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A number of years ago, I was at a party when the subject of tofino came up. They all yelled out “To-fin-o” at the same time, and then took turns explaining that it was a hippy surf town in canada. A beautiful island surrounded by even more beautiful islands. Tall, towering cedars cetaceans and bears. Springs heating yummy food the onset of winter storms has been predicted.
The fact that I, a travel writer, did not know about this destination until now was somewhat embarrassing. The problem is that I don’t appear to have been briefed on the matter. Well, not right now, anyway.
Soon after attending, I did some research on the neighbourhood and discovered that san francisco is home to a tofino, the name of a popular establishment selling and serving natural wines. Mark nevin, one of the owners, spent his formative years in tofino, british columbia, where he became an avid surfer and camper. The company’s name was shaped in part by his wife and business partner, april, who visited the area after he first did.
Tofino’s coastline is dotted with smaller islands, many of which are totally overgrown with vegetation.
Because of my curiosity about it, I’m considering organising a trip there with a wide range of people. August was my first month attending the festival. The vacation spot is small, most hotels are booked during the summer, and transportation is neither easy nor cheap, all of which made preparations challenging (I drove). After spending several thousand dollars on a weekend in tofino, I feel much more confident talking about it at house parties in the bay area.
My friend steven and I decided to take a car ferry from horseshoe bay in vancouver on thursday night, stay in the unremarkable port city of nanaimo, and then leave for tofino bright and early on friday morning to make the most of our time there. This was a brilliant plan, as there are numerous places to hike and swim in lakes and rivers on the way to tofino.
We visited a temperate rainforest containing enormous red cedar trees when we got to long beach, a 10-mile stretch of coastline within pacific rim national park. We used to go swimming in the kennedy river, which was considerably more pristine than the other rivers in the area. The air smelled like a steam room as I walked through them, and the banana slugs gliding beneath them were a kaleidoscope of colours and patterns. The twisting grace with which these giants moved brought to mind the redwood trees.
It was remarkable how little of the exposed coastline we could see as we drove up the narrow peninsula due to the dense tree cover. We returned to the road and saw a black bear feasting on a patch of berries. As we retraced our steps to the road, we saw a black bear savouring a snack of berries from a nearby bush.
Not always the case; in the 1950s, forestry companies constructed the road we were on to remove timber. However, since the national park was established in 1971, tofino has been marked by waves of environmental activism and struggles for indigenous land rights. The majority of these fights have been victorious, setting the stage for a thriving tourism sector.
I expected the tiny town at the end of the peninsula to be bustling with visitors because of its mendocino-like atmosphere. There were hardly any people out and about despite the fact that it was only mildly chilly, much like a typical summer day in san francisco. We snagged a table at sobo promptly and ordered the local albacore tuna in a buckwheat soba noodle salad with smoked salmon chowder.
While everything was tasty, the key lime pie for dessert stood out as a highlight. The three-hour journey across vancouver island had already paid off in spades.
Our next stop was the rainbow-hued hotel zed, where we rode bikes through the lobby and discovered an arcade with joust, tron, and ms. Pac-man hidden behind a secret bookcase door.
The ’70s served as an inspiration for hotel zed. A life-size volkswagen bus fashioned from driftwood was among the many unique works of art on display. Other fun games included giant scrabble and a poker room. The staff was extremely friendly, and the room was comfortable and unique. They even baked some treats for my dog.
We took a quick dip in the hot tub and relaxed in the sauna before deciding to drive to nearby chesterman beach, a large sandy cove with views of the surrounding islands. There, we got the rare opportunity to see a cloudy sunset.
We started the day with coffee on a deck overlooking the mudflats that are a haven for birds in tofino. Then, we went to the hotel’s grab-and-go counter to get breakfast burritos. We stopped for lunch and then continued our tour of the nearby beaches and forests before continuing south to ucluelet.
Pronounced exactly as it is written, ucluelet is a more affordable and less crowded alternative to tofino (you-clue-let). Perhaps a canadian version of fort bragg? Back up north, we stopped at ukee poke, where the local albacore once again astounded us. Tofino kombucha’s ginger lemon drink was a delicious complement to the albacore.
As the day drew to a close, we embarked on a boat bound for meares island.
While the island is close to tofino and some people would rather kayak there than take the boat ride, our ocean outfitters boat captain and guide made the trip worthwhile by showing us a wild sea otter and telling us stories about the island.
Environmentalists and indigenous groups gathered on meares island 30 years ago for the infamous “War in the woods” to prevent industrial logging from decimating the temperate rainforests of clayoquot sound.
When our guide left us on the island, we saw a sign that said we were in a tribal park and should be respectful of the environment. As we walked along a shaky boardwalk, we were able to see one of the oldest red cedar forests in the area. Trees such as these can be found in redwood national and state park.
Parks with elaborate tree canopies and recurring trunks.
In reality, however, at that point we had barely scratched the surface. In addition to glaciers and geysers, you can see bears, whales, and other wildlife on longer boat tours and scenic seaplane flights.
A dinner was served that night at the hotel’s roar restaurant, where a campfire effect was created with an open flame. While my travel companion opted for the seared lingcod tagine salad, I opted for the salmon kebabs with puffed wild rice. Once again, tofino surpassed our expectations, and we were unable to resist melting into bed after a soak in the hot tub and a stroll at dusk.
At times, it may appear that vacationing abroad is a luxury too far. After a quick breakfast on sunday, we joined a group of scientists at chesterman beach to conduct a census of the local sea star population. Similarly to sue-meg state park, the tide pools were teeming with large green anemones and colourful sea stars of varying hues.
We didn’t just look for healthy people; we were also on the lookout for those who might have contracted the wasting disease that killed off the entire coastal california animal population. It was encouraging to see that so few people had the disease’s telltale white patches, and gratifying to learn that our efforts had contributed to the advancement of scientific understanding.
We rewarded ourselves with fish sandwiches from the wildside grill. Just now, we ate what might have been the best fish sandwiches of our lives. This sandwich was made with a brioche bun that had been toasted, sweet chilli mayonnaise, pickled ginger, fresh vegetables, and marinated and seared locally caught albacore tuna. Renting a wetsuit and a surfboard at cox bay beach after lunch, I was pleasantly surprised to ride several long waves.
Hundreds of tourists were taking surfing lessons and having a great time because the waves were ideal for novice and intermediate surfers. Later that afternoon, we hiked through a sludgy jungle up the side of a mountain at the southern end of the beach. The views from the peak of the mountain extended far beyond cox bay, and they were well worth the effort it took to get there.
Sunday night’s dinner was not only the best I had all weekend, but also one of the summer’s most memorable occasions. Try the potato-encrusted oysters with mushroom puree, truffle oil, and creme fraiche at wolf in the fog; I nearly fainted from the braised pork capicola served with polenta, swiss chard, and morel juice.
The restaurant serves both options. After what felt like a blink of an eye, the weekend was over, and we had a long trip ahead of us to get back to the city where we lived.
On our way out of town, we all remarked on how much like california some of tofino’s most picturesque areas are. Possibly we’ve landed in an alternate universe. Regardless, it’s somewhere every Californian should seriously consider visiting.