by Scott Laird

Steeped in history and an industrial heritage, the City of Astoria has reinvented itself as a tourist destination.  Located at the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon’s far northwest corner, Astoria has found a way to blend its riverfront, coastal, and cannery cultures.  Without taking itself too seriously, the town has embraced its working class roots and opened its doors and welcomed visitors to come and enjoy a relaxed and charming experience.

The region and town played a vital role in the western expansion of the United States and uses that rich history to draw and captivate visitors.  It uses great restaurants, cafes, and brew pubs, and an eclectic waterfront to entice those visitors to stay.  It’s friendly, casual and welcoming attitude, along with year-round events, keep guests coming back.
Astoria is perfect for a day trip, a romantic overnight get away or a weekend family vacation.  Located just sixty miles from Vernonia, less from Columbia County’s Highway 30 corridor, it’s just down the road, yet feels like you’ve traveled a world away.

Astoria is the oldest American settlement west of the Rocky Mountains.  Mariners Robert Gray and James Cook passed by in the 1790s and Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery established their Pacific Coast base in the region in 1805.  John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company established a fort where the town now stands in the early 1800s.  Large populations of Scandinavians and Chinese immigrants arrived to work, cutting down the huge timber and catching and canning the tremendous runs of salmon.  The fur, timber and canning industries have left a long lasting and still visible legacy on the community.

Today Astoria embraces its newest industry – tourism.  The vibrant waterfront and downtown is packed with old buildings, some renovated into new and thriving businesses, some still waiting to be revived.  Restaurants, antique shops, galleries, clothing stores, book shops and more line the streets.  Museums, parks, trails, bird watching, live music, and theater provide activities for just about everyone. 

And of course there is the ever-present view. Every establishment along the waterfront tries to take advantage of the expansive river with huge windows, decks and balconies, allowing guests to watch passing ships and the wildlife while sipping a brew or enjoying a meal. Astoria has also established the Riverwalk, a six mile paved trail that follows the waterfront so visitors can further enjoy the maritime atmosphere. 

One thing I noticed during our recent visit to Astoria was the quality of the service everywhere we went.  Everyone was extremely friendly, knowledgeable and helpful.  They all seemed genuinely pleased to see us walk in, and especially interested in making us feel welcome.  It’s amazing the impact that a friendly face, authentic smile and welcoming attitude can have in helping a tourist, as well as the locals, enjoy their visit.

If you are planning a trip to Astoria make sure to check the local calendar for upcoming festivals and events before you visit.  Year round activities happen every month; you may want to either avoid the crowds or plan to join in the fun.  There is always something happening in Astoria: the Fisher Poets Gathering in February; the Crab, Seafood & Wine Festival in April; the Tenor Guitar Gathering in May; the Scandinavian Midsummer Festival, and the Astoria Music Festival in June; the Astoria Regatta in August; the Pacific Northwest Brew Cup in September, the Astoria International Film Festival in October.

These are just some of the events you might want to check out.  In addition the Astoria Sunday Market happens May through October, the theatrical “Shanghaied in Astoria” plays Thursdays through Saturdays from July to September, and a Civil War Reenactment takes place in August and September at nearby Fort Stevens.

There are plenty of places to stay overnight in Astoria, from motels on the main street to small bed and breakfasts to luxury hotels.  One of the best hotels in town is the Cannery Pier Hotel.  Located just west of the bridge and jutting out over the river, the Cannery Pier Hotel offers spectacular balcony river views to go along with all the expected amenities of a top flight establishment.

All of the amenities are great but the Cannery Pier Hotel takes your comfort and enjoyment further.  Rooms feature a large claw foot tub and glass shower – a through window provides a river view while you bathe.  There was a pair of binoculars and a Pendleton wool blanket to enhance our wildlife and ship watching from the padded window seat and balcony. From our balcony we watched a bald eagle, sea lions, ducks, Canada geese, a Blue heron, gulls and other sea birds pass by, along with small sailboats, fishing boats and giant shipping vessels. In the evening there was complimentary wine and lox tasting.  There’s a full service  spa which features an authentic Finnish sauna and a large hot tub, with, you guessed it, a view of the river. The hotel has three vintage cars available to chauffeur you to and from dinner, free of charge. On our return to the hotel, fresh baked cookies were waiting for guests in the lobby.  In the morning we borrowed cruiser bicycles and rode the riverwalk to breakfast.  A guest really couldn’t ask for much more.  Make sure you make reservations early—the Cannery Pier Hotel tends to be full most weekends.

Astoria is bursting with restaurants, cafés, coffee houses and drinking establishments. If Oregon microbrews are your thing, you’re in luck.  Astoria has a choice of five breweries including, the Rogue Ales Public House, the Fort George Brewery and Public House, the Wet Dog Café, the Astoria Brewing Company Tasting Room and Buoy Beer Company. Don’t forget to bring your growler!

The Buoy Beer Company on Pier 8 has great river front seating in the dining room, a great pub, fantastic gourmet pub food – the fries were great and so was the pasta special – and fourteen beers on tap. Try the Coffee Brown – it’s excellent! And don’t miss the glass floor where you can watch sea lions relaxing – the kids, and adults, will love it!

For breakfast try Coffee Girl at the east end of town on Pier 39. Tucked away inside the old cannery building, the cozy Coffee Girl has delicious baked goods, tasty entrees, inexpensive prices and of course, good coffee – and a great view of the river. The Blueberry Croissant Bread Pudding was delicious and the Breakfast Panini Sandwich and Swedish Veggie Bagel were both extremely tasty.

Vegetarians will love the Blue Scorcher Bakery & Cafe, a worker owned cooperative located right next door to the Fort George Brewery. The Tempeh Rubin was excellent and so was the atmosphere.

For coffee in the morning check out Three Cups Coffee House right under the bridge, featuring Columbia River Coffee Roasters’ Thundermuck, a dark roasted and flavorful brew to get your day started.

Of course there is much more to do in Astoria than just eating and drinking. There are plenty of activities to keep the whole family occupied for days. Among the highlights:
  • Columbia River Maritime Museum This 24,000 square foot exhibit space contains an extensive collection of nautical artifacts with interactive displays on shipwrecks, fishing, lighthouses, navigation and naval history. Remodeled and expanded in 2001-02, this nationally recognized museum is a treasure trove of wonders.
  • Astoria Column Perched on the highest hill in Astoria the 125 foot column, with 164 steps to the top,  offers spectacular views of the surrounding area and includes fascinating illustrations winding up the outside of the column that document the history of the region.
  • River Walk Also known as the Astoria River Trail you can travel the entire length of the historic water front (6.4 miles) and enjoy the interesting architecture, shops and views. Ride the trolley in season, bring your bikes and peddle the entire length, or just take a leisurely stroll.
  • Sea Lions The barking of sea lions is ever present along the waterfront and there are several places where they regularly congregate; the 36th Street Pier is one of the best and most popular spots to watch them swim, sun and wrestle.
  • Lewis and Clark Walk in the footsteps of the famous explorers at several nearby locations. Fort Clatsop National Historic Park is the site of their winter encampment complete with replica fort, exhibit hall, interpretive center and trails.  Drive across the Astoria-Megler Bridge and 10 miles up the Washington coastline to Cape Disappointment State Park which contains eight miles of trails, miles of beaches, two lighthouses and the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center.  Spectacular views of the Pacific and the Columbia Bar can be seen from the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse.
A visit to Astoria can be relaxing, fun, informative, and entertaining, and certainly worth the trip.

Read the original article and see additional photos at Vernonia’s Voice.