My home province, British Columbia, is a place that’s blessed with so much natural beauty, from the rugged mountains all the way down to its gorgeous Pacific coastline—the ideal combination. Explore the peaks of Whistler, easily accessible from Vancouver, and a short float plane ride away, make your way to magical, laid-back Tofino for pure Pacific northwestern bliss. Here’s my guide to both.
Soar High in Whistler
A year-round resort town, it’s all about the Coast Mountains and their famous peaks, put on the map during the 2010 Winter Olympics. But make no mistake, summer, fall, spring, Whistler has it all. From skiing, snowboarding, to hiking, zip lining, and simple sightseeing, every season is scenic this high up.
Hike Your Heart Out
The hiking is great here, as once you arrive off the gondola, you can pretty much hit the trail, and get directly into mountains and nature with little time to spare. A few of my favourites? The trails at Joffre Lakes are great, but can get congested, so my new favourite is the Skywalk Trail, a little more effort, but a nicer experience.
Best Views: Peak 2 Peak Gondola
You’d be a fool not to take a ride on the gorgeous Peak 2 Peak gondola on a clear, sunny day to ride along the cables gawking at the view. It’s the world’s longest and highest lift, connecting Whistler and Blackcomb mountains together. (Some of the cars even have glass bottoms).
Climb Without Fear on the Via Ferrata
Take the ‘iron route’! This safe and fun mountaineering experience gives non-climbers a way to ascend a vertical rock face, via handholds and harnesses, fully guided the whole way through. It’s great for families and adventure-seekers alike.
Where to Eat in Whistler
Whistler offers a sophisticated and well-developed food scene. Here are a few of my favourites:
The Rim Rock Cafe
The Rim Rock has been around for forty years and it’s still the best in town, with a seasoned team and excellent service. Game, seafood, and an ever-evolving wine menu with over 320 labels complete the experience.
Another Whistler mainstay, Araxi’s oyster and seafood program features local B.C. product, as well as seafood from around the world. Fresh, simple, delicious.
Ketel One Vodka Bar at Bearfoot Bistro
Yes, the food is good here, but the ice-cave vodka bar is even better. Sample dozens of vodkas from around the world and learn more about how the spirit is crafted in sub-zero temperatures.
Italian fine dining is Quattro’s hallmark, with seasonal menus featuring B.C. ingredients incorporated with Italian flair.
Whistler’s most beloved spot for Japanese fare, with a list of favourites from sushi to noodle soups and yakitori skewers. A well-stocked sake list, B.C. craft beer and wine, and the epic ‘sake margarita’ round it out.
Where to Stay in Whistler
Nestled at the foot of Whistler’s twin giants, this luxury hotel and resort combines rustic mountain charm with modern elegance. Under its peaked roofs, the hotel houses luxury lodge-style guest rooms, hotel suites and townhouses with open-sky spaciousness and European refinement. Indulge in the award-winning spa or take a dip in the free-flowing outdoor pool.
Pacific Northwest Magic: Tofino
A truly enchanted place that captures the real essence of the Pacific Northwest, Tofino is located on the southwest coast of Vancouver Island, surrounded on three sides by old-growth rainforest.
It’s a sleepy town of just 2,000 year-round residents that swells to thrice its size in the popular summer months, with visitors lured by its considerable charms. The ideal place to let go and unwind, it is known for its characteristic beaches: Chesterman Beach, Long Beach, and Cox Bay, which stretch out for kilometres. Tidepool exploration, cold-water surfing, ocean kayaking, or literal ‘long walks on the beach’? It’s all here.
Getting Here: Worth the Effort
Set apart from the mainland of B.C., the typical way to arrive here is by ferry from Vancouver, with a drive from either Nanaimo or Victoria, then about a four-hour drive through Port Alberni to Tofino. Or simply fly. There are now commercial flights direct from Vancouver to Tofino on Pacific Coastal Air. However, one of the most fun ways to arrive is by float plane—from Vancouver or even Whistler directly.
Whatever the Weather…
As much as we all love sunny days on the beaches, which is hard to beat, I have also been in Tofino in the pouring rain and it just sets the scene: it’s moody, cloudy, overcast and atmospheric. The winter months mean it’s storm-watching season: survey wild waves and wind lashing the coast from the comfort of your room (or even from safe viewing platforms outside).
West Coast Trails
B.C. will turn you into a hiker! It’s one of our favourite pastimes. Head to the Wild Pacific Trail, part of the Pacific Rim National Park, there are many entry points and varied trails which you can make as long or as short as you want.
You could find yourself deep in the forest or walking along tidepools and massive rock formations and even black sand beaches. One of my favourites? The Nuu-Chah-Nulth Trail (within the park), named for the First Nations group whose traditional lands these are, is a gorgeous hike that leaves you in Florencia Bay, a long beach you could walk on forever.
The trees are sacred here, and these old-growth forests are a wonder to walk through. Kayak to Meares Island, which was saved from logging doom by the tenacity and foresight of the First Nations peoples, along with protests from thousands. Walk on the iconic Big Tree Trail to marvel at ancient cedar trees, as wide as ten people across.
Everything comes alive in the rainforest. Unlike sparser forests in other climates, you can’t ramble through any old path, as every inch of space is dense with vegetation! The moss rehydrates, the plants are lush, mushrooms sprout up, and you can easily understand how these forests are the lifeblood of our planet, creating oxygen and new life.
Where to Eat in Tofino
One of the first food trucks on the west coast, Tacofino has expanded exponentially since, but the original truck is here, still serving up the freshest Baja-style fish tacos. I don’t know how they make them taste so good, but they are worth the wait!
Another one of my favourite trucks is in Ucluelet, another coastal town, called Ravenlady—another local favourite. Here, the specialty is fresh Pacific oysters, raw or prepared in multiple ways. The oyster po’boy sandwich filled with deep-fried oysters is one of the best things I’ve ever tasted.
Wolf in the Fog
This eclectic menu features fresh catches and wild-foraged goodies from inland: salmonberries, wild chanterelles, or Pacific octopus. Global flavours coexist with hearty, comforting classics, and there’s a well-rounded wine list from B.C. and the rest of the world.
Where to Stay in Tofino
Situated on the westernmost point of Chesterman Beach, the Relais & Chateaux Wickaninnish Inn offers stunning panoramic ocean or beach views from every room. Its 75 deluxe suites feature grand fireplaces and private balconies providing a place for guests to breathe in the fresh salt air and listen to the waves crash up on shore. The hotel also offers the world-renowned Pointe Restaurant and the full-service Ancient Cedars Spa, where you can get a massage overlooking the waves.
Expert Advice for Enjoying B.C.
Be Prepared for All Seasons
Here on the west coast, you need to be prepared for any weather condition, so technical rain gear is a must, no matter the season. You’ll probably also want to have a nice warm fleece and any other warm gear on you, even if it’s summer—this is the Pacific Northwest, after all.
Don’t Overschedule Yourself
The best advice I can give? Give yourself permission to do nothing. Perhaps you might be at the beach watching waves, on top of a mountain surveying the clouds or pausing on the trail to observe an animal or even a tree that draws your attention. Reconnect to nature and its rhythms and go slow…the best discoveries happen this way!