With approximately 600,000 annual visitors flocking to the many local beaches, Tofino, which is located on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia is the surfing capital of Canada.
Tofino is often described as the town at the end of the road because it is accessed by Highway 4, a long windy road that stretches from coast to coast on Vancouver Island.
Located on the north end of one of the most beautiful sections of coastline in Canada, Tofino is a town of approximately 1900 people. The region receives over 1 million visitors annually and includes the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and the Town of Ucluelet located 40 km (25 miles) to the south.
Because I am a frequent visitor to the area, I often get asked, “Where is the best place to go surfing in Tofino?”
I did some research and tried to provide the most useful information below so that you will know the best places to surf in Tofino!
Tofino is located on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia and is known as the Surfing Capital of Canada. The most popular surfing beaches near Tofino include Chesterman Beach, Cox Bay and Long Beach, which are all located within 5-25 km (3-15 miles) of the town centre.
It is important to point out that there are no surf spots in the town of Tofino because it is shielded from ocean swells by a series of islands located off the coast.
But don’t be concerned because there are lots of surfing beaches located in close proximity and they are all easily accessible by foot, bike or car.
Read on to find out all the details about the 8 Best Surf Beaches Near Tofino and the best beach for beginner surfers!
West Coast of Vancouver Island
Before we list the best beaches, we should review a few things about the area near Tofino so you are prepared for the wild weather and natural beauty of the west coast of Vancouver Island.
No Lifeguards & Cold Water
You should be aware that all beaches in the area are unsupervised and there no lifeguards on duty. Some of the hazards include extreme wave conditions in the fall and winter and strong rip currents at most of the beaches.
If you are a beginner surfer you should plan to take a surf lesson your first time out. This will allow you to be supervised by an instructor while you are learning about local conditions and the most appropriate beaches for your skill level.
Also, the 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. Wetsuits are necessary all year round and you will need booties, gloves and a hood in the winter.
There is a Multi-Use Path (called a MUP) that runs 40 km (25 miles) along the highway from Tofino to the town of Ucluelet.
All of the surf beaches can be accessed from the MUP, which is separated from the road traffic and great for walking or biking. Many surfers will bike on the MUP to access surfing, which helps save gas money (and the environment) and avoid sometimes 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 regions’ 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.
Surfing Beaches Near Tofino
All of the surfing 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” or areas to catch waves. The beaches don’t feel crowded even if there are 100’s of surfers in the water because you can just paddle or walk down the beach and find an uncrowded area.
|Distance from Tofino||Parking||Washrooms/ Change Rooms||Showers||Within National Park|
|1. McKenzie Beach||3.6 km (2.2 miles)||Free Parking||Yes||Yes||No|
|2. North Chesterman Beach||4.5 km (2.8 miles)||Free Parking||Yes||Yes||No|
|3. South Chesterman Beach||5.6 km (3.5 miles)||Free Parking||Yes||Yes||No|
|4. Cox Bay||7.5 km (4.66 miles)||Free Parking||Yes||Yes||No|
|5. Incinerator Rock||16 km||Pay Parking||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|6. Long Beach||16 km||Pay Parking||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|7. Wickaninnish Beach||23 km||Pay Parking||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|8. Florencia Bay||23km||Pay Parking||Outhouses but no change rooms||No||Yes|
1. McKenzie Beach
McKenzie Beach is one of the most popular beaches near Tofino because of the numerous resorts and camp sites that are overlooking 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 waves in the summer because it only breaks on bigger swells in the winter because the 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, accessed off of the main road between Tofino and Ucluelet called the Pacific Rim Highway.
Check out the map below to the Beach:
Availability to bathrooms, change rooms, showers and parking are accessible at this location.
Parking is free although there are only about 20-25 parking spots. You can see the beach from the parking lot so 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. Chesterman Beach is lined by beach front homes and is popular among tourists and locals.
The beach is shaped like a big W and 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.
2. North Chesterman
North Chesterman Beach is located at the North end of Chesterman Beach and is very popular among locals and tourists.
North Chesterman receives year round swell, with small waves in the summer and larger waves in the winter.
North Chesterman is popular for beginners and surf schools because it is the closest beach to Tofino, where most of the surf shops in the area are located. North Chesterman is a great spot for learning to surf because of the easy access, small summer waves and sandy bottom.
Parking is free but the parking lot is small with only 25-30 parking spots. As you can see from the photo from Google Maps below, the parking lot fills up fast in the summer and stays packed all day. If you arrive before 9am you will have a good chance of getting a spot.
You can 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 so you don’t block any traffic from 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 is just a short walk of approximately 100-200 metres.
Although theft isn’t common in the Tofino area, it does occur on occasion so make sure to lock your car and store valuables away from view when you are frequenting the beach.
3. South Chesterman
South Chesterman is located at the south end of Chesterman Beach and is the best beginner beach in the area. It is one of the most popular spots for surf schools because the waves are often smaller at this location compared to other surf breaks in the area.
On a busy summer day, you will see several different surf school companies teaching groups of people to surf. Although it can get crowded just spread out because there is lots of room for everyone.
South Chesterman is a beach break that receives year round swell. It was a sandy bottom and there are no hidden rocks so beginners can wade into the water and put their feet down without risk of hitting a submerged obstacle.
As you can see in the photos below, surfers generally spread out and catch waves from the rock outcropping on the south end for several hundred metres toward Frank Island to the north.
Another reason, South Chesterman is popular is because the parking lot is large and can accommodate around 70-75 cars before it reaches maximum capacity. Parking is free and there is a bathroom/change room as well.
See the Google Streetview below.
The beach access is across Chesterman Beach Road and down a short trail that is approximately 50 metres long. There is cross walk and an elevated speed bump so traffic will stop for crossing beach goers.
4. Cox Bay Beach
Cox Bay is one of the best and most consistent surf beaches near Tofino. It is also the most popular surf spot in the area and 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 beaches in the area. Because of the consistent conditions, Cox Bay is home to most surf competitions that occur in the Tofino area, including the Rip Curl Pro, Queen of the Peak and other local competitions.
Cox Bay is a beach break and is a great spot for all levels of surfers from beginners to pros. 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 and 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.
When you are surfing, it always advisable to focus on a landmark on shore like a building or tall tree so you can judge if you are drifting or being pulled by a rip currents.
Review the Cox Bay info graphic below produced by Parks Canada. Click here to be redirected to the Parks Canada website for tips when surfing in the Pacific Rim National Park.
Cox Bay is lined with hotels and resorts and bordered by the Pacific Rim National Park on the south end. There are two public accesses with free parking. 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, so you will have to walk along a flat, dirt path to the beach. But there is 100’s of parking spots at this location and it is a very popular spot among locals, tourists and surf schools.
The main, but much smaller parking lot near the Cox Bay Beach Resort (and across the road from the Information Centre) has showers, bathrooms and change rooms. It is 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) and it is always preferable to arrive early if you want to get a parking spot. There is lots of overflow parking along Maltby Road, the Pacific Rim Highway and across the road near the tourist information building.
Cox Bay can also be accessed from the multi-use path (MUP) and many surfers bike to Cox Bay from wherever they are staying. Bikes with surfboard racks can be rented in Tofino if you prefer to bike from beach to beach when you are staying near Tofino.
5. Incinerator Rock
When heading south from Tofino, the first easily accessible surf spot in the Pacific Rim National Park is called Incinerator Rock.
Located just off the Pacific Rim Highway, this surf spot is a beach break and is 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.
See the Long Beach Info Graphic produced by Parks Canada for a description of the currents. Incinerator rock is located on the right hand side of the graphic below. Click here to be redirected to the Parks Canada website for tips when surfing in the Pacific Rim National Park.
Incinerator Rock has one of the best parking lots on the west coast because it is located just steps from the beach. From your parking spot, you can watch the waves, have a snack or hop over the drift wood and set up you chairs for a day at the beach.
On busy summer days, it can be difficult to find parking because is is the most popular spot in the National Park and people will stay for most of the day. Recreational Vehicles, including motor homes and trailers are not permitted at this location.
Because Incinerator Rock is located in the Pacific Rim National Park, you will need to purchase a Visitors Pass from the electronic machines if you want to stop or stay.
This location has bathrooms, change rooms and showers and is accessed by the Multi-Use Path (MUP).
You can bike to this spot from Tofino but it is approximately 16 km (10 miles) so be prepared for a long bike ride and pack some drinks and snacks because there aren’t any gas stations or convenience stores once you get farther from Town.
If this parking lot is full, you can drive a few hundred meters to the south to access the Long Beach parking lot.
6. Long Beach
Long Beach is an iconic beach and 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 is located in a National Park the only development along its shores is the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations community at the northern end of the beach.
Long Beach is located 17km south of Tofino and across from the entrance to the Tofino Airport (Airport Road) and can be accessed off the Pacific Rim Highway.
Follow the signs that say Long Beach and you will be directed to the main parking lot which has two parking areas which are located on the left and right hand side after turning onto the access road.
With room for 100’s of vehicles in each parking lot, it is the largest parking lot in the area and there are no restrictions on the type of vehicle. You can park cars, recreational vehicles and travel trailers at this location.
Be aware of Lovekin Rock, which is a small island that is located directly off shore. Waves break around the island at certain swell directions and 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 in this area and every year the Coast Guard is called to rescue surfers who have been caught in the powerful rip currents.
For beginner surfers, you may want to walk north towards Incinerator Rock and surf several hundred metres away from Lovekin Rock.
It’s always advisable to line up with a landmark on shore like a tall tree to make sure you aren’t being pulled down the beach by one of the long shore currents, which is a current that moves parallel to shore.
Be aware of the rip currents at this beach as evidenced in the Parks Canada info graphic below.
Amenities at this location include washrooms, change rooms and showers.
Long beach can be accessed by the multi-use bath (MUP)) but it is approximately 17 km (10.5 miles) so you may want to pack a snack and some water if you are biking.
Because Long Beach is located in the Pacific Rim National Park, you will need to purchase a Visitors Pass from the electronic machines.
7. Wickaninnish Beach
Wickaninish Beach is one of the southernmost surf beaches in the Pacific Rim National Park and is located approximately 30 km (18.5 miles) south of Tofino. Look for signs to Wickaninish Beach and turn off Pacific Rim Highway onto Wick Road.
Like other beaches in the area, Wickaninish is a flat, sandy beach. Kwisitis Visitor Centre is located at the south end of the beach and most of the surfing takes place in front of parking spots B,C,D & E.
Wickaninish Beach is 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 as evidenced in the Parks Canada info graphic below.
Wickaninish has several different parking lots to chose from. There are bathrooms, change rooms and outdoor showers at this location. Parking lots C, D E are most popular among surfers. There is a short walk that is less than 100 metres from the parking lots to the beach.
Because Wickaninish is located in the Pacific Rim National Park, you will need to purchase a Visitors Pass from the electronic machines.
8. Florencia Bay
Florencia Bay is a small, quiet bay that is one of the lesser known surf beaches in the area. To get to Florencia Bay, look for signs and turn off the Pacific Rim Highway onto Wick Road. After driving turn left on the access road to Florencia Bay.
It is a bit of a hike down to the beach, which is accessed from a long wooden staircase from the bluffs above to the beach below.
It is a bit of an effort to pack your surfboard, wetsuit and beach gear from the parking lot to the beach but it is worth the effort. Florencia Bay is the least crowded surf beach in the area and feels like a private beach. On some days, you may be the only surfer in the water.
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 back up plan in case someone in your group requires assistance.
Florencia Bay is a beach break with smaller waves than the surrounding area because it is 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 and the 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 as evidenced in the Parks Canada info graphic below.
Florencia Bay has one of the smallest parking lots in the area and it fills up fast on a busy day. Arriving early is a good strategy if you want to go for the day.
There are only outhouses at this location, there is no running water, bathrooms or change rooms.
Because Florencia Bay is located in the Pacific Rim National Park, you will need to purchase a Visitors Pass.
Be advised that there are no electronic parking machines at Florencia Bay so you will want to get a 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 the many electronic machines.
Best Season for Surfing in Tofino
For beginner surfers, summer is the best season for surfing near 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.
The west coast of Vancouver Island is one of the most amazing places in Canada. Thousands of surfers flock to the Tofino area every year to catch waves and enjoy the natural beauty of the ocean, forest and wildlife.
Have a great trip and maybe I’ll see you out in the waves!