a local gathering spot with different events throughout the week. And if you’re the designated driver (or a health buff), it’s still a welcoming spot to you too as they serve kombucha on tap. That means you can still join your friends for a fizzy drink.
The Great Room
Speaking of The Great Room, it’s an ideal spot from which to enjoy the surroundings. On cold days, cozy up to the fireplace with a warm drink and watch the waves crash. On stormy days, it’s easy be mesmerized for hours. The floor-to-ceiling windows allow for optimal views. There’s a fantastic menu, too, at the Great Room and it’s a recommended stop even if you’re not staying at the lodge. There’s a lot of creativity in play from hoisin duck wings to beautifully presented scallops on the half-shell. And the beer list is not to be missed. Chat with bartender Andre McGillivray, who is the equivalent of a sommelier for beer. He’ll guide you through the pages of selections to find a unique brew for you.
Tacofino is a Mexican food truck that first opened up shop in Tofino — but so many people from around Vancouver Island were apparently making the drive to Tofino to get their tacos that they decided to expand, and have now launched multiple trucks and taco bars in Vancouver and Victoria. It’s easy to see why it’s popular: tacos bursting with bright flavors at reasonable prices. They range from $4 to $7.25 in Canadian dollars (about $3 to $5.60), and the recipes are inspired by the flavors the owners have experienced first-hand at surf destinations all around the world. It’s a great spot for a casual bite to eat.
Casual diners looking for a hit of fish and chips should pull up to Surfside Grill. It’s a dish that’s easy to muck up — too many renditions are oily and greasy — but this panko-crusted version is on-point. To be fair, there are a lot of good options on the menu but when I see a well-executed fish and chips, that’s what I go for. You can even choose salmon or oysters with your chips, if you’d rather something different than cod. Of course, you could just eat right there on the outdoor picnic benches in front of the Pacific Sands Resort, but perfectionists should take their food to go and dine at a Pettinger Point, a scenic spot just 10 minutes away. You can stroll over and sit on the rocks to enjoy the ultimate view.
At some point we have to burn some of the calories we’ve collected, right? Long Beach Lodge has an exceptional surf school that’s ideal for those still honing their skills. They’ll get you garbed into a wet suit and take you out for a lesson. It’s not as hard as you think; there are just a couple of nuances you have to learn before you get your balance on the water. By the end of the day, they’ll have you riding the waves.
Shelter Restaurant is another one of the must-eats in Tofino. There’s plenty to talk about with the menu — the tuna tartare was my favorite — but I have to highlight their focus on quality products. They serve wild-caught fish and organic meats as much as possible. For example: I can’t say that I’ve stumbled across organic chicken wings in many of the restaurants I’ve been to in New York or Toronto, and because I try to avoid generic GMO-fed, steroid-loaded chicken when possible, I rarely order them. But Shelter serves wings from grass-fed, free-run chickens, which were fantastic. Customers are becoming more conscious about what they put into their bodies. While many restaurants still go with the traditional meats and fish because it’s cheaper to do that, it’s nice to see a restaurant opting for quality. Almost everything here is made in-house with locally sourced ingredients. The free-run poultry is from Vancouver Island, while other ethically-raised meets are from Fraser Valley. Food made with love paired with a relaxing atmosphere makes for a really enjoyable experience.
One of the downsides of traveling to small towns across North America is that there is all too mjuch bad coffee. Don’t worry: coffee snobs don’t get snubbed in Tofino. Rhino Coffee was my stop because I heard that they have stellar baked goods as well as excellent coffee. They have gluten-free chocolate hazelnut and "Josie Jelly" vegan doughnuts, as well as maple bacon glaze and chocolate salted caramel varieties. Come for the java, stay for the sweets.
Picnic Charcuterie, located across the street from Tofino Brewing Company. is a good partner for its neighbor. Homemade sausages and wonderfully salty cured meats go hand-in-hand with easy-drinking beers. (I stopped into Picnic to get a couple of pepperoni sticks to take with me to the brewery.) The quality at Picnic, run by 31-year-old Tina Windsor, is impressive considering that the town of Tofino is so small. With locally sourced ingredients and carefully curated products, it could easily rival a butcher shop of any major city in terms of quality. You taste the passion in the products.
Long Beach Lodge
Tofino is a trendy town for surfing and storm-watching, and staying at the Long Beach Lodge gets you direct access to both. It's located on a sprawling sandy beach, so you can waltz right out to the waves and start boarding. If you’re coming in the winter to storm-watch, the hotel offers fantastic views across Cox Bay from your room or from the Great Room downstairs.
Jamie’s Whaling Station
Tofino is rich with beautiful nature, and humans aren’t the only ones that are there to appreciate it. If you want to see who’s hanging out nearby, hop onboard Jamie’s Whaling Station to go for a Zodiac whale watching tour. Depending on the season, you could see anything from gray whales to orcas to sea lions. There are also plenty of bald eagles circling above, as they nest in the area. If it’s a cool day, you may want to dress warmly as you’ll be out on the wate — although they do provide you with a red flotation suit to add a layer, along with boots, gloves, and hats. Make sure you bring binoculars or a camera with a zoom lens for a better look at the wildlife.