Most people think about Tofino as a summer go-to – stretches of beautiful, sandy beaches, fun surf to learn on and a quaint, pacific northwest paradise. Little do they know there are a number of reasons that make Tofino an exceptional place to visit in the winter, too. In fact, any given local will say that they almost prefer it. Read on for 10 reasons why Tofino shouldn’t only make the summer destinations list.
1. Storm Season
Wait a minute. Storm season is a good thing? In Tofino, it most definitely is. Bundle up in waterproof everything and head to the beaches – there is nothing more humbling and calming than watching wave after wave stretch to incredible heights before crashing down onto the rocks and shores. Even if you don’t feel like hitting up a beach, picture windows at many beachfront resorts allow for Mother Nature to put on an incredible show. Daredevils will step out onto the rocks to feel the spray, but be careful: it doesn’t take much for one of the winter swells to quite literally sweep you off your feet.
2. No food lines, parking spot thieves, baked good snakes or waiting for coffee
Anyone who has visited in summer will be familiar with the crushing disappointment of rolling up to your favourite restaurant only to discover a line out the door. Stomach rumbling desperately, you could be waiting for hours. Winter, however, is a different story. Less tourists = no lines. Brunch on your plate within 20 minutes of sitting down sounds like heaven – same with the idea of walking straight into a café and getting fresh coffee ASAP, as someone doesn’t steal the last of your favourite donut. Better yet, coffee and donut in hand; your car is parked right out front. Once the summer crowd has come and gone, locals breathe a sigh of relief (or even just breathe for the first time in months). The town is theirs again and a quick brunch, coffee break or lunch is now an attainable feat.
3. Staying Indoors Guilt-Free
Sometimes sunny days are the worst. Why? No sunny day comes without the guilt of needing to go do something outside. That puts a lot of pressure on a day. Tofino in the winter sees a lot of rain, there’s no way around it, but more often than not it’s a blessing in disguise. A day begs nothing more from you than to curl up on the couch with a mug of hot tea (or coffee and Bailey’s) and listen to the rain patter on the rooftop. The wood fire calls your name, friends come knocking on the door for cards and board games and absolutely no one suggests a hike, a walk or a swim.
4. The Rainforest… In the Rain
The forests on the coast are stunning in their size and beauty. In fact, they are some of the few that belong to the “Temperate Rainforest” Ecoregion, and are the largest of their kind in the world. Naturally, a rainforest implies rain. Somehow it just feels right to take a walk through forest with the cedar, hemlock, spruce and fir trees’ branches lovingly sheltering you from the falling drops. You suddenly realize how the forests in Tofino feel so alive and green all the time. Breathe in deeply while you’re out there – there’s no better smell than a freshly watered rainforest.
5. Private Hot Springs
Private might be optimistic, but it’s been known to happen in the winter. Hot Springs Cove is a major day trip destination for summer visitors to Tofino. For the locals, this means popping over for a dip in the springs is more of an annoyance than a reprieve; the whole experience can be far from relaxing. Flash-forward to winter and you can have the springs pretty well to yourself. No bumping elbows, loud voices or splashing. Just you, the geothermic heated water and the cool rain pattering on your back. Some places really should have just been best-kept secrets after all.
6. Better Surf
Although Tofino is highly rated as a place to learn how to surf in the summer, winter is the time to shine for those who already know the tricks of the trade. Bobbing like seals in the grey surf, more experienced surfers thoroughly enjoy winter in Tofino despite the struggle of shrugging into thicker suits and squeezing your head into a hood. The reason is simple: waves that produce a strong and fairly consistent swell. Aside from the break, there are also less people in the water and more like-minded and dedicated surfers who are willing to brave the cold. The roots of Pacific Northwest surf culture reach even deeper during the winter – there’s no better time to experience the vibe than when you’re putting your suit on in the frost.
7. Shellfish Season
Mussel man-handlers, oyster shuckers and clam slurpers unite. Winter is the season for the freshest and best of the salty seafood that is treasured by those on the coast. In fact, shellfish is so adored here, that Tofino even has a festival dedicated to the consumption of these tasty bivalves: Clayoquot Oyster Festival. Far from a new ordeal, it celebrated its 20th annual festival this year! If shellfish are a must for you, then winter in Tofino is a treasure trove worth indulging in.
8. Peak Whale Watching
Ever so fond of festivals, Tofino, along with Ucluelet, celebrate the Grey Whale migration every March during the Pacific Rim Whale Festival. For two weeks, nearly 20,000 Grey Whales pass by the coast in what is one of the largest sea mammal migrations in the world. Winter swells endured will treat to you an incomparable west coast experience. Not only will you be able to get out into the Pacific to see whale tails, spot barnacled backs and hear and spy puffs of mist, but there are numerous events all over both towns to keep you exploring the coast. These humble giants certainly deserve a festival in their honor after the km’s they clock swimming up and down the coast!
9. Cozy Fires
Okay, so a lot of places do cozy fires in the winter. There’s just something extra magical about the billows of smoke pouring from a chimney into a rain-laden sky. Like the fog, the amazing scent of burning logs sits low in the forest hugged streets, tempting you to come inside and curl up. Many restaurants in Tofino coax you into their dining rooms with the promise of a flickering fire to stave away the grey outside. Nothing could be more tempting or deserved after being out in the winter rain or ticking off another great surf in the cold ocean swells.
10. Gumboot Fashion
We’ve all been there. Pulling on the layers of sweaters and coats, adding three pairs of socks and immobilizing mittens to the mix. Finally, feet are laced into stifling tall boots and dejectedly, the door is pushed open to enter the snow. You’re either a massive marshmallow of clothing, or investing in a $500 jacket for the sake of chic winter warmth. Luckily, as far as Tofino goes for winter fashion, gumboots are where it’s at – nothing more, nothing less. The necessity for dry feet in the rain is real and the dedication to a solid pair of gummers is all that is required to endure the winter on the west coast. A couple layers here, a toque there… No lux down-filled Canada Goose jackets, high fashion scarves or thick Sorrell boots with extra grip required. Yes, you can even wear them out to restaurants.
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