Spend a day with the kids at Vancouver’s Esther Short Park. Hear the story of the Chinook people at the Salmon Run Bell Tower, play on the public art and, in season, spend time at the vibrant Vancouver Farmers Market.

Esther Short Park History

Esther Short Park Vancouver
The Salmon Run Bell Tower tells a story of salmon and the Chinook people on the Columbia River. Photo credit: Elizabeth R Rose

Established in 1853, Esther Short Park is the oldest public park in the state of Washington. In fact, it is one of the oldest in the West. There was a time when Esther Short Park in downtown Vancouver was not a place where you would bring children. It was dark, unappealing and, sometimes, dangerous. In the late 1990s there was a movement to revitalize the park and the area around it that included the demolition of the Greyhound station and the building of the Hilton Hotel and Convention Center.

Esther Short Park for Kids

So now, Esther Short Park is a place to take your kids, or your grandkids, in my case. We needed something to do while my son and his wife packed to leave after a visit. I knew there would be lots of activity at Esther Short Park because it was a beautiful Sunday morning. The Vancouver Farmers Market, open Saturdays and Sundays seasonally, would be a great lunch stop, I thought.

We drove west on Mill Plain Boulevard, almost deserted on a Sunday morning, and easily found parking down the street from the park. The children enjoyed the bright murals as we walked around the downtown area. As we approached the park, we saw children gleefully splashing in the running water of the water feature, the spray cascading over natural columnar basalt. Mary, age 7, tossed off her shoes and was in the shallow water in no time, climbing on the rocks, enjoying following the stream-like fountain.

Esther Short Park Vancouver
Mary Nelson, visiting from Florida, was intrigued by the realistic water feature in Esther Short Park. Photo credit: Elizabeth R Rose

We then headed over to see the Salmon Run Clock Tower and Glockenspiel. As part of Propstra Square the tower was built with donations by Burgerville founder and philanthropist, George Propstra. The 69-foot-high tower is surrounded by salmon bronzes. Water runs down the tower, and more salmon bronzes are seen climbing as though they were in one of the local salmon streams. My smallest visitor found them the right size to climb on, of course. The Salmon Run Tower features a revolving musical display at noon, 2:00, 4:00, 6:00 and 8:00 p.m. The tower commemorates the life cycle of the Pacific salmon and the fish’s value to the local Chinook tribe.

Our next stop was the playground behind the historic Slocomb House. The beautiful building was built in 1867 by Charles Slocomb, who modeled the house after the New England home he grew up in. There are restrooms and a beautiful rose garden by the playground as well.

Vancouver Farmers Market

Esther Short Park Vancouver
Colorful murals dot the downtown area. It’s fun to find them all. Photo credit: Elizabeth R Rose

It was just about lunchtime, so we decided to explore the Vancouver Farmers Market adjacent to Esther Short Park. There was music and good smells of cooking food wafting through the air. In typical 14-year-old fashion, my eldest granddaughter was undecided about what to have for lunch, so we began our time at the market, walking by all the booths and checking out what might be tasty. We stopped to have a look at the statue of Captain George Vancouver, complete with bouquet.

The girls looked at the crafts and jewelry for sale, and I found that some new local farms were represented. There were plenty of foods to taste… oils, chips, dip, nuts.

Esther Short Park Vancouver
Finally, Mary and Abby enjoy lunchtime at the Vancouver Farmer’s Market. Photo credit: Elizabeth R Rose

After walking the booths on both streets, I asked my granddaughter Abby if she had found anything appetizing for lunch. She immediately pointed to the Teriyaki House booth as they offered Japanese and Thai food items. Both girls opted for Teriyaki chicken on a skewer for lunch. There were tables where we could relax over lunch and a musician singing children’s songs to entertain us.

Festivals and Events in Esther Short Park

There is always something going on in Esther Short Park whether it be the Summer Concert Series or the delightful June Recycled Arts Festival. Main Street is aglow during holiday time, and the Festival of the Trees is an engaging downtown event. And, be sure to enjoy the tulip gardens in the spring. The park is a safe and fun community gathering place year round.

Esther Short Park is located at W. 8th and Columbia Streets in downtown Vancouver. It is not far from the Waterfront Renaissance Trail and views of the Interstate Bridge and Columbia River.

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