Astoria established in 1811 at the mouth of the Colombia River in Northwest Oregon is the State’s oldest city and the first American settlement west of the Rockies
The first structures in what is now Astoria was a fort built by the American Fur Company. The fort was named Fort Astoria after the company’s owner John Jacob Astoria. The company soon established a monopoly in the fur trade. After the war in 1812, the assets of the fur company were sold to its Canadian rivals. In 1876 the city of Astoria was incorporated into Oregon.
Astoria became popular with immigrants attracting Nordic settlers from Sweden and Finland (most likely due to the tropical climate) and Chinese, who were largely employed in the many canneries that popped up. At one time there were over 30 canneries and the Chinese population grew to be about 22% of the total population. The other main industry was lumber. Sadly, both the fishing industry and lumber industry in Astoria died and its role as a deep water port diminished. You will still see larger container ships in the Colombia River from the shores of Astoria, but they are simply passing by on their way to ports in Washington and Portland, Oregon. The main business in Astoria today is tourism.
The shape of downtown Astoria has been shaped by fire. Originally, much of the downtown was built from wood and suspended from the marshy land on wooden pilings. A couple of traumatic fires, the largest being in 1883 put paid to all of these buildings. Today, the town is built of more traditional materials. As you walk by the waterfront in Astoria you will still see the remains of the wooden pilings.
The original downtown Astoria, Oregon was built on wooden pilings
The fire of 1883 destroyed downtown Astoria, just leaving wooden pilings as a reminder
The sun sets over the habour at Astoria, Oregon
What to do & see in Astoria?
- Astoria Water Front
- Columbia River Maritime Museum
- Astoria Column
- Flavel and Gustavus Holmes Houses
- Astoria Fort Replica
- Douglas Fir Memorial
- US Customs House
- Historic Downtown
- Oregon Film Museum
- Hanthorn Cannery Museum
Nothing makes us feel better than being by the water so we were delighted to be able to walk along the waterfront in Astoria. Luckily, where we were staying was a two-minute walk to the waterfront trail. The trail follows the disused railway line, which is now used by the Astoria River Front Trolley.
The paved trail extends nearly 6 1/2 miles along the length of the town’s waterfront. The corridor is dotted with attractions, including places to eat, drink, and learn about the maritime history in which the town is steeped.
The Columbia River Maritime Museum is home to the largest collection of maritime artefacts in the Pacific Northwest (over 20,000 pieces in all). Inside the museum, there is a lot to see in terms of exhibits, including some interesting interactive exhibits. There is also the obligatory iMax theatre.
On the outside of the museum, there are some other things to look at including the Lightship Columbia, a National Historic Landmark that once guided ships to safety at the mouth of the Columbia River. You can board the Lightship and see for yourself what living and working on board would have felt like.
The Lightship Columbia outside the Columbia River Maritime Museum
A tug boat outside the Columbia River Maritime Museum
The Astoria Column sits on Coxcomb Hill in Astoria and overlooks the mouth of the Columbia River
The Astoria Column sits high above Astoria upon Coxomb Hill. Built during 1926, the column is a monument to the natural riches of the Pacific Northwest and the people who settled there. It stands at 126ft and is covered in the most beautiful mural depicting scenes from Oregon’s history. The column is best admired from below but if you wish you can climb to the top and admire the surrounding beauty from the observation deck.
The parking is quite limited and it can get busy, especially at sunset! Parking costs $5.00 and includes entry to the column. There is also a small gift shop to pick up a souvenir or two. From the parking lot, there are trails that lead you into the forest and disappear off down the hill. If you are feeling energetic you can leave your car behind in Astoria and hike from the town to the top of Coxomb Hill.
The views across the Columbia River and the coastal hills are spectacular. If you can spare the time it is worth going up during the day and if you are lucky to be there on a sunny day (which is rather rare in the Pacific North West) then head up and watch the sunset over the Pacific Ocean – stunning!
View across the mouth of the Colombia River from Coxcomb Hill
The memorial Memorial to Chinook nation Chief Comcomly on Coxcomb Hill
There is a trail that leads from the parking lot on top of Coxcomb Hill in the woods
The Astoria Column lit by the setting sun
Sunset from Coxcomb Hill in Astoria
One of the most recognizable pieces of architecture in the whole of Astoria is the impressive Queen Anne style Flavel House, which today is a Museum. Although, sadly when we visited it was closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Still, it was nice to walk around the grounds.
Originally, the house was owned by Captain George Flavel (1823-1893), one of Astoria’s most influential citizens in the late 1800s. Captain Flavel was a noted bar pilot on the Columbia River and a prominent businessman The Captain lived here for seven years with his wife Mary Christina Boelling (1839-1928) and his two grown daughters, Nellie and Katie. The home was given to the city in 1936 and at one time they were considering knocking it down to put in a car park (really!). Luckily, the concerned citizens came to the rescue and eventually ownership was passed to the Historical Society.
The Flavel House historic home and museum
The house in the garden of the Flavel House is used as a ticket office
The fabulous gables of the Flavel’s House Queen Anne architecture
Gustavus Holmes House in Astoria, Oregon
Fort Astoria (also named Fort George) was the primary fur trading post of John Jacob Astor’s Pacific Fur Company. A maritime contingent of PFC staff was sent on board the Tonquin, while another party travelled overland from St. Louis. This land-based group later became known as the Astor Expedition. Built at the entrance of the Columbia River in 1811, Fort Astoria was the first American-owned settlement on the Pacific coast of North America.
The Fort Astoria Site was added to the list of National Historic Landmarks on November 5, 1961. It is marked by a reconstructed blockhouse.
The replica of Fort Astoria in downtown Astoria, Oregon
You could easily miss the replica of Fort Astoria
A mighty log from a Douglas fir sits in a shelter in the heart of Astoria on the corner of 7th and Commercial Streets at the corner of the Clatsop County Courthouse, across from the post office.
It’s impressive statistics measure:
- Height of Tree 231 Feet
- Diameter . . . 115 Inches
- Age . . . 624 Years
The Fir On The Corner – On the corner of 7th and Commercial Streets outside the Clatsop County Courthouse
The original customhouse in Astoria was built in late 1849 and destroyed by fire in 1852. No photographs or drawings exist of that original building today and the only known description is that it was “very neat, plain and of course pretty.” The current reconstruction, built between 1992 and 1994, is based on photographs and documents of the customhouse built-in 1852 to replace the original.
Located at 3455 Leif Erikson, Astoria, Oregon.
US Customs House in Astoria
We were blessed with some great weather during our stay in Astoria. This gave us plenty of opportunities to explore the historic downtown area. It is not a large downtown, basically made up of two parallel streets a block apart. As tourism is a major part of Astoria’s economy there are plenty of quaint shops to spend time checking out. As well as shops the town is blessed with some historic interesting buildings including the John Jacob Astor Hotel Building which is one of the tallest buildings on the Oregon coast. Now an apartment building, back in 1948, this was the place where the world’s first cable television system was set up using an antenna on the roof. Another eye-catching building is the Liberty Theatre a former vaudeville theatre that now hosts a variety of events for tourists and the community.
There are of course plenty of places to eat and drink, including three excellent breweries. More on those later.
John Jacob Astor Hotel Building
John Jacob Astor Hotel Building
The former Clatsop County Jail now houses the Oregon film museum
A commemorative sign for the making of the Goonies in the area around Astoria
The Oregon Film Museum is as it suggests a museum dedicated to films that have been made in Oregon, the most famous of which are the 1985 film ‘The Goonies’, the horror movie, ‘The Shining’, ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest’ and the ‘Twilight Trilogy’.
Housed in the old Clatsop County Jail, a working jail from 1914 through 1976, the building was an actual working set for three movies: ‘The Goonies’, ‘Short Circuit’, and ‘Come See The Paradise’.
Location 732 Duane St, Astoria, OR 97103
The fishing and cannery industries were once major businesses and employers in Astoria. These businesses have largely disappeared and the focus in Astoria has turned towards tourism.
The Hanthorn Cannery, located on Pier 39, is the oldest fish processing plant remaining on the lower Columbia River houses an extensive collection of historic equipment and documents in its museum.
Location 100 39th St, Astoria, OR 97103
Pier 39 has other things to offer beyond the Cannery Museum. There is a very nice coffee shop as well as the Rogue Pier 39 Public House, which has some amazing beer and some pretty good food. It is also a great place to watch the sunset with a beer in hand!
Day trips from Astoria
- Lewis & Clark National Monument
- Fort Stevens State Park
- Cape Disappointment State Park
- Sunset Beach and Seaside
- Cannon Beach & Ecola State Park
1. Lewis & Clark National Monument
It was not until November 1805 that the renowned explorers, Lewis and Clark first sighted the Pacific Ocean and they worked their way down the mighty Colombia River. Needing a bit of a break they decided to settle down for the winter in the woods just outside what is now Astoria on the North-Eastern tip of Oregon.
The Lewis and Clark National Monument is close to the mouth of the Columbia Rivier in North-Western Oregon and a few miles from the port city of Astoria. The main attractions here are:
Check out my full blog post on the Lewis and Clark National Monument
The canons that used to defend the entrance to the Columbia River
The view across the Columbia River from Fort Stevens State Park
Fort Stevens was once the primary military defence installation in the three-fort, Harbor Defense System at the mouth of the Columbia River (along with Forts Canby and Columbia in Washington). The fort saw service for 84 years, from the Civil War to World War II.
Throughout the year, you can enjoy displays ranging from the Civil War to World War II at the military museum and information centre, visit the only Civil War-era earthen fort on the west coast, or explore the many turn-of-the-century, concrete coast artillery gun batteries.
Location: 1675 Peter Iredale Rd, Hammond, OR 97121
Cape Disappointment is a 2,023-acre camping park on the Long Beach Peninsula, fronted by the Pacific Ocean and looking into the mouth of the Columbia River. It is blessed with two splendid lighthouses, one of which can be climbed. There are also plenty of trails and a splendid beach to enjoy.
Check out my full blog post on Cape Disappointment State Park
As you travel south from Astoria along Highway 101 there are some places worth checking out. One of these is Sunset Beach. There is no town here, it is simply a beach. This is the endpoint (or beginning) of the Fort to Coast trail which starts at the Lewis and Clark National Monument, Fort Clatsop replica fort. As the name suggests this is a fabulous place to watch the sun go down. Beware even in the middle of summer it will be chilly on the beach! Another nice thing is that you can drive your car right on to the beach.
A few miles south of Sunset Beach is the coastal town of Seaside. It is very much a traditional seaside town and very family-friendly. For us, it is not one of our favourite towns but it is great if you have kids and there is a good brewery serving tasty beer.
The beachfront promenade in Seaside
A nice art-deco building in Seaside, Oregon
Located in the most northerly reaches of Oregon, Cannon Beach is one of the most spectacular coastal areas along the Pacific Coast. The beach and sand dunes are beautiful but like all beaches in the Pacific Northwest of the USA (and most of the northern California coast), these are not your traditional beach destinations. It can be chilly even in the summer, prone to sea mist and the water is freezing! We went here in late August and needed to wear a fleece on the beach even in the middle of a sunny day. That said it is beautiful.
Our visit to the north Oregon coast coincided with the Labor Day holiday weekend and good weather so it was very, very busy. Having explored Cannon Beach we decided to head to Ecola State Park which stretches along 9 miles of coastline and offers outstanding some scenic viewpoints and hiking opportunities. Whilst, the main attraction is hiking there are plenty of other things to do, including picnicking, tide pooling, surfing and strolling along the beach.
Check out my full blog post on Cannon Beach and Ecola State Park
Getting to Astoria
Most people travel to Astoria by car. The journey is about 95 miles from Portland, Oregon which takes about 2 hours or from Seattle, Washington it about 200 miles which will be about 4 hours of driving time.
If you prefer there is a bus option from Portland using Sunset Empire Transportations, Lower Columbia Connector Route. This departs from Union Station in Portland and takes about 3 hours. The cost is $15.00
Eating and drinking in Astoria
For small-town Astoria is blessed with a lot of breweries and pubs. The Fort George Brewery and Pub is located in downtown Astoria. It has a large indoor seating and outdoors for the summer. We like our dark beers and they had a couple on tap, even in the summer when breweries tend to focus on lighter beers. Their main menu consists of a lot of pizzas which generally is not great for us as we’re vegan, but they did have vegan cheese and were able to ‘veganize’ a pizza for us.
The Buoy Beer Company brewery sits down on the Astoria waterfront. It has more of an industrial feel to it than the Fort George brewery but does offer the beauty of outdoor seating with views of the Columbia River. We tried their porter, which was very nice. Then menu again was regular fare, but the options were limited for vegans and vegetarians.
Astoria Brewing Company is the oldest micro-brewery in town. Get a flight and sample their selection of beers
Not too far from the Buoy Brewery is the Astoria Brewing Company which is Astoria oldest microbrewery. There is outside seating that has views of the Columbia River. We chose not to eat here (apart from a bowl of fries) as the vegan options again were not great. Instead, we focussed on the beers, choosing to sample the different option with a flight of tasters. I must say they were very good!
The Rogue Pub on Pier 39 is a great place to watch the sun go down
Located a couple of miles, out on Pier 39, is the Rogue Pub. The food here is really good and they do some mighty fine stouts. Probably the best thing about the pub is being able to sit outside on the deck, especially if you can get to the far west side, and watch the sunset. If there is no room you can always pop away from the pub and head down the west side of the pier and watch the sun go down.
The Blue Scorcher Cafe & Bakery is in the same building as the Fort George Brewery
As vegans, it is sometimes difficult to find somewhere suitable, especially when you are staying in small towns. The options are often limited, but it is definitely getting easier to find good options in restaurants and supermarkets. When you find somewhere that is exclusively vegan or vegetarian you hit the jackpot. We never expected to find a place that was vegan friendly, so it was a great surprise to find the Blue Scorcher Cafe Bakery in the same building as the Fort George Brewery. The only drawback was that it only opened for breakfast and lunch.
Where to stay
‘At the Helm Hotel’ is located in Ilwaco, WA just across the Columbia River from Astoria. This 5-star hotel offers room service. Guests can enjoy a meal at the restaurant or a drink at the bar and free WiFi is available.
All guest rooms at the hotel are equipped with a seating area, a flat-screen TV with cable channels and a private bathroom with a hairdryer and a bath. All rooms will provide guests with a fridge.
A room during peak summer months will cost you around $260 per night. Check price & availability at Booking.com
The Astoria Riverwalk Inn is located just 1 minutes’ walk from Port of Astoria Marina and the Riverwalk Trolley Bus, this Oregon motel features simply furnished rooms with an attached bathroom with free Wi-Fi and complimentary continental breakfast. Free guest parking is offered.
A cable TV with extended channels and tea and coffee-making facilities are found in every room at Riverwalk Inn-Astoria. All rooms include a balcony overlooking the marina and Egyptian cotton sheets. Guest rooms at this motel include views of the marina and the Astoria-Megler Bridge.
A room here in the summer will set you back about $180 per night. Check out booking.com for more information
The Norblad Hotel is a historic 90-year-old building located in Astoria, less than 5 minutes’ walk from the restaurants and shops lining the Astoria Riverwalk. Free WiFi access is available.
Certain rooms come with a private bathroom. Free toiletries are available.
At the Norblad Hotel, you will find a shared kitchen. Other facilities offered at the property include a tour desk and luggage storage.
An ensuite Queen room here in the summer will set you back about $140 per night. Check out booking.com for more information
Fort Stevens State Park
Fort Stevens has grown into a 4,300-acre park offering an exploration of history, nature, and many recreational opportunities.
Camping, beach-combing, freshwater lake swimming, trails, wildlife viewing, a historic shipwreck, and a historic military fort make Fort Stevens a uniquely diverse park. The park also has a network of nine miles of paved bicycle trails and six miles of hiking trails that allow for exploring a variety of habitats including spruce and hemlock forests, wetlands, dunes, and shore pine areas.
Coffenbury Lake has two swimming areas, a picnic area, restrooms, and a boat ramp. Two smaller neighbouring lakes are great for fishing and canoeing.
There are 176 RV sites, yurts, cabins and tent camping. Check here for reservations.
Cape Disappointment State Park
Cape Disappointment is a 2,023-acre camping park on the Long Beach Peninsula, fronted by the Pacific Ocean and looking into the mouth of the Columbia River. The park offers yurts, cabins and unique historic vacation homes to meet travellers’ diverse lodging needs.
Cape Disappointment has 137 standard campsites, 50 full-hookup sites, 18 partial-hookup sites with water and electricity, five primitive hiker/biker campsites first come first served, 14 yurts and three cabins.
You can make your reservations on the Washington State Parks here