Plenty of people make the mistake of driving through Astoria en route to the kitsch of Seaside or Long Beach. They don’t bother to stop at any of the town’s quality restaurants or for a walk along the waterfront, opting instead to see the town through a rain-soaked windshield.
Those folks are missing out. The coastal community which is actually a few miles inland, rewards those willing to stop and explore. Here, in my opinion and in no particular order, are 10 (of admittedly many) reasons to love the community.
10. Coffee Girl and Pier 39
Astoria is one of the rainiest communities in the country, but Coffee Girl on Pier 39 offers a nice respite on sunny days, when the Columbia River is an electric shade of blue. If the weather is decent, grab a drink and head out to the edge of Pier 39. With nothing but a fence between you and the river below, it’s a solitary experience unlike any other in Astoria. Take a seat and spend some time listening to the nearby sea lions, observing the cargo ships, and watching the fog roll in off the coast.
While you’re on the pier, take a quick jaunt through the free Bumble Bee Cannery Museum, which gives an overview of canning in Astoria. The town’s history is tied to the rise and fall of the canning industry on the Oregon and Washington coasts, so the museum provides an essential slice of local history. It’s housed in three converted freezer bays, where 100 years ago, thousands of cans of fish were processed every day.
09. Astoria Sunday Market
The Astoria Sunday Market shuts down three blocks of 12th Avenue each Sunday between May and October, where more than 100 artists, farmers, florists, chefs, and crafters come together to sell their wares. Good luck getting through without finding something you never knew you needed.
08. Lovell Taproom at Fort George Brewery
Sure, you could wait for a table in the restaurant at Fort George. But you owe it to yourself to skip the Saturday night swarm and duck into the Lovell Taproom, just next door, where you can order both great beers and filling food. After a pint or two, try your hand at foosball, shuffleboard, or cornhole in the main brewing room.
If you time it right, take a brewery tour at 1 or 4 p.m. Saturday or Sunday. Chris, the co-owner, will lead you through the rapidly-growing brewery’s operations while discussing the company’s background and sharing a little Astoria lore.
07. The working waterfront
It’s possible to walk from one end of town to the other, all without straying more than 10 feet from the Columbia River. And you should certainly try it one sunny Saturday, because Astoria’s waterfront is so much more than a tourist attraction. You’ll pass restaurants, condos, hotels, a maritime fueling station, shops, a fish processing plant, stray cats, a grocery store, and more. It’s a beautiful walk, but it’s also an up-close look at Astoria’s vibrancy and connection to the Columbia.
06. History — everywhere
Astorians have a deep affinity for their town’s history and are eager to share. It might be the decades-old pilings that still protrude from the river. It might be a fascinating museum. It might be one of interpretive panels along the waterfront. Or it might be a story about the history of the building where you’re eating dinner, as told by your waitress. Wherever you go, you’re bound to find a glimpse into the town’s past.
05. The sea lions at the 37th Street mooring
If you can watch the resident sea lions lazing about and barking wildly without cracking even the slightest smile, then you someone didn’t hug you enough as a child, and I feel sorry for you. Pair this with some time at Coffee Girl for a relaxing morning.
04. Columbia River Maritime Museum
The mouth of the Columbia River has long been a treacherous passage for mariners, and hundreds have died trying to navigate the difficult trek. The Columbia River Maritime Museum explores that troubled history. But it also examines Astoria’s connection to the fishing and canning industries, as well as the search-and-rescue efforts that are all too common in the regional waters. It’s a fascinating distillation of Astoria’s connection to the river.
03. Bowpicker Fish and Chips
Astoria’s foray into the food
cart boat scene serves up one dish: beer-battered, fried Albacore tuna and French fries. But you really won’t want anything else after a few bites. The fillets at Bowpicker are flaky, filling, and never greasy; find a picnic table on the waterfront — just across the street! — and enjoy a perfect Astoria lunch.
02. The burgeoning Astoria beer scene
For such a small community, Astoria has an outsized beer scene. Fort George Brewery and the Wet Dog Cafe serve up a variety of Astoria-brewed ales, and the town hosts a pair of brew festivals each year. The Pacific Northwest Brew Cup is held each September, and the Festival of Dark Arts happens each February. The ominous-sounding festival, hosted by Fort George, is a celebration of all things stout, with more than 40 stouts being served, in addition to belly-dancing, fire-eating, a live blacksmith forge, on-site tattoo artists, and Tarot card readings.
01. Astoria Column
Next time you drive through Astoria, look to the hills just south of downtown. There, protruding from the scenic hilltop, is the Astoria Column. Drive up to its base, buy a few balsa wood gliders to throw from the top, and climb the spiral staircase. It’s well worth the effort; from the top, you lord over Astoria and are accorded 360-degree views. While catching your breath, take in the sweeping sights of the Astoria-Megler Bridge, Columbia River, Pacific Ocean, Saddle Mountain, Youngs Bay, and Warrenton.
I would be remiss if I didn’t give credit to Heather of Mile73.com for introducing me to many of these cool attractions. Thanks, Heather!