Vancouver, across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon, may be Washington's fourth-largest city, but it retains its small-town charm, and access to many of its attractions does not require deep pockets. Fine-art galleries, county museums and a mixture of historic and modern architecture provide intellectual stimulation on the cheap. And the city's riverside setting and proximity to hiking and paddling offer plenty of low-budget recreation.
The Arts Scene
Become acquainted with the local artisans and artists that have settled on the banks of the Columbia River. From April to October, head to Ester Short Park and visit one of the 150 vendors selling produce, plants and crafts. Get a bite to eat while catching some free local entertainment. Any time of the year, a walk to Main Street will get you a closer look at Vancouver’s arts scene. Be sure not to miss Firehouse Glass, which showcases one-of-a-kind glass pieces in the historic 1906 National Bank Building. Other galleries on this street include Angst Gallery, Aurora Gallery, North Bank Artists Gallery, and Art on the Boulevard, all featuring local artists in a variety of mediums.
On Main Street, step into the Clark County Historical Museum and wander through a turn-of-the-century country store or doctor’s office. Take a peek at one of their other rotating exhibits, elegantly displayed within the walls of the old Carnegie Library. Admission, regularly $4, is free every Thursday from 5 to 9 p.m.
Living History Sites
Fort Vancouver was the former headquarters for the British Hudson Bay Company, the economic hub of the Pacific Northwest. Interpreters in period clothing reenact daily life of the 1800s. Admission is free for children under 15 and only $3 for adults.
Jump into the 1920s at Pomeroy Living History Farm, where you will get the chance to help grind grain, wash clothes or make rope with one of the interpreters. The farm is open to the public on select weekends, usually corresponding with upcoming holidays, as in October when hayrides and a pumpkin patch mark the weeks leading up to Halloween. The typical admission fee is $6 for adults and kids over age 11.
English Estate Winery, at 17908 First Street, offers a variety of free and reasonably priced tastings. They also host BBQs and other wine-and-food pairing events for under $15 per person. Be sure to sample their award-winning Cabernet Sauvignon.
Walks Around Town
After checking out the downtown area, take a stroll along the Waterfront Renaissance Trail. The leisurely 4-mile boardwalk hugs Columbia River Drive, and takes you past the 7-foot-tall statue of Ilchee, the daughter of 19th century Chinook chieftan, Comcomly. The trail connects to the Columbia River waterfront. For a shorter walk, start on East Evergreen and take the 2.3 mile Discovery Trail Loop and discover Fort Vancouver along the way. With a pleasant climate year-round, you will have plenty of opportunities to explore the 40 miles of urban trails that wind through downtown Vancouver.
If you're tired of the hustle and bustle of the city, take the Columbia River Scenic Highway east to the Columbia River Gorge. Full-day hikes, such as the Cape Horn Trail, are less than an hour outside the city. Battle Ground Lake State Park is a half hour north of the city and, according to Washington State Parks, is often called a "miniature version" of Oregon's Crater Lake. Beacon Rock State Park, east of the city along the Columbia River Scenic Highway, has several trails and spectacular views of the gorge.