Free, Fun, Family Summer Events in Downtown Vancouver

Propstra Square at Recycled Arts Festival.

By Leslee Jaquette

With so many new and improved special events planned for this summer, Downtown Vancouver continues to build its reputation around Esther Short Park and other elegant venues. Awarded “One of 10 Great Public Spaces in America for 2013” by the American Planning Association (APA), Esther Short Park’s sense of place and community benefits many of the 40 events planned this summer for the city core.

Events range from the city’s largest happening, the Recycled Arts Festival, which draws about 25,000 people, to the smaller, more casual Movies in the Park. Blessed with beautiful parks, shelters, playgrounds, shade, water features, historical buildings, public art, easy parking and safe access, Vancouver’s Special Events Manager Stacy Donovan invites the public to head downtown.

“People can plan a staycation here and take advantage of summer events we offer in the downtown area with most of it free, fun and family-oriented,” says Donovan. “They can attend a special event at Esther Short Park, tour the fort, visit the historical museum, graze the farmer’s market and play on the riverbank.”

This season locals and visitors alike can participate in a number of new events as well as several popular events that have been revamped or relocated to even more attractive venues.

For starters, in March the Vancouver Downtown Association reincarnated the popular First Friday Art Walk into a more inclusive event called VDA First Friday Downtown. While it continues to spotlight art at downtown galleries and restaurants, explains VDA Executive Director Lee Rafferty, the event has expanded to include public tours of recently renovated downtown buildings. For example, in June guests will be invited to tour the Calvary Chapel, the beautifully repurposed former Clauson’s Office Supply building.

Several innovations have helped make the new, expanded event grow each month. For one thing, the VDA publishes a “Hot Sheet” list of host businesses with a map on the website ( In addition, several volunteers, mounted on bikes called “Info Pedalers,” provide information and direction to visitors.

“Creativity comes in all forms from fine arts to the incredible places all around us,” adds Rafferty. “Since we initiated the expanded First Friday in March, we have seen an incredible jump in attendance from 33 to 50 percent!”

New this summer, the Independence Day at Fort Vancouver has added a new fun run called the “Firecracker Four-Miler.” People can also participate in the all new Champagne Bike Ride, which starts and finishes either a 20- or 35-mile loop at the O.O. Howard House at Fort Vancouver. Energy Events, which orchestrates the Vancouver USA Marathon in conjunction with the Brew Fest in August, will organize the bike event.

Also, look for the three-day-long, Father’s Day Summer Brewfest to attract about 7,000 people to this rapidly-growing event hosted by 30 to 40 local microbrews. Donovan notes that Hoops on the River, a three-on-three basketball tournament scheduled for Aug. 16 and 17, will take place for the first time at Esther Short Park.

Planned August 28-30, Couvfest, has also changed venues to Esther Short Park. The festival, which showcases local alternative bands, has expanded from one-day to three. In addition, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra is back this summer and will perform movie themes on the final evening of the Riverside Six to Sunset Concert Series.

And although Movies in the Park on Friday nights has been a popular family mainstay, this summer the movies will be shown at six different parks. Donovan notes that participants will see lots more pre-movie activities such as kickball and entertainment at this free, family-focused event.

Of possible particular interest to more mature “kids at heart,” classic cars return to the downtown. On July 19 the Cruisin’ the Gut on Main Street promises a parade of all makes and models of cars. On August 7 the Columbia River Concourse d’Elegance once more struts its stuff.

Other long-standing, favorite summer events promise to entertain and educate. Named the “Peoples’ Choice” event in 2013, the Recycled Arts Festival always amazes. “Why? Because this free-to-the-public event showcases local art that makes treasures out of trash,” says Donovan. “This educational event is eye-opening. It’s amazing to see how you can use trash for something useful or artistic.”

Sponsors such as the city and the VDA go to great effort and expense to develop increasingly attractive special events for the summer. When asked why that is important, Rafferty suggests summer activities bring the community together.

“People long to go some place that is authentic,” observes Rafferty. “So, we offer seniors and all other ages a walkable, very welcoming, really appealing downtown.”

Information: Vancouver Downtown Association: 360-258-1129; City of Vancouver 360-487-8630.