Vancouver, Washington is just across the bridge from Portland, Oregon and is one of the most underrated towns in the Pacific Northwest. In recent years, it’s grown from a sleepy, smaller town to a destination in its own right. With all the tap rooms, breweries, restaurants and events that have popped up, it’s an amazing place to spend a weekend or a long afternoon. From March to October, downtown boasts a huge and festive farmer’s market, and nearly every weekend in the summer and spring you can find some fun event to check out, whether it’s the Hawaiian Festival in July, the Couve Couture Fashion Show in April or the Vancouver Brewfest earlier in the year.
After getting caffeinated, it’s a short stroll to the new waterfront, and walking around downtown is the best way to get to know a city. You can wander through nearby Esther Short Park and head down Columbia St. to the esplanade and the cable stay pier. Construction started on the waterfront area in November of 2015 and in 2018 the pier opened to the public. There are apartments, shops and restaurants, along with a beautiful view of the Columbia River and the I-5 bridge looking back into Portland.
One of the coolest things about Vancouver is the sense of community you can feel in every bar, restaurant and park. Bryan Wray, the owner of Compass Coffee downtown, talks about the feeling of walking into the coffee shop and seeing small business owners, people in the service industry and city council members all in one space, working and meeting and drinking coffee together. Compass started out as a small space on Main St. where, on a busy morning, it was nearly impossible to get a seat. Now, as the city continues to grow, they have as many people come in during a rush as used to come in during a single business day.
If you have just one day to spend in Vancouver, here are some pro tips to pack your day full of all the fun things the city has to offer.
Naturally, you’ll need some fuel to start out your adventure, and Compass Coffee is the best place to start. The space is cozy but large enough to spread out, with a big communal table in the middle and ample bar space along the windows for people watching. They roast their own coffee and have a variety of delicious chai to choose from as well. They have regular pastries and vegan options, so everybody is covered!
Lunch in Vancouver
After wandering the city for a few hours, The Mighty Bowl on west 8th St. is the best way to power up for your afternoon. Steve Valenta started the restaurant as a food truck that traveled around the city (and you can still find the truck parked around town). Vancouver was in need of some healthy, wholesome options and The Mighty Bowl fills that niche perfectly.
Their menu consists of bowls, burritos, smoothies and breakfast toasts that are healthy and hearty – not to mention delicious. In true Vancouver community fashion, the space was designed and decorated by local artists and businesses, including the beautiful hand drawn banner on display in the restaurant by David Sorrell. For a very filling and fully rounded meal, try their cashew broccoli bowl, the Hough smoothie and the raspberry almond cake. You can even take some of their sauces home if you want to try your hand at making your own mighty bowl.
After filling up on delicious food, head down the street to Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. On a sunny day, you can spend the whole afternoon just wandering the grounds here. In the 19th century, it was a fur trading post. Now, it’s been restored and revamped to fit the feeling of the city. There’s an army barracks as well as an airfield (which is still active). The site is run by the National Park Service, and you can tour the restored fort itself, walk through the gardens out front and wander down Officer’s Row to check out all the original buildings that still stand today. There is ample green space for picnics in the summer!
After exploring the grounds, you can walk across the Vancouver Land Bridge to the east waterfront and take in the view of the I-5 bridge from the other side. There’s a long pedestrian path along the river which is great for running or biking any time of year!
If you’re still hungry after your day of exploring, Heathen Brewing / Feral Public House is an excellent place to stop for dinner. The brewery has a gigantic outdoor patio, so along with great beer and good food, you can now hang out outdoors to soak up some sunshine while relaxing after a long day. Their giant burgers and sweet potato fries always hit the spot!
After chowing down, there are many options for one last beverage before you call it a day. But first, the most important meal of the day: dessert. Head over to Ice Cream Renaissance on Main St. for one of their massive sundaes, a cone of regular or dairy-free ice cream, or a shake!
Tap Union Freehouse
After the sugar rush, if you want to meet some locals and hang out by a fire pit, Tap Union Freehouse is walking distance away. They have a large tap list, a very knowledgeable and friendly staff, and you’re guaranteed to run into some local Vancouver folks. It’s another spot that feels like home when you walk in where everybody knows each other and it’s not an uncommon occurrence to sit down at a table upstairs, grab a board game to play and start a lengthy conversation with the people at the table next to you.
There are so many options in Vancouver, and it’s well worth a weekend of exploring to check everything out. Being so close to Portland, it’s also a great hub for hikes in the Columbia River Gorge or a pit stop on the way out to the coast. Whatever you end up doing, Vancouver, Washington is well worth the visit.
Looking for a hike to tackle while near Vancouver, Washington? Check out Beacon Rock State Park.