Boasting a rich history that dates back to the early 1800s, Vancouver is one of the oldest cities in Washington, and it offers a plethora of things to see and do. History buffs will delight in the city’s interesting past by exploring excellent sites and museums such as Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, the Pearson Air Museum, and the oldest operating airfield in the West. Here are the best things to do in Vancouver, Washington.
1.Fort Vancouver National Historic Site
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Located on the north bank of the Columbia River in the heart of the Portland-Vancouver Metropolitan Area, Fort Vancouver National Historic Site is a national park and urban oasis with a rich cultural past. Established in 1948 to preserve the site of the original Hudson's Bay stockade, the park features four unique sites that highlight the rich cultural history of the Pacific Northwest.
These sites include a reconstructed British fur trade fort, where visitors can experience the life of a fur trapper, historic buildings from the US Army's Vancouver Barracks, and the history and magic of flight at the Pearson Air Museum. The park also boasts a network of walking trails that visitors can use to explore the landscape and enjoy beautiful views of the snow-capped peaks in the distance. A modern visitors center presents a variety of informative exhibits, displays and hands-on activities, and information about the park’s four sites, as well as a short film about the history of the area, a bookstore, and a display of artwork by local American Indian artists.
1001 E 5th St, Vancouver, WA 98661, 360-816-6232
2.Esther Short Park
© Courtesy of Visit Vancouver USA
Established in 1853 and one of the oldest public parks in the region, Esther Short Park is a five-acre gem in the heart of downtown Vancouver. Anchored at its southeast corner by the Salmon Run Bell Tower, where a Glockenspiel diorama depicts a story of the Chinook Indians, the park is a beautiful green urban space that offers the community an open area in which to enjoy the outdoors.
The park features a large bronze statue of "The Pioneer Mother" at the northern entrance, a large fountain system with various water features, a children’s playground, a beautifully manicured rose garden, and the historic Slocum House. The park hosts a popular farmer’s market every weekend, as well as several outdoor events and concerts throughout the year.
415 W 6th Street, Vancouver, WA 98660, 360-487-8311
© Courtesy of Visit Vancouver USA
Situated just north of the Vancouver Barracks Parade Grounds, Officers Row is a beautiful urban setting made up of 22 fully restored 19th-century homes. Built in the mid-to-late 1800s to house U.S. Army officers stationed at Vancouver Barracks, the exquisitely restored homes, which are listed on the National Historic Register, are now offices and residences, and some are open to the public to explore.
The oldest house in the row is the Ulysses S. Grant House, which was built in 1850, and the Marshall House offers guided tours and special exhibits on its most famous resident, General George C. Marshall. The Fort Vancouver National Site is located within the stately Grant House and is home to an excellent restaurant where visitors can relax over a pleasant meal.
1301 Officers Row, Vancouver, WA 98661
4.Vancouver Farmers Market, Vancouver, Washington
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The Vancouver Farmers Market is a community market that hosts over 250 vendors selling a variety of organic and fresh produce, from delicious foodstuffs and fresh fruit and vegetables to baked goods, flowers and plants, homemade clothing, and accessories and items for the home and garden.
Located in the corner of the Esther Short Park, the pet-friendly market welcomes shoppers every Saturday and Sunday from March to October, and it has grown to become the second largest in the State of Washington. The market is a hive of activity where visitors can stroll around and enjoy the atmosphere, shop for items, sample fantastic food, listen to great music, and relax in the nearby park.
605 Esther Street, Vancouver, WA 98660
5.Clark County Historical Museum
© Clark County Historical Museum
Established in 1917 and operated by the Clark County Historical Society, the Clark County Historical Museum is dedicated to collecting, preserving, and interpreting the culture and history of Clark County. Located in a 1909 Carnegie Library, the museum features a variety of exhibits that showcase the heritage and development of the county, as well as local interests such as a semi-permanent Native American craft exhibition.
The museum also sponsors several community-based educational programs, exhibits, and events throughout the year that focus on highlighting Clarke County’s rich past and the people who played a role in it. Community events include Harvest Fun Day, Holiday Open House and First Thursday Museum after Hours, where guest lecturers speak on a variety of topics. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 am to 4 pm.
1511 Main Street, Vancouver, WA 98660, 360-993-5679
6.Waterfront Renaissance Trail, Vancouver, Washington
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The Waterfront Renaissance Trail is a five-mile paved pathway that connects Esther Short Park in downtown Vancouver with Wintler Park, and it provides a scenic riverfront trail where visitors can walk, jog, run, bike, or rollerblade. Paved pathways and interpretive trails offer beautiful natural scenery and myriad attractions along the way, including shops, restaurants, and historical attractions of the Columbia River waterfront.
Encompassing the smaller Discovery Historic Loop Trail, stops en route include the Ilchee Statue and Plaza, the World War II-era Kaiser Viewing Tower and Shipyard, and the stainless steel Wendy Rose sculpture, as well as spectacular views of the Maya Lin-designed Vancouver Land Bridge. Trailheads can be found at Wintler Community Park, Marine Park, and Waterfront Park in downtown Vancouver.
North Bank of Columbia River, Vancouver, WA 98660
7.Vancouver Land Bridge
© Vancouver Land Bridge
The Vancouver Land Bridge, also known as the Confluence Project, is a 40-foot-wide, earth-covered pedestrian bridge that connects the historic Fort Vancouver with the Columbia River waterfront. The bridge is lined with indigenous plants and Native basket weavings in celebration of the European and Native American cultures that once converged on this site. The site is renowned as the place where the Hudson's Bay Company stood as the first European trading post in the Pacific Northwest, as well as the spot where Lewis and Clark camped, which would later become Fort Vancouver.
The southern end of the bridge has a Welcome Gate designed by Native American artist Lillian Pitt, consisting of two cedar canoe panels adorned with cast-glass sculptures that signify the point as a historic tribal crossroads and contact between two cultures.
8.Vancouver Lake Park
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Stretching along the western shore of Vancouver Lake, Vancouver Lake Park is a 190-acre regional park that offers outdoor space for the community to enjoy a variety of activities. Spanning 2.5 miles along the shoreline of the lake, the park and lake are ideal for windsurfing, kayaking, canoeing, picnicking, and volleyball.
The park features a space with play equipment for children and barbecue areas with picnic tables for outdoor dining, and visitors can enjoy spectacular views of Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams, and Mt. St. Helens on bright, cloudless days. The park is also home to a variety of diverse wildlife and migratory waterfowl, which wildlife enthusiasts will delight in watching.
9.Water Resources Education Center
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The Water Resources Education Center is a community-based educational center that was established to teach visitors about the importance of water, its resources, and the vital role it plays in life. The center is home to an array of water-focused interactive exhibits and hands-on activities, beautiful natural gardens, and wildlife wetlands teeming with a diverse range of birds and wildlife.
Visitors can admire live sturgeon in a 350-gallon aquarium, enjoy environmental artworks and spectacular panoramic views of the Columbia River while learning all about the future of a safe and healthy water supply. The Water Center hosts community events throughout the year, as well as Second Saturdays. It is open Mondays through Saturdays with free admission.
600 SE Columbia Way, Vancouver, WA 98661, 360-487-7111
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10.Burnt Bridge Cellars, Vancouver, Washington
© Burnt Bridge Cellars
Based in a converted 1930s-era auto garage in downtown Vancouver, Burnt Bridge Cellars is dedicated to crafting premiere class Rhône and Bordeaux varietals in small lots from the best vineyards in and around Washington State. Burnt Bridge Cellars’ wines are made from handpicked grapes, fermented in hand-selected oak barrels and hand-filled, hand-corked, and hand-labeled, making each and every bottle a labor of love.
Popular labels include Coyote Canyon Vineyard Syrah, Couve Cuveé, Pont Brûlé, and a variety of Burnt Bridge Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlots, and Syrahs. Burnt Bridge Cellars’ tasting room is open for wine tasting Friday through Sunday. The first Friday of each month is free for the Vancouver First Friday Downtown celebration with live music, art, and small plates from Class Cooking.
1500 Broadway, Vancouver, WA 98660, 360-695-3363
11.Salmon Creek Park
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Salmon Creek Regional Park is a green urban park that features acres of both developed parkland and undeveloped green space presenting an array of activities for outdoor enthusiasts. The park is home to Klineline Pond, which features a historic bathhouse, roped swimming areas, children’s play areas, and on-duty lifeguards, as well as picnic areas with barbecue grills and tables, play equipment for children, and a lovely sandy beach.
Salmon Creek Park borders the Salmon Creek Greenway and a three-mile trail, which runs along the Salmon Creek between Lake River, and the park teems with a variety of diverse wildlife and migratory waterfowl.
12.Pearson Field and Pearson Air Museum
© Pearson Field and Pearson Air Museum
Established when a Baldwin airship landed on the polo grounds of the Vancouver Barracks, Pearson Field was primarily used for general aviation and stands today as one of the oldest continuously operating airfields in the country.
The Pearson Air Museum is an aviation museum located on Pearson Field that celebrates the history of aviation, Pearson Field, and the Vancouver Barracks. The museum is home to a range of objects and artifacts that take visitors on an aviation journey back in time. Pearson Air Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.
1115 E 5th Street, Vancouver, WA 98661, 360-816-6232
13.The Grant House, Vancouver, WA
© The Grant House
Tucked away on Officer’s Row in Vancouver’s Historic Reserve, the Grant House was built in 1850 and is the oldest house in the row. The historic home features a contemporary American eatery that offers a tempting menu of American-influenced cuisine and fine wine, which diners can enjoy on the verandah or private patio.
The Grant House features private dining rooms and an exceptional banquet room for special occasions while the elegant bar and lounge is perfect for enjoying a pre- or post-dinner drink. Guests can enjoy live music at the Commanders Whiskey & Wine Bar Tuesday through Friday.
1101 Officer’s Row, Vancouver, WA 98661, 360-906-1101
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Located at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge at Cathlapotle, one of the largest Chinookan villages in the area, the Cathlapotle Plankhouse is a full-scale replica of a Chinookan-style cedar plank house. The plank house is based at the Lewis & Clark historical site where the Corp of Discovery camped during the early 1800s, and it serves as a tangible link to those who lived here in the past.
Visitors to the plank house are presented with the opportunity to gain a deeper insight into the natural and cultural heritage of this area’s original inhabitants, the Chinook Indians. Today, the plank house serves as an outdoor classroom for interpreting the rich diversity of the culture preserved on Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, and the Chinook Indian Nation uses it for various cultural events throughout the year.
28908 Northwest Main Avenue, Ridgefield, WA 98642, 360-887-9495
15.Captain William Clark Park at Cottonwood Beach
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Situated in the scenic region of Washougal, the Captain William Clark Park at Cottonwood Beach is a public park that commemorates the historical site where the Corps of Discovery camped for six days in 1806. Located on the Washington side of the Columbia River at River Mile on Cottonwood Beach, the 85-acre park features a network of walking and hiking trails with informational signs and maps, restrooms, covered cooking areas, and picnic spots.
Interpretive elements are scattered throughout the park, allowing visitors to gain a deeper appreciation of the history of the park where Meriwether Lewis and William Clark established a camp more than 200 years ago. A recognition plaza showcases the history of the park with replicas of Lewis and Clark's dugout canoes and Chinookan canoes. A two-mile long trail runs above the beach and offers a scenic stretch for hiking, jogging, biking, and horseback riding.
32nd Street, Washougal, WA 98671, 360-397-2285
16.The Source Climbing Center, Vancouver, WA
© The Source Climbing Center
The Source Climbing Center is an indoor rock climbing gym for climbers of all levels. It offers a range of classes and series for beginner, intermediate and advanced climbers, as well as improvement technique classes and private lessons for those who want individual attention. Professional climbing instructors with years of experience run the classes and series, and all safety instruction and equipment is provided.
The Source also hosts regular monthly clinics that cover special skills related to climbing, such as lead climbing with anchors and rappelling, training for climbing, mental fitness, and CPR courses. They also offer special women’s climbing courses that focus on strategy, intent, and enjoyment.
1118 Main St, Vancouver, WA 98660, 360-694-9096
16 Best Things to Do in Vancouver, Washington
- Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, Photo: Courtesy of Zack Frank - Fotolia.com
- Esther Short Park, Photo: Courtesy of Visit Vancouver USA
- Officers' Row, Photo: Courtesy of Visit Vancouver USA
- Vancouver Farmers Market, Vancouver, Washington, Photo: Courtesy of Visit Vancouver USA
- Clark County Historical Museum, Photo: Clark County Historical Museum
- Waterfront Renaissance Trail, Vancouver, Washington, Photo: Courtesy of Visit Vancouver USA
- Vancouver Land Bridge, Photo: Vancouver Land Bridge
- Vancouver Lake Park, Photo: Courtesy watcherfox - Fotolia.com
- Water Resources Education Center, Photo: Courtesy of Visit Vancouver USA
- Burnt Bridge Cellars, Vancouver, Washington, Photo: Burnt Bridge Cellars
- Salmon Creek Park, Photo: Courtesy of visitvancouverusa
- Pearson Field and Pearson Air Museum , Photo: Pearson Field and Pearson Air Museum
- The Grant House, Vancouver, WA, Photo: The Grant House
- Cathlapotle Plankhouse, Photo: Courtesy of ZaZa studio - Fotolia.com
- Captain William Clark Park at Cottonwood Beach, Photo: Courtesy of Annett Seidler- Fotolia.com
- The Source Climbing Center, Vancouver, WA, Photo: The Source Climbing Center
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of Visit Vancouver USA