DON’T stay downtown, which has too many glass towers and not enough light. Head for the ivy-clad Sylvia: faded gentility, right on the sea.
DO go to Gastown, Vancouver’s hard-drinking heart. Named after the saloonkeeper Gassy Jack, who supplied early loggers with liquor and overlong stories, Gastown still has its frontier grit. Head shops, film schools, the young and the homeless share space at the edge of the working waterfront. Eat at the Sardine Can or L’abbatoir, the city’s first jail, or go underground at Guilt & Co for swing dancing, board games and burlesque.
DO take your clothes off. Go down the cliff at Trail 6 to Wreck Beach, where clothing is optional. On a summer full moon, join the Bare Buns Run, a 5km course along the flat.
DO seek out micro-roasters and brewers: coffee at Revolver or Timbertrain, craft beer at Brassneck.
DON’T do your fashion shopping at the Mountain Equipment Co-op, set up in the 1970s to supply local mountaineers with imported gear out of the back of a van. Its uber-practical clothes may have something to do with Vancouver’s rating as the world’s third-worst-dressed city.
DO get a feel for life before contact with Europe. The Museum of Anthropology’s totem poles and ethnographic treasures are edifying, but better still, go out and gaze across the Georgia Strait. Full of salmon, dolphins and resident Orcas, it’s becoming known as the Salish Sea in honour of the people who lived here for a thousand generations before the strait was named after George III.
DON’T take yourself too seriously on Main Street, where vintage shops meet art-school chic and inventive food. Go retro-Polynesian at the Shameful Tikki Room or hippie at Slickety Jim’s Chat ’n’ Chew.
DO spend time in Stanley Park; the rainforest that covered most of Vancouver 120 years ago is a miracle. Rent a bike and cycle the seawall, a 16km track built by a homesick Scottish stonemason. Vancouver has invested heavily in cycling lanes. Ride along the miles of sand at Spanish Banks where the captains of the Spanish and English exploring expeditions first met.
DO practise your ni hao maa. The most Asian city outside Asia, this is an easy place to live without speaking English. Go for dim sum—anywhere noisy and full of Chinese families.
DON’T do the Grouse Grind. An outdoor gym scene, “Nature’s Stairmaster” consists of nearly 3,000 giant steps cut out of the side of a mountain. Avoid sore legs and sweaty crowds and take the gondola instead. Have a drink at The Peak before venturing (with a map) into the back country. Be aware that Search and Rescue conducts nearly 100 operations a year looking for those who underestimate the unforgiving wilderness at the city’s edge, and they don’t find everybody.
DO get out of town. Vancouver is a springboard to some of the most rugged land, sea and islands on the entire west coast.
DO come soon. Vancouver is fast becoming the go-to destination for Pacific Rim mega-capital.