The area around Tofino, on the west coast of the wild Vancouver Island in British Columbia, is rich with beaches famous for their sprawling stretches of sand, biodiversity, and consistently surfable wave swells. The fact that the beaches are so great here also makes Tofino a honeypot for surfers, so much so that Tofino is one of the best spots on Vancouver Island that you can find a thriving surf community who stay put all year round.
Rated as one of the best beaches in the world, Chesterman Beach offers 3 kilometers of sun-kissed sands complete with all of the sunbathing, surfing, wildlife watching, and romantic stroll opportunities that anyone could ever need.
So, what is so great about Chesterman Beach for it to become the center point of a thriving beachgoing community? Here’s what we found out about Chesterman Beach…
Welcome to Chesterman Beach
Chesterman Beach lies to the south of the town of Tofino. To get there, go south down the Pacific Rim Highway and make a right turn onto South Chesterman Road once you see it.
There are no explicit signs for the beach, so the street sign will have to serve as your marker. You will need to pay for parking here. You can find washrooms and shower facilities located at the end of South Chesterman Road.
What Is There to Do on Chesterman Beach?
A better question might be: what isn’t there to do on Chesterman Beach? These sands are such a popular destination for tourists and local families alike precisely because there is something for everyone here. Plus, the fact that there is no parking fee probably helps.
Like pretty much all of this end of Vancouver Island, your experience of Chesterman Beach will vary wildly depending on what time of year you visit.
In the summer, it is the perfect place for a family day of sandcastles, beach sports, and picnicking. The southern end of the beach is the best for a relaxed day out with the family, especially at low tide as there are plenty of tide pools to pick your way through and sea caves to explore. The surf is also usually calmer at the southern end of the beach, for your beginner surfing or kayak-launching needs. Beach life doesn’t go away in the evening during summer either, as Chesterman Beach makes the ideal location for a sunset or even a nighttime beach fire.
To ensure you get access to the sea caves (and don’t get cut off by the incoming tide!), or to plan the perfect day of surfing tailored to your ability and bravery, use this handy resource to view the tidal movements and plan ahead of time. (We just missed the tide as it was closing in to get to the little island. Super bummed about that.)
In the winter months, Chesterman Beach is a favorite place for the more adrenaline-seeking sorts to seek out. The tumultuous weather and exposure to the wild Pacific Ocean mean crazy swells and gnarly waves. It also sets the stage for storm chasers to witness the raw power of nature and get what some people call a ‘west coast spa treatment’ from the wind-tossed salt spray.
The surfing at Chesterman Beach is great throughout the year, with opportunities for both beginners and experts to test their skills depending on the weather and the size of the swells. Chesterman Beach is touted as one of the best beaches for beginners to learn to surf.
Not the surfing sort? Don’t worry, as Chesterman Beach is the preferred hangout for a whole bunch of beach and sea sports enthusiasts. From kite flying, frisbee, and bocce ball, to more surf-adjacent activities like paddle and skim boarding, you can find it all here. If you wanted to enjoy the majesty of Pacific Rim National Park from a whole new perspective, multiple kayak tours set out from the southern end of Chesterman Beach too.
The Plethora of Wildlife to Be Found at Chesterman Beach
You don’t have to go as far as Long Beach in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve to get immersed in the flora and fauna that call this area home. In fact, there are so many species to be glimpsed right here at Chesterman Beach that we thought we would give them their own section!
The tide pools which form here at low tide are a treasure trove of trapped sea beasties and the birds who feed upon them. Look hard enough and you will discover a whole world of tiny fish, crustaceans, anemones, and other creatures who have adapted to life between the changing rhythms of the tide.
Birdwatching enthusiasts should keep their eyes to the sky here too. Spring and fall bring migrating sea and shorebirds to feast on the many goodies the sea leaves behind as they take a break from their vast voyages. During the spring and summer, mating season gives you the opportunity to watch osprey, eagles, and their children at hunt or play.
Spring and fall also bring migrating whales, and there is nothing more memorable than seeing the fantastically powerful breach or spout of one of these majestic creatures. You can expect to see such sights as jellyfish, sand dollars, and otters year-round, too.
Finally, if you are the foraging sort, the shores here are rich with gooseneck barnacles and mussels during the colder parts of the year. It’s always a good idea to check in the local fisheries before you go picking though, to avoid stepping on anybody’s toes.
The Rich History of Chesterman Beach
Chesterman Beach gets its name from one John Chesterman, who was a white settler who acquired grants from the crown for the area back in 1915. His homestead stood right up on the inlet, just across from this gorgeous stretch of sand and sea that still holds his name. John Chesterman was a key member of the community, coxswain of Tofino’s lifeboat, and a prospector who tried for gold and copper over on Meares Island.
However, like many places in British Columbia, the current name only tells us so much. Before John Chesterman and his fellow white settlers, this place was part of vast swathes of indigenous First Nations territory.
All over Canada, the First Nations held nature in a delicate and spiritual balance, and many of their ancestors still live in these same lands today. It is important to remember this as you journey across British Columbia and give respect and consideration to these stewards whose family lines long pre-date the presence of westerns here.
The part of Vancouver Island that holds Chesterman Beach has long been the traditional territory of the Nuu-chah-nulth, which is the collective term used for the fifteen different-but-related tribes who lived and live here.
The Nuu-chah-nulth are one of a small number of First Nations peoples who have a historical background in whaling, and when you visit the waters of Chesterman Beach at the right time of year it is easy to see why. Carbon dating of archaeological whalebone shows that whales were being hunted here as far back in time as 4,000 years ago. The evidence of these practices is also soaked deep into Nuu-chah-nulth spirituality, song, and storytelling.
Today, the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council provide resources, training, and other services to bolster the well-being and sustainable economic development of over 8,000 registered First Nations members both on and off reserves in the area.
Things to do in Tofino:
(Watch for these stories to come over the next few days!)