I confess: I like Vancouver, even though, in trendy circles, that's not a popular sentiment. Downtown Vancouver reminds me a lot of of the little town where I grew up: conservative, kind of quiet, hinting of its long history. Sometimes I work on my laptop at a coffee shop downtown and take a break by walking over by the Historic Reserve.
Vancouver, WA (not to be confused with the huge city in British Columbia, Canada) is just across the Columbia River from Portland, only about 7 miles from downtown Portland. Being in the state of Washington does offer some economic differences with Oregon. Washington has no personal income tax but a sales tax (the opposite of Oregon). If you both live and work in Washington, you can avoid paying Oregon's 9% income tax rate - but Oregon will get you if you either work or live in Oregon. Self-employed people do pay a small Business and Occupation tax to the State of Washington however.
As a place to live, Vancouver might be divided into three areas: downtown/uptown, some fairly new, sprawling suburbs on the outskirts of town, and in between.
Downtown Vancouver is a sleepy little downtown that empties out after 5PM weekdays. The City has been trying to change that by encouraging a lot of investment in the downtown core; there have been a number of new condo and apartment buildings built downtown to try to get people to live there. The Esther Short park was renovated a few years ago, and it now hosts a weekend market. A new Hilton convention center was build just south of the park in 2005.
There are other advantages to living downtown: it is very close to I-5 and a quick commute to downtown Portland if you happen to work there. There are also excellent C-Tran express buses to Portland from downtown Vancouver. And there is the nice recreational area adjacent to downtown: the Fort Vancouver Historic Reserve and Officer's Row, which makes for a nice walk and a huge open area for walking dogs, etc. But downtown Vancouver still has a long way to go to become a "destination." There are still very few interesting restaurants and shops downtown (although the old Kiggins Theatre is wonderful). This area could be more desirable in 10-20 years, let's hope. Also, you should note the noise in downtown Vancouver from both freight trains that run very close to downtown and jet airplanes from Portland International Airport; Vancouver is right in the flight path for many planes.
Uptown Village is on the north side of downtown and has one of the few neighborhoods that resembles one in Portland, with older houses and sidewalks. But Main Street, which has an eclectic variety of retail business, just doesn't offer much of interest or excitement. As with downtown, the area has potential but it has yet to be seen.
Vancouver Suburbs: Unlike Portland, which has worked for decades to restrict its growth with an Urban Growth Boundary, Clark County (which includes Vancouver) has no such restrictions; it has been one of the fastest-growing counties in America in recent years. But as a result, you'll find huge sprawling suburbs full of new housing developments and strip malls out in places like Fisher's Landing and Salmon Creek. These are shiny new areas but flat and dull, like a suburb anywhere else in America. If the so-called culture of Portland isn't important to you, however, you will get more house for your money (compared to Portland), decent schools, and safe streets.
As for "in between:" Vancouver has some positively trashy neighborhoods that you should avoid.
In general, Vancouver feels a little older, more conservative, and less sophisticated than Portland, but some people might appreciate those qualities of Vancouver. You could also say Vancouverites are less pretentious and uptight than their Portland counterparts.
Vancouver does one-up Portland on July 4th: they put on the biggest fireworks display west of the Mississippi at Fort Vancouver - it's quite a spectacle.
Vancouver, WA Downtown
Vancouver, WA - new condos
Vancouver Convention Center and Esther Short Park, Vancouver
Esther Short Park, Vancouver
Fort Vancouver National Historic Reserve
Pictures are all copyrighted by Andrew Hall and may not be used or copied without permission.