Now Canadian singer Sarah McLachlan owns an oceanfront home just down the beach, and John Travolta, Danny DeVito, Alanis Morissette, and Donald Sutherland, among other celebrities, are rumored to have sauntered along Main Street. Buzz doesn’t get much louder than the sound of celebrity laughter echoing off the village’s streets.
“We were pretty awesome out here already, before all that,” says 34-year-old Robin Cargill, a manager at Tofino Sea-Kayaking Company. The shop does quadruple duty as a bookstore, bed-and-breakfast, kayaking school, and espresso bar, and even though the kayak business is profiting from the changing economy, Cargill’s voice contains a note of mild disappointment. But as with any town that’s located in the midst of such beauty, a lot of people, understandably, want a little piece of it.
The fact that Tofino is no longer a place to be discovered didn’t diminish my own desire to visit. My wife and I first came to the town as honeymooners in 2004, and our trip to nearby Hot Springs Cove, among other experiences, guaranteed that we would be back. We often recounted (to anyone who would listen) the 25-minute walk we took along a boardwalk that undulated through a forest of coastal cypress. The path, dramatic in itself, ended at a series of natural pools, where steaming water bubbled up from the earth just a few feet from the ocean’s incoming waves. We soaked for most of the afternoon.
On that same vacation, we ate a memorable meal at Sobo, an old purple lunch truck parked near the Tofino Botanical Gardens that is justifiably famous for its crisp polenta fries and wild salmon chowder. This time, however, when we went looking for that lunch truck again, we found that chef Lisa Ahier had upgraded her digs to a full-fledged, four-walled restaurant—owing, no doubt, to the popularity of her exceptional cuisine.
We also were determined to get out on the water this trip, so we joined Tofino Sea-Kayaking Company’s half-day excursion through Lemmens Inlet. Our group of five circled the shores, the browns and yellows and pinks of undersea creatures visible just a few feet below our boats, while kayaking guide Candice Stevens, born and raised in Tofino, pulled up some kelp and took a few salty bites—the ultimate lesson in eating local.
At Meares Island, we left our boats and hiked the Big Tree Trail, an aptly named path that winds through groves of 1,000-year-old cedar and spruce. When we arrived at an unexpectedly open area of the forest, Stevens stopped at the upended base of a hulking tree. “She’s called the Big Mother,” Stevens said of the conifer, which blew down last year during a winter storm. The tree’s root system was the size of my house.
After our kayaking excursion, we headed to Tonquin Park, a small cove surrounded (as everything here is) by undulating hills. A short distance away, we could see the edge of town—and everywhere else, we saw more of the landscape that draws people to Tofino and that keeps bringing them back: a sweet stretch of beach, the untouched forest, and the wide, cerulean sea.