April 6, 2018

Travel: Tofino time

A new resort right in town reveals a different side of “Tough City”

By Joanne Sasvari

The first time I visited Tofino, I was little enough to shout “whee!” every time we drove through those dips on the road south of town. “Wickaninnish” meant the place with the tree in it by Florencia Bay, not the fancy hotel. The highway from Port Alberni was little more than a terrifying logging road. Dinner out meant a choice between chowder at The Schooner or boiled Dungeness crab in a shack on the edge of town.
Since then, I’ve camped on the beach, stayed with friends in rustic cabins and luxuriated in elegant oceanside resorts. I’ve watched the food scene evolve into one of the most exciting in North America, and Tough City transform into a destination for artists, artisans, surfers and nature lovers.
But in all those years and countless visits to a place I love, I’d never stayed in the town of Tofino itself. Not until now. And what a difference it made.
The Tofino Resort + Marina is a brand-new property just a short stroll from that old crab shack (which is now the upscale-casual Shelter Restaurant). Longtime visitors may remember it as the former Days Inn, with that sketchy pub that featured frequent fist fights and callouts to the cops. But it’s come a long, long way since then.
Under its new owners—including hockey stars Willie Mitchell and Dan Hamhuis—the resort has become a super-stylish property, featuring a clean, stripped-down (some might say stark, but they’re working on that) Euro-chic design. It has lots of white and misty grey throughout, as well as feature walls covered in giant photos of local scenes like bald eagles, crashing waves and floating seaweed. It looks out over its own marina, Tofino’s newest and the only one on Vancouver Island’s west coast that can accommodate vessels up to 130 feet long. And that old pub? It’s now the welcoming Hatch Waterfront Pub, the casual side of 1909 Kitchen, where the talented chef Paul Moran is creating elevated fine dining from locally fished and foraged fare, much of it roasted in his wood-fired oven.

“This is the first place I’ve worked that has a wood-burning oven,” says Moran, who previously was the chef for one of CMH Heli-Skiing’s upscale properties and spent four years in France. He’s doing lots of grilled vegetables, whole fish, pizza and “fun things like hot crab dip for the pub.” None of it is fussy, though: “People don’t want pretentious, finicky food for every meal,” he says. “This is a town of loggers and fishers and industry. It’s just catering to these palates.”
For another thing, it’s just a short walk from here to Tofino’s galleries, boutiques and restaurants like Wolf in the Fog or Sobo or even the venerable Schooner, with no need to worry about having a cocktail or a second glass of wine. And as you walk, you can’t help but notice things that likely wouldn’t catch your attention if you were driving back to your beach resort. The ancient Eik cedar, its
centuries-old weight supported by
scaffolding. The bear-proof trash cans painted by local artists. The whimsical crosswalks, designed to look like salmon spawning. The palm trees. The people, who all say hello. The friendly dogs that do the same.
Things slow down to Tofino time. There’s time to chat with the people sitting at the next table or hanging around the bar. Time to meet the people who actually live here, and not just the ones who visit. Time to discuss this year’s salmon run and the upcoming Tofino Feast and what it’ll mean when they start work on the Kennedy Lake section of Highway 4 this summer. (The $30-million project will smooth out a notoriously dangerous, wildly winding cliffside stretch of road and will take two years and frequent closures to complete.)
Then again, there’s really no need to go anywhere. The owners are designing Tofino Resort + Marina to be self-contained, with a fitness centre and their own boats to take guests on wildlife viewing or guided fishing excursions.
Sure, you don’t have a beach, but chef Moran is firing up the pizzas, the views of Clayoquot Sound from your room are stunning and there’s whale watching on the itinerary. And just south of town, there are still dips in the road that will make you go “whee!”

The writer was a guest of Tofino Resort + Marina. No one from the company read or approved this article before publication.

If you go

Getting there: Consider it a cruise without the shuffleboard. Several times a day, BC Ferries travel the scenic one-hour-and-40-minute journey from Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay on Vancouver Island. From there, it is about a three-hour drive through spectacular scenery to Tofino. Ferry reservations strongly suggested. bcferries.com.

In a rush? Pacific Coastal Airlines just started offering daily flights from YVR’s South Terminal to Tofino.

Staying there: There are numerous beautiful beachside resorts outside of town, including the Relais & Châteaux Wickaninnish Inn (wickinn.com) as well as Long Beach Resort (longbeachlodgeresort.com) and Pacific Sands (pacificsands.com).

But if you want to stay in the town of Tofino, just a short walk from all its restaurants, galleries and activities, Tofino Resort + Marina offers sleek European-style accommodation, a pub, a restaurant, marina facilities and excursions from its own dock. tofinoresortandmarina.com

Dining there: Tofino might just be the foodiest small town in B.C. Any visit should include dining at the endlessly inventive, enRoute-magazine-anointed Wolf in the Fog (wolfinthefog.com), gourmet casual Sobo (sobo.ca), relaxed Shelter (shelterrestaurant.com) and upscale-fabulous The Pointe at the Wickaninnish Inn (wickinn.com), as well as the original Tacofino truck (tacofino.com) and Wildside Grill (wildsidegrill.com) for exceptional takeout.

And it should definitely include the Tofino Resort + Marina’s waterfront 1909 Kitchen and cheerful Hatch pub, where chef Paul Moran makes the most of local seafood, foraged finds and his roaring wood-fired oven. tofinoresortandmarina.com

For more information: To plan your trip, visit tourismtofino.com.

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