Visitors should rid themselves of any misconceptions about the frozen north. So gentle is Vancouver's climate -- it benefits from the warm current offshore -- that spring arrives about a month earlier than it does in Washington. Summer temperatures, in contrast to Washington's, are pleasantly mild.

GETTING THERE: With gasoline expected to remain cheap this summer, this may be the year to make a transcontinental drive. One way is about 3,000 miles.

United Airlines flies from Washington to Vancouver with a change of planes in Chicago. It currently is quoting a 30-day advance-purchase ticket of $420 for travel this summer on Tuesday and Wednesday; the rate other days of the week is $464.

CURRENCY: The U.S. dollar is strong compared with the Canadian dollar, which means travel expenses within Canada are something of a bargain. A Canadian dollar costs about 70 to 75 cents, depending on the daily currency rate. In Vancouver, you will be quoted hotel rates and read menu prices in Canadian dollars that appear to be about what you might expect to pay for similar dining or lodging in Washington. However, when translated into U.S. dollars, those prices are about 25 percent less.

U.S. currency is widely accepted in the Vancouver area, but you probably will get change back in Canadian currency. The exchange rates usually are better at banks and other currency exchange offices than at shops and restaurants.

WHERE TO STAY: Accommodations range from luxury, water-view hotels at $100 a night or more to budget motels, bed-and-breakfast inns, campgrounds, youth hostels and rooms in private homes. Most downtown facilities are located within a half-dozen blocks or so of Expo 86.

Hotels already are heavily booked for the busy summer months, but city officials anticipate being able to find space for everyone.

For a $5 service charge, ResWest, British Columbia's official accommodation agency, can book lodgings at hotels, motels, bed-and-breakfast inns, campgrounds, trailer parks and hostels. If there's no space at any of these commercial facilities, visitors can be placed in private Vancouver homes (pre-inspected by ResWest) at a rate of $35 a night for a couple and $5 for each child. For information or a reservation: (604) 662-3300.

GUIDES: Two excellent new guidebooks to the hotels, restaurants and attractions of Vancouver and its surroundings are "The Vancouver Guide," by Terri Wershler (published by Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver) and "British Columbia Best Places," by David Brewster (Sasquatch Books, Seattle).

INFORMATION:

*Expo 86: Expo Info, P.O. Box 1800, Station A, Vancouver, B.C., Canada V6C 3A2, (604) 660-3976.

*The city of Vancouver: Greater Vancouver Convention & Visitors Bureau, P.O. Box 11142, Royal Centre, Vancouver, B.C. Canada V6E 4C8, (604) 682-2222.

*The province of British Columbia: Tourism B.C., 1117 Wharf St., Victoria, B.C., Canada V8W 2Z2, (604) 387-1642.