Monday, March 29, 2010

Day trip to Vancouver, WA

We recently took a day trip from Portland to Vancouver, Washington. It was a fairly effortless excursion, as Vancouver is only 7 miles north of Portland on I-5. We rented a car from the Dollar location on NW Broadway. Got another "City Deal" so the rental was only $19.95/day. Instead of getting directly on I-5 after crossing the Broadway Bridge, we decided to take NE 15th Ave and go through Irvington, primarily so we could stop by the Albina library and pick up a book that Greg had requested. Irvington is such a beautiful neighborhood, filled with unique & historic homes, which we explored on foot in February. Of course, it is much more scenic if you detour off the main through-fares like NE 15th. We got lucky and it was a beautiful, sunny day with temps quickly approaching the mid-60's. We started our sightseeing with a stop at the Ft Vancouver visitor's center. It has a small, free museum with exhibits on the history of the area and we also watched a short movie (approx 12 minutes, probably filmed in the mid-80's) about Fort Vancouver. From the visitor's center, it's a short drive or long walk through the park to the fort. Admission was $3 per person or $5 per family. All of the restored buildings were open, and while some were very simply furnished, they did have descriptive displays about the original inhabitants or purpose. We also saw two blacksmiths at work as well as a cooking demonstration. The Chief Factor's residence was nicely presented with period furnishings. We left the park via Officer's Row, which features 22 restored homes built for the Army officers who served at Vancouver Barracks. As it was Saturday, the Esther Park Farmers Market was in full swing, so after taking a short drive through Uptown Village and the Hough neighborhood, we found a free parking spot on the square and had a leisurely stroll through the park. It seemed like the whole town was out enjoying the lovely weather, including the babies & dogs. My only comment about the market is that it had very few produce or other fresh food vendors. Instead it was dominated by hot food stalls and craft vendors. Having been on our feet all morning, we were ready to sit in the sun somewhere and have a beer. There are a number of restaurants along the Columbia River (on SE Columbia Way and SE Columbia River Drive), so it was just a matter of picking one. We opted for the McMenamins (see my review on, primarily because they brew their own beer. The location was perfect and we only had to wait 10 minutes for a patio table overlooking the river. There we enjoyed a couple of leisurely hours of beer drinking and people watching and also had a light lunch as we were making plans for dinner just a few hours later. Wanting to try another local brewery, Salmon Creek Brew Pub was our next stop. However they didn't open until 4pm, so we killed about 15 minutes by driving out to the Port of Vancouver where we eventually came to a park with excellent, unobstructed views of both Mt St Helens & Mt Adams. Then a short drive back into downtown Vancouver, which, with the exception of the Farmers Market crowds, seemed deserted. We had no trouble finding street parking directly across from the pub and snagged a table in their open air beer garden (which is really more like a patio between two brick buildings). They did have wonderful beer, however, and pints are discounted during happy hour (4-6pm on Saturdays; other hours during the week). Our final stop of the day was on the Oregon side of the river, at Salty's (review on Yelp). This restaurant is in a fairly remote location, but easy enough to find if you just follow the river heading east. We had an excellent fresh seafood meal and enjoyed the 180 degree view of the river from the restaurant's 2nd floor dining area. We avoided the interstate on the way home, preferring the more scenic route along Martin Luther King Blvd. We again detoured back to NE 15th Ave, this time to stop at the Whole Foods Market for some groceries. I didn't have to drop the car off until the following morning, and since the Dollar location is near Chinatown, we decided to have dim sum at Fong Chong (review on Yelp). We were pleasantly surprised at the quality of the food as Portland's Chinatown is a bit desolate, especially on Sunday mornings. This was a nice, easy & cheap weekend excursion. We only drove a total of 50 miles ($3/1 gallon of gas to refill the tank of our Toyota Corolla) and our only expenses were the rental car ($23 including tax), park entrance ($5), and beer & food.

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