A family beach vacation – Tofino, Vancouver Island

Many people don’t think about an oceanside beach family vacation when traveling to Canada… but we found out they should!

Written By: Jay Kennedy, Traveling Islanders

Here I am sitting at our oceanfront campsite picnic table with my toes curling into the warm beach sand, listening to the ocean waves role in. When most people picture a beach vacation, Canada doesn’t come to mind. That’s understandable, as most of our Canadian tourism branding is all about the great white north. Well, in this blog post I am going to share the sunny beach side of Canada from beautiful Tofino on Vancouver Island. Whether you have camping in your family as a favourite past time or not, I think this post is guaranteed to inspire you to go beach camping.

I (Jay) have been to Tofino several times before to surf, but this was the first family beach vacation trip. Tofino is located up-island about 2 1/2 hours away from the city of Nanaimo. When traveling  to Tofino there are three places that we generally like to stop… so for our family that 3 1/2 hour drive from our house quickly turns into a 6 hour drive, but with little kids we find it more enjoyable to stop along the way for them and us.

1st pit-stop is Parksville to play in a giant kids beachfront playground, then off to Coombs where we say hello to the goats on the roof, and then for our last stop we pull off the highway just outside of Port Alberni, to visit Cathedral Grove where we can walk amongst the giant old growth forest.

parksville playground

Parksville, playground

Goats on the roof

Goats on the roof! 

Cathedral GroveCathedral Grove

This is our first time tent camping in Tofino, so before we departed we did a little exploring online as to the campground options. Since it wasn’t prime time for camping in Tofino, we didn’t have to make a reservation ahead of time which allowed us to do some research in person. During the summer months, I heard reservations are a must if you want to get a spot, so be sure to keep that in mind. We took our trip during the first week of September, just after the high season.

We were very surprised at the proximity of the campsites to one another. The private campgrounds we looked at (Bella Pacifica & MacKenzie Beach Resort) definitely like to fit in as many people as possible in their prime beach front real estate. We found you absolutely need to be okay with saying hello to your neighbours and be very comfortable with living in close proximity. We ended up meeting another couple from Saskatchewan beside us who were on a surf trip. They just kept marvelling at the beautiful view… I could just imagine what they were thinking as their typical prairie view would be a little different.

On the trip back home we did stop in at a provincial campground in the heart of the Pacific Rim National Park. It was very much what Gretta and I were used to with the campsites being a good distance a part with a lot of privacy. It was so relaxing just driving through the campground experiencing the peace and calm that comes from an uncrowded campground. We decided we will have to try that campground next time we are back in Tofino.

All the campgrounds ranged from about $38 to $50 per night depending on the view of your site.  The campground we stayed at was called MacKenzie Beach resort. They wanted to charge us $5 extra per child for a “resort fee” which included the use of the indoor pool and showers.

We felt that the additional charge wasn’t that fair since we chose the campground because of the extra amenity, so passed on paying upwards of $65 a night. Besides the ocean was all the pool the kids needed and more. We also felt very much deceived by the managers. We typically make this statement few and far between… but we feel it is important to put a red flag up on this campground and can’t recommend it to our readers.

Unless you like the idea of camping in a grid of tents with no privacy, and grumpy campground staff… this is not the campsite for you.

We were fortunate enough to get a beachfront campsite right on MacKenzie Beach, so I considered the front part of my site an extension of my campsite. It truly felt that way as we were literally steps away from the beach and the ocean.

We cooked and ate most of our meals right on the beach, and spent most of our time there. We had our dog (golden retriever named Mango) with us, so that made it very nice for him as he had lots of room to play. That dog definitely had a vacation of his own!

Tofino beach sand writing

Since being here I have had to remind myself several times that we didn’t drive across the ocean to Hawaii. When I’m on the beach playing with my kids, sometimes I can’t tell the difference. Although, when I did chase one of my kids down into the water today I had a quick reminder that there is a big difference between Hawaiian ocean water and Canadian ocean water. BRRR, that’s cold! My kids didn’t seem to mind though, as they stayed in the water for hours chasing the waves, playing in the sand and riding the boogie board.

When surfing you will want to wear a wetsuit for sure. Once you have your wetsuit on, it’s really quite comfortable. It’s actually not uncommon to see people biking down the road with wetsuits on and surfboards strapped to their bike. Tofino is known as one of the best cold water surfing spots in the world believe it or not.

All in all it was an awesome trip with so many great memories. If beach camping isn’t your style, then know there are many plush accommodation options for you to consider close to the beach. There are many condos, hotels and beachfront resorts to choose from. There are different rates depending on the season. Summer season will be the highest cost and then there is Storm Watch season which is the lowest cost.

4 of our favourite memories shown in pictures from our family beach vacation:

Tofino Boogie boardingBoogie boarding on the waves

Tofino playing in wavesBody boarding the surf

Tofino campfireRoasting marshmallows on a beach campfire 

Tofino Ocean explorationOcean Exploration looking at star fish and sea anemones  

What’s your favourite camping spot on Vancouver Island or near by?