This is one of the most delightful cities in China...maybe second only to Suzhou.
Dalian offers good access to the ocean...although you may have to travel to the edges of the city to get to it. The whole city is close, but the inner areas are heavily lined with docks and shipyards, and it's all walled off. Further out- in the Industrial Zone- there are sandy beaches...the sand is trucked in. Closer in you can at least find a few places to get to that are OK for fishing, shell hunting, and just generally being by the sea.
The proximity to the sea moderates the weather a little. It's still hot in summer and cold in winter, but a far cry from what you'll find a little ways inland in pooholes like Shenyang. Dalian is a major destination for domestic summer travel.
Dalian offers some of the best seafood in China. Good, relatively cheap, and extremely fresh. Restaurants there have more species on display in fish tanks than the zoos do.
There are a fair number of foreigners in Dalian, and the town is relatively affluent...especially compared to the crumbling Rust Belt ambience that is so much of China's northeast. This means a decent sampling of foreign goodies is available...stores such as Carrefour, Wal-Mart, etc. can be found there.
Transportation is good. It's the only city in China I've lived in where I would take a bus. But for me the real transportation prize was the streetcar system that runs up and down the major avenues. Cheap, convenient, and fast although sometimes full to bursting.
One of my favorite places is Zhongshan Square (Zhongshan Guangchang). It's a favored place to hang out for foreigners and locals alike. There are a lot of impromptu Chinese music concerts, fashion shows, ballroom dance groups, and more going on there when the weather is nice. There is a jumbotron overlooking the park that shows movies, soccer matches, and other things. Watching old Woody Woodpecker and Tom & Jerry cartoons dubbed into Mandarin remains one of my more surreal experiences in China.
There's a cool underground arts and crap market connecting to the passageways beneath Olympic Square near the train station.
At various times in history Dalian (aka Talien, LuDa, and Port Arthur) has been claimed by Japan and Russia. There is some understated Japanese architecture around, but there is a Russian walking street with fully restored old Imperial Russian buildings that is way cool. I don't remember the location but maybe some of our current Dalianoids can help place it. There are still a lot of Russian sailors calling at the port of Dalian and a significant Russian expat community to serve them. There is some good Russian food around, and the Russian bars are excellent places to drink vodka, catch a venereal disease, and get beaten and robbed.
The city has been extensively renovated and presents a clean, modern face. Go out to the Forest Zoo...they should really call it the Mountain Zoo; be prepared for lots of hiking and climbing. The zoo is just so-so at best, and the safari park is ludicrous, but they have a cable car system between the two halves of the park. The view of the city and the ocean is so breathtaking that you'll forget how terrified you are to be suspended from a wire, hundreds of meters in the air, in a mechanical system built and maintained by Chinese university graduates.
Dalian is a nice place.
Oh, I almost forgot: don't work for a chain called "Future School" there. It's the AES flagship system and it sucks. Unfortunately, Dalian has become a bit notorious overall for especially dodgy and dishonest private schools. It has good universities but the pay at most of them is miserable. (Update...some uni pay in Dalian seems to finally be crawling into the 20th Century...)
Other downside: Dalian is near the southern tip of a long peninsula. To connect with the mainland, you have to first go north the full length of that peninsula before you go anywhere else. Train travel to anywhere
takes a very long time.