Visit one of Oregon's most spectacular coastal towns, steeped in history.
Astoria is 2-hours northwest of Portland, and has an incredible setting at the confluence of the Pacific Ocean and Columbia River.
This is the most dangerous stretch of water in the world, known as the Graveyard of the Pacific. The shifting sandbars and treacherous currents at the mouth of the river have claimed over 2,000 shipwrecks and countless lives. Crossing the Columbia River Bar is a terrifying experience in poor conditions.
There's so much to do in Astoria, including waterfront restaurants, brewpubs, a world class maritime museum, film museum, a historic mansion to tour, and a famous shipwreck. Astoria also has a steady stream of festivals throughout the year, including the Annual Music Festival (June), and International Film Festival (October).
You can also learn about Astoria's fascinating history. Famous explorers Lewis and Clark passed through here on their overland expedition to the West Coast in 1804-1806, and camped at nearby Fort Clatsop. John Jacob Astor then established a fur trading station here in 1911, making Astoria the first permanent settlement on the West Coast.
John Jacob Astor wanted to eclipse San Francisco and make Astoria the main port on the West Coast. However the treacherous conditions of the Columbia River thwarted those ambitions, and San Francisco eclipsed Astoria to became the foremost port of the western U.S. The two cities share a remarkable similarity in their physical appearance, with hillsides lined with beautiful Victorian homes.
10 best things to do in Astoria Oregon
1. Visit the excellent Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria Oregon.
The Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria is a world-class museum, not to be missed. It provides fascinating insight into one of the most dangerous stretch of water in the world at the mouth of the Columbia River at Astoria. This 4-mile stretch of shifting sandbars has claimed 2,000 shipwrecks, earning it the name Graveyard of the Pacific.
The incredible bravery of the U.S. Coast Guard is on show here, mounting difficult rescues of distressed ships and sailors in turbulent seas. Many lives have been lost in the process, subject to a merciless ocean with fierce currents and up to 40-foot waves! The Coast Guard have a special boat designed for these conditions, with a self-righting mechanism that rolls the boat over if engulfed by a freak wave.
The museum also does a great job of explaining the fascinating job of a bar pilot. These highly trained bar pilots board ships at the entrance of the Columbia River by boat or helicopter, and assume navigational control of ships through the dangerous waters and their expert knowledge of local sandbars. They are amongst the most skilled mariners, with years of training under their belts, and earn very high salaries.
Check hours & fees (1792 Marine Drive).
The Columbia River Maritime Museum's roof is shaped like a sail, in a nod to the rich maritime history of this area. From the front window you can see a U.S. Coast Guard boat ascending a giant wave, while out on a dangerous rescue mission on the Columbia River.
Tour the bright red, retired Lightship Columbia, moored outside the Columbia River Maritime Museum. Lightships were once used instead of lighthouses, as floating navigational aids for ships. The Lightship Columbia was launched in 1950 and decommissioned in 1979, and was the last of four lightships standing watch at the entrance to the Columbia River. Eighteen men were stationed onboard the ship for two to four weeks shifts, in incredibly cramped conditions.
The USCGC Alert is moored at the museum's dock, an active Coast Guard ship commissioned in 1969 in Astoria Oregon.
2. Tour the elegant Flavel House in Astoria Oregon.
The exquisite Flavel House Museum provides a window into an earlier era, and is one of Astoria's finest buildings. The 11,600 square foot interior is stunning, with six fireplaces, ornate wood paneling, and soaring 14-foot ceilings on the first floor. The house has public rooms on the main floor, like the music room and parlor, and an upper floor with bedrooms, an unfinished attic with servants quarters, and a four story tower for watching ship traffic on the Columbia River.
Flavel House was built in 1885 by Captain George Flavel, a river bar pilot and entrepreneur, and Astoria's first millionaire. The Captain lived at Flavel House for seven years from 1886 to his death in 1893, with his wife and two daughters. The home was passed down through generations of the family, before being donated to the City of Astoria in 1934.
Check hours & tickets (441 8th Street).
3. Learn about famous films made in Astoria, like the Goonies!
The small Oregon Film Museum is housed in the old Clatsop County Jail in downtown Astoria Oregon.
It's an eye opening experience learning about the dozens of movies filmed in this picturesque area. Some of the more well known movies include the Goonies, Kindergarten Cop, Free Willy, and Short Circuit. Goonies fans can even step inside the original jail cell featured from the movie.
Check hours & tickets (636 Duane Street).
The Oregon Film Museum functioned as a jail from 1914 to 1976. You can even have a mugshot photo taken inside!
Step onboard a movie set at the Oregon Film Museum, for a green screen experience!
Explore the original jail cell featured in the Goonies movie, from the jailbreak scene.
4. Climb to the top of the Astoria Column.
Climb to the top of the 125-foot Astoria Column for breathtaking views of Astoria Oregon, with fourteen murals depicting key events in Astoria's rich history. Some of the more notable murals include the arrival of the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1806 pushing U.S. expansion into the Pacific Northwest, or John Jacob Astor's establishment of the first fur trading post in 1811 at Fort Astoria. Astoria has an incredible history, as the first permanent settlement west of the Mississippi River.
The Astoria Column is a short drive from downtown Astoria, up Coxcomb Hill. It's free to visit, but there's a small parking fee.
5. Stroll along Astoria's scenic Riverfront Walk.
Stroll 1.3 miles along Astoria's charming Riverfront Walk, from the Astoria Bridge to the Columbia River Maritime Museum. There's so much activity along this stretch, including a constant parade of commercial ship traffic along the mighty Columbia River. See old canneries converted into beautiful restaurants, bustling seafood suppliers, an active bar pilot station, and a Coast Guard ship.
Start beneath the Astoria-Megler bridge at the small, sandy beach (across from the Holiday Inn Express). This is the perfect spot to admire the scale of this magnificent 4.1 mile bridge that opened in 1966. It was once the longest continuous truss bridge span in the world (now the second longest since the opening of the Ikitsuki Bridge in Japan in 1991). The Astoria-Megler connects Oregon to Washington State, and has a 200 foot clearance on the Oregon side for the giant cargo ships that pass beneath it.
Check out the Maritime Memorial beneath the bridge, with plaques dedicated to Astoria citizens, ranging from bar pilots, to fisherman and cannery workers that make up this vibrant community.
Continue along the Riverfront Walk past a fuel dock, to the 6th Street Viewing Platform. Cargo ships form long lines, carrying billions of dollars of merchandise along one of America's busiest shipping lanes.
Climb the stairs at the 6th Street Viewing Platform, for a bird's eye view of the Columbia River. The popular Buoy Beer is just adjacent, and is the perfect place to stop for a waterfront meal. There's even a glass floor at the restaurant, where you can observe sea lions hanging out below the dock.
Continue towards Pier 12, to get a closer look at the cargo ships traveling up the Columbia River.
Continue past the red building that houses the Columbia River Bar Pilots. Bar pilots board ships at the entrance of the Columbia River, to navigate the ships through the treacherous sandbars, protecting billions of dollars of cargo from shipwreck. The bar pilots are paid handsomely for their work, earning an average base pay of $214k a year in this dangerous profession, guiding 3,600 vessels across the mouth of the Columbia River each year.
The modern day bar pilots board the ships from a helicopter or boat, often in choppy, turbulent conditions, risking their lives on a daily basis. However this is a big improvement on the 19th century bar pilots, who rowed out into the open ocean to meet ships, then boarded using a rope ladder!
Entrepreneur Captain George Flavel had a monopoly on the early bar piloting business, making a fortune. You can visit his Queen Anne mansion, Flavel House, on a hillside in Astoria Oregon.
The dock at the Columbia River Maritime Museum is also home base for the Coast Guard cutter, USCGC Alert.
This sign indicates that Astoria is an official Coast Guard city!
Stroll away from the waterfront to downtown Astoria Oregon, to explore art galleries like Imogen Gallery (240 11th Avenue), and Brumfield Gallery (1033 Marine Drive). One of the best is the LightBox Photographic Gallery (1045 Marine Drive) with beautifully curated photography exhibits.
The Vintage Hardware Store (1162 Marine Drive) is also a must-see, brimming with fun collectibles and memorabilia. It's impossible to leave this store empty handed.
6. Step inside the Liberty Theater where Clarke Gable once performed.
Visit the 1920's vaudeville-style Liberty Theater in downtown Astoria. The vintage interior is exquisite and popular for weddings and performances. Clarke Gable once performed at this location (1203 Commercial Street).
7. Watch a fun glass blowing demonstration.
Fernhill Glass is another highlight in downtown Astoria. Relax in a comfortable seat whilst watching a glass blowing exhibition, then purchase one of the vibrant glass artworks (1450 Exchange Street).
8. See where Lewis and Clark ended their famous expedition.
Visit Fort Clatsop 6 miles south of Astoria Oregon, to see where explorers Lewis and Clark spent the winter of 1805/1806 after they reached the West Coast of the US. Stroll through the log buildings inside the fortress to get a feel for the miserable conditions during that wet winter. There's also a visitor center and gift shop. Check hours & tickets.
9. Get up-close to the remarkable Peter Iredale Shipwreck.
The Peter Iredale Shipwreck at Fort Stevens State Park is 10 miles west of Astoria Oregon, on a windswept, dramatic sweep of coastline with distant vistas of the Oregon Coast Range. The shipwreck occurred on October 25, 1906, with thankfully no loss of life from the 27 crewmen aboard. The four masted ship was owned by a British shipping company, and was en-route to Portland, to pick up wheat to transport to London.
On the morning of October 25 the Peter Iredale sat outside the entrance to the Columbia River, waiting for the assistance of a bar pilot to safely guide it through the treacherous waters. However, heavy winds and shifting currents soon ran the ship aground at Clatsop Beach.
Take a day trip from Astoria, and travel south along Highway 101 to see gems like the charming coastal towns of Cannon Beach and Manzanita, and gorgeous coastal vistas and hikes at Oswald West State Park and Ecola State Park.
Where to stay in Astoria Oregon
There's an abundance of accommodation choices in Astoria Oregon, catering to all tastes!
For a luxury hotel with unsurpassed views of the Columbia River, try the Cannery Pier Hotel.
In recent years Astoria has experienced a resurgence of hip new hotels and a vibrant cafe scene. The Commodore Hotel has a chic, modern interior, yet offers rooms at a price that will appeal to the more budget minded traveler.
It's located in the historic Lewis Building, and first opened in 1925 as the Barton Hotel, then re-named in 1928 as the Commodore Hotel. The hotel was popular with guests taking the ferry from Astoria to Washington State, before the bridge was completed in 1966. The hotel operated for nearly forty years before being shuttered in 1965. After a $1.5 million award-winning renovation, the Commodore Hotel re-opened in 2009.
The Commodore Hotel's lobby has a mid-century, maritime feel, with floor-to-ceiling shelves crammed with an eclectic mix of artifacts discovered during the building's renovation. The lobby connects to the bustling Street 14 Cafe.
There's a cosy fireplace in the lobby area, perfect for a coffee, or to curl up and read a book on a stormy day.
The Street 14 coffee shop, is open for breakfast and brunch, with coffee, beer and wine.
The rooms inside the Commodore Hotel have a minimalist feel. Chose from smaller cabins with shared bathrooms (pictured), or more spacious suites with private bathrooms and sitting areas.
The Hotel Elliott is a block away from the Commodore Hotel, and has more traditional, luxury rooms, many with gorgeous views of the water, and jacuzzi tubs. It has a chic lobby and wine bar, and a rooftop deck with incredible views. The hotel was originally constructed in 1924, two years after the devastating fire that wiped out downtown Astoria.
Another popular Astoria hotel is the luxurious Cannery Pier Hotel, located at the end of a 600 foot pier on the Columbia River. The rooms have deep soak tubs, and glorious river views, putting you right in the heart of the action in one of the world's busiest shipping lanes. There's also a spa with water views, and chauffeured vintage vehicles to the city's restaurants. The hotel opened in 2005, at the site of a former fish cannery.
Where to eat in Astoria Oregon
Astoria has some wonderful waterfront restaurants, ranging from casual pubs to fine dining.
The Buoy Beer Company has the most incredible location and relaxed atmosphere, inside an 100 year old cannery building. Sit at a table and peer out at massive cargo ships navigating the Columbia River. There's even a section of glass floor, where kids can peer down at a colony of sea lions on the pier below.
The more upscale Bridgewater Bistro provides awesome views of the Astoria Bridge from a dining room and patio (pictured). It's a short distance from the Cannery Pier Hotel.
This is the interior of the waterfront Bridgewater Bistro.
Fort George Brewery is another popular spot, with craft beers on tap and loads of comfort food. It's up the back of town, but the second floor has water views. There's also patio dining in warmer months.
For a lunch-time treat, drive to Josephson's Smokehouse on Marine Drive and sample the wine-maple hot smoked salmon, or hot smoked pepper blend salmon. Purchase some goodies to take home with you. The surroundings are simple, but the smoked salmon is amongst the best in the Pacific Northwest.
Where can I get a yummy breakfast and coffee?
The Blue Scorcher Bakery and Cafe is in the same building as Fort George Brewery, and has a small play area for kids.
The downtown Astoria area is also home to two popular breakfast hangouts; the Astoria Coffeehouse and Bistro, and Street 14 Cafe.
If you're looking for a trendy coffee house with a great brunch and coffee, try the Astoria Coffeehouse and Bistro.
The Street 14 Cafe, also in downtown Astoria, has breakfast burritos, sandwiches, salads and more.