Once dependent on resource industries such as commercial fishing, Tofino is now considered a resort community.
Located on the west coast of Vancouver Island, the small town is connected by Highway 4 to Port Alberni and the population centres on the east coast of Vancouver Island. Boat services connect Tofino with coastal communities such as Ahousat and Hot Springs Cove.
Situated in the traditional territory of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations, the settlement acquired its name in 1909, after Tofino Inlet. Spanish explorers named the inlet in 1792.
The construction of a logging road in 1959 brought outsiders who would camp on beaches and spend time in the ocean. The increasing numbers of visitors also saw an increase in movements to preserve the natural and cultural environments in the area. Dr. Howard McDiarmid led an initiative to establish Pacific Rim National Park in 1971. The following year, the old logging road was paved over.
In 2000, Clayoquot Sound became British Columbia’s first UNESCO Biosphere Region. Like other UNESCO Biosphere Regions, Clayoquot Sound—which includes Tofino—is a protected area whose inhabitants work sustainably with their natural environment.
Tofino weather is rain concentrated in the winter, and far exceeds that of nearby areas. During the summer months the weather is mild with an average of 6-10 days of rain per month.
Surfing in Tofino is what the town is best known for. Queen of the Peak Women’s Surf Championship is held there, as is Rip Curl Pro Tofino, the official Canadian surfing championship. In 2010, the O’Neill Coldwater Surf Classic took place on Cox Bay Beach, as the first professional ASP surf event ever held in Canada. Tofino surfer Pete Devries won the competition. A Montreal ska band The Planet Smashers even recorded a song in 1999 called “Surfin’ in Tofino.”
Tofino has also served as a location in a number of films, including The Twilight Saga: New Moon and War for the Planet of the Apes. In the Canadian film One Week, the main character rides his motorcycle from Toronto to Tofino. The town was also one of many locations for The Big Year, a 2011 movie about birding that stars Jack Black, Owen Wilson and Steve Martin.
By the spring of 2021, a lack of inventory had helped create a strong sellers’ market in the Tofino real estate market. Listings of $1 million or more were not uncommon in the Tofino-Ucluelet region. A treed 40-acre property, with no house, on nearby Catface Mountain, was listed for $4.5 million. A two-lot luxury offering in Tofino was listed at $18.75 million. The listing faces Chesterman Beach, a stretch of sand running 2.7 kilometres.
April of that year saw a total of 590 single-family homes change hands in the area north of Malahat, an area in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island.
In the Victoria-based newspaper the Times-Colonist, a past president of the Vancouver Island Real Estate Board noted that Vancouver Island was experiencing “massive immigration” from other parts of B.C. and Canada, resulting in a shortage of supply and escalating prices throughout the Island.
In November 2021, listings included a 2 bed/2 bath condo for $690,000 and a 7-bed/6-bath home for $2,825,000.
As of 2016, nearly 2,000 people made their homes in Tofino, with a median age of 35.9. The median household income was just over $66,000. From 2001 to 2016, the population grew at a rate of 2.12 percent per year.
The Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation includes over 1,200 members.
Tofino is a part of the School District 70 (Pacific Rim) which mainly serves Alberni but extends to Tofino and Ucluelet. Currently there is only one elementary school directly located in Tofino with students kindergarten to grade 7.
Tofino tourism is a huge part of the town's economy in the summer. The population swells when surfers, hikers, nature lovers, bird watchers, campers, whale watchers, fishers and others come to the town. In the winter, Tofino is popular among storm-watchers.
In Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, is Long Beach in Tofino, a popular year-round destination. With its natural hot springs, Maquinna Marine Provincial Park—reachable by boat or float plane—also attracts tourists.
Wildlife-watching tour boats operate in the area. In September, the week-long tournament Race for The Blue brings fisherfolk from all over on the hunt for blue water and Pacific albacore tuna.
Tofino camping is also a major summer activity, with oceanfront and beach campsites and tents, RV and cabin accommodations available.
In March, the Pacific Rim Whale Festival celebrates the migration of thousands of grey whales. The Tofino Food and Wine Festival, on the first weekend of June, showcases B.C. wines and the creations of Tofino chefs. The Tofino Lantern Festival features handmade lanterns, live music, dance performance, food vendors, and other entertainment.
Located within the vicinity is Freedom Cove. The floating island is a mostly wooden structure that is home to its two creators and is also a tourist attraction and an art gallery.
Art-lovers can check out the work of local artists and artisans at the Carving Shed at the Wickaninnish Inn, the Tofino Gallery of Fine Art, and the House of Himwitsa First Nations Art Gallery, among others.
For history buffs, the Tofino-Clayoquot Heritage Museum presents an overview of the events and people who have shaped the area. Exhibits span over 10,000 years of history, including glaciation, pre-contact, European arrival, fur trade, early settlers, Nikkei history, fishing, logging, shipwrecks, environmental activism, and Tofino’s development.
In October 2021, the blog foodgressing.com named Wolf in the Fog, Shelter, and 1909 Kitchen (at the Tofino Resort and Marina) as among the best Tofino restaurants.
For local libations, Tofino Brewing Company, Tofino Distillery, Tofino Kombucha and Tofino Coffee Company cover most needs.
Popular shopping destinations include the town core and The Outside Break by Chesterman Beach. There are many gift shops and sporting goods stores.
The Tofino Market takes place every Saturday, from the Victoria Day long weekend through early October.