Tofino is where wilderness and luxury meet. It’s a wave-washed destination where even the public campgrounds are never far from million-dollar views.
John Platenius is the parent of two children (ages 5 and 7) and a resident of Tofino, a top summer vacation spot along Vancouver Island’s western shore. Platenius has just put out a fine new book on the region, Tofino Guide, retailing for $19.95. Read more at his Tofino-focused website or leave questions below in the comments.
Here are Platenius’ tips on things to do with kids in Tofino, his recommendations for great hotels and campgrounds, and even the best hiking trail with a preschooler. (Photo at right, Platenius’s son playing on a Tofino beach)
1. Can you recommend a good Tofino hotel, if you’re staying with kids?
Platenius: Oh oh — prepare yourself for long answer, because there are so many great hotels and resorts in Tofino. Most people come here for the beaches, so it’s a natural fit to recommend a place located on one of the beaches. I can truly say that you can’t go wrong by any of the hotels and resorts that are located on a beach. For many families visiting Tofino, price is the main determining factor. Luckily for budget travelers, our peak season of July and August is relatively short, and there are incredible deals outside of these months. If adventurous families want to come to Tofino in the winter months, they can find a room or even a cabin at a luxury resort for $100 per night — and that’s for a stupendous beach location with cushy amenities!
The most established family-oriented hotel and resort on the beach is Pacific Sands Beach Resort. It’s located on Cox Bay and is a great choice. But it really comes down to taste and what’s available at the time. Pacific Sand’s neighbors, Cox Bay Beach Resort and Long Beach Lodge get rave reviews and are equally stunning in terms of location and amenities.
Chesterman Beach only has one hotel, the Wickaninnish Inn. The Wick is a Relais and Chateâux property and it’s the definition of luxury. My family goes there for coffee fairly often to take in the incredible atmosphere and feel special. If price is not your determining factor for accommodation, I would recommend it in a heartbeat. They have a kid-friendly special called “Wick Kids” which has a kid-version of a gift basket and they offer complimentary child care when guests dine at their restaurant perched over the Pacific.
And then there is MacKenzie Beach, which has two places that I often recommend — again depending on the price and need for amenities. Middle Beach Lodge is an established resort that offers an out-of-this world experience. It was built with heritage materials and is appointed with marine antiques and artifacts that create a warm and relaxing mood. The owner likes to quote a writer who visited there and said “Ralph Lauren would be happy here,” and I too think that’s a great description. Middle Beach has a good approach to welcoming kids to a resort, with family-specific cabins, which are located a great distance from their adult-specific lodge. It’s a 40-acre property, so there’s lots of room for everyone.
The last place I’d recommend on the beach is Ocean Village Beach Resort on MacKenzie Beach. It was recently purchased by a green development team that revitalized the property. It is one of the few places in Tofino that has an indoor swimming pool. It also has an expansive lawn that leads down to the sandy beach, which makes it very attractive to families with wee ones.
OK – there’s one more on MacKenzie Beach that I should mention: Crystal Cove Resort. This place has an awesome private play park for kids. While it is mostly set-up for RVs, they have some really nifty cabins for rent that are built up on stilts, so it feels like your sleeping in a tree fort.
It’s also important to point out that many families choose to stay in vacation rentals — entire houses that have been set up for nightly rentals. My family loves to stay in a vacation rental when we travel, because we can cook our own food, and the kids have more space to roam around and play freely. Most of the resorts that I mentioned above have cabins that they rent in this fashion and there’s two large vacation rental management companies in town: Tofino Vacation Rentals and Tofino Beach Homes. Additionally there are over 100 privately owned vacation rentals in Tofino, so there are tons of options available.
2. Which beach is the best for toddlers or preschoolers visiting Tofino?
Platenius: In my mind, all beaches are great for young ones. Exploring, digging, boogie boarding, skipping rope with bull kelp — what fun! In Tofino Guide, I recommend MacKenzie Beach as the calmest beach for toddlers looking to wade around in the water. It’s relatively protected from the swell and wind, which generally makes for calmer water. There’s also some spectacular tidepools at one end of the beach that make for wonderful exploring if it’s a low tide. Kids love to squish their fingers into sea anemones and giggle as the alien-like blob squirts out water and closes it’s tentacles.
3. Can you recommend any family Tofino/Ucluelet restaurants where you can take kids?
Platenius: Ooooh. That’s a tough one. Most of the restaurants in Tofino are attractive for families, and all of them are good. Three come to mind, and I’ll explain the perks of each. All three give crayons and have kid-friendly choices.
SoBo — which stands for Sophisticated Bohemian — is run by parents of two young ones, so it’s a natural first choice. The owners recently commissioned a local father to build an attractive but functional play toy for kids to use on their patio. He built a mini replica of the purple bus that they used to operate out of when they first opened and it’s a great draw for kids. Our kids love to eat lunch at this restaurant, and they usually order a kid-friendly version of their miso oudon noodle soup. SoBo’s polenta fries are practically a staple for many Tofino families.
Shelter Restaurant is another great choice for kids, especially for lunch. It’s a bit darker, and more lounge-like than the other three, which I think can be fun for kids to experience. They have the best booths in Tofino — big and cushy. They also play surf movies on four or five TVs, which my kids love to watch. The kid’s pizza there is a great choice.
And then there’s the restaurant at the Weigh West Marine Resort, which has been around for a long time. It’s perched right over the water on wooden pilings, so kids can lean over the window and watch the marine life below. It’s common to see river otters and sea lions swimming right by your window, and you can watch the star fish clinging to the pilings. You are literally dining in an intertidal zone! The kids fish and chips is great, and it’s a good value too.
4. What is your favorite hiking trail in the area (that would be suitable for a family with young kids), and why?
Platenius: The Rainforest Trail, Loop B is my first choice. It’s about one kilometer long (0.6 miles), which I find a perfect distance for my 5-year-old daughter. The entire loop is boardwalked, which makes for easy walking, and there are great interpretive signs about the temperate rainforest ecosystem. One section of the trail crosses a ravine by way of a huge log that fell who-knows how long ago, which impresses the kids and the adults in the crew.
5. Can you recommend a favorite family-friendly campsite near Tofino? Why is it good for kids?
Platenius: Before I answer this one, I should mention that if families are looking to camp in Tofino in July or August, they should make reservations well in advance.
All of the campgrounds are family friendly, but I think Green Point Campground, in the Pacific Rim National Park is probably the top choice for families. It’s situated up above Long Beach, which is about a five-minute walk from most campsites. The reason I choose this one is because it gets you away from it all, but still has all the amenities you’d expect at a campground. Because it’s in the National Park, it’s significantly cheaper than the others. There’s a theater in the campground that hosts naturalists and park staff who present evening shows on topics like black bears, gray whales and the local indigenous culture.