Vancouver Islands Pacific Rim is a pretty unique and beautiful place to visit. We first visited two years ago as a couple and just recently returned with our dog and kids. The first trip we drove over on the motorcycle during the summer. It was a fairly easy ride and short distance! This time we took the truck over but it was just as great of a drive.
We made a point of stopping to break up our day, there are so many great spots on Vancouver Island, Coombs is always popular with our kids (ice cream is a no brainer) and Rathtrevor Beach is another great spot .
Definitely worth noting they are doing a fairly extensive highway improvement going into Ucluelet and Tofino so you might be delayed entering or exiting town. I would suggest checking the updates on DriveBC.com. We never waited longer than half an hour.
We are certainly no experts on Tofino or Ucluelet, but would love to give our reviews after staying.
First, the beaches in both towns are incredible. Our family is full of beach lovers. The kids are happiest searching for treasures, playing pirates on logs or swimming. I was shocked how the weather didn’t discourage them from wanting to enjoy the beaches.
Before booking you need to decide if you want to stay in Tofino or Ucluelet. We have done both. The first time it was because we booked so late the only accommodation we could find was in Ucluelet (at Black Rock). The second time we split our stay, with half the time in Ucluelet (The Cabins at Terrace Beach) and half in Tofino (Pacific Sands and Tin Wis). If it was up to just me I would pick Tofino always. However, both have lots to offer and these are some of the pros and cons of each.
The town of Ucluelet feels less touristy, which is nice and more like a small community. It is definitely a much more affordable spot to stay but we find it has less to offer in terms of shopping and restaurants. We love the beaches here for beach combing, finding treasures and watching/ discovering sea creatures. We didn’t bring our kayaks or SUP and we will not make that mistake again. However we have only seen rocky beaches in Ucluelet so if you have your heart set on the photos of riding your bikes at sunset on sandy beaches for miles then you would probably be happiest in Tofino.
In Ucluelet we stayed at Terrace Beach, and although it is small beach, it is private and was often only us there. What I love about Terrace Beach is how calm and shallow the water is. Low tide was incredible for exploring, the kids walked out and found star fish, hermit crabs and a giant sea snail. We played in the tidal pools and watched sea anemones. It felt very safe and if you had very young kids or even kids who weren’t totally comfortable in the water this would be a great spot to avoid big swell.
We also spent some time at Big Beach with the kids, and last time we visited Ucluelet we stayed at Black Rock on Big Beach. The views are beautiful from Black Rock and the beach there is basically my kids dream. It has so much to explore. Tidal pools, driftwood, “caves” and just lots to climb and see. The sea-glass, seaweed and sea creatures are plentiful so bring big buckets:)
We liked Black Rock when we stayed there, but we didn’t love it. The food was okay at the resort itself, we tried both the restaurant and lounge. The biggest dislike for me was I found our room dirty. I actually wonder if it is was a one off thing and wish I had let the front desk know. In terms of location it was a beautiful spot and the room layout and size was fantastic. However it was just two of us and we would definitely have had to try something larger if we brought the kids.
This time we had the kids and dog and were looking for somewhere that could accommodate a family of 5 (not always the easiest to find without having to rent two rooms). We were able to find a room for us at The Cabins at Terrace Beach. The accommodations exceeded our expectations. I was shocked when I found something for $199 a night. Then we arrived and I was so surprised by how spacious and well laid out the cabins were. It was two floors with very comfortable beds and nice bedding. The kitchen was so well stocked, and between the two bathrooms we had a rainfall shower and a jetted bath tub. Plus we also had our own laundry in the cabin which for a family who often gets dirty or wet is a big deal. The downside at the Terrace Beach was they didn’t have availability for an ocean front room so we were in the forest. It was beautiful but you could see other cabins and for us when we vacation to the beach we prefer to be ocean view. They also do not have hot tubs available and although I actually preferred and loved the rainfall shower the kids, particularly Rowen, didn’t find the tub replaced a hot tub. Our biggest complaint about the cabin was the living room, the couch was uncomfortable and it wasn’t a ton of seating. If you were visiting in the summer and maybe not spending much time in your room then it would be fine but for us we were doing a mix of exploring and lounging. I like to be able to read a book or to play games as a family and it wasn’t the best living room for that. Another downfall could be the amount of stairs you take to access the beach, particularly from the forest cabins. I actually think the walk to the beach is fun, but it would be more challenging in the summer or when you are trying to carry more down to the beach and/or the smaller your kids are. Mine were able to walk it all on their own and we never took down our wagon or really anything besides ourselves and the dog.
Overall I would recommend both Black Rock Resort and The Cabins at Terrace Beach and we would probably stay at both again.
Now I know not everyone is like us and looking for food or even shopping on vacation but it is kinda of a big deal for me. So, some of the things we tried and would recommend in Ucluelet are:
Shipwreck Pizza (the crust was amazing!!!) We ordered a large pizza for the kids and two smalls for us to share as we wanted to try a couple different flavours, it was way too much food but nice if you want to have leftovers.
Heartwood We had tried to go here last time but they were closed the days we were in town. This time they only had take out breakfast available on one of the days we were there and it was incredible! I can’t wait to try their lunch or dinner menu and I will definitely be going back for Breakfast. We may have ordered 3 meals for 2 people just so we could try it all!
Zoes Bakery known for their cinnamon buns we went in for the kids but left knowing it has something for the whole family. I would highly recommend making a stop. Fraser and I had drinks that were great. The kids had cinnamon buns and weren’t too sure. Fraser tried and said they were great! I think they are handmade and maybe not as processed as our kids are used to. The shop had so much offerings in terms of bakery items and sandwiches I wish I was hungrier and could have tried it all. I think we will definitely be back and maybe next time stay long enough to enjoy their great outdoor eating space.
Ucluelet Brewery, was a pick up spot for us. As a non-beer drinker I can not comment on the brew but I can say it was Frasers favourite and we drove back from Tofino one day to restock. The building itself is really beautiful and I love the take out window option. Check their hours as they are only open about half the week currently.
Relic Surf Shop was huge and had an amazing selection. I regret not buying the kids hoodies as the little logo was super cute and Row loved it. We actually went to rent our surf gear but were unable to as they are currently only renting to islanders. They were super nice though and I would recommend checking out the shop, the one in town is huge!
If you are looking for the soft sandy beaches Tofino is where you want to be. If I think of a Canadian Hawaii I think of the beaches in Tofino. These are the beaches that look endless and that you can ride your bikes alongside the ocean. The swell can be large, and maybe harder for little kids to play in (didn’t stop ours though). The sunsets were magnificent at both Ucluelet and Tofino but I dare you to find a place where sunset isn’t amazing.
Tofino is definitely geared more for tourist but it means there is more selection for shopping, food and even excursions. We didn’t do any booked excursions with the kids but we do have a wish list of ones we want to do. I am not sure what was all available currently during covid and how that is working. When we came as a couple we did a float plane ride and saw the Clayquot Sound from the sky. It was incredible, we actually even saw whales from above. I would love to do that again and take the kids. I would also love to visit the hot springs, but they are currently closed.
As I sit down to make a recommendation list for must eat or see in Tofino I realize we really crammed a lot in during a short time. The one thing I can say having done a few local trips over the pandemic is we really do our part by supporting these small businesses as much as we can. So, the must eat and see… I mean seriously in my mind the answer is everything but a few of the ones we have done and would recommend include:
Rhino Coffee. You should know that I actually don’t drink coffee but my standard London Fog order was fantastic here. The real highlight though is the donuts. My kids were very happy and would say you should try them.
Shelter. I had a great dinner and was impressed how good it was even as take out. We have eaten in the restaurant and it was good but wasn’t sure how take out would be. I love how local their food is and that they menu isn’t overwhelming.
1909 & The Hatch This was our only in restaurant dining with the kids and it was fantastic. The fries and pizzas were delicious which was all my kids cared about. I had Streak Frites and it was fantastic, plus they had a great drink list (get a margarita, you wont regret it!). The best part though is the views of the harbour. The kids actually asked to go back which says a lot.
The Common Loaf Bake Shop. This was actually recommended by friends and was fantastic. Bakeries will always have my heart, but I doubt you could find a person who could walk by here after smelling the fresh baking and not go in for a snack. I may have ordered one of everything and we may have loved it! We went for lunch but the breakfasts looked real good.
Chocolate Tofino is a great spot for kids to grab an ice cream. I love the little area where they are located which has a few good food spots and a little shopping too!
Tofitian is another great spot for coffee and baked goods. We had breakfast treats and drinks one morning and it was hard to narrow down what to try. They offer a variety of dietary options (including Keto, GF, DF, Vegan)!
Surfside Grill was great! There menu is what you would expect and perfect for a beachside meal or even a quick and easy take out to bring back to your room! We tried it for Lunch and Dinner and were happy with everything. I love their fireside dining options and convenience if you are staying at Pacific Sands.
SALT is my favourite for Tofino Souvenirs. We made a quick stop in on our way out of town to grab my third Tofino Towel Blanket, somehow my kids are always stealing them! So I guess now we have one for each kid. We also picked up a Tofino Candle, but the whole shop carries beautiful local products and easy to shop in!
Merge was a new find and I would totally suggest taking a detour off the main drag to check it out. There shop was full of beautiful brands and items including children’s clothing and books, candles (my favourite Brand & Iron) and a unique collection of pottery.
Long Beach Surf was fantastic with getting the family fit with wet suits. The kids had fun and I was grateful for the staff at making it such an easy rental. They aren’t just rentals, so you can shop lots of great brands while picking up a wet suit.
As for Tofino accommodations we struggled to decide where to stay and what we wanted. Our biggest limitation was probably our family size. 5 is not the magic number when it comes to travel or accommodations and then add a Rottie into the mix and well you are left with a few less options. I think besides The Wickanninish (which is the only large resort in Tofino that is currently closed due to Covid) was Fraser’s first choice, Pacific Sands was a clear winner. After much looking a few misses we decided to just book it. It actually met all our requirements so easily, beachfront, hot tub, food available at the resort. However it came at a cost! Our compromise was staying just two nights here and splitting up our trip. I think this was a good choice for us. By far my favourite part of our trip was staying at Pacific Sands. The accommodations were beautiful, the whole family had something they loved about the resort and I thought the beach was by far the nicest of the beaches we have stayed on. Sunset was amazing and the kids loved exploring but they were also able to ride their bikes one the sand. I would definitely recommend staying here. Our suite was huge (spanning 3 levels) and had ample space for everyone to spread out. The kitchen was easy to use and well stocked and we had laundry in the room again which we love and use.
We ended our trip off by meeting up (safely) with friends who had just arrived for the weekend and booked a last minute night a couple resorts over at The Best Western Plus Tin Wis. This was a bonus night so we had no expectations and were happy to be delaying heading home. However, it was a cozy space for 5 plus a dog, and we most likely would not return again as a family. Unfortunately our room didn’t have a kitchenette or a bath tub which for us would be a must in future. The resort and location itself was beautiful. It was a communal hot tub that you booked a private time for and the views from the hot tub were beautiful. The kids loved the playground on the beach and we loved that you could have fires on the beach. The staff were all so friendly and nice and the price was right! It also came with a complimentary breakfast. For sure this resort offered lots in terms of value but the actually room was a bit too tiny for us.
As we headed home from a memorable and magical vacation one takeaway I had was Tofino has so much to offer. In terms of accommodations they have it all, including for all budgets and it really offers something for any type of traveler. It also has so much to offer in terms of nature, beauty and activities, I think Tofino is beautiful and worth a trip!