Five-metre waves. Sideways rain. Moody skies. Wind you can lean into. This is storm-watching in Tofino, British Columbia.
For those in-the-know, such frightful weather is a reason to rejoice. The thrill of witnessing storms so ferocious they’re often dubbed “marine bombs” is right-now drawing adventurous folks to the beaches around Tofino, on Vancouver Island’s west coast. First marketed as a draw by Tofino's Wickaninnish Inn some 20 years ago, storm-watching has since become the town’s signature wintertime activity.
So grab your rain slicker and head west. Here is your guide to storm-watching in Tofino this winter:
See the Storms
We queried Linda Kaye, PR for Tourism Tofino, to grab some reliable picks for storm-watching locales. Her advice is to always first check the weather or an online surf cam, but these three beaches are usually safe bets for big waves:
North Chesterman Beach: View the waves either from the comfort of the Wickaninnish Inn’s Pointe Restaurant or up-close near the rocky outcropping in front of the hotel, looking out toward Lennard Island Lighthouse.
South Chesterman Beach: Look south to the rocky headlands of Pacific Rim National Park—big waves often break over that point. It's an amazing display; you'll feel small against nature.
Kwisitis Visitor Centre: Located in Pacific Rim National Park, this visitor centre offers not only a great spot to see the waves (scenic Wickaninnish Beach) but also interesting info about the natural and human history of the region.
- Standard storm-watching gear includes a waterproof jacket and pants, rubber boots, wool socks, insulated layers (again, wool is ideal), a toque and gloves. Strong winds don’t cooperate with umbrellas.
- Storm-watching season is the one time you’ll hope for bad weather, but Tofino can boast bluebird winter days too. Hiking trails in Pacific Rim National Park, flightseeing tours and surf lessons are just three activities to consider if the storms die down.
- Tofino is home to some incredible artists. Roy Henry Vickers’s Eagle Aerie Gallery is a must-visit, or simply grab a drink at the Driftwood Café and peruse local artwork on-display in the adjacent Henry Nolla Gallery.
Tofino may be small, but it punches well above its weight-class in the culinary scene. (One weekend perusing the many great restaurants and you may also be in a new weight-class.) Here are three top picks:
Breakfast: The Great Room at Long Beach Lodge Resort
Located on Cox Bay, grab a seat by the window and chow a sumptuous breakfast rich with local ingredients while the waves pound the sand right outside. We recommend the Breakfast Pizza, one of chef Ian Riddick’s gourmet originals.
Owned and operated by the folks behind the locally adored Wildside Grill, the Surfside Grill offers similar casual fare—fish tacos, barbecued salmon, hearty soups—just steps from the beach. Eat onsite or take to-go.
Dinner: Red Can Gourmet
Don’t let the industrial park location of the Red Can Gourmet scare you off. Chef Tim May has created a cozy fine-dining experience where he serves expertly crafted dishes featuring local seafood and regional farm fare. Menu changes weekly. (Red Can is also a local-fave take-away pizza joint.)
Top Pick: BriMar Bed & Breakfast
Set next to the sand of South Chesterman Beach, BriMar Bed & Breakfast is a true rainforest respite. Watch the waves from one of three cozy suites (we recommend the Loft, with its clawfoot tub) and savour hearty breakfasts every morning. Host Paula Mason’s West Coast-style eggs benedict and blueberry muffins are to die for.
Discover more accommodation options, and more info, at Tourism Tofino.