Living in Vancouver, Washington means having one foot in the country and the other in suburbia. Vancouver is the fourth largest city in Washington State and part of the Portland, Oregon Metro Area. Yet rivers, foothills, and mountains of the Cascade Range dominate the visual landscape. Youll feel like a part of civilization but live only a short drive from backcountry wilderness.
If youre moving to Vancouver from somewhere outside the Pacific Northwest, living here might require a few small adjustments. Homes here are probably cheaper than the place from which you are moving. Theres a good chance your quality of life will improve (especially if you love the outdoors). But, you will need to endure long, gray winters to reap those benefits; perhaps a small price to pay for all the upside.
If youre thinking of moving to the area, be sure to check out two additional resources on Great Vancouver Homes: an article similar to one youre reading now about moving to Portland, OR and all the homes for sale in Portland.
1775 marked the first recorded contact between Europeans and Native Americans in Vancouver. That did not bode well for the native peoples; the introduction of smallpox wiped out most (but not all) of the native population by the time the Lewis & Clark expedition reached the region in 1806.
In 1824, Hudsons Bay Company established the fur trading post of Fort Vancouver. The fort was a busy economic hub for the remaining first peoples (who for a very long time operated elaborate bartering and trading systems among tribes) and a mix of newcomers: French-Canadian; Scot; and English to name a few. By the 1840s, the fort was the largest population center on the west coast of North America and the most important outpost on the frontier. In a response to increasing tension between indigenous people and settlers, the United States set its first Army base just above Fort Vancouver in 1849. The city was incorporated shortly thereafter in 1857.
Interesting Fact: You can tell which groups settled parts of Vancouver and Southwest Washington by the names given to certain locations. French-speaking pioneers used the term prairie and English-speakers used the term plain to describe flat, open areas. Thus, we have the names Brush Prairie and Fern Prairie where French settlers did the naming and Mill Plain and Fourth Plain where English settlers did the same. Thats some inside ball right there; most locals dont know this. You can establish some street cred right off the bat by popping this bit of trivia into a well-timed moment of a conversation.
Did you know Civil War general and U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant was quartermaster for fifteen months (1852-53) at the Vancouver Barracks? Another notable military figure and future Nobel Peace Prize recipient George C. Marshall also served here.
In the early 20th century, Vancouvers shipyards were a major source of jobs, including ship building efforts for WWI. Even with the strategic importance of the area, Vancouver had not yet become a modern city. In fact, that didnt occur until the construction of the Interstate Bridge in 1917, two years before the end of the Great War. Prior to that, traveling between Vancouver and Portland required passage by ferry.
Everything changed a generation later. Vancouver quickly quadrupled its population when ship building activity spiked for the war effort during WWII. You could hardly find a better place for it; Vancouver already had a shipyard and benefitted from cheap hydroelectric power produced from recently-completed and nearby Bonneville Dam, a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Henry Kaiser opened another shipyard in Vancouver (one of many he owned on the West Coast).
If you didnt grow up in the Pacific Northwest and dont hail from a place that can sustain three months in-a-row of overcast skies and rain, moving to Vancouver will be a formative experience in your understanding of how meteorological forces of nature work on the human psyche.
In the late fall, when the leaves turn, the hillsides around town are a patchwork of orange, brown, and reddish hues. It lasts for a few weeks before they are blown to the ground. If you pay close attention, youll notice that fall has a bittersweet, mulchy smell of lightly decomposing leaves. The change of seasons here is visceral.
On clear winter days, Mt. Hood gleams bright white from freshly fallen snow. The foothills of the Cascade Mountains also shimmer in the sun after a dusting of the white stuff, too. While it snows often in the surrounding foothills, snow within Vancouver is infrequent and generally no more than a nuisance. About once per decade, a foot or more will accumulate.
Heres the good news: when the rain subsides sometime around June you will be richly rewarded. All that rain that comes down during the fall, winter, and spring creates a very verdant landscape. Green is everywhere and in large proportions. Trees here grow tall. You might even buy a home with a 200-foot-tall Douglas Fir tree in your front yard.
Whats more, summer days are much longer because of Vancouvers latitude which is slightly higher than 45 North (halfway between the Equator and North Pole). There are more than enough daylight hours to enjoy the warm weather. Summers here are mild compared to many other places in the United States. Temperatures rarely pop above 100F.
As mentioned, living in Vancouver, Washington means enduring a lot of rain and cloudy skies from October to the end of May and even parts of the summer. Vancouver averages 41.67 inches of rainfall each year. That's less than Houston, but rain there tends to come in heavy bursts. Here, rain will slowly drizzle for several days in a row. Nearby Camas and Washougal, which are closer to the mouth of the Columbia River Gorge, get a tad more wind.
The trick to living in Vancouver, WA -- or anyplace that gets this much rain -- is to stay busy. Most folks suggest the best way to deal with the climate here is to get out and into it. Not surprisingly, thats what a lot of people do. It works. Waterproof jackets with hoods are essential and umbrella sales soar.
The clich is true: people in the Northwest tend to be outdoorsy. In winter, skiers and snowboarders drive to nearby Mt. Hood for a day of snowy fun. For something closer, hiking among the many trails in the Columbia River Gorge or Cascade Range foothills. Anytime you reach a ridge, youre bound to be rewarded with sweeping views.
Vancouver has eight 18-hole golf courses and more in surrounding cities and counties. Courses here are known for their lush, green fairways. For quick practice, there are also several 3-par courses in town.
Mt. St. Helens is open to climbers (with reservations) from late spring to early fall and is a non-technical climb. With some food, water, and a reasonable level of fitness, you can climb to the crater rim and look down into the heart of a volcano.
The Vancouver Parks & Recreation Department operates several community and neighborhood parks, sports fields, trails, and natural areas. There are 113 parks (76 developed) and 20 miles of trails. Soccer is big in Vancouver; every weekend the citys parks are filled with youth games and most weeknights you will find adult leagues bashing the ball around the fields. Adult softball leagues are another popular activity in the summer.
If you're in the mood for something a little more 'low key' perhaps a better bet is to crawl under a blanket and start reading from your stash of books, ebooks, and periodicals you borrowed from the Vancouver Community Library (the main branch of Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries). Or, pay them a visit in person. The recently-built (2011) 83,000-square-foot library is the second largest in the Portland Metro Area. It is a beautifully designed modern building crafted from glass, wood, and concrete.
Americas favorite indoor pastime, shopping, comes with a twist in Southwest Washington. Residents here tend to buy big ticket items across the Columbia River in Portland because Oregon does not have a sales tax. Technically, Washingtonians who purchase goods in Oregon are required to report and pay state taxes on those transactions. But no one does and this rule is not enforced. However, that is not the case with car license tabs. While living in Vancouver, your car must have Washington State licensure or you could face a major fine. Whats more, Washington does not impose an income tax, so earning income in Vancouver and spending it in Portland is packs a one-two punch in terms of purchasing power.
Wine tours are another way to stay busy when staying indoors. You can take a wine tours anytime, but during the holiday season is best; its a great way to get together with friends and family for a fun day trip. Thanksgiving weekend is a particularly good time to visit wineries and tasting rooms, many of which serve snacks that weekend that they would not normally have on hand for visitors.
Clearly the nightlife in Vancouver is not going to be mind-blowing. Portland has a few clubs that are a tad hipper and more urban, but it still pales in comparison to a major metropolis. If you need a high level of stimulus, you can grab a flight to L.A. or a red eye to N.Y.C. The Portland Airport is just across the Columbia River.
The Summer Concert Series at Esther Short Park has three concerts programs that run from July to August during the dog days of summer. The Six to Sunset Concert Series runs on Thursday evenings. The Noon Concert Series is live on Wednesdays at noon. Lastly, the Sunday Sounds Concert Series runs on Sunday evenings.
For three days every August, the Vancouver Jazz & Wine Festival presents world-class jazz artists and music legends. The lineup is always eclectic and includes blues, gospel, contemporary jazz, and many other styles.
More restaurants than ever in Vancouver create contemporary culinary offerings at high, medium, and low price points. Whats more, ethnic food choices have also swelled, widening the selection of styles and tastes available in the area.
By far the biggest category of restaurants in Vancouver are casual eateries and hang out spots that serve craft beer. They are everywhere and new establishments open with great frequency. The number of brewpubs per capita seems a little excessive; one could easily be led to believe we are close to a tipping point where the supply of craft beer exceeds the demand. Only time will tell.
The only beverage more popular than beer in Vancouver is coffee. Vancouver is soaked in coffee culture as much as any other city in the Northwest. For either beverage, true aficionados always seek the highest quality of craft beer or third-wave espresso respectively. On any given day, a pretty decent chunk of denizens here cycle through two mildly mind-altering substances: caffeine by day, alcohol by night.
Since 1990, the Vancouver Farmers Market has been a part of the whole foods movement, offering farm fresh produce, prepared foods, and artisanal goods to the citys hungry masses. Once a humble operation downtown, the market now sports three locations, open from spring to fall each year:
Vancouvers population growth is fueled, in part, by changes to the American economy, specifically the remote workforce. Many professional jobs today only require a computer and decent broadband connection. Once bound to company headquarters in big cities, white-collar workers can now live anywhere they choose.
Clark County is a direct beneficiary of this trend; it attracts remote workers, freelancers, and small business who can freely choose a place to live based on the quality of life. Folks moving here can start their hunt for a home by picking a location closest to the amenities that matter most by using ourVancouver neighborhood map. What's more, we have a resource that describes the best neighborhoods in Vancouver based on lifestyle preferences (quiet living out in the country, closer to the action downtown, small charming towns, established neighborhoods, etc.)
Some people living in Vancouver commute to Portland for work. In fact, thirty-four percent of residents work out of state. The largest employers across the river include Intel, Providence Health & Services, Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), Legacy Health, and Nike.
The Vancouver School Districtboundaries extend from the Downtown Vancouver Area and reach a few miles north as well as neighborhoods to the east, almost as far as the 205 Freeway. It serves 24,000 students in:
Founded in 1933, Clark College started as a private two-year college, then converted to a public institution in 1958, and later incorporated into the statewide community college system in 1967. In 2014, Clark offered its first four-year degree program. There are 12,804 enrolled.
Clark College is home to Washington States largest Running Start program which allows academically motivated high school juniors and seniors to take college courses. Students simultaneously high school and college credit, culminating in an associates degree and accelerating their timeline to earn a bachelors degree. Graduates of the program enter four-year universities as a third-year student. 2,433 Running Start students attend.
Washington State University Vancouver began as an extension campus in 1989 and transitioned to a full four-year university in 2006. WSU Vancouver offers bachelors, masters, and doctorate degrees. 3,500 students attend and take coursework in 40 fields of study.
There's something going on every week and weekend in Vancouver. Keeping busy and entertained is easy from small gatherings to big events. Did you know the Vancouver Wine and Jazz Festival is the largest jazz festival in the Pacific Northwest (13,500 visitors)? Here are some of the big, annual events that locals look forward to with much anticipation:
Living in Vancouver Washington is a perfect fit for people who love outdoor adventures and the relatively slower pace of suburbia. Vancouver has enough art, culture, music, food, and civic engagement to generally keep one satisfied, but it is also only a short drive from slightly more urban intensity in nearby Portland - say, when you need to take a theatre play, symphony, or visit a big museum.
If you can hack long stretches of cloudy days and rain, youll feel quite at home in Vancouver. One thing is sure: the vistas in town are breathtaking when the sun comes out. Especially in late fall and winter. Just when youre losing your mind, a break in the clouds will pull back the curtains on snow-capped foothills, neatly patterned by dusted Doug Fir trees. The sight of the Mt. Hood and. Mt. St. Helens in the distance will pull you from your slumber, if only for a short while.