Say Vancouver, and most travelers will think of the western Canadian destination known for its rainy weather and close proximity to the ski slopes.
However, another, lesser well known Vancouver exists in Washington State, also near the Pacific Ocean, in the Pacific Northwest, but with a host of unique attractions all its own.
If you’re looking for a new destination in this part of the United States, you’ve found it — not yet discovered by the masses, it gives you everything you could want from the region, without being overrun like Seattle or the more northern neighbor by the same name.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Vancouver, Washington:
1. See Esther Short Park
The green space located in downtown Vancouver is the oldest public square in the entire state.
Created in 1853, it’s overseen by the 69-foot Salmon Run Bell Tower, which is home to 35 cast bronze bells chiming every 15 minutes, from the morning hours to later in the evening.
This great little park is very near several hotels, so you can easily walk there, and you may even catch the farmers market if you’re lucky to be there on the right days.
2. Catch Up On Your History
Pay a visit to the National Historic Site which is Fort Vancouver.
Located on the Columbia River, with great views of the mountain ranges and the city, the park is filled with historic intrigue.
Enjoy the space’s military legacy, its recognition as the home to part of the world’s first transpolar flight and more.
It’s only $5 to explore the fort, and see some representations of how it would have been at its creation.
Stay for a costumed living history performance, or sign the kids up for an educational activity, or a chance to check out the art of archaeology for themselves.
3. Visit Officers’ Row
Within the city are 22 restored homes from the 1800s.
Originally, the structures were the homes of U.S. Army officers, but now they hold their own places on the National Historic Register.
While some are offices and private residences, others are open for you to explore.
The Ulysses S. Grant House is the oldest of the 22, built in 1850, and you can enjoy a guided tour or exhibits on the home’s residents over the years.
One house even has a restaurant, so stick around of dinner!
4. Hike a Mountain
Just outside the city sits Silver Star Mountain, which is now an extinct volcano that forms part of the Cascade Mountains.
You’ll see this mountain quite a lot when you explore the city, as it’s a prominent part of the skyline, but did you know you can see it up close? From the north peak (which was once a fire lookout), you get a totally unobstructed view all the way around, showing you not only Vancouver, but also Portland, Mt. Saint Helens and Mt. Rainier.
It truly is a view that just can’t be beaten.
5. Walk the Waterfront Renaissance
The Waterfront Renaissance Trail is five miles of riverfront that’s great for a long stroll, or even a bike ride.
It connects Esther Short Park and Winter Park, and there are tons of fun things to do following its path, including places to dine, shop and just enjoy the great outdoors.
In addition, this is a good spot for snapping a few photos, as you’ll enjoy unparalleled views of the I-5 and I-205 bridges, as well as Mount Hood.
It just doesn’t get any better than that, and you’ll find yourself thoroughly envying those who get to live along its route.
6. Get a Little Shopping In
No trip is complete without a little bit of shopping, and those in the area agree that one of the best places to go to get your fix of all your favorite brands is the Vancouver Mall.
The updated shopping center has more than 140 stores and also a movie theater, making it one of the best spots in the city for a collective day of shopping, dining and entertainment.
And in a city where you never know if it’s going to rain, you want to have a backup plan to stay indoors, but still have a great time.
7. See Some Wildlife
The Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge has been around for about 50 years, and is known as a winter habitat for Canadian geese.
It’s also home to lots of other wildlife, with 5,300 acres giving every species plenty of room to roam and run.
The topography is varied, featuring wetlands, grasslands and forests.
It’s especially a good place for bird watchers, as there are lots of neotropical song birds, native species and wintering waterfowl.
While you may have to drive outside the downtown for this one, nature lovers will find it well worth the effort.
8. Browse the Vancouver Farmers Market
With more than 250 vendors and all kinds of veggies, fruit, baked goods, flowers, handcrafts and even clothes, you don’t want to miss out on a stop to the Vancouver Farmers Market.
It’s open to both people and pets every Saturday and Sunday, March-October, and is the second-largest farmers market in Washington State.
In addition to the shopping, there are many vendors who sell ready-to-eat items so you can chow down on the spot, and local musicians are frequently performing.
9. See Stonehenge?
Yes, you don’t have to travel to England to see Stonehenge.
Check it out in nearby Maryhill, where there’s a full-scale replica built by the founder of the Maryhill Museum of Art.
It’s actually a WWI memorial and was dedicated in 1918 to the men of the county who died, but the artist who built it was trying to portray a parallel between the Great War and the human sacrifices that he believed occurred at the original Stonehenge.
Now, the creator’s ashes are placed in a crypt below the Memorial.
Overall, it’s a very interesting and noteworthy spot to visit in the area.
10. Cross the Vancouver Land Bridge
Much more than just a cool city feature, the Vancouver Land Bridge holds significance as a connection to explorers Lewis and Clark, and the Klickitat Trail.
The site of this earth-covered pedestrian bridge connects historic Fort Vancouver with the Columbia River, and represents the first European trading post in the Pacific Northwest, as well as the intersection of European and Native American cultures.
The land bridge boasts indigenous plants, views of the Columbia River and mountains and a Welcome Gate designed by a Native American artist, evoking canoe panels and a Chinook woman’s face.
11. Spend a Day at the Park
Alderbrook Park is a private park that’s 63 acres and a beautiful spot to spend a day of nice weather.
There’s a lake, pool, creek, pavilions, pedal boats, train rides, mini golf, hiking trails, a pirate shape for the kiddos, bounce houses and a Pink Lemonade fountain! All in all, it’s a family destination that’s a favorite in the region for just a day out with the kids or a place for fun events or even a spot to plan a family or company get-together.
12. Learn at the Water Resources Education Center
Overlooking the Columbia River, the Water Resources Education Center teaches us all to be better stewards of one of Earth’s most precious resources.
There’s nearly always an event occurring at the Center, so be sure to check their calendar.
They always have interactive exhibits, activities, an aquarium, natural gardens, artwork and wetlands on display.
Choose to explore at your own pace, or sign up for a led event.
You can even check out one of the biggest fish you may ever see — the sturgeon can live to be more than 100 years old and grow to more than 1,500 pounds!
13. Take Flight at the Pearson Field and Pearson Air Museum
In the 1900s, the Vancouver Barracks were a top spot for aviation enthusiasts.
So, when World War I began, this spot became the Spruce Production Division’s Spruce Cut-Up Mill, and the lumber produced was used to create aircraft for both pilot training and overseas combat.
However, after the war, the mill was demolished, and an air field constructed.
One notable flight that stopped by over the area’s history? The Douglas World Cruisers landed here on their way to achieving the first aerial circumnavigation of the globe, in 1924. In addition, the Soviet Union flyers attempting a trans-polar flight from Moscow landed at Pearson Field due to an oil leak.
14. Discover the City’s History
At the Clark County Historical Museum, you’ll see a variety of artifacts dedicated to the culture and history of Clark County.
The museum was established in 1917, and is housed within a 1909 Carnegie Library.
There are several different exhibits to see, as well as a Native American craft exhibition.
Community events are regularly offered, so check the calendar for holiday celebrations and guest lecturers.
15. Fish at Battle Ground Lake
Known as a crater lake, Battle Ground Lake is a popular swimming and fishing spot in the area.
Rainbow Trout are stocked here, where the lake reaches depths of 60 feet.
There are also more recently stocked grass carp.
If fishing’s not your thing, you’ll find a small swimming beach and a dock that’s perfect for lazing around.
The trout fishing is best if you’re visiting from the months of November to April, but you can also find various other kinds of fish throughout the year, including black crappie, bluegill, brown bullhead, coastal cutthroat, largemouth bass, sculpin and white sturgeon.
16. Travel Back in Time
To a traditional Chinookan plankhouse, that is.
The Plankhouse now serves as a community and education center, and is used by the Chinook Indian Nation for cultural events.
Docents provide tours, but you’ll want to schedule one ahead of time.
Other special days throughout the year are dedicated to teaching visitors about particular issues such as the Oregon White Oak ecosystem, ancient technologies once used by the people of Cathlapotle and climate change and how it is currently affecting the Pacific Northwest and its traditional ecosystems.
17. See the Falls
At Moulton Falls Regional Park, you’ll enjoy 387 acres of natural history, where two waterfalls flow and you can see it all from a three-story arch bridge.
The heavily forested area includes volcanic formations, Indian meeting grounds and another bridge (though this one is a swinging bridge, so may not be for the feint of heart). There are several trails you can choose to take through the area, and you can also swim in the river.
Keep in mind, though, that there aren’t any lifeguards around and it’s not necessarily a safe spot for amateur swimmers.
18. Head to the Lake
Vancouver Lake Park is 190 acres and a great space for just about any outdoor activity.
You can walk the miles of shoreline, or head out onto the lake itself for kayaking or canoeing, or even windsurfing.
In addition, there are plenty of spots to lounge around in the sun, or enjoy a picnic.
There are plenty of playground sets for kids, as well as public spaces for events and parties.
On a nice day, you’ll be treated to awesome views of the surrounding mountains, but even on a bad day, this park still shines with natural beauty!
19. Go Rock Climbing
If you find that the weather is a problem, though, but you still want to get in some exercise, you can go to the Source Climbing Center, an indoor rock climbing gym.
Whether you’re a novice or a total expert, they’ve got something for you, and you can also take a class to practice up on your technique.
You can even sign up for specially created classes that can help you learn how to rock climb out in the real world, or just make the sport work for your purposes as a climber.
It’s all up to you.
20. Visit This Working Museum
The Cedar Creek Grist Mill is a working museum, and you’ll see it running just as it would have when built in 1876. The amazing, huge operation creates flour, corn meal and cider, and it’s all because of water power — no gas or electricity at all.
The tour guides are experts in how it all goes down, and are happy to explain this unique attraction to anyone who happens to visit.
This is the only grist mill in the state with its original structural integrity, mills with stones and completely powered by water.
21. Ride the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad
In the 1800s, it was much decided that Vancouver, Washington, was in dire need of a rail system.
So, a few locals decided to do something about it, and the first locomotive arrived in the city in 1888. The line was mostly used to transport not necessarily passengers, but logs for the heavy timber operations in the area.
The line was bought in 1981 for commercial and passenger use, and changed hands a few times, until reaching its current state of existence, as it’s mostly used for excursions.
Now, you can ride along through the region, and even book a wine train experience, and sip as you go!
22. See the Murals
The Clark County Mural Society was created in order to add a more one-of-a-kind attraction to businesses and urban spaces in Vancouver.
A way to revitalize the downtown area, these many murals around the city celebrate the region’s history, and have proved to be highly popular.
With more than 20 murals, you can go to the Society’s site to download a map and walk to each on your own, as you learn about the art, history and various different cultures that make Vancouver a unique destination.
23. Go Down on the Farm
The Pomeroy Living History Farm has been stopped in time, depicting how life was for a rural, farming family in the 1920s, when there was no electricity or modern conveniences.
Visit and see the house, once home to the Pomeroys Family, the barn, the blacksmith shop, the gardens and grounds, and see how they spent their days.
Beyond the historical intrigue, you an also attend a selection of themed teas throughout the year, or one of several educational programs.
In the fall, they even have a pumpkin patch, as well as a hay bale maze.
24. Take a Beer Tour
With a booming beer scene, Vancouver has more than 24 breweries and taprooms, so you’ll need more than just one night to see them all.
Find nearly every kind of beer you could ever want, as well as a multitude of brewfests held downtown every season.
Want to get in a little workout while you’re at it? Hop on a Couve Cycle tour and pedal your way through the city as you drink.
25. Follow Lewis and Clark
If you visit any of the many parks of Vancouver during your trip, you’ll want to make sure this one makes your itinerary.
The Captain William Clark Park is on the Columbia River and was the site of of a Lewis and Clark camp in 1806, as the two explorers secured provisions for their trip through the Columbia River Gorge.