Astoria, Oregon

With a wave of your hand, you can flag down a trolley and hop aboard. It helps if you have a dollar bill in your hand! For the princely sum of one dollar, you can board the historic Astoria Trolley, the “Old 300,” and ride the three mile trek along the scenic Astoria waterfront.  If you want to splurge – plop down two dollars and you can ride all day long!

The restored 1913 trolley rides the rails with its shining red and green paint and polished wood along the water-level tracks skirting the edge between the piers and the heart of downtown. With several covered trolley stops along the way, it is easy to hop on and off if you want to get off and explore. The route takes you from one end of Astoria to the other where you can hop off and explore the downtown with its old Victorian feel and many restaurants, taprooms, and shops along the way, or just stay on board and enjoy the ride. The 40-seat vintage trolley’s average round trip ride is about one hour long, using the same track going in both directions. Enthusiastic conductors provide a narration that will tell the story of the Astoria waterfront and the city’s history as you ride – so you just might want to stay aboard and hear the story! It is well worth the fare.

astoria trolley interior
Photo by David Wilson/Flickr

“Clang clang clang went the trolley, ding ding ding went the bell”

The old bell rings as it travels down the Astoria waterfront. If you ask, you just might be able to ring it yourself! Originally built in St. Louis, MO for a company in Texas, the trolley made its way to Astoria in 1999 to be restored and is now operated and maintained by a dedicated group of volunteers. There is something special about traveling by rail that brings an air of romance and nostalgia, whether via steam engine or trolley. The volunteers’ love of history is infectious as they tell stories of life in the early, hard-working days of the city. Stories you might hear include when the city caught fire (more than once), ships that have capsized in the turbulent waters at the mouth of the Columbia (more than once), or well-known movies filmed in the area (more than one!).

Astoria, Oregon sits at the northwest tip of the state, where the mighty Columbia River finally meets the Pacific Ocean. The city is surrounded by water on three sides, and a protected watershed forest on the other, leaving the city with no room to enlarge. This is to the benefit of most residents who like it that way and has helped keep the city true to its original character and filled with old-world charm. Although it is on the water, don’t expect to find the same sandy beaches Oregon’s coast is famous for. This is a port town, not a beach front. That gives the city a unique feel and a unique history.

astoria by ken ratcliff
Photo by Ken Ratcliff

From the trolley you can look over and see Washington on the other side of the river and you will travel underneath the enormous Astoria-Megler Bridge only built in 1966 that connects the two states. The area has long been a lure for travelers and explorers ever since those days of Lewis and Clark taking up camp in nearby Fort Clatsop for the winter. The British and Americans were determined to have this area rich in salmon, timber, furs, and land they felt were up for grabs. It wasn’t too long before the prime location on the edge of the Pacific was settled and homes sprang up the hillside overlooking the piers now lining the waterfront. The Victorian feel of the city is evident in the architecture throughout downtown and in the elegant homes lining the hillside. The cohesive feel, no doubt due to the fact the city was mostly rebuilt at the same time following a fire.

A railroad was built that paralleled the waterfront not for pleasure purposes, but to service the industry that lined this working city.  Businesses hired many Scandinavian immigrant workers familiar with the fishing industry to come work in the new canning industry. Locally caught salmon could be canned and shipped across the world. When several canneries joined forces, they created the now familiar Bumble Bee brand canned seafood. Most canneries are now gone, and you are more likely to see pilot boats guiding huge cargo ships heading out to sea or cruise lines visiting this still active port town. It wasn’t until 1999 that a trolley was in use for pleasure purposes.

vintage columbia river label

The trolley runs seasonally and uses time between Christmas and Memorial Day for maintenance. In the height of summer, the trolley can be fairly busy, but with a new tour starting every hour, you should have no problem finding a seat. If you have to wait for the next tour, it is only an opportunity to explore more of  the many shops and restaurants nearby, or enjoy the view of the busy waterway. You just might see sea lions keeping an eye on the fishermen unloading their daily catch, a Helicopter delivering a pilot captain on board a cargo ship, or seabirds riding the breeze. The trolley has several stop shelters along the route along the riverfront between Basin Street (near the Astoria Riverwalk Inn) and 39th Street. The trolley is equipped with GPS, so you can check their website at to find out exactly where the train is along its route.  Or you can, of course, just wave a dollar bill in the air…


Visit Astoria on one of these scenic cruises to the Northwest:

Columbia & Snake Rivers Cruise-American Song

Portland to Clarkston

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