Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

The first thing you notice inside the museum is a map. Covering a large space on the wall, it shows the mouth of the Columbia River (which rolls by, just outside) and is dotted with dozens of little markers like tombstones – each one a shipwreck in the “Graveyard of the Pacific.”

This legacy of loss lies at the heart of the
 Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria, a monument to the struggles and successes of those who chose to spend their lives in one of the most dangerous places on the Pacific coast.
Past the map is the entrance into a brightly lit hall full of sailboats manned by mannequins, bearded and decked out in bib overalls, their faces screwed up in concentration. Floor-to-ceiling windows look out onto the Columbia River itself where real people still work on freighters, lifeboats and fishing vessels that motor by.
The museum was founded in 1962 to preserve that maritime heritage of the region. It’s home to the largest collection of Pacific Northwest maritime artifacts, spread through long, interconnected exhibit halls over nearly 45,000 square feet of space, running through the history of mankind’s relationship with the river and ocean.
The exhibits are set up in roughly chronological order. You can start with the nod to Native American cultures – an unfortunately fleeting recognition, made in favor of a maritime history that began when white settlers industrialized the region – then walk through exhibits that display a wide and fascinating variety of artifacts from the last two centuries.