Don’t waste a minute of the time you have in this charming maritime town on the Columbia

Story and photos by Dawn Woolcott


Overnight your cruise ship docked in Astoria. Don’t miss this special time first thing in the morning and get up early to head top deck before breakfast. You won’t want to miss the changing skyline as you awaken in Astoria. The town is perched on the edge of a hill overlooking the Columbia River where it is almost at its widest point. Close by, you can’t miss the Megler Bridge spanning the water as it connects Oregon and Washington – often seemingly disappearing into the fog.

astoria megler bridge in fog
Photo by Dawn Woolcott

Stepping onto the top deck of the cruise ship, you might have the chance to see more dramatic clouds or fog rolling on the river and up to the hills around this maritime town. The sound of sea lions barking off in the distance makes for an unusual alarm clock. But the early birds catch the worm, so they say, and you might have a chance to see a bald eagle swooping down low to the water to catch her breakfast.

columbia river maritime museum overlooked by homes on hill in astoria oregon

After your breakfast, it is time to head into town and see the many different sights Astoria has to offer you. One of the first sights you’ll see is the Columbia Maritime Museum, as the river cruise ships dock right outside their door.  The Columbia Maritime Museum has plenty to keep anyone who loves maritime life busy. Inside you’ll find full sized boats on display complete with rigging as if just swept in from the docks. One small fishing boat in particular truly was swept ashore. The “Tsunami” boat was found on the shoreline of Washington’s nearby Long Beach Peninsula in 2013 after being pulled away from the shores of Japan following the 2011 magnitude 9.0 earthquake and resulting tsunami. The little boat  is just one of the many boats that have found their way across the Pacific Ocean, some with hitchhiking fish inside. The fish native to Japan could not be returned to the ocean, and are living the rest of their days in the relative safety at the Oregon Coast Aquarium.

After leaving the Maritime Museum, stroll down the boardwalk along the waterfront that parallels the trolley tracks. As you head west, you’ll find a variety of old weathered warehouses and buildings – many former canneries, but now the home of breweries, restaurants, and ice cream parlors. While enjoying lunch or a local craft beer, you’ll have a great view overlooking the river where you’ll see massive ocean going barges heading in from and out to the Pacific, delivering goods to and from the busy ports upriver. They are often seen apparently just sitting in place, but are usually just awaiting their line for a pilot crew to come aboard and help guide them safely through the treacherous entry to the Pacific. The confluence of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean has earned its nickname “The Graveyard of the Pacific” over the centuries. Watch an interesting short video about pilot boats and their history on Oregon Public Broadcasting.

astoria waterfront in spring
astoria oregon foggy morning
Photo by Dawn Woolcott
the Flavel House Astoria Oregon

Not far away If you love old homes and beautiful Victorian architecture, visit the Flavel Historic Home Museum located right in downtown. Once the home of one of the wealthiest families in Astoria, the gracious home has enough pocket doors, elegant furnishings, and period clothing for any history buff. The beautifully preserved rooms give you a real feel for how the family lived and who lived in each room. It is displayed so beautifully, you’ll feel as if the family has just headed off to church and will return at any moment.

Just across the street from the Flavel House is the Oregon Film Museum. This small museum celebrates the many movies and television shows filmed around the area. An impressive array of family friendly movies have been filmed here including “The Goonies” where you can visit their house at the other end of town, “Benji, the Hunted,” “Kindergarten Cop,”  “Short Circuit,” and “Free Willy,” to name just a few. Housed in the old Clatsop County Jail, inside you can even make your own short movie utilizing their sets and green screens. Inside you may finally learn just what does a “gaffer” or a “best boy” do and why do they get film credits?

Just east of downtown you’ll find the Astoria Uppertown Firefighter’s Museum which contains amazing photographs of the great fire that destroyed most of the downtown within just 4 hours in 1922.

After all these museums, it must be time for lunch?  You can head back to the ship for lunch, or choose to stay downtown. A few recommendations include a quick and fast but super-fresh fish-n-chips at Bowpicker Fish-n-Chips food cart just across the street from the Maritime Museum; the Pacific Northwest’s favorite is Mo’s Clam Chowder and they have a restaurant right on the waterfront which is pretty NW casual; Buoy Beer offers a fun glass floor from which you can watch for resident sea lions who like to hang out underneath their pier; Fort George Brewery and Public House is a welcoming and tasty place to stop for lunch and try a local craft beer; and downtown you’ll enjoy the variety and big portions at T-Paul’s Supper Club; or if it’s happy hour time, try the elegant Carruther’s Restaurant and sit by their massive fireplace mantel.

While you’re downtown, you’ll enjoy plenty of shops to explore. If you love finding unique items for your home, you’ll love shopping at FinnWare, a Scandinavian inspired home store celebrating Astoria’s Nordic heritage. Fruffels offers more French style with an emphasis on cooking, while Forsythea Home has beautiful items for home and garden. There are plenty of independently owned shops along Commercial street to keep any shopper happy!

Carruthers Restaurant in Astoria Oregon
astoria colorful trash cans

While exploring downtown, make sure to look up and admire the architecture – especially the beautiful theater. You’ll also find fading murals painted on the old warehouses; and even the city’s street numbers are elegant. You’ll find colorful humor in the printed trash cans found downtown covered with the unique and colorful old labels paying homage to the popular fish canneries of the city’s history.

By now it will be time to head back to the ship for dinner and some relaxation. There is so much to see and do while docked in Astoria. Whether you choose to enjoy one of the excursions provided, or do your own walking tour, you’ll love your trip to Astoria

astoria oregon on columbia river blue skies pier

Visit Astoria for yourself on a Columbia River Cruise:

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Portland, OR to Clarkston, WA

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