From breweries to free concerts, Vancouver, Washington is yours to discover
Planning a road trip or weekend getaway? Set your mapping app to Vancouver, Washington to discover the revitalized waterfront, unique outdoor recreation opportunities, shopping and history, not to mention dozens of local breweries and restaurants. In case you haven’t guessed, the city is undergoing a renaissance.
There’s no shortage of fun things to do in Vancouver, Washington — the state’s fourth-largest city. Located on the north bank of the Columbia River and a stone’s throw away from Portland, Oregon, the city is booming.
You’ll be spoiled for choice for great things to do in Vancouver, Washington, so let’s jump into this list for inspiration.
1. Visit the Vancouver Waterfront
If it’s been a few years since you visited the Vancouver Waterfront, you’re in for a surprise. The area has undergone a remarkable transformation. On your visit, you’ll find a scenic and pedestrian-friendly urban park that has something for everyone. Stroll along paths that connect restaurants, tasting rooms, brew pubs, hotels and green spaces, leading to the Grant Street Pier, which is held aloft by giant steel cables. The pier is the culmination of the 7.3-acre Waterfront Park, which includes The Headwaters Wall—an interactive water feature for kids. Bring your camera and spot ships and sailboats from the pier.
Tip: Get ready for your road trip with a AAA Membership. Get peace-of-mind on the road plus member discounts on hotels, rental cars, movie tickets and more.
2. Get inspired at Columbia Springs
Have you ever wondered what makes an invasive species like Himalayan Blackberry so invasive? How well do you know chum salmon? There’s a spot where you can get answers to these questions and more near Vancouver. Located on the Old Evergreen Highway, Columbia Springs is a 100-acre environmental education center offering the opportunity to learn about watersheds, biology, restoration, and engineering. It’s free to visit and is open year-round from dawn-to-dusk.
Tip: Before your road trip, check out all the ways you can save as a AAA Washington member. AAA discounts are available on entertainment, gas and more. Nationally, AAA members who used member discounts saved on average $199 in 2022, which is more than the yearly price of a premier membership.
3. Let your imagination soar at Pearson Air Museum
Love plane spotting and all-things aviation? Head to Pearson Air Museum and the Jack Murdock Aviation Center. Located on a former military airfield and the site of the old Spruce Mill, this free museum is considered one of best things to do in Vancouver, Washington for av (aviation) geeks. It offers a bird’s eye view into the golden age of aviation, with an up-close look at rare aircraft. In the collection, you can see four early 20th century aircraft, including a:
- DH-4 Liberty Plane, a “pillar of American air strength” during World War I;
- JN-4 Jenny, which was used as a training aircraft by American pilots;
- full-scale replica of a 1912 Curtiss Pusher;
- and Leah Hing’s 1931 Fleet Model 7. (Born in 1907, Hing was the first Chinese American woman to earn a pilot’s license.)
4. Visit Clark County Historical Museum
With more than 60,000 items of local historical significance in its collection, the Clark County Historical Museum offers a deep dive into the region’s cultures and communities. In addition to permanent and limited-time exhibits, the museum also offers walking tours — an immersive experience that brings history to life. These walking tours are one of the most unique things to do in Vancouver and are available on specific dates only.
Depending on the timing of your visit, and your love of ghost tales, think about one of the following tours:
- Wander Clark County: This is a classic walking tour that delves into local history and folklore. Each weekend features a different destination from June through August. Learn more here.
- Haunted: This tour’s name says it all. If you’re in town in September and October, and are in the mood for a ghost story or two, this tour is for you. Book your tickets and learn more here.
5. Hike, bike and run local trails
Vancouver, Washington does not disappoint when it comes to outdoor recreation. You’ll find an abundance of parks and trails throughout the area, including many quiet and serene spots. While it’s impossible to list all the amazing trails here, we’ll highlight two that are definitely worth a return visit.
Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge: Established in 1965, this wildlife habitat is located north of Vancouver, Washington between the town of Ridgefield and the Columbia River. With more than 5,200 acres of marshes, lakes and grassland, the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge is ideal for birding, especially during the migration season when more than 180 bird species migrate through the wetlands. There are hiking, canoeing and kayaking routes, as well as a one-way driving loop that’s open during daylight hours.
Tip: The entrance fee is $3. This admits everyone in a privately owned vehicle or up to four adults on foot. Kids 15 and under are free. Cash and check only.
Fort Vancouver National Historic Site: Once a fur trading post, the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site offers the chance to learn about Vancouver, Washington’s diverse and rich past. Journey through time and learn about Native American history, plus how an outpost of the Hudson’s Bay Company became a political and commercial hub of the Pacific Northwest. The site includes Vancouver Barracks, Officers Row, Pearson Field and portions of the Columbia River waterfront. Note that the Vancouver Land Bridge connects the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site with the Waterfront Renaissance Trail. It’s all part of the Discovery Historic Loop Trail.
Tip: The entrance fee is $10 per person. Kids 15 and under are free. Be sure to ask about free days and free or reduced-cost passes.
6. Go thrifting, antiquing and vintage shopping
Find a bargain — or go on a treasure hunt — at one of the city’s many thrift, consignment, antique or vintage stores. Within the city, you can shop ’til you drop at close to 25 shops that range from fashion to furniture and kitchenware. Several shops are nonprofits, including ReTails Thrift Store benefiting the Humane Society for Southwest Washington, and Goodwill. Without a doubt, shopaholics will have no problem finding fun things to do in Vancouver, Washington.
Tip: Did you know you can save on hotels with your AAA membership? Find member deals here.
7. Explore Farmers Markets 10 months a year
The city is home to three major farmers markets, offering the chance to shop for local produce and handcrafted items at least 10 months a year, with a special emphasis on hyper-local and organic items. For locals and visitors alike, the farmers markets rank as one of the best things to do in Vancouver.
Whether you’re visiting in early spring, the peak summer season, or late fall, you will always find something delicious to enjoy — plus wonderfully fresh fruits and vegetables to bring home with you. Take your pick from one of these markets or visit all three.
- Downtown Market: Open weekends from mid-March through late October
- East Vancouver Market: Open Thursdays from mid-June 15th through late September
- Fall Market: Open Saturdays from early November through mid-December
8. Get your steps in on the Columbia River Renaissance Trail
One of the best things to do in Vancouver is simply enjoy walking and exploring the city. The 5-mile Columbia River Renaissance Trail is a paved trail connects Esther Short Park in downtown Vancouver with Wintler Park along the riverfront. Stroll along the path and browse the shops along the way, take five at Marine Park, or drop in for lunch at a restaurant. At sunset, you’ll see beautiful views of Mount Hood. On the way, you can explore various landmarks such as the Water Resources Education Center and Kaiser Viewing Tower and Shipyards.
Tip: AAA membership gives you access to exclusive discounts nationwide, including movie tickets, theme parks and sporting events.
9. Catch a free outdoor concert
Looking for free things to do in Vancouver in June through August? Make the most of the extra daylight hours and gorgeous summer weather at a free outdoor concert. Presented by the City of Vancouver, the family-friendly summer concert series includes performance at Waterfront Park on Thursdays and Riverfront Park on Sundays. Bring a blanket, pack a picnic or get takeout from one of the many nearby restaurants and enjoy the sounds of summer.
10. Take a walking brewery tour of “Brewcouver”
Vancouver, Washington is called “Brewcouver” for a reason. As legend has it, the city once banned breweries. Today, it’s a hub for craft brewers. And they’re only just getting started. Vancouver’s beer scene continues to grow and it’s currently home to more than 40 breweries and tap rooms — or 50-plus if you include nearby towns such as Battle Ground, Ridgefield, Camas, and Washougal.
One of the best ways to experience the beer scene is on a walking brewery tour. If you’re looking for fun things to do in Vancouver for adults, this is it. Leave your car keys at home and plan a route that takes you to a handful of breweries that specialize in your favorite porter, lager, stout or IPA. You can even find cider along the way. You’ll find walkable breweries and taprooms locations in downtown, Uptown Village, and at the waterfront, which includes 13 locations in about a mile and a half distance.
As always, please drink responsibly. Have a designated driver, take public transportation or a ride share, or walk to and from your destination.
Plan your road trip to Vancouver, Washington
Before you hit the road, be sure to check for AAA member discounts along the way. In addition to saving on car rentals and hotels, your AAA membership unlocks discounts and savings on everything from gas to movie tickets.
With so many fun things to do in Vancouver, Washington, you might want to extend your trip a couple of days and explore the surrounding area. From Vancouver, it’s easy to access Mount St. Helens, as well as the Columbia River Gorge and the Pacific Coast. This beautiful corner of Washington State is definitely worth an extended stay.
For more inspiration, check out events and ideas at Visit Vancouver Washington.
—Written by: AAA Washington staff
—Top photo: Visit Vancouver, WA
Road Trip Tips
Before you go: Get ready for your road trip with a AAA Membership. Get peace-of-mind on the road plus travel and insurance services and much more.
Save on car insurance: AAA members save up to 8% on car insurance.
Get battery service: AAA Mobile Battery Service uses state-of-the-art technology to accurately diagnose battery-related problems. We’ll even replace your battery with a brand-new one if necessary, at a special member price.
Save with AAA member discounts: AAA membership gives you access to exclusive entertainment discounts nationwide.