That Vancouver Lifestyle: One Week in Vancouver, City of Hipsters

Vancouver lifestyle - one week in the city blog cover

This past July, I spent one week in Vancouver, getting a little taste of Canada and visiting fellow ACLE alumna/travel blogger The Global Shuffle. But, the city wasn’t quite what I expected. This is the story of how I learnt to put down my old faithful Lonely Planet, stopped sightseeing and starting experiencing what can only be described as the Vancouver lifestyle:

One Week in Vancouver: City Sightseeing vs the Vancouver Lifestyle

Lonely Planet had never disappointed me until I spent one week in Vancouver this summer.

I’ve clung to the pages of my beloved LPs for years, like a travel comfort blanket. From my five-years-out-of-date copy of Southeast Asia on a Shoestring, to library-stolen Japan guides, to my dear beloved dogeared guide to Italy, guidebooks in general are special to me.

Vancouver lifestyle - one week in Vancouver - Stanley park 2
One Week in Vancouver: Lions Gate Bridge, Stanley Park

I pencil notes in the margins. I stick post-it notes on the pages of places that I’ve visited, detailing where I stayed, what I did and who I met. I’m a Page Traveller, as I may have mentioned once or twice already. Basically, I’m not the kind of girl who gives up the guide easily.

I read and re-read my little Lonely Planet Pocket Guide to Vancouver on the 10-hour flight across Atlantic sea and snow-crested Canadian mountains. I was eager to try out recommended walks and eateries, see the sights and learn a little about a country that was completely new to me.

And yet, I found myself let down more and more by guidebook recommendations. For example, the overuse of the the word “heritage” (1960s is vintage to a Brit, not historic), the lack of information about First Nations history, and – not to state the bleeding obvious, but – the top tourist sights to see were exactly that:

Obvious. Generic. Touristy.

Vancouver lifestyle - one week in Vancouver - Canada 150 sign
One Week in Vancouver: Canada 150 sign at Canada Place

I know, I know, what did I expect? To spend one week in Vancouver and truly experience everything the city has to offer? But, I continued to despair as the recommendations from LP went from pointless to completely lacking in depth, insight and authenticity. I began to get impatient.

Getting Grumpy with Guidebooks

What tipped me over the edge was a visit to Capilano Suspension Bridge Park (and paying the $45 entrance fee!). My guidebook told me that this was quintessential Canadian outdoors at its finest. I envisioned breathing pure oxygen, trees taller than skyscrapers, earthy forest smells and a breathtaking view all to myself (maybe even a bear!).

However, once I managed to squeeze through the throngs of people at the park’s entrance, what I saw was a poorly manicured version of nature at best; a treetop walkway and boardwalk circuit that could be completed in 45 minutes.

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One Week in Vancouver: The VAG (that’s Vancouver Art Gallery, mind you!)

I queued up and shuffled with the rest of the cattle along the suspension bridge, dodging selfie sticks. I got caught up in rows of school children holding hands and walking in line.

There was also a certain irony about the information plaques, which focused on environmental concern and “saving the trees”. The plaques were made of wood. The boardwalk under my feet was made of wood. The treetop walkway, the railings, the buildings, benches and all other facilities in the park. This was nature’s graveyard.

Vancouver lifestyle - one week in Vancouver - Girl in Wetsuit Statue Stanley Park
One Week in Vancouver: Girl in a Wetsuit Statue, Stanley Park

Surely, I could just take the bus an hour further up the road, go on a hike and see actual British Columbia and it’s natural scenery – visually stunning, accessible and… free?

Next, I visited the “best museum in the city”, a “hidden gem” (those are direct quotes) also known as the Police Museum.

The museum consisted of a wall of headshots of past Chief Constables, one gangster who escaped justice that one time, a high-profile kidnapping case in the 90s and a modest gun collection. I kept waiting for the *ping* moment; an epiphany of what made the Vancouver police force so special, but that revelation just never came.

Vancouver lifestyle - one week in Vancouver - Totem Poles in Stanley Park
One Week in Vancouver: Totem Poles, Stanley Park

I was confused. Because, I mean, crime happens everywhere, right? It’s not like this a Police Museum in Sicily about the mafioso, or a Police Museum in London about Jack the Ripper, or a Police Museum in Hong Kong about the triads. Vancouver’s crime scene is pretty tame.

I was in and out within the hour.

What are you, Vancouver?

In fact, that was the very thing that I couldn’t put my finger on with Vancouver: what made it special? Sure, the city has nice parks, a pretty harbour, an impressive skyline, great food, great coffee, good weather, friendly people, reliable transport links…

Vancouver lifestyle - one week in Vancouver PIN pierogies

It was perfect on paper, but how was it different to any other city in the world? It seemed I could transplant bits of Vancouver anywhere on this planet and it wouldn’t look out of place.

What made it Vancouver?

After each day of fruitless sightseeing in the city, I would return, defeated, to the suburbs, open a can of peach cider in the garden and complain to my hosts: I like Vancouver, I just don’t “get it.”

Vancouver lifestyle - one week in Vancouver - steam clock in Gastown
One Week in Vancouver: Steam Clock in Gastown

It didn’t hit me until the fifth day of my one week trip: Vancouver isn’t a city, it’s a lifestyle. You don’t come here to see the sights, you come here to experience that unique, easygoing, bohemian, liberal Vancouver lifestyle.

What is that Vancouver Lifestyle?

Vancouver is walking around a neighbourhood you haven’t been to before, just to see what’s there. Vancouver is street art. It’s popping into a local coffee place, grabbing a cold brew and perusing intriguing titles in quirky secondhand bookshops. Vancouver is nude beaches.

Vancouver is getting stopped in town because someone is filming a scene for a TV show pilot. It’s is shopping in thrift stores. Vancouver is choosing food from anywhere in the world; it’s ordering char siu bao in Cantonese in Chinatown.

Vancouver lifestyle - one week in Vancouver - Millennium gate Chinatown
One Week in Vancouver: Millennium Gate in Chinatown

And so, I started to ignore my beloved LP and embrace the Vancouver lifestyle, rather than the city itself. And beyond the pointless guidebook tourist traps, I discovered something more:

To experience the real Vancouver lifestyle, you need to hang out with its inhabitants. Drink that peach cider in the yard in the suburbs with people you just met in the street. Smoke weed. Eat vegan poutine. Grow your own fruit and vegetables. Carry a desk from a moving sale two blocks down for someone you barely know.

Talk about nothing in particular and everything important with creatives who have unlimited talents and passions. Smile at strangers.

Vancouver lifestyle - one week in Vancouver - vegan poutine
One Week in Vancouver: Vegan Poutine

Get a tattoo or a piercing. Dye your hair any colour of the rainbow. Sing. Dance. Paint. Act. Write. Wait tables in the day, pursue your dreams at night. Dogsit two French bulldogs that make pig noises and hump each other.

Play the Genius version of Trivial Pursuit and answer every question you don’t know with “Marlon Brando?”. Gorge on sushi. Go to a dirty skater house party, drink out of red plastic cups and dance until the cops come. Tuck freshly picked lavender behind your ear. Stick glitter gems on your face.

Laze in a hammock chatting to those who weren’t born in Vancouver, but gravitated here in order to be the people they want to be. Have a girl you only knew for two weeks last summer stay in your basement.

Vancouver lifestyle - one week in Vancouver - Stanley Park 3
One Week in Vancouver: Ocean Steps, Stanley Park

Look out to the ocean. Look up at the mountains. Sink into the sunset. Breathe.

Vancouver is not a destination. It’s not a place to tick off sights on those “must-see” listicles. People come to Vancouver to be free.

It’s less seeing, more being.

Vancouver lifestyle - one week in Vancouver - Stanley Park
One Week in Vancouver: Runners in Stanley Park

So, put down your guidebook. Sit back. Let the tensions in your shoulders drop. Open a can. Drink. Talk. Laugh.

Just be.

Vancouver lifestyle - one week in Vancouver - pin

22 thoughts on “That Vancouver Lifestyle: One Week in Vancouver, City of Hipsters

  1. Love reading through this post. I’ve visited Vancouver a few times and always love the culture and lifestyle there! Such a laidback city. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Too bad that your beloved Lonely Planet let you down! Usually I’m pretty happy with the guidebooks too. Good thing you ditched it and really still got the best out of your trip and experienced Vancouver in a positive way!

  3. Yeahhh I like this! “Just be” exactly! I was in Vancouver a month ago and yeah it’s got that eco/green feeling that makes you want to do your bit loved the smiley people and positive atmosphere too, thanks for sharing.

  4. What a great post! I haven’t been out West for years so this has made me want to head back.
    I love the Girl in the wetsuit statue! Reminded me of the Little Mermaid in Denmark.

  5. I’ve been giving up on guidebooks, too! I had some poor experiences in Italy recently, so I’ve been trying to use trustworthy bloggers’ advice instead. I’m glad you found a way to have a good time in Vancouver!

  6. Yes, sometimes the best experiences cannot be found in the guidebook! I really love Vancouver. It has such a relaxed vibe and the scenery there is amazing!

  7. I haven’t been to Vancouver but somehow i can relate to what you said. I find that there are some places/cities that on the outside, appear to be just like any other city but in depth, the lifestyle and the charm it exudes are what makes it special. Would love to experience that for myself one day.

  8. Lonely Planet I stopped reading years ago. I actually just came back from Van after 5 months living there. You were spot on on alot of things. I love that so much filming takes place, and that there is so much outdoor activity to have on offer. But Capilano is the biggest money gouge, i completely agree – when Lynn Canyon is FREE and so much BETTER! I stopped trusting guide books when they recommend the expensive things over the the value for money options.

  9. I’m Canadian, but I haven’t had the chance to go to Vancouver yet (I would definitely love to). I really enjoyed your take on the city about it being a lifestyle! I can totally see what you mean, and it made me want to visit the city even more!

  10. It’s interesting to read your thoughts of using guidebooks. I used them when started my travels and then stopped after few cases of outdated information. Know I USD information from Internet for planning my travels. Love your post.

  11. Very true – it is the lifestyle and the incredible natural beauty of Vancouver that makes it special. There are so many little natural spots to visit that aren’t mentioned (or only as a side note) in the guidebooks. Vancouver is also a great city to eat, and drink experimental craft beer. You made me miss it!

  12. I like your writing style. Great post. Canada still sounds for me as a very far destination but one day I will visit this country – it is already on my travel list.
    I like the part with the guide book 🙂 When I travel I prepare myself by reading blogs and articles like this one. They are really helpful 🙂

  13. Lovely photos, brought back memories ! It’s really an amazing city. I really enjoyed your pictures. I’ve visited Vancouver few years ago and looking at this post I realize how much places I’ve missed. I’ll keep this list in mind next time 🙂

  14. Thank you for sharing, what an insightful post! I think I ate my way around Vancouver which I really enjoyed, but I see what you mean when you keep looking for that thing, when it’s not really a thing to get. It just is!! ❤️

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