There’s something special about Tofino that’s difficult to put into words. How can one convey the perfect alchemy of its sensory experiences? The way the sounds of the waves and the ocean breeze rustling through the rainforest helps slow your heart rate. How the scent of cedar soothes away any stress carried over the winding drive up Island. The therapeutic briskness of an ocean dip. Or the visual thrill as the sunset paints the sky with bold strokes of pink and orange.
Only 10 minutes after we arrive at Pacific Sands — the beachside resort on Cox Bay — my partner Robert gestures at the view from our balcony and exclaims: “Right! This is why we come here.”
Full disclosure: Pacific Sands holds a very special place in my heart. Nine years ago, on a visit from Toronto, I was lucky enough to spend a few days at the resort. At the time, my partner and I had been dating long-distance for around two years. One morning, on an early-morning walk along the beach, with the clarity that only a few days in nature can foster, I knew I had to move to the West Coast. It is one of the best decisions I have ever made.
As I will tell anyone, I will never turn down the opportunity to visit Tofino. And if that means another chance to stay at Pacific Sands, all the better. Our oceanside suite is bright and airy, and has a separate bedroom with a king bed, a fully-equipped kitchen and a cozy seating area with an electric fireplace. The balcony, which looks across the fire pits to the ocean, has a small table, ideal for morning coffee or evening drinks.
We arrive late in the afternoon and immediately head down for a leisurely pre-dinner stroll along the beach. Pacific Sands bills itself as a “beachfront haven on the rugged west coast of Vancouver Island, with front-row seats to nature’s greatest waterpark.”
That is in evidence all around us. Surfers of various abilities play in the waves. There is one skilled individual sitting out past the break, waiting for the ideal wave. We stop to watch as she starts paddling, then hold our breath as she pops up to glide along the shoulder of the wave. She then gracefully lies back down on her board as the wave breaks, so she can head back out.
Along with other people stolling the expanse of sand, there’s a family on beach cruisers, the kids laughing as they race away from the waves. The resort offers bike rentals, which guests can also use to go into town on the well maintained bike path. (The new bike trail passes through the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve connecting Tofino and Ucluelet.)
Hungry from the long drive and the fresh air, we head to the Surfside Grill, located on the property. It is owned and operated by commercial fisherman Jeff Mikus, the original owner of Wildside Grill. Like Wildside, Surfside is known for its amazing fresh seafood dishes, including panko-fried fish and chips and fish tacos.
Unable to choose between all the tempting options, we share a side of fried oysters, salmon fish and chips, and cod tacos. Relaxing at our table, which is actually the wide rim of a fire pit, we wash it all down with a crisp Tofino Lager.
The restaurant is next to the Surf Shack, the on-site headquarters of Surf Sister Surf School. The all-female-staffed surf school is great for newbies or experienced wave catchers. It offers group lessons with a student-instructor ratio of five to one, as well as private lessons, which are ideal for families or those who want one-on-one attention.
Whether you’re here to catch some waves or take tranquil beach walks, a highlight of any trip to Tofino has to be the glorious sunsets.
Our first evening, we snag one of the beachside fire pits and sit back to take in the wonder. Couples and families wander the beach and some brave souls are still on the water, all backlit by the gorgeous pink and orange hues across the horizon.
The next evening, after a day that includes a bracing plunge into the ocean (I was solo for that particular endeavour) and a meandering hike through the rainforest, we decide to take the Sunset Trail to Pettinger Point. Named after the Pettinger family — who created Pacific Sands Beach Resort in 1972 — the point is located at the north end of the Resort and Cox Bay. The boardwalk trail includes customized planks, engraved with the names of guests who wanted to commemorate their time in Tofino.
The resort has also added interpretive signs to inform visitors about the diverse flora in the area, from the Sitka Spruce, which the Nuu-chah-nulth have two different names for depending on the age of the tree, to the Nootka Rose, which has a cinnamon-like scent.
We find the perfect perch, facing out over Rosie Bay. The surf is high and the spray crashes up over the rocks below, glittering with the sun’s rays. I feel a curious energy, something that’s been in short supply of late.
It’s hard not to laugh with joy as I echo Robert: “Right! This is why we come here.”