6 Ways To Be A Vancouver Tourist (Even If You’re A Local)

Guest post by Ian MacKenzie.


I didn’t tell her when we left our apartment in the suburbs of Vancouver.

I didn’t tell her when we stood waiting on the Skytrain platform, when she attempted to ask probing questions. I didn’t even tell her when we stepped out of Waterfront station, 30 minutes later, amid the hustle of the downtown crowd.

In fact, I didn’t have to tell her, because as soon as we rounded the corner of Howe St, a knowing smile slipped across her lips, and I could tell, she had guessed correctly.

To celebrate my wife’s 30ish birthday, I decided to treat her to a night at the Pan Pacific Vancouver. We would play tourists in our own town – nay, tourists with a taste for luxury.

Now you may be wondering how I define luxury, since it is regularly overused in everything from travel agents to toothpaste. To simplify, I’ll say luxury means:

  • pillows so comfortable they can induce cryogenic sleep
  • views overlooking Coal Harbour that would make Justin Bieber weep
  • scrambled eggs that arrive garnished with strawberries. Yes, the best kind of berry.

My wife and I like to think we’ve traveled a fair bit (over 15 countries and counting), though we rarely stay in such nice accommodation. But this was a special occasion, and Vancouver in the summer is a special time.

We decided to play tourists in our own city, and I highly recommend you do it as well. The following tips will help you start planning:

1. Go online and look up the most popular (or unusual) attractions in the city.

Sure, you’ve probably been to the Vancouver staples, like the Capilano Suspension Bridge, or Granville Island. But what about the lesser trodden attractions, like Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s Chinese Garden, or the Starbucks that’s across the street from another Starbucks? (Robson & Thurlow) Or find a bookstore and browse the Lonely Planet guide to Vancouver and marvel how they write about familiar places with fresh eyes.

2. Spend a night at a nice hotel.

When attempting to be a tourist in your own city, local accommodation is essential. This prevents you from worrying about parking your car, or making the drive back home later in the evening. For my wife’s birthday, the Pan Pacific was a nice surprise, (and I’m pretty sure my accumulated brownie points have yet to wear off).

3. Leave your work at home.

You probably have a Blackberry. Or an iPhone. Or one of the lesser popular phones that nobody knows. But if it’s classified as “smart,” it’s crucial to leave it at home. There’s nothing that kills the vacation vibe like checking your email and stressing about the report due by Monday. This was actually easy for me, since my phone is actually…just a phone. (In social status, it’s like carrying a beeper).

4. Take your camera, and buy some postcards.

When I’m anywhere near home, I find it difficult to drum up the motivation to snap photos. Perhaps it’s because everything is “too familiar.” In reality, it just means I’ve become too lazy to use my photographer’s eye. Rekindle your inspiration and pretend you’re on the road in a dazzling new city. Before long, you’ll be capturing memories, and earning good-natured disdain from other locals in no time.

5. Eat at fancy restaurants

After lounging at the Pan Pacific rooftop pool, my wife and I cabbed over to English Bay to watch the sunset. It was one of those perfect Vancouver evenings, when the air wafts in the ocean salt, and the view stretches clear to the islands in the distance.

Our first choice for dinner was the 5 Sails restaurant inside the Pan Pacific, but at that time we were across town, and my wife was becoming dangerously hangry (hungy + angry) – therefore it was fitting that we strolled up the street to Raincity Grill. My wife ordered the 3 course feature menu with the wine pairings. I matched her choice, with a wheat microbrew to wash it down.

The conversation was almost as sweet as the dessert. By the time the bill arrived (with triple digits) I had almost forgotten the reason we only do this once a year. Which brings me to my last point.

6. Take your time and enjoy the moments

Considering the amount of money saved by not jetting to a far-flung destination, playing tourist in your hometown is actually quite economical. My wife and I took our time waking up in the morning (remember, those pillows), and treated ourselves to breakfast in the downstairs Cafe Pacifica (eggs + strawberries).

By the time we arrived home, barely 24 hours had passed. Yet, we felt as renewed as a weekend in wine country, and less sunburnt than an escape to Mexico.



Ian MacKenzie is a local blogger and Vancouver filmmaker. Disclaimer: He provides social media strategy for the Pan Pacific, and seriously loves eggs and strawberries.

Do you have any tips for playing local in Vancouver? Share your thoughts in the comments!