Vancouver, Washington, often overlooked as the sister city of Portland, Oregon, offers a delightful escape for your Pacific Northwest vacation.
With its strategic location and easy access to numerous day trips, Vancouver serves as an ideal launch pad for exploring the region.
In this blog post, we’ll uncover the hidden gems and downtown attractions that make Vancouver a must-visit destination.
Worth a stop – Cougar trails
Before diving into the downtown area and day trips, let’s begin with a hidden gem located in the suburbs of Vancouver.
The Washington State University Vancouver campus.
This satellite campus boasts six miles of beautiful nature trails and paths, surrounded by lush green spaces. Whether you prefer walking, jogging, biking, or strolling with a stroller, there’s a trail for you.
It’s definitely worth a stop.
Vancouver is your vacation home base
Positioned in the southwestern corner of Washington state, Vancouver provides convenient access to a multitude of breathtaking day trips.
Situated on Interstate 5 and within a 10-15 minute drive from Portland, Vancouver offers the best of both worlds, with two vibrant cities at your fingertips.
Additionally, being in close proximity to Portland International Airport further solidifies Vancouver as the ideal Pacific Northwest hub for your vacation adventures.
Local attractions in Vancouver
As a destination in itself, Vancouver boasts a rich history, a bustling downtown area, and a picturesque waterfront.
The city is renowned for its abundance of green spaces, including the previously mentioned Washington State University Vancouver campus.
Vancouver hosts numerous festivals and events throughout the year, creating a vibrant atmosphere for visitors.
In this section, we’ll focus on the downtown area and highlight four main attractions worth exploring.
Fort Vancouver National Historic Site
At the top of the list is the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. This well-preserved archeological site showcases a 19th-century fur trading post owned by the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Visitors can explore the historic walled fort and its buildings and even encounter costumed interpreters who bring the past to life.
Additionally, the nearby McLoughlin House offers guided tours and provides further insight into the region’s history.
Pearson Field and Aviation Museum
Adjacent to Fort Vancouver, you’ll find Pearson Field and the Aviation Museum.
Pearson Field, one of the country’s oldest airfields, features murals, exhibits, and five restored 20th-century airplanes, providing a captivating glimpse into early aviation history.
This museum is a must-visit, particularly for aviation enthusiasts, as it offers a unique experience free of charge.
Waterfront Renaissance Trail
For those seeking picturesque views and outdoor activities, the Waterfront Renaissance Trail is a five-mile path that stretches along the Columbia River.
With its stunning vistas of the water, Portland, and Mt. Hood, the trail offers the perfect setting for fitness enthusiasts and those looking to relax.
Public art installations and historic markers add to the trail’s charm, making it an ideal spot for a leisurely walk, a picnic, or a stop at one of the many dining options along the path.
Farmers Market at Esther Short Park
Vancouver’s downtown area is brimming with excellent restaurants, breweries, and coffee houses.
The city’s vibrant atmosphere, coupled with its rich cultural events and festivals throughout the year, make it a lively destination.
One of the highlights is Esther Short Park, located at one end of the Waterfront Renaissance Trail.
On weekends, the park transforms into a bustling Farmers Market, offering a delightful mix of art stalls, fresh produce, PNW specialty items, flower shops, and an array of food stalls and food trucks.
This market provides a fantastic opportunity to immerse yourself in the local culture and indulge in the region’s culinary delights.
Day Trips from Vancouver
While Vancouver itself offers a wealth of attractions, its strategic location makes it an excellent starting point for unforgettable day trips. Here, we’ll highlight four key destinations that are easily accessible from Vancouver and provide a diverse range of experiences.
Portland, Oregon – An Urban Adventure
Just a short 15-minute drive across the Columbia River lies Portland, Oregon. This vibrant city offers a multitude of attractions and activities.
4 Ideas for a day in Portland
Explore the famous Powell’s Books, enjoy a culinary adventure at one of the largest food cart pods in America on Alder Street, and hop on the Portland Trolley for a comprehensive tour of the city.
Don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Portland Art Museum and immerse yourself in its captivating exhibits.
For a distinct and eclectic shopping experience, head to Mississippi Avenue.
This lively street is lined with one-of-a-kind boutiques, bookstores, kitchen shops, chocolate stores, and more.
Additionally, Mississippi Avenue is home to some of the best food carts in the city, offering a wide variety of delectable treats to satisfy any culinary craving.
Portland Zoo (Oregon Zoo)
Third, you could visit the Portland Zoo. This is an all-day venture for most people. The Portland Zoo is amazing and highly recommended. (I misspoke, it’s called the Oregon Zoo).
And fourth, you can try the 4T Trail.
I’ll be doing a full episode on the 4T Trail soon, but the Four T’s stand for trail, tram, trolley, and train.
If you want something active to do that will give you a full taste of Portland, this is it.
The tour is designed to send you on a hike in the West Hills of Portland; you’ll be rewarded with amazing views.
A ride down the hill in the Oregon Health Sciences Gondola, which is called the Tram to the Trolley station and all around downtown Portland.
And finally, on the Lightrail (train) back to the parking lot where you started.
Mt. St. Helens
Embark on a two-hour drive from Vancouver to witness the awe-inspiring Mt. St. Helens. Famous for its 1980 volcanic eruption, this natural wonder is a captivating sight. Visit the Johnston Ridge Observatory, which provides an informative visitor center and access to hiking trails that offer breathtaking views of the volcano. Please note that entrance routes to Mt. St. Helens are not interconnected, so ensure your GPS guides you to the correct route and check for any temporary closures.
Columbia River Gorge
Take a scenic drive to the Columbia River Gorge, which can be accessed by crossing the river on I-84 into Oregon and returning to Vancouver on Highway 14 in Washington. Along the way, you’ll encounter stunning waterfalls like the famous Multnomah Falls and have the opportunity to embark on epic hikes. Consider stopping in the charming town of Hood River, where you can enjoy shopping, dining, and water activities. The return journey to Vancouver offers a picturesque drive with ample opportunities to dine at scenic spots.
North Oregon Coast
Venture two hours west of Vancouver to reach the enchanting North Oregon Coast. Take Highway 26, which leads directly to Cannon Beach, a popular coastal town known for its scenic beauty. Explore the expansive beach, marvel at Haystack Rock and its tide pools, and indulge in the charming coastal village’s offerings, including excellent restaurants and unique shops. Cannon Beach alone can easily fill an entire day trip with its myriad of activities and attractions.
Travel tip of the week – Embrace a local farmers market
As you plan your Pacific Northwest adventure, make sure to include a visit to one of the region’s beloved farmers’ markets.
These markets not only provide an opportunity to shop for fresh bread, local cheese, and seasonal produce but also immerse yourself in the local culture. Enjoy ready-to-eat food stalls offering a wide variety of culinary delights.
Experience local talent performing on the main stage or by the buskers turning street corners into impromptu stages.
Farmers’ markets are a feast for all the senses and offer an authentic glimpse into the community.
Throughout the Pacific Northwest, farmers’ markets are abundant and cherished, with even the smallest towns hosting weekly street markets during the summer months.
These markets allow you to connect with local producers, support sustainable practices, and savor the flavors of the region.
So, don’t forget to bring along your cute, eco-friendly reusable shopping bag and make a stop at a farmers market during your PNW adventure.