I have mentioned a few times here on the blog that I am an island girl at heart - yes, I love my little rock in the Caribbean that I live on, but I was actually born on an island! Vancouver Island, to be exact. I'm currently in Canada for a 5-week break from Roatan, and when one of my best friends offered to have me come out to Vancouver Island and stay for a long weekend in Ucluelet, one of my fave little towns in Canada, I jumped at the chance.
Ucluelet (you-kloo-let), or more affectionately known locally as Ukee, is the up-and-coming little sister to Canada's most famous surf town - Tofino. The wild waves of the west coast draw surfers year-round to Tofino and Ukee, and the stunning combination of beach & forest scenery, rugged coastline, First Nations history and charming little towns keep visitors coming back. Ukee and Tofino are about 30ish minutes by car from each other, with Pacific Rim National Park and some great surf breaks in between.
I have visited Tofino & Ucluelet many times in the past and I love seeing these tiny towns grow. Independent shops and artisan restaurants keep popping up, while the two big luxury resorts (Wickanninish Inn in Tofino and Black Rock Resort in Ukee, which may be my two favorite resorts ever but are wayyyy out of my price range) are still going strong along with several established campgrounds and smaller bed & breakfasts to accommodate travelers of all budgets.
If you have a weekend (or a long weekend in my case... or longer!) to spend in Ucluelet, I'm going to let you in on my top picks for a fantastic trip:
How to Get There
From the mainland (Vancouver): to get to the island, most people use the BC Ferries system. You can reach Nanaimo by the Horseshoe Bay or Tsawassen ferry terminals. Crossing time is just under two hours. You can drive your car on-board the ferry or walk-on. If you drive on, once you arrive in Nanaimo, follow the signs to Port Alberni or Pacific Rim National Park. These will take you on a breathtaking ride straight to Ukee in about 3 hours. There are also various small-plane flights available to the Ukee airport (use airport code YAZ), but this is a significantly more expensive option.
On-island: follow driving directions above, or if you don't have a car, check out the Tofino Bus to get yourself around on the island. I had a great experience with them. From the Nanaimo ferry, it's $46 one way to Ucluelet. There are several other places the bus stops that are worth checking out, so if you have a few extra days make sure to explore Victoria, Parksville & Tofino!
Where to Stay
Reef Point Cottages: I have stayed at Reef Point Cottages a few times here and can recommend them. They have great little cabins for really affordable prices and are in a fantastic location. Most of them have BBQs and hot tubs, as well as kitchens so you can cut down on eating-out costs and make your own food. There's a grocery store and liquor nearby to stock up. One of the entrances to the Wild Pacific Trail is a short 5-minute walk away from the cottages (see 'Things to Do' below for more info on the trail). You might even get a visit from the resident deer as they make their way through the area.
Camping: there are tons of campgrounds all over Tofino & Ukee with varying levels of amenities. Check out Wya Point, Green Point, Long Beach Golf Course Campground or Ucluelet Campground. I have stayed at two of these and thought they were great, and the other two come recommended by locals.
Things to Do
Surfing: probably the biggest reason most people visit Ukee (and Tofino) is for the surfing - this area is Canada's surf mecca. The second-most consistent place in the world for wave energy with a killer beach break as well as a few reef breaks, there are quite a few spots within a short drive to head out and get your surf on. I highly recommend going to see Andy Herridge at Wick'd Surf Camps to get set up. Check out my full review of my favorite day ever here. Andy does lessons, surf camps and guiding. He's an awesome instructor for those wanting to get their feet wet or a few tips to become a better surfer. Or if you are already a rockstar, Andy knows the best breaks and is an all-around badass surfer to head out with for a guided trip. He can also arrange surfing & yoga packages to get your zen on in and out of the waves. Send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, give him a call at (250) 266-0338 or go visit him at 1559 Imperial Lane and he'll get you sorted.
Hiking/Nature Trails/Beach Walks: Ukee is home to the Wild Pacific Trail, which I have hiked and walked numerous times. Some trails are short and easy, others are longer and require good shoes. I've done the Lighthouse Loop in flip flops! Very family-friendly... I saw three year olds, elderly people and everyone in between walking the trail. Incredible viewpoints and benches are dotted regularly along the trail for those who want to stop and take a break or photos. There are maps at all the entrances so you know where you're going. Also, if you have a car and head towards Tofino, enter the Pacific Rim National Park and you'll find all kinds of massive beaches to walk along (Long Beach lives up to its name!) and trails to explore.
Ucluelet Aquarium: normally I am not a fan of aquariums and zoos, as I think creatures should live in their natural habitat and we need to go where they are if we want to see them. However, I love the Ucluelet Aquarium, because when they say they their mission is to raise awareness and promote respect for the ocean, they mean it. All specimens are returned to the wild!! How many aquariums can say that? The exhibits are well-presented with knowledgeable staff, and the location can't be beat - right in the heart of the tiny little downtown, so you can walk around and check out shops and restaurants afterward. It's kind of little compared to other aquariums I've seen so don't plan an entire day here - an hour is lots. Entrance is $14 for adults/$5 for kids.
Other things to check out: I haven't done it personally, but Ukee is a great starting point for all kinds of ocean adventures on the sea like deep-sea fishing & whale watching. Apparently you can also scuba dive in and around Ukee, but it's way too cold for me so I didn't try it! In the winter months, storm-watching is a popular activity here - make sure you get a room with a view of the ocean and enjoy a warm cup of tea while you watch the waves batter the shoreline.
Where to Eat
Zoe's Bakery and Cafe: I had heard all about Zoe's Bakery and Cafe from before it was even born (the owner, Zoe, is a good friend of my host in Ukee and he kept telling me about it as it developed) so I was super excited to see it in real life. It did not disappoint. An open bakery allows you to see all the behind-the-scenes baking going on by the girls in the cutest aprons in the world ("Made in Ukee with <3") while you order. Zoe used to be the pastry chef at a prominent Ukee resort, and her culinary skill and finesse shines through here. It was evident Ucluelet has welcomed her new business with open arms, as every time I went there was a (short) line basically non-stop. The offerings change daily, but I saw exquisitely decorated little pot-de-cremes, giant homemade peanut butter cups, cupcakes with perfectly piped frosting, cookies and tarts galore, as well as fruit & salad boxes to grab and go. A simple Drumroaster coffee menu was a refreshing change from cafes that seem to feel a need to have 28 different coffee options, and a rotating daily soup, sandwich & flatbread are up on the huge chalkboard menu (serious props to whoever did the hand-lettering on that board, it is intensely good). Big windows in the little seating area provide a view to the downtown harbor area. I tried the roasted pork loin sandwich (served on freshly baked bread with apricot mustard, homemade sprouts, pickled onions & mayo) for $8 and a rosemary, white bean & roasted garlic soup for $5.50 and it was the best soup & sandwich of MY LIFE you guys. I also devoured a raspberry chocolate bomb (around $4), which sounds crazy but was crazy good. I also tried a few coffees and teas to keep warm on the drizzly days and they were delicious. So, basically, I want to live inside this bakery forever and ever.
Ukee Dogs: One of the quirkiest places I've ever seen, Ukee Dogs turned out to have amazing food! On the menu are Two Rivers nitrite-free and hormone-free hot dogs with all kinds of topping combinations. I had a Canuck Dog (cheddar, sauteed onions & bacon) for $6 and a cup of their creamy, delicious chanterelle mushroom & thyme soup ($3) with their homemade gingerale (it's on tap!) for $2.75. Laid-back staff and picnic tables outside with amazing mountain/ocean views are the cherry on the cake for this place. I can't wait to go back again and try their smoked salmon sliders.
Wya Point Cafe: Part of a First Nations-run campground, surf shop, and resort complex, the cafe is located behind an outdoor fire pit next to the surf shop. It's a little overpriced (not shocking, given that it's at a campground and is also the first stop on the highway heading back from the surfing beaches - everyone is hungry!) but the menu had some of the best options I saw in Ukee. I went for the Westcoast Veg burger with hand-cut fries and it was not really worth $12 but after a long afternoon surfing it hit the spot so I didn't care. Sitting and eating outside by the fire was kind of nice too, it made me miss camping! I've heard their poutine is pretty legendary... will definitely try that next time.
Have you been to Ucluelet? Anything I missed?
Although you guys always receive my honest opinion no matter who is taking care of the bill, the only company in this post that hosted me was Wick'd Surf Camps, and that was a favor to a friend, not for a blog review. I loved all these places and hope anyone heading to Ukee finds these recommendations helpful!
Guys, make sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter ... there's lots of extras posted there that don't make it onto the blog. I also have Google+ if anyone even uses that? And I'm on Bloglovin', so you can follow me there too! Plus it makes me start saving to stay at Black Rock Resort next time I'm in Ukee. So there's that.