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Daytripping: From Port Alberni to Ucluelet, visit the ‘wild west’

Whether you’re looking to stroll, sip, sup or stay, Ucluelet has something for you
The Black Rock Oceanfront Resort in Ucluelet offers stormwatching at the edge of the Pacific. (MICHAEL HACK PHOTO FOR BLACK ROCK OCEANFRONT RESORT)


Special to Black Press

Now that Phase 3 of COVID-19 measures is in place in B.C., allowing non-essential travel, it is possible to contemplate trips away from home. What’s better than a one-day trip from Port Alberni to stunning Ucluelet, just a short hour and a bit away, with the just over a 100-kilometre drive through spectacular scenery?

There are many wonderful things to do and see — terrific places to eat, sip mindfully sourced coffee, locally brewed beer, B.C grown wine, or a cocktail made from delicious spirits produced right in Ucluelet.

So as to get the most out of such a day, I offer some notes to take along on things not to miss doing, seeing or tasting, thus making one’s time in Ukee, as the locals call it, truly perfect.

Set out early as with summer hours, it is light before 6 a.m. and the drive, while always inspiring in daylight, is especially so when the day is still new.

This will also bring one into “Ukee” just after 7 a.m. when a number of great places are open for breakfast. Many are good but two very good places to go are Zoe’s Bakery & Cafe and Yayu, right next door, both on Main Street. Indeed, go to both. Yayu creates wonderfully inspired and nutritious juices and vegan bowls, and Zoe’s many great nourishing pastries and sandwiches, and much more.

They both look out on Ucluelet’s inner harbour. Ucluelet is a Nuu-chah-nulth word that loosely translates to “people with a safe place to land.”

Fog & Bean is also a good stop with well-sourced coffee.

Next take a stroll over to the superb Ucluelet Aquarium, a pioneer with its first-in-Canada, catch and release program. Its admission rates are generally low, ranging from $8 to $15 per person. The aquarium reopened on June 6 with a dazzling new tank addition, entitled the New Kid on the Block, a tank which is the home for this 2020 season of an array of strawberry anemones, alongside some other ocean creatures.

The facility, right on the waterfront, is open daily from 10 a.m to 5 p.m. It closes twice a day for cleanings and follows careful safety procedures, one of which will be one-way movement of visitors when viewing exhibits.

If one is a surfer, take to the waves off the beaches of Ucluelet for an hour or two. Beginners can book a lesson and rent surfing equipment from Relic Surf Shop, which is on Peninsula, the road one drives in on, and located close to the town entrance.

One can also pick up cool clothing and footwear there.

Given COVID-19 restrictions, if one is looking to go to a beach, best to drive to Long Beach, the stretch between Ucluelet and Tofino—and located in the federally managed, beautiful Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. It has good parking and easy access for safe distancing. Long Beach is good for a long stroll, and depending on the winds, often perfect to catch good waves.

This activity is likely to have worked up an appetite, so go for brunch/lunch at reopened Heartwood, also on Peninsula. Good food and welcome from owners Ian (also chef) and Anthony, sous chef Nick, as well as all serving staff. They have created a new and interesting seating arrangement at Heartwood that includes tents and other seating in its garden.

Cool, hey?

Heartwood is now open from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. for brunch most days and dinner from 5–9 p.m. There is garden seating and a happy hour from Friday to Sunday in the afternoon until 6 p.m.

Quirky clothing store, Pina, is close by; pop in and get some of its great in-house printed hoodies and T-shirts.

A walk along the wonderful Wild Pacific Trail on the other side of the town is not only breathtaking but will work off the delicious brunch/lunch. People visit from around the world. The trail starts off close to Black Rock Oceanfront Resort, Ucluelet’s world-class hotel which overlooks the rugged coast. It is along Marine Drive, just on from Heartwood, connecting from Matterson Drive. The Black Rock opened on June 15, saying in its announcement it is ready to “celebrate life”. It is also offering accommodation specials for 2020. Check the website for details.

One could stop on the way at the town’s edgy skateboard bowl on Matterson, if one has a skateboard at hand.

The Big Beach Bar & Lounge at Black Rock Resort is good for a sip of your choice, before or after a Wild Pacific Trail walk.

If craft beer is more to your taste you can head to the newly-opened local brewery, Ucluelet Brewing, to sip your preference. It has a nice range of beers on tap and to go, and has a varied menu too. It also serves cocktails made with vodka and gin made by Pacific Rim Distilling, a small batch craft distillery recently set up in Ukee by Luke Erridge. He is a fourth-generation distiller and has refined some family recipes that apparently go back to pre-prohibition.

One can stop by and pick up terroir-inspired spirits — either vodka or gin, both made from locally-foraged wild yeast culture and botanicals—from Erridge, who is usually at Pacific Rim Distilling on Forbes from 9:30 a.m to 1 p.m. daily.

While on Forbes pop into Solidarity Snacks for chicken pot pie or a quick pirogi or two to take home: don’t forget to bring a cooler bag along. Wood-fired pizza takeaway from Abbondanza is also not to be missed.

Dinner is a nice ending to a perfect day, and one can choose from a good number of alternatives, some of which are mentioned above. If you feel like fine dining with a reservation, one gets a 90-minute seating at the sumptuous Pluvio, also on Peninsula. For now there are only two tasting menus available, with the three-course at $78, and the other a five-course offering priced accordingly. Because of changing circumstances and different ingredients being available, offerings may vary but there are a number of choices for each course. The restaurant is top draw so one can feel comfortable leaving oneself in their capable hands.

Either of the two earlier seatings should get one back on the road and back in Port Alberni before dark.

Pluvio opened May 29, and its four-unit room accommodations behind the restaurant opened in June.

Ucluelet also has a well and interestingly stocked Co-Op if one needs to pick up some groceries.

Another good pickup spot for food is Fishfull Thinking for great fresh and smoked fish products, also on Peninsula, as is the Co-Op.

Because of changing circumstances, best also to check all websites.

If you should feel you need a day or so extra in Ukee — and there is more to see and other good places to eat, including a sushi place — the community is open to tourists now and accommodation is available at different price points.

And if you never want to leave Ukee after your visit, you can always contact a realtor to help find your dream west coast home.

(S Fuller is a dual British and Canadian citizen who worked as a journalist for Reuters before immigrating to Canada in 1987 from South Africa, where she was a civil war correspondent. Between immigrating and freelance writing she earned a PhD at UBC where she taught in the anthropology and sociology departments. She has family that live in Ucluelet and is an enthusiastic visitor to the west coast. She is working on a book called Far Out: Epic Trips to Canada’s Wild West Coast.)