It’s often overlooked en route to Portland or confused with that other Vancouver to the north. But Vancouver (Washington) offers opportunities to enjoy our state’s considerable history, remarkable parks, and a modest community with great food, drink and quirky stops. The state’s fourth-largest city has a long pedigree, with longhouses along the Columbia River established by the Chinook and Klickitat nations. In 1825, the Hudson’s Bay Company set up a fur-trading outpost. Today, Vancouver still acts as a hub for entertainment and trade — or shopping, at least.
Your first day in Vancouver might be best spent out on the town, orienting yourself to downtown, the waterfront and the Uptown Village neighborhood, all on the town’s pedestrian-friendly walking map. Downtown Vancouver’s Arts District encourages visitors to enjoy the town’s independently owned businesses, a nonprofit art gallery featuring the works of 50+ artists, a glassblowing studio with demonstrations, and a First Friday Art Walks. Bright murals decorate building sides, and more than a dozen public art works can be found throughout the core area. The Kiggins Theatre’s seats will fill again this summer for participatory events such as a “Grease Sing-Along,” “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and “Comedy on Tap.”
Quirky shops sure to delight older kids, teens and/or your inner hippie include Love Potion Magickal Perfumerie and Gift Shoppe (for magic wands, cloaks, fairy houses and tarot card readings), I LIke Comics (for new release and discount back-issue comics) and Dandelion Apothecary and Tea Shop (for custom tea treats, such as a banana split latte with banana dulce herbal tea, house-made vanilla bean syrup, whipped cream, chocolate sauce and sprinkles).
Numerous vintage and antique shops line Main Street and nearby, and tend to have cool retro clothes and antique housewares due to the town’s considerable historical record. Most Everything Vintage‘s owner creates new and upcycled clothing and crafts based on past fashions, along with authentic vintage apparel and household goods (check out current offerings on Instagram if you want to shop in advance and pick up).
Farther north, roughly between 19th and Fourth Plain Boulevard along Main Street, you’ll find the bustling Uptown Village neighborhood. An afternoon can easily be spent here, pub-, cafe-and shop-hopping. But the food options are particularly compelling. Order beignets at Bleu Door Bakery, snack from the food truck pods at Uptown Food Village, get a pint and New York-style pizza at The Hungry Sasquatch while playing pinball, and enjoy the below-the-radar (literally) couches, baked brie and strong drinks on an underground couch at Underbar.
The pours are increasingly popular, with 50 breweries and taprooms, and dozens of wineries and vineyards in and around Vancouver. Vancouver’s waterfront along the Columbia River is bursting with new growth — Mount Hood river views near the new Grant Street Pier are even better when paired with a glass of wine. Tasting rooms, bistros and casual dining spots opened in the past several years, with eight wine-tasting rooms in total slated to take waterfront space by year’s end.
Vancouver’s first boutique stay, the gleaming waterfont Hotel Indigo, will open to guests starting in fall. Other options include the Heathman Lodge, sister property to the Heathmans of Portland and Kirkland, and Hilton Vancouver Washington, near the downtown action.
Soon, Washington’s only franchise of The Milkshake Bar will also land on the waterfront, which serves up rather intense twists on the milkshake. Think marshmallow ice cream with fruity pebbles, enhanced with more marshmallows and more fruity pebbles. Name: The Cereal Killer. The kids will remember it forever.
To fill your second day, pack snacks for Clark County’s numerous historic, arts-rich and otherwise wholly unique parks. Visiting a few of the county’s green spaces this summer could come with surprising benefits, too. Those who make it to 15 out of 20 Clark County trails and paths are entered to win one of three $100 certificates for a local recreation business. Just sign up for the challenge, then check in at locations using your phone to enter through August 31.
The town’s crown jewel is the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. The site itself is a sprawling 191-acre locale, with four major activities: the Pearson Air Museum (closed until August 2021), beautiful, historic U.S. Army Barracks, walking trails, and a reconstructed fort. The latter is compelling for all ages, and is based on the original fort established by Hudson’s Bay Company in 1824 to manage fur operations along the entire West Coast.
The fort’s 10 buildings are based on archaeological digs and findings, and include a jail, kitchen, bake house, a pelt-full fur room and carpenter shop, among others. Costumed reenactors might demonstrate blacksmith tasks in a richly scented building, or recreate an antique recipe in an 1840s kitchen. Even the onsite garden features herbs and veg from the mid-19th century.
Esther Short Park in downtown Vancouver is a five-acre community hub — complete with the 69-foot Salmon Bell Tower, rose garden and a playground — and the oldest public square in Washington state. On weekends until October, the park’s edge hosts the bountiful Vancouver Farmers Market with more than 150 market stalls. You’ll find produce from local fields and food trucks, along with artisanal fermented foods, handmade soaps, pottery and clothing — and even a bookbinder.
From Esther Short Park, you can hop onto the Columbia River Renaissance Trail. The trail’s 5-mile-long paved pathway hugs the river, affording beautiful views while walking or cycling. Contemporary and indigenous art are on display at the swooping, earth-covered Vancouver Land Bridge, designed by architect Johnpaul Jones with consultation from artist Maya Lin — part of the ambitious, six-site Confluence Project that spans 438 miles along the Columbia River.
Stop for lunch just north of Vancouver at the food truck pod located at Brothers Cascadia Brewing for Cajun gumbo, banh mi, or a salad, bowl or burrito.
While headed north, take the driving loop through the Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge to enjoy an astoundingly diverse collection of wildlife. Print off the wildlife checklist before you go and watch for a Pacific jumping mouse and Roosevelt elk, among hundreds of finned, furred and feathered creatures listed. Or visit the 19th-century Cedar Creek Grist Mill’s water-powered, grain-grinding demo to pick up a souvenir bag of flour or cornmeal.
Just beyond Vancouver itself, if you hope to extend your vacation along the Columbia, you can drive west toward the coastal town of Long Beach, or follow Highway 14 east, toward the Columbia Gorge.
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