Constantly coated in sea spray, the town of Tofino sits so far on the cusp of Canada’s West Coast, it’s one of the country’s first points of contact with the Pacific Ocean. A place of wild encounters where the flow of frothy waves never stop, the town of 1,700 has become famous for its natural assets: multi-mile beaches, a centuries-old coastal rainforest, and inclement weather. During storm season (well, winter), these elements perform in an annual show so spectacular, it’s priceless—all you need to do is show up to get front row seats.
I don’t often hit the beach in search of foul weather—I prefer sipping mojitos on a lounger, thank you—but I heard a ridge of low pressure was imminent, so in a "when in Rome" moment I storm-chased my way to Tofino to suit up in waterproof everything (much like a member of The Deadliest Catch crew) and take to the sand. Standing beside sea kelp and grasses washed high ashore by the surging tide, I pan my surroundings and realize I’m on the edge of the world. Straddling the 49th Parallel on the 1.5-mile Chesterman Beach, the only thing separating me from Japan is the Pacific Ocean.
"Tofino is Canada’s original storm watching destination, and the best place to storm-spot from Alaska down to Mexico" according to Charles McDiarmid, a long-time resident as well as the owner/managing director of the amazing (and 2011 Fodor’s 100 Hotel Award-winning) Wickaninnish Inn. And Charles knows a little something about the art of storm; he not only grew up watching the wild waves, he surfed them too.
So taken by the destination’s rainforest-meets-ocean appeal, after nearly two decades working as a hotelier and tourism director around the world, he opened his rustic-elegant inn in 1996, making sure every room was kitted out with storm-savoring essentials: large viewing windows, a balcony adorned with Adirondack chairs, a dual soaker tub, and a fireplace. Turning swell-spotting into an even cozier affaire, The Wickaninnish broadcasts an outdoor microphone inside the hotel when the storm gets really raucous.
Knowing the 75-room inn is showered in a constant spray (plus the occasional wave that surges so high up the granite gully it crashes into guest rooms), I check into a lower level room in an attempt to get up close and personal with sea splashes. Though my window won’t get covered like I’m going through a car wash, my view is not too shabby: a brood of old-growth Douglas firs give way to a sand bar that seems to stretch as far as Asia.
Insider Tip: Ask for room 109 in The Pointe building if you want the highest chance of your room getting sprayed by the sea.
As romantic as it is to watch the wind, rain, and sea dance with furry from a fireside perch indoors, standing outside in the eye of the storm is a multi-sensory must. Donning the one-size-fits-all bright yellow jacket and dark blue rain pants from my room, I pull on my Loeffler Randall rain boots (in a last-ditch attempt to stylize my stormy attire) and saunter to the shore. At the water’s edge, the conditions remind me of a crazy spa experience where a rainforest shower, detoxifying salt spray, and cedar-scented exfoliation happen all at once.
Salt-sprayed and dripping, I head back to the inn clapping and yelling "bravo"; the show does not get any more Wild West than this.
What to Know
1. The best way to reach Tofino is through a combination of car and ferry from Vancouver. To get there, make your way to the Horseshoe Bay BC Ferries terminal—a half hour drive outside of downtown—and drive on to the 1.5-hour car ferry bound for Departure Bay, Nanaimo. Once in Nanaimo (situated on Vancouver Island), follow the signs for Tofino, a 2.5-hour drive away.
2. Many Tofino newbies think spending one night is enough ogle the stormy sights, however, taking into account travel time and exploring the region’s multiple beaches, we recommend staying at least two nights.
3. Rooms at The Wickaninnish Inn start at $260 per night.
Photo credits: Wickaninnish Inn courtesy of Wickaninnish Inn; all other images courtesy of Trish Friesen