Our good friend Johny, an avid surfer who lives on Vancouver Island, shares his best surf beaches near Tofino. We don’t go surfing often, so we’re thrilled to have a local surfer from British Columbia share his experiences with you today.
Best Surf Beaches Near Tofino
With approximately 600,000 annual visitors flocking to its beaches, Tofino, which is located on the west coast of Vancouver Island, is the surfing capital of Canada.
Located on one of the most beautiful coastlines in Canada, Tofino is a small town of approximately 1,900 people. Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and the Town of Ucluelet, located 40 km (25 miles) to the south, attracts over 1 million visitors annually.
Tofino is often described as the ‘Town at the end of the Road’, because it’s accessed by Highway 4, a long windy road that stretches from coast to coast on Vancouver Island.
Because I surf in Tofino frequently, I’m often asked, “Where is the best place to go surfing in Tofino?”
It’s a tough question to answer, because there are so many great beaches in Tofino. However, I’ll share my personal favourites with you today.
The Surfing Capital of Canada
The most popular surfing beaches near Tofino are Chesterman Beach, Cox Bay and Long Beach. These beaches are located within 5-25 km (3-15 miles) of the town centre.
It’s important to point out that there are no surf spots in the town of Tofino itself. It’s shielded from ocean swells by a series of islands located off the coast. However, there are lots of surfing beaches located in close proximity that are easily accessible by foot, bike or car.
All of the surf beaches near Tofino are beach breaks. A beach break is when the waves break on the shallow sandy bottom and create surfable waves. Because of this, there are many different “spots” to catch waves.
Tofino beaches don’t feel crowded. Even if there are 100’s of surfers in the water, you can paddle or walk down the beach to find an uncrowded area.
Before we get started, there are a few things you should know about surfing in Tofino and its nearby beaches.
You should be aware that all beaches in the area are unsupervised. There are no lifeguards on duty. Some of the hazards include extreme wave conditions, in the fall and winter, and strong rip currents at most beaches.
If you are a beginner surfer, plan to take a surf lesson your first time out. This will allow you to be supervised by an instructor. You will learn about local conditions and the most appropriate beaches for your skill level.
The Canadian West Coast water is cold! Ocean water ranges from 7 to 9°C (45 to 48°F) in the winter and 13 to 17°C (55 to 63°F) in the summer.
Wet-suits are necessary all year round. You will need booties, gloves and a hood in the winter.
All of the surf beaches in the post can be accessed from the MUP. The path is separated from road traffic and it’s great for walking or biking. Many surfers will bike the MUP to access surfing, which helps save gas money and the environment, and avoid crowded parking lots.
Pacific Rim National Park
The Pacific Rim National Park – Long Beach Unit is located between Tofino and Ucluelet. The National Park covers 511 square km’s and offers scenic hikes, miles of endless beaches and many of the region’s best surf spots.
Reminder: You will need an Entry Pass if you are planning on stopping and visiting the National Park. The main highway runs through the park, however you can drive through it without paying for a pass. There are electronic ticket meters at all the beaches so you can just purchase your pass onsite.
For a description of the different entry passes offered, click on the link to Parks Canada. If you plan to visit the park several times each year, you may want to purchase an annual pass.
McKenzie Beach is one of the most popular surf beaches near Tofino because of the numerous resorts and campsites that overlook the beach.
On a summer day, the beach will be packed with people enjoying the sandy shore, beautiful scenery and calm waters. Don’t expect to find big waves in the summer because it only breaks on bigger swells in the winter. This beach is protected by a large island located off the coast.
With relatively calm conditions during the summer, McKenzie Beach is great for swimming, skim boarding and Stand Up Paddleboarding.
The best public access to McKenzie beach is at the end of Hellesen Drive. Access is off the main road between Tofino and Ucluelet, named the Pacific Rim Highway.
Bathrooms, change rooms, showers and parking are available at this location (photo above).
Parking is limited to about 20-25 parking spots. You can see the beach from the parking lot. It’s easy to drive down and check the waves without much effort.
Chesterman Beach is approximately 2.7 km (1.7 miles) long and is divided in the middle by Frank Island, a private island that is accessible at low tide.This beach is lined by beach front homes and is popular among tourists and locals.
The beach is shaped like a big W. It almost appears to be two different beaches, with two different surf breaks. Because of this, I have separated Chesterman Beach into North Chesterman and South Chesterman.
North Chesterman Beach
North Chesterman Beach is located at the North end of Chesterman Beach. It’s very popular among locals and tourists alike.
North Chesterman beach receives year round swell, with small waves in the summer and larger waves in the winter.
This is popular beach for beginners and surf schools because it is the closest beach to Tofino. Most of the Tofino surf shops are located close to North Chesterman beach. This is a great spot for learning to surf because of the easy access, small summer waves and sandy bottom.
Parking at Chesterman Beach
The parking lot is small, with only 25-30 parking spots. The parking lot fills up fast in the summer and stays packed all day. If you arrive before 9:00 AM you should have a good chance of getting a spot.
You will find additional parking on the beach side of Lynn Road. Follow the signage to make sure you are parking in the right spot. Don’t park in front of driveways and make sure to pull onto the side of the road. You want to avoid blocking traffic in the surrounding residential area.
There are bathrooms, change rooms and outdoor showers at this location. You can’’t see the beach from the parking lot, but it’s only a short walk of approximately 150 metres.
Although theft is not common in Tofino, it does happen sometimes. Make sure to lock your car and store valuables away from view.
South Chesterman Beach
South Chesterman is located at the south end of Chesterman Beach. This is the best beginner beach in Tofino. It’s one of the most popular spots for surf schools because the waves are often smaller here, when compared to other surf breaks in the area.
On a busy summer day, you will see several different Tofino surf schools teaching groups of people to surf. Although it can get crowded, there’s lots of room for everyone. Find your spot and spread out.
South Chesterman is a beach break that receives year round swell. It has a sandy bottom and there are no hidden rocks. Beginners can wade in the water and put their feet down without risk.
Beach access is across Chesterman Beach Road and down a short trail. Approximately 50 metres long. There’s a cross walk and an elevated speed bump. Traffic will stop for people crossing the road here.
Cox Bay Beach
Cox Bay is one of the best and most consistent surf beaches near Tofino. It’s a great place for everyone, from beginners to pro surfers.
Cox Bay is approximately 1.5 km (1 mile) long and faces due west. The shape of the bay coupled with the rock outcroppings on either end, help funnel waves from most swell directions into the beach.
The waves are often bigger at Cox Bay than any other surf beaches near Tofino. Because of the consistent conditions, Cox Bay is home to most Tofino surf competitions, including Rip Curl Pro, Queen of the Peak, and other local competitions.
Cox Bay is a beach break that’s great for all levels of surfers.
While beginners can catch already broken waves near the shore, more advanced surfers will find good waves farther out.
On larger swells, the bay tends to close out. Surfers should be aware of rip currents at the left, middle and right side of the bay. There is also a long shore current that will pull you laterally along the shore.
The above Cox Bay infographic is produced by Parks Canada [source].
Click here to visit Parks Canada for surfing tips in Pacific Rim National Park.
Cox Bay is lined with hotels and resorts and bordered by the Pacific Rim National Park. There are two public accesses, one is located at the end of Maltby Road and the other is across from the Tourist Information booth.
The Maltby Road parking lot doesn’t have any facilities and is located away from the beach. You will have to walk along a flat, dirt path to the beach. However, there is 100’s of parking spots at this location. It’s a very popular spot among locals, tourists and surf schools.
The main parking lot near the Cox Bay Beach Resort (across the road from the Information Centre) has showers, bathrooms and change rooms. It’s also set back from the beach and has a slightly longer walk on a flat, dirt path to the beach.
The parking lots fill up quickly during the busy tourist season (June-September). It’s best to arrive early if you want to get a parking spot. There is overflow parking along Maltby Road, the Pacific Rim Highway, and near the tourist information building.
Cox Bay can also be accessed from the multi-use path (MUP). Many surfers will bike to Cox Bay from wherever they are staying. Bikes with surfboard racks can be rented in Tofino.
When driving south from Tofino, the first easily accessible surf spot in Pacific Rim National Park is called Incinerator Rock.
Located just off the Pacific Rim Highway, this surf spot is also a beach break. It’s located at the north end of Long Beach.
You can surf right out front and the Incinerator rocks aren’t an obstacle for surfers except at the highest tide. You can surf on the left or right hand side of the rocks with the left side having a stronger rip current that will pull you south along the beach.
Related post – Helpful Parents Guide to The Best Surfboards For Kids
The above Long Beach infographic is produced by Parks Canada [source].
Incinerator Rock is located on the right side of the graphic. Click here to learn about tips when surfing inside Pacific Rim National Park.
Parking at Incinerator Rock
Incinerator Rock has one of the best parking lots because it’s located steps from the beach. From your parking spot, you can watch the waves and have lunch. Or, hop over the drift wood and set up chairs for a day at the beach.
On busy summer days, it can be difficult to find parking because it’s the most popular spot inside the National Park. People will stay for most of the day. Recreational Vehicles, including motor homes and trailers, are not permitted at this location.
If this parking lot is full, you can drive a few hundred meters to the south to access the Long Beach parking lot.
Because Incinerator Rock is located in the Pacific Rim National Park, you need to purchase a Visitors Pass from the electronic machines.
Incinerator Rock is accessible from the Multi-Use Path (MUP). You can bike to this spot from Tofino. However, it’s approximately 16 km (10 miles). Be prepared for a long bike ride. Pack some drinks and snacks because there aren’t any gas stations or convenience stores here.
This location has bathrooms, change rooms and showers.
Long Beach, Tofino
Not be confused with Long Beach in California, this Long Beach is one of the best surf beaches near Tofino. It’s known around the world because of it’s natural beauty and endless kilometres of flat, sandy beach. Long beach is the longest beach on Vancouver Island and measures 16 km long (10 miles).
Because it’s located inside a Canadian National Park, the only development along its shores is the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations community.
Long Beach is located 17km south of Tofino. It’s also conveniently located across from the Tofino Airport and is accessed from the Pacific Rim Highway.
Follow the signs that say Long Beach. You will be directed to the main parking lot.
There are two parking areas here. With room for 100’s of vehicles in both parking lots, Long Beach has the largest parking lot in the Tofino area. There are no restrictions vehicle types either. You can park cars, recreational vehicles and travel trailers here.
Be aware of Lovekin Rock, a small island located directly off shore.
Waves break around the island at certain swell directions. Rip currents flow on either side of the island and will pull unsuspecting surfers out to sea.
Surfers should exercise extreme caution in this area and avoid surfing near Lovekin Rock. There have been surfing related deaths here. Every year the Coast Guard is called to rescue surfers who have been caught in these powerful rip currents.
Scroll up to revisit the Long Beach infographic to see the rip currents and hazard area.
For beginner surfers, you may want to walk north towards Incinerator Rock. I’d recommend you surf several hundred metres away from Lovekin Rock.
Amenities at this Long Beach location include washrooms, change rooms and showers.
Long beach can be accessed by the multi-use bath (MUP). It’s approximately 17 km (10.5 miles) south of Tofino, so its best that you bring snacks and water.
Because Long Beach is located inside Pacific Rim National Park, you need to purchase a Visitors Pass from the electronic machines.
Wickaninish Beach is one of the southern most surf beaches in Pacific Rim National Park. It’s located 30 km (18.5 miles) south of Tofino.
To get here, look for signs to Wickaninish Beach. Turn off Pacific Rim Highway onto Wick Road. Kwisitis Visitor Centre is located at the south end of the beach. Most of the surfing takes place in front of parking spots B, C, D & E.
Similar to most surf beaches near Tofino, Wickaninish Beach is a flat, sandy beach.
It’s a beach break that has waves at both low and high tides. The beach faces south west and is exposed to most swell directions.
Be aware of the rip currents at this beach. Review the infographic below, produce by Parks Canada [source].
Parking at Wickaninish Beach
Wickaninish has several different parking lots to chose from. Parking lots C, D E are most popular among surfers.
There is a short walk, less than 100 metres, from the parking lots to the beach.
There are bathrooms, change rooms and outdoor showers at this location.
Because Wickaninish is located in Pacific Rim National Park, you need to purchase a Visitors Pass from the electronic machines.
Florencia Bay is a small, quiet bay that is one of the lesser known surf beaches near Tofino.
It’s a bit of an effort to pack your surfboard, wetsuit and beach gear from the parking lot. However, I believe it’s worth the extra effort.
Florencia Bay is the least crowded surf beach in the area.
It feels like a private beach. On some days, you may be the only surfer in the water.
That said, this beach is not recommended for beginners. Because Florencia Beach is so secluded, you should take precautions in case you need assistance. Consider surfing with a group of friends and have a plan in case someone needs help.
Florencia Bay is a beach break with smaller waves because it’s a protected bay. This can be an advantage on windier days, because the surrounding headlands become a wind block.
Be advised about the rip current in the middle of the bay. There are submerged rocks near the take off zone. At low tide, the rocks will be exposed. This is one of the only beaches in the area with submerged rocks.
Be aware of the rip currents at this beach. Review the infographic below, produce by Parks Canada [source].
Florencia Bay has one of the smallest parking lots in the area. It fills up fast, so arrive early.
There are only outhouses at this location. There is no running water, bathrooms or change rooms.
Florencia Bay is located in Pacific Rim National Park, so you need to purchase a Visitors Pass.
Be advised – there are no electronic parking machines at Florencia Bay. You will want to get your Visitors Pass in advance. If you arrive without a pass, you can quickly drive over to Wickaninish Beach and get a Visitors Pass from one of its electronic machines.
Best Season for Surfing in Tofino
For beginner surfers, summer is the best season for surfing in Tofino. The summer has small waves, less rain and warmer water, which makes surfing more fun.
Late spring and early fall can also be a great time of year for surfers to visit the West Coast of Vancouver Island.
Where to Stay in Tofino
There are several beach resorts in Tofino. Over the years, we’ve stayed at a number of these beach resorts and would recommend the following:
- Cox Bay Beach Resort on Cox bay beach
- Pacific Sands Beach Resort on Cox Bay beach
- Best Western Tin Wis Resort on Mackenzie Beach. The restaurant here is good, too.
- Middle Beach Lodge on Mackenzie Beach
Where to Stay in Ucluelet
- For waterfront accommodations, check out Black Rock Oceanfront Resort or Snug Harbour Inn.
- For less expensive accommodations, check out the Canadian Princess Lodge & Marina.