If you happen to be traveling along the coastal area of the Pacific Northwest, Astoria is not usually a place most people would stop and visit. But If you are sailing a Pacific Northwest cruise, Astoria might possibly be one of your port days. Unlike major metropolitan cities, the port town of Astoria is tiny with less than 10,000 people. It’s a place that gives you a small-town feeling. I stopped in Astoria on my Pacific coastal cruise from Vancouver, Canada to Los Angeles. This port day followed a day in Seattle, Washington. So, what to do in Astoria, Oregon?
I lucked on with the weather in Astoria, with clear skies and no rain. It was a perfect fall day for doing some Oregon sightseeing.
Being a port city in the upper northwest corner of Oregon, it’s located on the south shore of the Columbia River where the river meets the Pacific Ocean. Founded in the year 1811 as a major fur-trading town, Astoria is the oldest American settlement west of the Rocky Mountains.
Surrounded by lush evergreen forests and beautiful ocean vistas, Astoria exudes so much Scandinavian charm. Its restored Victorian homes, endless miles of sandy beaches, and hometown cafes make it the perfect romantic weekend getaway.
No visit to Astoria is complete without visiting the impressive Astoria Column. While under 10,000 people live in the city of Astoria, it’s remarkable to note another 400,000 visitors come to see the column each year. While visiting the column, it’s hard not to admire the stunning hand-painted frieze which adorns the outer shell. If unwound, this painting would measure more than 500 feet in length.
The painted frieze glows in rich earth tones of browns, yellows, and reds and pays homage to the history there. I was mesmerized by the details and hues of this incredible work of art. Take my advice, the Astoria Column should be top of your list of things to do in Astoria, Oregon.
The Astoria Column was designed to celebrate a few historical events. Firstly, the discovery of the Columbia River by Captain Robert Gray. Secondly the end of the Lewis and Clark Expedition and lastly, the arrival of the ship “Tonquin.” The 14 scenes depicting these historical events are inscribed on the outside of the column from the top spiraling down to its base.
Built in 1926, it measures 125 feet tall and offers the best views of the surrounding countryside as well as views of the Pacific Ocean. Don’t be put off by the very narrow, spiral staircase and 164 steps to the viewing platform. The 360 degrees views from the observation deck are a fantastic reward at the end of your climb.
The Liberty Theatre
If you’re a history buff and love historic buildings, then you must take some time to visit the Liberty Theatre. Initially opened in 1925 as a movie theatre, this spectacular building is located on Commercial Street in downtown Astoria, Oregon. Now, completely renovated and restored, the Liberty Theatre is a masterpiece. Inside, the theater showcases a magnificent 1,200 lb iron chandelier and beautiful rich wood carving panels on the walls.
Reopened in 1991 as a concert hall, performing arts center, and events venue, theatergoers can experience the theater as it was in the 1920s. I love old buildings with intricate architecture and exciting histories, and this place took my breath away. If you’re passing through Astoria, the Liberty Theatre is an absolute must.
The Riverfront Trolley
As I wandered through Astoria, I quickly realized tourist attractions were going to be far from modern. Most things to see in Astoria, Oregon are nostalgic, historic, and held stories of bygone years. So, travel back in time and add a touch of nostalgia by riding the Astoria Riverfront Trolley. The cheerful red streetcar operated by the Astoria Riverfront Trolley Association’s volunteers has been running since 1999.
Newly restored, the “Old 300” runs on a 3-mile track along the waterfront. The implementation of the streetcar was a way to revitalize the Astoria riverfront. The line only operates during the summer, from May until September, and uses the former railway tracks next to the Columbia River.
While the trolley runs from Portway Street to 36th Street, the central boarding location is at the Maritime Museum in the middle of the route. If you find yourself walking alongside the track, you are able to flag down the trolley in between the designated stops. The trolley cost USD 1 or USD 2 for an all-day pass.
Oregon Film Museum
In keeping with the theme of nostalgia, step back in time at the Oregon Film Museum. Housed in the old Clatsop County Jail, the museum showcases the history of film-making in Oregon. Whether or not you’re a Goonies fan, it’s fun to see the motion picture memorabilia, much of it centered around the Goonies.
At the museum, film your own movie clip and have fun snapping pictures of yourself in jail!
Columbia River Maritime Museum
The sandy beds of the Columbia River and the broad beaches it creates makes navigating these waters difficult. As a result, the Columbia River estuary has seen over 100 sea vessels capsized, sunk, and wrecked. For this reason, this area has adopted the name, the “Graveyard of the Pacific.”
What better place to learn about these shipwrecks as well as lighthouses and naval history, than at the Columbia River Maritime Museum. Founded in 1962, the Maritime Museum aimed to preserve the rich naval history of the region. In 2001-2002, the museum underwent a massive remodeling that increased its exhibit space to 44,200 square feet.
The museum now has interactive exhibits that allow you to experience piloting a tugboat. How cool is that? It also teaches visitor’s the history of the mighty Columbia River and its unpredictable winter storms. While visiting the museum, take a tour of the Lightship Columbia, a historic floating lighthouse. Be sure to admire the picturesque views of the Columbia River from the massive windows.
Shallon Winery is a one-man operation in Astoria. It’s been making fruit-based wines for over 35 years and is a treat to visit. Located at 1598 Duane St, its hours vary but a sign at the door has a phone number should it be locked. Paul is passionate about winemaking, so if you love wine, this is a unique place to visit. None of the wines are made from grapes but have unique flavors like chocolate orange, strawberry, and lemon meringue.
There is no mandatory fee to take his wine tour and sampling is complimentary. However, feel free to fill his tip jar as other wineries charge up to USD 50 to sample wines.
The Astoria Bridge or Astoria-Megler Bridge spans the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington States. At over 4 miles long, it holds the title of being the longest truss bridge in the world. If you love to marvel at the feats of engineering, this bridge is undoubtedly one of them.
Completed in 1966, this one-lane bridge is off-limits to foot passengers most of the year. However, once a year, the bridge hosts the Great Columbia Crossing, a 6.2-mile race that uses the bridge to cross the river.
Flavel House Museum
If time permits, the stately Flavel House is worthy of a visit. Built in the late 1880s, this beautifully restored Queen Anne mansion preserves a part of Astoria’s history impeccably. For its time, this courtly home was quite impressive with almost 12,000 sq. feet of interior space. Originally, this stately mansion was the home of Captain George Flavel, a wealthy captain who made his fortune guiding ships across the deadly Columbia River.
Interesting Facts About Astoria
Astoria has one sister city, which is Waldorf in Germany.
Over the years, Astoria provided a backdrop to many famous movies. These include Free Willy, Free Willy 2, Kindergarten Cop, The Ring, The Ring 2, and The Black Stallion to name a few.
In 1971, Oregon became the first state to ban non-returnable bottles and cans. So, if you are out for a stroll for the day, remember to bring your refillable water bottle.
Happy travels ~ Karen