Astoria is a quaint little Oregon city boasting historical significance and being a great place for visitors to stop by and explore. The city of nearly 10,000 is the oldest American settlement west of the Rockies and concluding point of the Lewis and Clark Trail. Located near the mouth of the mighty Columbia River, Astoria was a major deep water port for over 100 years with commercial shipping and fishing/canning as major industries. Railroads, trucking and air transport diminished the business of shipping by water. Fishing was reduced and canneries closed. Astoria faced some down years until reinventing itself as a tourist destination. The rich history, Victorian homes, Astoria Column and spruced up riverfront have pushed tourism to number one local industry. Today, Astoria is a stop for cruise ships heading toward Alaska, recreational and resort area and commands an excellent coast position.
The Clatsop County seat is situated on Highway 101 along the Pacific Coast. Portland is almost 100 miles away with US 26 connecting the 101 and I-5. Travelers coming south from Washington State will cross over the Columbia River on the 4.2 mile Astoria-Megler Bridge which was built in the 1960s. Prior, auto traffic had to use ferries. The area was first visited by white men in 1792 by Captain Robert Gray. Lewis and Clark arrived in 1805. The American Fur Company founded Fort Astoria in 1811 and named after company owner John Jacob Astor. Astoria was incorporated as a city in 1876.
The waterfront and downtown areas have been made tourist friendly with shops, eateries and museums. The main drag, Commercial Street, is like stepping back in time 50 years. A stroll along the riverwalk can be pleasant on a sunny day or perhaps a ride on the 1913 trolley traveling one end to the other. There are several points of interest. The 6th Street Viewing Dock is a fine vantage point to observe river traffic. Around 14th Street Riverpark are display panels explaining local history. The canneries are long gone but the pilings are still in the water. The shoreline has been altered as land was filled in because of the numerous fires over the years. The threat of fire was distanced from Victorian residences and this explains why the visual perspective from those house appears odd.
On the riverfront at 17th Street and Marine drive is the Columbia River Maritime Museum. This superb museum was founded in 1962 and its extensive collections are now housed in a new and large glass building. Following introductory films in the auditorium, visitors are free to explore six galleries and the Great Hall which opens up to a magnificent view of the river. On display are actual boats including a Coast Guard rescue boat posed in dramatic fashion. The museum is a terrific place to bring children to as they will enjoy interactive exhibits like climbing aboard a tug boat and manning a destroyer bridge.
The museum covers all historical aspects of the river from early exploration to contemporary times. Commerce, fishing and other industries are covered as well as a Naval history gallery. The variety and number of memorabilia is vast and includes donated objects found washed ashore including old cannon. Visitors should allow plenty of time to take in all the information that provides a thorough understanding of the importance of the Columbia and beyond into the Pacific.
Admission to the museum also gains access to the Lightship Columbia moored outside in the water. The sea meeting the river plus rough weather made the area legendarily dangerous for sea craft and there was no practical spot to construct a permanent lighthouse. From 1892 to 1979, a lightship or floating lighthouse was anchored five miles offshore guarding the river mouth. The Columbia was the last ship (1951-79) employed and visitors can now board and explore the cramped quarters 17 men once occupied for weeks at a time. Stairs and passages can be tight and narrow below decks and visitors can see where crews lived, ate, worked and slept.
Standing on a hill and looming over the city is the Astoria Column and visiting the landmark and city symbol is a must. Dedicated in 1926, the column rises 125 feet from Coxcomb Hill in a 30-acre park and was the last of 12 historical markers constructed between St. Paul, MN and Astoria. The exterior is a unique artwork of 22 murals depicting events in local history and paying tribute to pioneers and explorers. Going to the top of the column is not for everyone because it means 164 steps up a winding and narrow stairway. The effort is worth it since the views are spectacular.
Astoria has long been a favorite movie location and the Oregon Film Museum is housed in the former Clatsop County jail (1914-76). Among the many movies filmed in the area are “Free Willy,” “Kindergarten Cop,” “Come See the Paradise” and most famously, “The Goonies.” In fact, “The Goonies” had scenes filmed at the jail and the town made a major event of its 25th anniversary. There really is not much to see in the museum but the building itself is a fascinating old structure. Located across the street from the jail is Flavel House Museum. Astoria retains many of its vintage houses and Flavel House is a beautifully preserved Victorian home. The 1886 Queen Anne structure was built by a sea captain and once commanded a great river view when the shoreline was closer. After admiring the outside architecture, visitors can tour the interior in all its restored grandeur.
Exhibits and displays concerning Clatsop County history can be found in the Heritage Museum which is inside the former city hall built in 1904. A very kid friendly destination is the Uppertown Firefighters Museum with Astoria Children’s Museum on the second floor. The museum is filled with fire fighting memorabilia including horse drawn and mechanized fire engines.
Travelling west on Marine Drive (Highway 101), visitors leave Astoria by crossing over the Youngs Bay Bridge to the adjacent communities of Warrenton and Hammond. There are more hotels, eateries, shopping and water excursions available. Astoria Regional Airport is located in Warrenton. Fort Clatsop National Memorial and Lewis and Clark National Historic Park mark the conclusion of the explorers’ famed 2000-mile expedition. They arrived Christmas Eve 1805 and built a stockade.
Over in Hammond is Fort Stevens State Park Historical Site and Military Museum located at the mouth of the Columbia and extends down the Pacific shoreline. Visitors can take advantage of the bike and pedestrian trail. The northern tip of the park thrusts into the clash of ocean meeting river and the South Jetty viewing platform provides excellent scenic views. There are gun batteries and the Peter Irondale shipwreck to look at.
The Oregon coast is renown for its rugged beauty and attractions from Washington to California borders. Astoria serves as ideal starting or exit points.