When it comes to the must-sees of Vancouver Island, most people have heard of Tofino. And if you’re making the trek out here I would expect you to be fairly well-versed in Tofino’s ever popular restaurants and activities – Tacofino, exploring Long Beach, Tofino Brewery’s beer flights, bear watching and surfing Cox Bay. But what about the rest of this quaint, surfer, hippy town on the west coast of Vancouver Island boasting cold seas and tall trees? Discover all of Tofino’s hidden gems.

Having grown up on the island and having spent last summer living in Tofino, I wanted to share with you some of my lesser-known Tofino faves. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Tofino staples but if you are looking to spruce up your Tofino itinerary here are six Tofino hidden gems for you to explore.

Surfers at Cox Bay, Tofino seen from above

Tofino’s Hidden Gems

1. The best poutine

I pride myself on my poutine-eating abilities and consider myself a poutine-connoisseur of sorts, (something my boyfriend thinks I shouldn’t be quite so proud of). With that in mind, please understand I don’t say this lightly, Wildside Grill has some of the best poutine I have ever had! Forget Tacofino and their one-hour line, head next door to taste the real gem of the west coast! And if you are hell-bent on getting your fish tacos, they serve up some amazing ones as well! Also, if you are looking for something scenic and coastal, check out its sister restaurant, Surfside Grill at Pacific Sands for more amazing food.

2. My favourite beach

I know you have heard of Long Beach and Cox Bay, but Middle Beach is where the true magic is at! Make sure to head here for sunset, grab some stuff to build a fire and make a night of it. You will find it just past MacKenzie Beach. I may be biased, but it also makes for some epic aerial shots like this one!

Middle Beach in Tofino

3. Late night drinks – Shelter

Shelter is by no means a hidden gem. But after many post-work drinks, this place has earned its spot on my list. From its epic boozy frozen drinks to it’s kick-ass chicken burger, outdoor patio, heaters and chill vibe, this locale became a quick favourite. I think Luke would kill me if I wrote about Shelter and neglected their chocolate truffles (he froths over them!) So make sure to treat-yo-self to a truffle or two while you’re at it!

Food and drinks as Shelter restaurant

4. Happy hour

This one is a toss up. I can’t pick just one. If you are digging the stormy surf vibes then I would say head to Long Beach Lodge. They often have live music and cocktails on special between 3-6pm. This is a great opportunity to check out this incredible resort at a fraction of the cost. Not to mention one hell of a view of Cox Bay!

In by no means second place, The Hatch is the sweet spot for sunny patio happy hour. It is located just on the edge of Tofino (turn down towards the water when you see the large white barn). It boasts sweet views of Strawberry Island and a bustling marina. They have a good selection of local beers and small happy hour snacks to tide you over until dinner.

Happy Hour at The Hatch in Tofino Resort + Marina

5. Cox Bay Lookout

This definitely makes for an epic little hike and unreal views but don’t expect to keep your shoes clean. This is one muddy hike regardless of the season. In my honest opinion, this hike is absolutely incredible and it always blows my mind that the bomber trail hike (an old plane crash site) is more popular for tourists.  

To get there, head to the beach at Cox Bay and go left until you get to the end of the beach. Between the rocks you will see a start of a trail.

Cox Bay Lookout Hike at sunset

 6. Fish hatchery and bear watching

Getting to experience wild bears is by no means a guaranteed experience and dependent on seasonal opportunities but if you get the chance, visit the Thorton Creek Fish Hatchery during salmon spawning season when the fish swim upstream. Bears are often seen here wading through the water and fishing for salmon. The Hatchery provides a safe viewing platform for visitors and entry is by donation. When we were there we saw three bears hanging out in the stream on the prowl for fish. Absolutely incredible!

Bear Watching in Tofino

Where to Stay in Tofino

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Budget: Tofino Hostel or Bella Pacifica Campground – Staying in Tofino on a budget can prove to be quite difficult, especially in summer. Tofino Hostel is an award winning place where you can stay for relatively cheap right by the town centre. Another fantastic option is camping by the beach in Bella Pacifica Campground. We have camped here with friends before and loved waking up to the sound of the ocean and having breakfast on the beach.

Value: Tofino Resort + Marina – One of the most amazing views in any hotel anywhere. We have stayed here a couple of times and enjoyed the views of the surrounding mountains, waterways and islands from the balcony. It is located right on the edge of town making it easy walking distance to some of the great restaurants.

Luxury: Long Beach Lodge – Our top pick for Tofino. The lodge is situated right on the beach at Cox Bay offering incredible views of the surfers as the waves roll in. The lounge here is one of our favourite places to enjoy happy hour and catch the sunset. If you are looking for the ultimate accommodation in Tofino then this is it.

Tofino has this undeniable charisma that draws people to it. Get out, explore and enjoy everything that this west coast town has to offer! Did we miss something? Let us know your favourite spots in Tofino next time you visit the west coast.