Adventures in Astoria

An old Oregon town with charm

Astoria is the type of picturesque town that normally exists only in paintings. Miles from the Pacific Ocean, the hillsides are dotted with centuries-old evergreens and Victorian homes. Fishing boats bob down the Columbia River. The western end of the Lewis and Clark Trail, it is an idyllic blend of historic charm and modern relaxation.

Established in 1811, Astoria is the oldest settlement west of the Rocky Mountains. It is where Clark Gable launched his career and the backdrop to the fan-favorite film The Goonies. Today’s visitors can enjoy museums, to-die-for bakeries and burger shacks plus an annual festival of fisherman poets.

The Road Less Traveled
Astoria is a three-hour drive from the Puget Sound area. Take Highway 101 for a scenic treat and less traffic. Grab your camera before traveling the steel, magnificent, mint-green Astoria-Megler Bridge that crosses the Columbia River from Washington to Oregon. It offers spectacular views. Insider tip: On Highway 101, stop at Clarks Restaurant in Washington’s tiny town of Artic. The site has been a food stop for over 90 years. Enjoy hearty fare, the lively jukebox, and homemade ice cream — a more-than-100-year-old family recipe. Just try to resist seconds!

The historic Flavel House. Photo courtesy “Flavel House” ©2011 Think Out Loud, creative commons

The historic Flavel House. Photo courtesy “Flavel House” ©2011 Think Out Loud, creative commons

Rest Your Head
For a luxury stay, try the Cannery Pier Hotel. The pier extends 600 feet into the Columbia River and is in the shadow of the Astoria-Megler Bridge. There is an onsite spa, and take advantage of the complimentary, chauffeured classic cars. Located in downtown, the Hotel Elliott Astoria is a stroll away from restaurants, shops, and the historic Liberty Theater. Travelers on a budget rave about the Commodore Hotel.

The original incarnation opened in the 1920s and reopened in 2009 as a hip establishment. Shared bathrooms make for lower rates, but lodgers can also request fully-equipped suites.

Eat and Drink
Locals love the Wet Dog Cafe. Exposed wooden beams are decorated with a panoply of license plates, and aquarium-sized windows provide breathtaking water views. The menu has something for the whole family while the onsite brewery is a grownup hit. For a light meal or snack, try the Blue Scorcher Bakery and Café in the Fort George Building, the original site of the Fort of Astoria. It’s airy and colorful thanks to orange, green, and blue walls and fresh flowers. A children’s area bustles with play. Jars of cookies, the aroma of almond-cardamon cinnamon rolls, and full breakfast and lunch menus are irresistible.

Insider tip: Find time for Josephson’s Smokehouse and a fresh-from-the-sea lunch and take-home snack. A tradition since 1920, the dockside location offers a wide variety of smoked salmon — from the case and canned — plus salmon sandwiches and chowder.

The Cannery Pier Hotel. Photo courtesy “Cannery Pier Hotel” ©2011 Lynn D. Rosentrater, creative commons

The Cannery Pier Hotel. Photo courtesy “Cannery Pier Hotel” ©2011 Lynn D. Rosentrater, creative commons

Book It
Grab a good read at one of three local shops, and head to the park. The wooden Dutch door at Godfather’s Books is often open to embrace the fresh, sea air. Bestsellers are stocked next to more counterculture fare. Find your way thanks to glued Scrabble letters marking the sections. Astoria Bookshop is a hub for author readings, book clubs, and children’s events. The “Free Book Table” is a favorite sighting for locals and tourists alike. The cozy Lucy’s Books houses a carefully curated selection and spotlights Northwest authors. Find your way to the children’s nook, where stuffed animals and miniature chairs await.

Visit and View
The Bumble Bee Cannery Museum at Pier 39 is housed in Astoria’s oldest existing cannery. Free to visitors, the site is home to gill-netting boats, original scales, and machinery. Stop by nearby Coffee Girl for an espresso and cookie. For further coastal exploration, the Columbia River Maritime Museum is one of Astoria’s must-see sites. It is home to a retired Coast Guard rescue ship and the bridge and pilot house from the 1943 U.S.S. Knapp. Head outside for an onboard tour of the Columbia Lightship. Historic Astoria is on display at the Flavel House, built in 1884 and a breathtaking example of Queen Anne architecture, and the Heritage Museum with treasures such as a partially restored saloon and operating roulette table. At the Astoria Column, trek 164 steps to the top for the best views of the area. Of course, film buffs flock to the Oregon Film Museum. Formerly the jail and now on the National Register of Historic Places, the museum houses Goonies memorabilia and film their own movie scenes.

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