Follow the Columbia River west, past the coulees of central Washington, desert farmlands of northeast Oregon and the magnificent Columbia River Gorge. Watch as it flows past the riverfronts and shipyards of Portland, cutting through two mountain ranges on its way to the coast.
There, where the mightiest river in the American west meets the largest ocean in the world, you’ll find Astoria: the oldest city in Oregon, the first American settlement west of the Rocky Mountains and, today, a standout destination in the Pacific Northwest.
Home to phenomenal craft breweries, fresh seafood restaurants, fascinating attractions and no shortage of natural beauty, Astoria is a place that requires several days – or several trips – to properly explore.
And like the Columbia River, the many facets of Astoria seem to change with the season. Under blue skies and a summer sun, the town is open and laid-back, buzzing with activity. Come winter, when rains arrive and the wind begins to howl, the community gathers at its off-season festivals and events: the Festival of Dark Arts, the FisherPoets Gathering, the Great Columbia Crossing.
The coronavirus pandemic has threatened many of the local businesses and institutions in Astoria, as it has just about everywhere else. Locals warn that the experience of visiting has recently changed – and could change further in the coming months. But with public health precautions in place, Astoria remains open for visitors.
It’s possible that some of these restaurants and attractions could soon close up, either for the season or for good. Many will surely remain. For now, these are the 20 best things to do in Astoria.
FOOD AND DRINK
1. Buoy Beer Co.
The food is good, the beer is better, but the scenery at Buoy Beer Co. steals the show. Built on the pier at the edge of the Columbia River, Astoria’s standout brew pub is easily one of the most scenic restaurants on the Oregon coast. Tall windows offer great views from inside the dining room (which is temporarily closed because of the pandemic), while standing-room seating on Buoy’s back deck lets you take in the fresh air. Show up for a late evening dinner or drink if you want to avoid the daytime crowds.
Outdoor seating and takeout only, noon-8 p.m. Thursday-Sunday; 1 8th St., Astoria; 503-325-4540.
Serving fried chunks of meaty albacore tuna out of an old gillnet boat on the sidewalk in Astoria, Bowpicker might be the most recognizable fish and chips spots on the coast – and one of the most beloved. Hours of operation can sometimes be erratic and lines are a given, but all efforts are rewarded with a good basket of fried fish.
Generally open 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday (for day-to-day closures and current hours of operation visit bowpicker.com); 1634 Duane St., Astoria; 503-791-2942.
3. Fort George Brewery
King of dark beers (and home of some excellent IPAs), Fort George Brewery is a mainstay both in Oregon’s beer scene and Astoria’s dining scene. The laid-back brewpub typically serves a full menu in its downstairs space and wood-fired pizza with Columbia River views upstairs, but its offerings have been limited during the pandemic. These days, Fort George operates primarily as a takeout spot, with both pizza and beer to go.
Limited upstairs dining 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily (reservations recommended), takeout 11 a.m.-8 p.m. daily (place orders by 7 p.m.); 1483 Duane St., Astoria; 503-325-7468.
4. Blue Scorcher Bakery & Cafe
Known for its scratch-made pastries, breads, pies, and savory breakfasts and lunches, Blue Scorcher Bakery & Cafe is a standout among small town bakeries in Oregon. On the lower level of the Fort George Brewery building, the bakery is a great place to start your day in Astoria, whether you’re heading to the beach or exploring the town.
Open 8 a.m.-4 p.m. daily; 1493 Duane St., Astoria; 503-338-7473.
5. Custard King
Driving through downtown Astoria, it’s hard to miss Custard King. Under a big, neon ice cream cone, the walk-up restaurant serves up burgers, fries and, of course, custard – either in a cone, dressed up as a sundae or blended into a milkshake. Outdoor seating is less appealing in the rain, so show up on a clear day if you can.
Open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Wednesday-Monday; 1597 Commercial St., Astoria; 503-741-3433.
Best fish and chips: Bowpicker
Best beer: Matryoshka at Fort George
Honorable mention: Blaylock’s Whiskey Bar, Busu Astoria, Drina Daisy Bosnian Restaurant, Silver Salmon Grille, South Bay Wild Fish House.
6. Fort Stevens State Park
With ocean beaches, wildlife viewing areas, an enormous campground, a shipwreck and historic military batteries, Fort Stevens State Park offers something for everyone, making it a top destination for those visiting the Astoria-Warrenton area (it also topped our list of the 20 best Oregon state parks). Situated at the mouth of the Columbia River, it’s one of the most awe-inspiring and historically significant places in Oregon.
Open dawn to dusk daily; day use parking is $5 per vehicle; 1675 Peter Iredale Road, Hammond; 503-861-3170.
7. Fort to Sea Trail
One of the Oregon coast’s best long-distance day hikes, the Fort to Sea Trail runs from Fort Clatsop at the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park to the Pacific Ocean at Sunset Beach. About 6.5 miles each way, the trail passes through dense coastal forest, open farmland, over creeks and ponds and finally across sandy dunes to the ocean. Leave a car at either end to make it a one-way trek, or hike out and back for a 13-mile journey.
Open dawn to dusk, daily; $10 per person entrance fee charged at the national historical park, parking is free at Sunset Beach; 92343 Fort Clatsop Road, Astoria; 503-861-2471.
8. Youngs River Falls
Youngs River Falls has had its share of attention over the years, seen in movies including “Free Willy 2,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III” and “Benji the Hunted.” While only 54 feet tall, the waterfall can gush at the same volume as Multnomah Falls, especially impressive in the rainy season. Some overuse and litter are a bit unseemly, but it remains one of the best waterfalls in the northern part of Oregon’s Coast Range.
To reach Youngs River Falls from Astoria, take 16th Street south and turn right on Jerome Avenue, then turn left on 15th Street. Turn left on Niagara Avenue, then turn right onto 16th Street and continue onto Williamsport Road. In 1 mile, turn left onto Oregon 202, and follow it for 6.8 miles. Turn right onto Youngs River Road, and in 4 miles turn left onto Youngs River Falls Road. Look for a small parking area on your left and a sign pointing you to the short trail to the falls.
9. Cathedral Tree
The Cathedral Tree is a 300-year-old Sitka spruce, found at the end of a half-mile hike that begins in the Astoria Column parking lot. After taking in the views over Astoria and peering up at the beautiful column (the interior is currently closed due to the pandemic), dip into the woods to see one of the biggest, oldest trees on the Oregon coast.
Open dawn to 10 p.m. daily; parking is $5 per vehicle; 1 Coxcomb Drive, Astoria; find the Cathedral Tree Trailhead in the northeast corner of the Astoria Column parking lot, and follow signs on the trail pointing you to the tree.
10. Astoria Riverwalk
If you’re looking for a nice walk around Astoria, you don’t need to look far. The Astoria Riverwalk downtown runs 6.4 miles along the Columbia River from Youngs Bay to Tongue Point, with dozens of access points across from city streets and sidewalks. Follow it to the base of the Astoria-Megler Bridge at sunset for an incredible view.
Best hike: Fort to Sea Trail
Best beach: Peter Iredale Beach (Shipwreck) at Fort Stevens
11. Astoria Column
Standing at 125 feet tall, the Astoria Column offers the best views on the north Oregon coast, stretching from the Cascade Mountains in one direction to the Pacific Ocean in the other. The column is decorated with a frieze that depicts the history of white settlement in the area, which was recently restored. The interior of the column is currently closed due to the pandemic, but visitors can still see it from the ground.
Open dawn to dusk daily; parking is $5 per vehicle; 1 Coxcomb Drive, Astoria; 503-325-2963.
12. Wreck of the Peter Iredale
The Peter Iredale wrecked on the northern Oregon coast in 1906, blown ashore by strong winds as it attempted to enter the mouth of the Columbia River. The ship was sold for scrap and what wasn’t taken was left on the beach to rot, becoming Oregon’s best-known shipwreck and one of the most iconic attractions in Astoria. The shipwreck is found on the beach at Fort Stevens State Park and is easily accessible when the tide is low.
Find the shipwreck at Fort Stevens State Park, following signs to “shipwreck”; parking is $5 per vehicle.
13. Oregon Film Museum
Fans of the 1985 cult classic “The Goonies” need only look for the famous jailhouse from the opening scene of the movie. The historic building now houses the Oregon Film Museum, which contains props from “The Goonies” as well as interactive movie sets that allow visitors to film their own cult classics. The museum remains open during the pandemic, though there are limits on the number of people allowed in at a time, and face masks are mandatory.
Open 11 a.m.-4 p.m. daily, October to April, and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily, May to September; $5 admission for adults, $2 for kids; 732 Duane St., Astoria; 503-325-2203.
14. Columbia River Maritime Museum
The Columbia River Maritime Museum is dedicated to the history of the mighty lower Columbia River, including the people and industries that have called it home. The museum starts with the many Native American tribes that inhabited the area for thousands of years before white settlers arrived, and includes big exhibits on the booming fishing industry, as well as the challenges for ships trying to enter the mouth of the river, nicknamed the “Graveyard of the Pacific.” The museum is open to a limited capacity during the pandemic, with one-way galleries and mandatory face masks.
Open 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. daily; $14 for adults, $12 for seniors, $5 for kids; 1792 Marine Drive, Astoria; 503-325-2323.
15. Lewis and Clark National Historical Park
In 1805, the Lewis and Clark Expedition settled in at Fort Clatsop, an encampment near the mouth of the Columbia River on lands inhabited by the Clatsop people, and spent a long and restless winter. Today, that site is home to the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, which features a replica of the fort, as well as a museum and miles of hiking trails. Some indoor areas remain closed during the pandemic.
Open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily from Sept. 7 to June 19, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. from June 20 to Sept. 6; $10 per person, free for kids 15 and younger; 92343 Fort Clatsop Road, Astoria; 503-861-2471.
16. Military Batteries
History buffs will want to check out the old artillery batteries at Fort Stevens State Park at the mouth of the Columbia River, which date back to the Civil War and received enemy fire during World War II. Tour the batteries at the Historic Area of the state park, which is also home to a small military museum.
Open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily; parking is $5 per vehicle; 1675 Peter Iredale Road, Hammond; 503-861-1470.
Best photo opportunity: Wreck of the Peter Iredale
Best exhibit: Brix Maritime Hall at the Columbia River Maritime Museum
PLACES TO STAY
17. Norblad Hotel
With minimalist rooms at affordable rates, the Norblad Hotel is a great place to stay for those looking for something simple – and who don’t mind using shared bathrooms. The hotel is also within walking distance of many of Astoria’s restaurants, cafes, bars and attractions, making it a convenient home base while exploring the city. Its sister property, the Commodore Hotel, offers a similar experience.
For current rates, go to booking.com, tripadvisor.com or norbladhotel.com; 443 14th St., Astoria; 503-325-6989.
18. Fort Stevens Campground
The campground at Fort Stevens State Park is one of Oregon’s largest, boasting more than 500 campsites including RV sites, yurts, cabins and campsites for hikers and cyclists. The campground connects to hiking and bike trails that run throughout the park, with paths leading out to the beach. Between October and May, some campsites are closed to the public, and all yurts and cabins are temporarily closed due to the pandemic.
$11 to $38 for tent, RV and hiker/biker campsites; 1675 Peter Iredale Road, Hammond; 503-861-3170.
19. Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa
The luxury hotel on the pier beside the Astoria-Megler Bridge offers some of the nicest accommodations in town, from single-bed rooms with claw foot tubs to suites and a two-bedroom penthouse. The Cannery Pier Hotel also boasts a sauna and a hot tub with a view, and neighbors another establishment with great views: the Bridgewater Bistro.
For current rates and reservations, go to tripadvisor.com or cannerypierhotel.com; 10 Basin St., Astoria; 503-325-4996.
20. Local short-term rentals
Those looking for short-term rentals in Astoria have plenty of options. You can book a suite in a stately 1903 Victorian-era house in the Uppertown neighborhood ($83 a night on average), a room in a farmhouse on a remote country road ($70) or an entire shipping container converted into stylish living quarters on wooded acres ($91).
If you want to meet locals “after a hard day of fishing, pounding nails, serving meals, crafting beers and teaching kids,” as the promotion description reads, check into the century-old Workers Tavern under the steel Megler Bridge in Uniontown. After a relaxing night in the vintage studio apartment, stop for unlimited coffee and ribeye steak and eggs (breakfast is served all day) at the proudly blue-collar tavern before exploring Astoria by foot or on a riverfront trolley car. Save time in the evening to talk shop over a campfire in the tavern’s backyard beer garden.
$82 a night on average, depending on travel dates; 281 W. Marine Dr., Astoria; 503-338-7291.
Best campsite: Deluxe cabins at Fort Stevens
Best hotel deals: Norblad Hotel
Staff writer Janet Eastman contributed to this story.