Vancouver Island

From Victoria to Tofino

8 essential things to see and do on the drive

by Karin Olafson

Beautiful Tofino draws visitors from near and far. Photo by Rene Gauthier photography / Alamy Stock Photo.

It makes perfect sense that if you’re headed to the picturesque town of Tofino, with its laid-back vibes and sandy beaches, you’ll want to get there as soon as possible. But don’t forget that the four-and-a-half-hour drive from Victoria can be a truly memorable part of your trip, thanks to the trendy eateries, local cideries, charming towns and gorgeous scenery that await along the way.

So, don’t rush the drive. After all, you’re on Island time now.

Following are our eight “musts” for every Victoria-to-Tofino road trip.

Gorgeous scenery abounds along Malahat Drive. Photo courtesy Alamy Stock Photo.

Pull over at Malahat Drive’s summit viewpoint

Make your first stop a quick roadside break for a breathtaking view. As you drive north along the Malahat Highway, you will climb more than 300 metres. Get out at the Malahat’s summit viewpoint for incredible views of the green mountains in Gowlland Todd Provincial Park and the deep blues of the Finlayson Arm and Saanich Inlet. Snap some photos, but also take a few quiet minutes to soak it all in.

You can stroll through the fragrant orchards at Merridale Cidery. Photo courtesy Merridale Cidery.

Tour Merridale Cidery’s orchards and enjoy a cider tasting

You’ll reach Cobble Hill, a small, rural community in the lush Cowichan Valley, less than an hour into your drive. Make a 10-minute detour off the highway to visit Merridale Cidery and walk around the property. Grab a map from the farmhouse for your self-guided tour through the apple orchard, then plan to spend some time at the tasting bar with a cider flight — there are non-alcoholic options for the driver!

See the murals in Chemainus

Chemainus boasts intriguing architecture, breathtaking ocean views and artsy stores, but to really appreciate the town’s history and culture, be sure to tour its murals. The Chemainus Mural Project began as a revitalization project in the 1980s; now the town is a kind of outdoor gallery. There are more than 45 huge murals painted all over the community, as well as a series of sculptures. Try to see murals in the historical series, in the Emily Carr series and in the community mural series.

Gabriel’s Café serves up a variety of mouthwatering options. Photo by Sean Fenzl.

Have a bite at Gabriel’s Gourmet Café in Nanaimo

Make a stop in Nanaimo, the second biggest city on Vancouver Island, for something to eat. A local favourite is Gabriel’s Gourmet Café, a trendy yet family-friendly downtown restaurant, where you’ll find fresh menu items made with ingredients sourced from Island-based farms and suppliers. After refuelling, saunter along the nearby Harbourfront Walkway to get a sense of the city before continuing your drive.

Minyon, Nibbles and Willy performing their duties on top of Old Country Market. Photo by Mark Shapka.

Wander through the quaint town of Coombs

Make a stop at the Old Country Market in this tiny community for an ice cream from the Billy Gruff Creamery or a baked treat from Billy G’s Donut Shop. Be sure to snap some photos of Minyon, Nibbles and Willy, the goats that live on the Old Country Market’s roof. While you’re there, wander into the various stores, galleries and artisan shops around Coombs.

Hike to two rushing waterfalls

When you reach Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park, hike the two-kilometre loop trail from the parking lot to see both the Lower Qualicum Falls and the Upper Qualicum Falls. Bring your camera and feel the rush! If you’ve worked up a sweat after the short hike, stop by Cameron Lake — a 10-minute drive from the waterfalls but still in the provincial park — for a quick dip in the pristine freshwater.

Cathedral Grove hosts a variety of tree life in its temperate rainforest climate. Photo by William Brooks/Alamy Stock Photo.

Admire 800-year-old trees in Cathedral Grove

About two hours before reaching Tofino, your drive will take you right through MacMillan Provincial Park. In this 301-hectare park is Cathedral Grove, a protected ecosystem home to ancient Douglas fir trees and Western red cedars. The trees here are some of the oldest and largest in BC — some are over 800 years old and have a circumference of more than nine metres. Walk the short trails on either side of the highway to get up close to the immense trees in this temperate rainforest.

Clouds roll over Long Beach in Tofino, aptly named for being the longest beach in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Photo by Bella Falk/Alamy Stock Photo.

Stroll along Long Beach

Make one last stop before you check into your hotel. As you drive toward the town of Tofino, you’ll catch inviting glimpses of Long Beach from the highway, an approximately 16-kilometre stretch of soft sand and expansive ocean views. Park at the Kwisitis Visitor Centre and then walk a stretch of this beach, build a sand castle or watch the surfers riding the waves. Now is your time to unwind and relax.