When you think of Astoria, Oregon, the Columbia River, shipwrecks, and the Goonies come to mind. Whether you arrive by car or cruise ship, experience the charm of this coastal gem with endless things to do in Astoria.
Unlike major metropolitan cities, the port town of Astoria is tiny, with less than 10,000 people. I stopped in Astoria on my Pacific Northwest coastal cruise enroute to California.
If you’re doing the reverse itinerary, cruise ships leave Los Angeles or San Francisco cruise port and finish in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Being a port city in the upper corner of the Oregon coast, Astoria is located on the south shore at the mouth of the Columbia River, where the river meets the Pacific Ocean.
- 1. Astoria-Megler Bridge
- 2. Astoria Column
- 3. Visit Fort Clatsop
- 4. The Liberty Theatre
- 5. Ride The Riverfront Trolley
- 6. Oregon Film Museum
- 7. Columbia River Maritime Museum
- 8. Astoria Winery
- 9. Flavel House Museum
- 10. Astoria Riverwalk
- 11. Nordic Heritage Park
- 12. Garden Of Surging Waves
- 13. Road Trip To Cannon Beach
- 14. Hanthorn Cannery Museum
- 15. Explore The Heritage Museum
- Interesting Facts About Astoria
Founded in 1811 as a significant fur-trading town, Astoria is the oldest American settlement west of the Rocky Mountains. It’s also one of the most scenic coastal towns in Oregon.
Astoria exudes so much Scandinavian charm. Its restored Victorian homes and hometown cafes make it a great place to explore in summer. Here are some highlights of this west coast city.
1. Astoria-Megler Bridge
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.
2. Astoria Column
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 earth tones of browns, yellows, and reds and pays homage to the history there. I was mesmerized by the details and hues of this 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 narrow spiral staircase and 164 steps to the top of the column. The 360-degree views from the observation deck are a fantastic reward at the end of your climb.
3. Visit Fort Clatsop
Fort Clatsop in Astoria, Oregon, stands as a historical reminder of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Expect to spend a few hours exploring this encampment, which served as the winter quarters for the Corps of Discovery.
Established in December 1805, the explorers stayed until March 1806. The fort gets its name from the nearby Clatsop Tribe, indicative of the interactions between the explorers and native peoples.
The fort’s replica, reconstructed in 2006, offers you a glimpse into the past. You can walk through the cabins, see the furs they used, and see the challenges faced by the expedition.
Fort Clatsop is now part of the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park. The museum is small but features interactive exhibits, educational programs, and trails that echo the steps of the famous explorers.
This site not only celebrates American exploration but also underscores the significance of understanding historical interactions with indigenous cultures.
4. 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, you’ll find this spectacular building on Commercial Street in downtown Astoria, Oregon.
Now completely renovated and restored, the Liberty Theatre is a masterpiece. Inside, the theatre 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.
5. Ride The Riverfront Trolley
As I wandered through Astoria, I quickly realized tourist attractions would 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. However, sometimes the trolley runs earlier or later if cruise ships arrive.
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 can flag down the trolley in between the designated stops.
The trolley costs USD 1 or USD 2 for an all-day pass. During my ride, a volunteer pointed out the places of interest along the way.
6. 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 filmmaking in Oregon.
If you’re a Goonies fan, it’s fun to see the motion picture memorabilia centered around the Goonies. At the museum, film your own movie clip and have fun snapping pictures of yourself in jail!
If you’re a fan of the Goonies, remember to check out the gift shop before leaving. If you’re not, I’d pass on this museum.
7. Columbia River Maritime Museum
The sandy beds of the Columbia River and the broad beaches make 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 maritime history, than at the Columbia River Maritime Museum?
Founded in 1962, the Maritime Museum aimed to preserve the rich history of the region. In 2001-2002, the museum underwent a massive remodeling that increased its exhibit space to 44,200 square feet.
While visiting the museum, tour the Lightship Columbia, a historic floating lighthouse. Be sure to admire the picturesque views of the Columbia River from the massive windows.
The museum now has interactive exhibits that allow you to experience piloting a tugboat. How cool is that? It also teaches visitors the history of the mighty Columbia River and its unpredictable winter storms.
8. Astoria Winery
Shallon Winery is a one-person 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 amazing flavors like chocolate orange, strawberry, and lemon meringue.
There is no mandatory fee for 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.
Alternatively, you can do a coastal pub crawl tour, allowing you to sample beer from venues between Astoria and Seaside. This excursion includes transportation, games, prizes, and lots of laughs.
9. Flavel House Museum
Across the street from the Oregon Film Museum, it’s hard to miss the stately Flavel House Museum. This beautifully restored Queen Anne mansion, built in the late 1880s, 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. The admission is reasonable, and I enjoyed a self-guided tour of its Queen Anne architecture. While the house has three floors, I had access to two.
Initially, this stately mansion was the home of Captain George Flavel, a wealthy river bar pilot who made his fortune guiding ships across the deadly Columbia River. Patricia Flavel, his great-granddaughter, donated the home to Astoria.
The Clatsop County Historical Society has restored this historical site, which now operates as a museum. Inside, you’ll see the formal parlor for greeting guests, a music room, a library, and spacious bedrooms.
While some rooms feature replica wall coverings, original artwork and furniture still adorn the home.
10. Astoria Riverwalk
There’s no better way to enjoy Astoria on a sunny day than to stroll the riverwalk. If you’re arriving by cruise ship, it’s a two-mile walk from the Astoria cruise port to downtown. Alternatively, you can catch the trolley as taxis are almost non-existent.
Along the way, you’ll enjoy views of the Astoria-Megler Bridge, breweries like the Buoy Beer Company, and the Maritime Memorial on the waterfront. The circular cement walls immortalize sailors, captains, fishermen, cannery workers, and deckhands.
By the water, an arch is dedicated to Rae Goforth, the driving force of this memorial park. Between 12th and 14th Street, stop at Frite & Scoop for the best handmade ice cream in town.
If you’re in the mood for something heartier, head to Bowpicker Fish and Chips on Duane Street. Alternatively, Bridgewater Bistro provides a gluten-free options.
The Astoria Riverfront Trolley runs along the same route. So, if you get tired, you can flag it down and hop on for a ride.
11. Nordic Heritage Park
A relatively new addition to this coastal town, the Nordic Heritage Park celebrates the hard work and skills of the Nordic residents who immigrated to Astoria. The park, which opened in 2022, was designed and constructed by the Astoria Scandinavian Heritage Association.
Carefully designed, it features Scandinavian icons such as the Finnish knot, folk dancers, and a Hardanger fiddle.
The park remembers those who fled Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Iceland after the collapse of the farming industry. Today, Astoria hosts an annual Scandinavian Midsummer Festival.
At the park, I read stories about the immigrants and saw trolls scattered throughout the grounds. Trolls are an essential part of Nordic folklore.
See if you can spot Margit Trollsdottir and the Cat, Viktor, or Leif, the Grumpy troll?
12. Garden Of Surging Waves
Created in 2014, the Garden of Surging Waves, like the Nordic Heritage Park, celebrates the cultural influences of other nations. The urban park, which covers part of a city block, exudes a sense of peacefulness.
“Cāng Láng Yuán” in Chinese, or surging waves, symbolizes the hardships experienced by the early settlers.
Located on the corner of Duane and 11th Streets, the entire city block, often called Heritage Square, will continue to expand. This simplistic park celebrates Chinese-American heritage and features sculptures symbolizing history, culture, and unity.
I especially liked the Pavilion of Transition, which features carved supported posts and an intricate mosaic floor.
13. Road Trip To Cannon Beach
Cannon Beach is a scenic coastal destination near Astoria, around 25 miles away. With a rental car, it takes roughly 40 minutes to drive there, offering a quick road trip.
Cannon Beach boasts the famous Haystack Rock, a massive sea stack rising from the ocean, a must-see for its beauty and wildlife. Stroll along the sandy shore and tide pools, or take in breathtaking sunset views.
Additionally, you can make a pit stop at Seaside, located midway between Astoria and Cannon Beach. Enjoy the historic promenade, arcade games, and the Seaside Aquarium for marine life enthusiasts.
Both places offer plenty of dining options and a chance to explore artist galleries and charming boutiques. While Cannon Beach appeases nature lovers, Seaside provides a great place to shop.
Between Seaside and Cannon Beach, you can enjoy the hiking trails in Ecola State Park.
14. Hanthorn Cannery Museum
If you’re looking for a free activity in Astoria, head to the Hanthorn Cannery Museum, which offers a glimpse into the fishing industry’s past. Located on Pier 39, the museum was a fully operational cannery.
The museum showcases the original cannery equipment and artifacts, providing insight into the daily lives of cannery workers.
It’s not just a collection of objects; the museum tells a story about the community’s relationship with the Columbia River. Interactive displays and exhibits explain the salmon canning process, from catch to can.
You’ll learn about the significance of fishing to Astoria and the technological advancements that shaped the industry. The museum is a must-visit for those interested in maritime history.
While at Pier 39, look for the sea lions who often bask on the dock. You’ll often hear them before you see them.
15. Explore The Heritage Museum
The Astoria Heritage Museum in the downtown area offers a rich tapestry of regional history. Visitors can explore exhibits showcasing the diverse cultural heritage of the area, including Native American artifacts, the impact of the fishing industry, and the significance of the Columbia River.
It highlights the immigration wave that shaped the community, particularly the influence of Finnish, Chinese, and Scandinavian settlers.
The Neo-Classical yellow building houses photographs and historical objects that tell the story of Astoria’s past.
Educational programs and interactive displays engage visitors in the local lore and the city’s evolution. It’s a venue to learn about the pivotal moments in Astoria’s development, from its founding to the present day.
You’ll also discover what movies were filmed in Astoria. If you plan to visit Flavel House and the Oregon Film Museum, you can save money by purchasing a combination ticket.
Interesting Facts About Astoria
Astoria has one sister city, which is Waldorf in Germany.
On the corner of Commercial and 14th Streets, you’ll find the John Jacob Astor Hotel, formerly the Astoria Hotel. It was the birthplace of the world’s first cable TV.
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.