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Vancouver, Washington – a city we stumbled onto by accident – is steeped in history and charm. Not as well-known as the Canadian city of the same name to the north and certainly not as popular as Portland, Oregon that sits just 10 miles south, Vancouver, WA is often overlooked as a destination. During our time in the city, however, we learned that there are plenty of things to do in Vancouver, Washington that make it a great place to visit!
Visit Vancouver, WA
Vancouver, Washington wasn’t in our original travel plans; we were aiming for Portland. As it worked out – with our loose itinerary and last-minute changes – we ended up booking an entire month in the city, which allowed us plenty of time to settle into life in Vancouver, Washington. Without a car, we were limited to exploring the city on foot – and wondered if there were enough things to see in Vancouver, WA to keep us entertained.
Somewhat surprisingly, we found that not only are there fun things to do in Downtown Vancouver, WA, but several sights in the vicinity that are within walking distance, too.
History of Vancouver, WA
Before making a plan of the places to visit in Vancouver, WA, it helps to have a basic understanding of the history of Vancouver, Washington. We are highlighting some of the pivotal moments in the city’s history so that fellow visitors can better understand VanWa sights and attractions.
Prior to the city’s founding, the land along the north shore of the Columbia River had long been inhabited by the Chinook Tribe, who fed off the river and dominated area trade. In 1805 (and 1806), explorers Lewis and Clark, who headed the United States Corps of Discovery Expedition, spent time along the Columbia River shoreline, proclaiming it suitable for habitation.
Establishment of Vancouver
It wasn’t until 1825, however, that the city was founded with the establishment of Fort Vancouver by the British-owned Hudson’s Bay Company trading post. The site had been scoped out years earlier – in 1792 – on a Royal Navy expedition under the direction of British Captain George Vancouver.
For many years, Great Britain and the United States settled the area under the 1818 Treaty of Joint Occupation. More American settlers arrived and claimed land, eventually resulting in the Oregon Treaty of 1846 that designated it as part of the United States and pushed the British boundary north.
One of the first prominent early settlers was the Short family, who (somewhat questionably) laid claim to the land and renamed it Columbia City…until it was reverted to Vancouver in 1855. The US Army set up camp in Vancouver in 1849 and built housing along the northern boundary of Fort Vancouver (which still stands today as Officer’s Row). The city was officially incorporated in 1857. As shops set up along Main Street, the Vancouver Brewery prospered, and the city’s businesses flourished.
In subsequent years, the city experienced growth, decline, expansion and renewal. Vancouver ranks as the 4th largest city in the State of Washington, however it is often considered the largest suburb of Portland, OR. The historic core retains a quaint, small town atmosphere, while it simultaneously becomes more modern.
Things To Do in Vancouver, Washington
Our list of what to do in Vancouver, Washington is based on our personal experiences in the city. In addition to highlight the many things to do in Vancouver, WA, we also provide tips for visiting nearby city attractions – as well as offer information on how to get to the city and where to stay in Vancouver.
Save, Pin or Bookmark this blog post of thins to see in Vancouver, Washington so that you can easily access it as you plan (and during!) your trip!
#1 Discover Downtown Vancouver, Washington
Of all the places to visit in Vancouver, Washington, Downtown should be the first. Laid out in a grid, with Main Street at the center, Downtown Vancouver, WA is dotted with landmarks, artworks and historic structures.
Buildings of interest, which are easily reached on a short walk, are the Kiggins Theatre, The Academy, the Proto-Cathedral of St. James, the Clark County Historical Museum and the Historic Slocum House, which is located on the southwest corner of Esther Short Park.
#2 Take a Long Break at Esther Short Park
When sightseeing in Vancouver, WA, Esther Short Park is a must! The 5 acres of land was donated to the city by the Short family to be used as a park…and it stands as the oldest public square in the state.
Walking paths weave around gigantic trees and there is plenty of space on the lawn to spread out a blanket to relax or have a picnic lunch. A gazebo, ‘Pioneer Mother’ statue and rose garden are points of interest within the park. The most striking feature, however, is the Salmon Run Bell Tower. At certain times when the Glockenspiel bells ring, characters emerge from the tower to tell the story of the Chinook tribe.
#3 Shop at the Vancouver Farmers Market
One of the fun local activities in Vancouver, WA is to shop at the Vancouver Farmers Market. The buzzing market is comprised of vendors selling farm-fresh food, locally produced goods and fresh-cut flowers. Prepared food is also on offer – so grab some food to go and have a picnic in the park!
The market takes place on summer weekends on 8th and Esther Streets (the west and north boundary of Esther Short Park).
#4 Seek Out Street Art Murals and Sculptures
The city of Vancouver has a strong connection with the arts. Throughout downtown and the surrounding areas, public artworks are on display in the form of colorful art murals, commemorative memorials and artistic statues.
One of the fun things to do in Vancouver, WA is to walk around and seek out the works of art. Visitors can freely roam in search of art – or use the Public Art Map and Murals Map to create your own walking tour to these Vancouver, Washington tourists attractions.
#5 Explore Uptown Village
Spending time in Uptown Village is one of the top Vancouver, WA things to do! Stroll north on Main Street to discover delectable restaurants, marvelous antique shops and fascinating dispensaries.
Detour west off Main Street into the Hough district, one of the oldest residential neighborhoods in the city. Many of the Victorian and bungalow style houses date to the early 1900s – and much of the area is listed on the Washington Historic Register.
#6 Relax at the Vancouver Waterfront
Spending time at the Waterfront is one of the best things to do in Vancouver, WA! The recently revitalized riverside park and entertainment district is the perfect place to wind down after a long day of sightseeing in Vancouver, Washington. The entire Waterfront offers amazing views of the Columbia River, but the most phenomenal views are from the modern Grant Street Pier – which is one of the must-see Vancouver, Washington attractions!
Waterfront Restaurants: Vancouver, Washington
The best Vancouver, Washington restaurants offering a meal-with-a-view are found at the Waterfront. Stylish and chic, the restaurants feature local favorites of fresh fish and classic American fare. For a taste of the local wineries near Vancouver, Washington, there are wine tasting rooms that border the Waterfront Park, too!
#7 Embark on a Riverside Journey
Stretching five miles along the Columbia River, the Waterfront Renaissance Trail connects the centrally located Waterfront Park to Wintler Park east of Downtown. From the multi-use paved path, visitors can take in incredible views of the water and bridges.
The route passes by a few highly rated Vancouver, WA tourist attractions – including the Water Resources Education Center (one of the fun Vancouver, WA kid activities), the Shipyards and Kaiser Viewing Tower. Along the way, information plaques detail the history of the land, city and people – which is why we think is one of the best free things to do in Vancouver, WA.
#8 Pay Tribute to Veterans
Situated between City Hall and the railroad tracks is one of the more inconspicuous and expressive attractions in Vancouver, Washington: The Veterans of Foreign Wars Memorial Plaza. The block-long park features plaques and memorials honoring US military members who have served in wars overseas. The quiet park (unless a train happens to be going by) is highlighted by incredible artistic wall murals that depict events that occurred in foreign wars.
#9 Visit Fort Vancouver Historical Site
One of the best places to engage in the history of Vancouver, Washington is at the Fort Vancouver Historical Site. The site, which was first established in 1825 as a fur trading post by the British Hudson’s Bay Company, is now preserved as part of the US National Park Service. From guided tours to cultural demonstrations to hands-on activities, Fort Vancouver is one of the exceptional places to see in Vancouver, WA.
#10 Stroll Officer’s Row, Vancouver, Washington
Another one of the places to go in Vancouver, WA to get a peek into the past is Officer’s Row. More than a dozen Victorian homes, which date to the mid-1800s, line the lush Evergreen Boulevard along the north side of Fort Vancouver. Originally serving as residences for US Army officers and their families, the homes are now collectively listed on the National Historic Register (although some are still private residences!).
The Marshall House is the most beautiful house on the street – and it was once occupied by General George C. Marshall (who would later serve as US Secretary of Defense and US Secretary of State – and also be a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize). The Grant House is another dwelling on the street that shouldn’t be missed. The house has been converted into a restaurant, which serves upscale cuisine featuring a farm-to-table concept and is considered one of the top places to eat in Vancouver, Washington.
#11 Learn about Aviation at Pearson Field
Hailed as one of the oldest continuously operating airports in the United States, visiting Pearson Field Airport is one of the cool things to do in Vancouver, WA. Established in the early 1900s, the airport has seen a number of significant events in the world of aviation. Highlights include being a stop on the first aerial Round the World flight in 1924 and the landing sight of the first trans-polar flight from Moscow in 1937.
Visitors can tour the Pearson Air Museum for a timeline history of events – as well as get an up-close look at historic aircraft. For the best view of airplanes taking off and landing, go outside the airport grounds to the east end of the runway.
#12 Walk Across the Vancouver Land Bridge
Considered one of the top Vancouver, Washington points of interest, the Vancouver Land Bridge celebrates the history of the land on which the city was built. The 40-foot wide pedestrian bridge crosses Highway 14 from the riverside to Fort Vancouver. It marks the Native American Klickitat Trail, which was cut off from the Columbia River when Highway 14 was constructed. The bridge features numerous lookout points, native plants, Spirit Baskets and a Welcome Gate at the south entrance, which was designed by a Native American artist.
Next to the Welcome Gate is the Old Apple Tree Park, which is comprised of a sole tree. The apple tree was planted in 1826 and it is believed to be the oldest apple tree in the Pacific Northwest.
#13 Hike on the Burnt Bridge Creek Trail
There are some amazing parks in Vancouver, WA where people can step into nature. The Burnt Bridge Creek Trail is one of them. The paved multi-use trail extends more than 8 miles, following the creek through meadows, wetlands and forest.
The western section (from I-5 to Fruit Valley) between the Northwest Vancouver and West Hazel Dell neighborhoods, is the most forested – and is one of the few places you can go for hikes in Vancouver, Washington…without leaving the city.
#14 Drink at Local Craft Beer Bars
VanWA is brimming with local breweries; in fact, they have such a presence they’ve become must-visit Vancouver, WA attractions and earned the city the nickname “Brewcouver”. Each brewery has a range of their own beers as well as guest taps that they share with thirsty patrons in their taprooms.
There are 7 breweries that can be reached on a short walk within the downtown area – and several more in nearby neighborhoods.
Get all the details in our blog post, Craft Breweries in Vancouver, Washington!
#15 Eat at Restaurants in Vancouver, Washington
You don’t have to go far to find good food in Vancouver, Washington. Several of the city’s finest eateries are located on Main Street along the stretch from Downtown to Uptown Village. That said, there are a few worthy Vancouver, WA restaurants off Main Street, too!
The best place to eat breakfast in Vancouver, Washington is the Bleu Door Bakery, which churns out tasty pastries and hearty biscuits and gravy (and don’t miss the beignets on Saturdays!). Another local cafe on Main Street is Mon Ami, which serves excellent coffee and crepes.
For a quick lunch, Burgerville is the hometown favorite. The fast-food chain (now 40+ locations) started in Vancouver in 1961 with a focus on fresh, local ingredients that they still employ today. The original Burgerville restaurant in Vancouver, Washington is located at East Mill Plain and Morrison, but there is a closer downtown location at 4th Plain Blvd and Fort Vancouver Way. If you don’t want to leave downtown and are looking for a quick bite, try a hot dog from the Weiner Wagon!
Dinner options are endless – from posh riverside eateries to brewery taprooms and random food trucks. La Bottega, Sushi Mo and Jorge’s Tequila Factory are all international restaurants in VanWa that get rave reviews.
MAP: Vancouver, Washington
Use this link for our map of Vancouver, Washington in Google Maps.
More Things To Do Near Vancouver, WA
While we limited our exploration to the city center, there are plenty of things to do around Vancouver, WA, too!
Hiking Near Vancouver, Washington
Sumptuous nature surrounds the city – so, naturally, hiking in Vancouver, WA is a popular outdoor activity. A few of the highly touted hikes near Vancouver, Washington are the Frenchman’s Bar Trail, Salmon Creek Trail and the trails at Whipple Creek Regional Park. A little further afield, hikers will find plenty of trails at Moulton Falls Regional Park – and at Silver Star Mountain, there is a challenging summit trail that offers panoramic views on clear days.
Columbia River Gorge
One of the top things to do near Vancouver, Washington – for epic hikes and impressive views – is visiting the Columbia River Gorge. Both natural and man-made attractions – such as the Pendleton Woolen Mill, Cape Horn Overlook, the Bridge of the Gods and Multnomah Falls – can be discovered along in the scenic gorge.
Being just 10 miles south, Portland, Oregon makes a nice day trip from Vancouver, WA. Vancouver visitors can easily plan a trip into the city to take in the sights, explore the districts and delve into the Portland food scene.
For all of our tips on what to see and do in Portland, use our blog post, 3-Day Portland Itinerary.
What To Do in Vancouver, WA on a Rainy Day
We have rounded up a few of the best things to do in Vancouver, WA when the skies are grey.
Libraries in Vancouver, Washington
The Vancouver Community Library is the main library in the city. Modern and family-friendly, the library offers a quiet place to relax, read, get a cup of coffee, let the kids play and take in the rooftop views (well, maybe on a day when it isn’t raining!).
The Vancouver Public Library building – located on 16th and Main – is a 1909 Carnegie Library that now houses the Clark County Historical Society Museum. The museum features exhibits, events and a research library.
Theaters in Vancouver, Washington
There are numerous cinemas in Vancouver, Washington, but the most intriguing to visitors is the historic Kiggins Theatre. Located on Main Street – and recognizable by the art deco design and the original neon sign – the theater first opened in 1936. Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Kiggins Theatre show classic and indie films and hosts community events.
Of course, there are modern movie theaters in the city, too. The Regal City Center, just a few blocks south of Kiggins, shows new release movies.
Malls in Vancouver, Washington
We think the best shopping in Vancouver, Washington is done along Main Street and the surrounding blocks, in the locally-owned boutique shops and artist studios. However, if you are looking for the latest fashion, take a trip to the Vancouver Mall, an enormous shopping complex located east of the city.
Bowling in Vancouver, Washington
If you are searching for things to do with kids in Vancouver, WA on a rainy day, head to the bowling alley! There are several places to bowl in Vancouver, WA, including Husted’s Hazel Dell Lanes, Allen’s Crosley Lanes and Big Al’s (although it is fairly far from the center).
How To Get To Vancouver, WA
Vancouver, Washington can be reached by plane, train, bus or car. We arrived by car after an Oregon Coast Road Trip and departed by plane to Glacier National Park. There are no commercial airports in Vancouver, Washington, as Pearson Field is a general aviation airport that does not service passenger flights.
Flights to Vancouver, WA
The airport closest to Vancouver, Washington is Portland International Airport – and it’s only about 10 miles away. When searching for flights to Vancouver, Washington, use Portland – or PDX – as your arrival airport. For the best flight times and fares, we use SkyScanner – which shows flights by several carriers, side-by-side.
Unfortunately, there is not any convenient, direct public transportation from the PDX to Vancouver. To get from PDX airport in Portland, Oregon to Vancouver, Washington, we used Uber. It cost around $30 (including tip) and took about 20 minutes.
Amtrak: Vancouver, Washington
There are not a lot of train options to the city, but Vancouver, WA is a stop on the Amtrak Cascades Train, which connects 18 cities from Vancouver, BC to Eugene, Oregon. Find more information on the official website for the Amtrak Station Vancouver, Washington.
Getting Around Vancouver, WA
Most of the Vancouver, WA places to visit are within easy walking distance from Downtown. The city is fairly flat, with wide and well-maintained sidewalks.
The city has a good public transportation network – find out more on the official C-Tran site. Uber is also readily available – and more affordable than traditional taxi cabs. To get outside the city to nature attractions, consider renting a car. Check rates for Car Rentals in Vancouver, Washington on Expedia.
Where To Stay in Vancouver, WA
When we visited Vancouver, Washington, we stayed in an Airbnb apartment in the Hough neighborhood that borders Uptown Village. Everything we needed was within walking distance – and we liked having the extra space and kitchen that you don’t get with hotel rooms.
If you are not already on Airbnb, use this link to create your profile and save money on your first stay!
Hotels in Vancouver, Washington
There are only a handful of hotels in the downtown Vancouver area. The Hilton in Vancouver, Washington is ideally located in the heart of the city across from Esther Short Park. Mid-range and budget options include the Comfort Inn and Econo Lodge. The Briar Rose Inn offers a B&B style experience in the city.
Search for availability at the Hilton Vancouver, Washington and other hotels on Booking.com!
What To Pack for Your Trip to Vancouver, WA
We have a few tips for essential items for your Vancouver, Washington trip! You can find all of our advice for what to pack on our Travel Packing Tips Page.
Vancouver, Washington is best explored on foot…so make sure you have the right shoes! I wore my ultra-lightweight New Balance trainers (that go with everything!) when we were out sightseeing – and Kris likes his Merrell shoes for all occasions. Find out more about choosing the right travel shoes in our blog post, The Best Shoes for Traveling – coming soon!
We spent long days outdoors discovering the different parts of the city – and it helped to carry a day pack so that we have everything we needed with us. We talk more about day bags in our blog post, The Best Day Packs for Travel – Coming Soon!
Being prepared for the weather makes sightseeing so much more enjoyable! In the summertime, don’t forget a wide-brimmed travel hat and sunscreen…and it’s always a good idea to carry a travel umbrella or rain jacket – regardless of the season!
We Want To Know: What are your favorite things to do in Vancouver, Washington? Is there anything you would add to our list of Vancouver, WA activities? Tell us in the comments below!
Also spending time in Seattle, WA? Super! Be sure to read our article for the Best Seattle Itinerary!
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