Don't be fooled by its fresh air and even-keeled nature: Vancouver, British Columbia, is a bona fide metropolis. As Canada's busiest port, the Pacific coast city's planning emphasized livability, resulting in an industrial core that's, mostly, pleasantly peripheral. Massive cargo ships anchored off the coast peacefully dot the seascape with dabs of color, while ambitious tech and finance firms can be found in skyscrapers designed to frame a breathable, mountainous skyline. This human-scaled city still means business.
Where to go
Stanley Park, with 1,000-plus acres of lush forest and adventure trails, will quickly drive home why Vancouver is Lululemon Athletica's birthplace. Bike the park's seawall and stop at the favored Third Beach to soak in the breeze from the placid English Bay.
Continue by foot to shop downtown Vancouver's oldest corner, Gastown. Pricy yet crafty items will steal room in your carry-on from well-curated boutiques like Old Faithful Shop (320 W. Cordova St., 778-327-9376). Vancouver's surrounding residential neighborhoods are also wroth the trek, from the beachfront Kitsilano and its popular West Fourth Avenue to Main Street, home to record, coffee and vintage shops.
And not to be forgotten is Wreck Beach, Canada's legendary, legal "clothing optional" beach known for its loyal enthusiasts, crowds and vendors during the summer.
Where to eat
Half the city speaks a first language other than English, and the culinary scene is equally diverse. Medina Cafe (780 Richards St., 604-879-3114) specializes in dishes like spicy Tagine and notoriously dense Belgian waffles. The newly opened Tacofino (15 W. Cordova St., 604-899-7907), which started as a taco truck on Vancouver Island, is known for its fish tacos. French standout L'Abattoir (217 Carrall St., 604-568-1701) can be found in the well-oiled culinary hub that is Gastown. And don't leave Vancouver without celebrating one of Canada's largest Asian populations. Sushi in particular is ubiquitous in Vancouver given its access to seafood. Head to RawBar at The Fairmont Pacific Rim (1038 Canada Pl., 604-695-5300) for sustainably sourced fish.
Vancouver's coffee scene is buzzing. Hotspots include 49th Parallel (202 Main St., 2198 W. Fourth Ave.), which draws crowds for its caffeinated craft and the French crullers by Lucky's Doughnuts; Revolver (325 Cambie St., 604-558-4444), where cups are all pour-overs; and Timbertrain (311 W. Cordova St.), which cranks out cold brew on tap.
Where to stay
Most of your time will be spent outdoors, but you'll still need a place to lay your head. The trendy Burrard (1100 Burrard St., 604-681-2331) in downtown Vancouver is well-suited for modern travelers, with free Wi-Fi, espresso and bike rentals. Also consider the newly opened Skwachàys Lodge (31 W. Pender, 604-687-3589). Its 18 rooms are outfitted in authentic aboriginal décor, and revenue from the hotel supports city housing for aboriginal people in need of a helping hand.
Grouse Mountain: On the outskirts of nearby North Vancouver, Grouse Mountain is rife with fragrant pines and grizzly wildlife. A tram gets you to the top without breaking a sweat, but consider the right of passage that is Grouse Grind, a nearly 2-mile hike up 2,830 stairs that leads to a 3,700-foot summit offering a panoramic view of Vancouver's stacked skyline.
Victoria: Take a ferry to Vancouver Island and explore Victoria's British heritage while strolling the harbor and stopping for a spot of high tea. Also keep a lookout for whales while getting to the island or tours with operators like Prince of Whales.
Whistler: Explore the illustrious ski town in one afternoon. Whether you rent a car or hop on a shuttle, you'll take the country's beloved Highway 99, aka Sea to Sky Highway, which weaves along coastal backdrops and through mountains. Once there, hiking trails and charming chalets abound.