This is a love letter to Astoria, Oregon. I have fond memories of spending time in this coastal enclave growing up — regularly visiting a favorite baby sitter whose family moved down the river. In fact, she took me to see Star Wars for the first time at the Liberty Theatre (just recently renovated downtown.) I continue to explore the area on regular trips home to see family and spend time on the Oregon Coast. What was once a sleepy timber and fishing town has morphed into quite a scene of variety. Enjoy food from great farm-to-table, or “boat-to-table” restaurants, climb to spectacular views, take in the fascinating history or try your luck at salmon fishing — this article is all about my 10 favorite things to do in Astoria, Oregon.
Be sure to check out the map at the bottom of this article, with tons of details about my favorite places to stay, food and drink, museums and green spaces — and remember to save it. Also, if you’re looking for a great itinerary, check out my other article, A weekend in Astoria.
If you’re perusing through all your options, consider checking out two other articles:
Table of Contents for things to do in Astoria, Oregon
- Enjoy fresh seafood
- Visit the Astoria Column
- Cross the Astoria Bridge
- Learn about the history of Lewis and Clark
- Hunt for unique treasure — antiques, art and kitsch
- Go for a hike
- Watch the ships
- Catch a salmon in the Columbia River
- Check out a shipwreck on the beach
- Visit a museum
- Map of things to do in Astoria, Oregon
Enjoy delicious (and fresh) seafood
I’ve written before about my favorite fish and chips in the world — in my ancestral land of Donegal, Ireland — the kind that melt in your mouth. While that remains true, I have to say the food is great in this maritime city, long known for a vibrant fishery industry. There are several great eateries serving fish and chips, and Buoy Brewing is among my favorites. The harbor-side experience is a quintessential thing to do in Astoria, Oregon — devour mouth watering fresh seafood as ocean vessels float down the river and overzealous sea lions on pilings, literally right below, cry out for attention (and fish!)
Salmon — wild caught and fresh — can be found in a variety of joints, but for a special treat try Bridgewater Bistro, just a stone’s throw from the famous bridge. They serve up great cocktails and are known to have live music.
Climb the Astoria Column
John Jacob Astor, the first American millionaire, established a trading post for his fur trading empire at the end of the mighty Columbia River in 1811. He envisioned this strategic position at the gateway of the prominent river would eventually become the New York City of the West. Things were on track until the railroad terminus was built in Portland, Oregon and the Rose City grew in regional prominence.
The first permanent settlement on the West Coast, and first in Oregon (pre-dating the great migration on the Oregon Trail by 30 years), commemorated their founding in 1925 with a giant column set at the top of a steep hill — with 360-degree views that include Saddle Mountain, the Pacific coastline and massive Columbia River. When open, be sure to climb the 164 clanging metals steps to the narrow circular deck atop the famed icon. It’s also fun to buy balsa-wood airplanes at the small gift shop and fly them on the sweeping lawn below.
Drive across the Astoria Megler Bridge
One of my favorite things to do in Astoria is cross the Astoria Megler Bridge. I’m usually driving from Seattle or the Washington Coast, so the 4.1-mile engineering marvel is the foray into my home state and the Northern Oregon Coast. Make it a point to drive across the mouth of the Columbia River and take in the vastness of water and rugged beauty of the local landscape. At the end of the bridge, I like to turn right and continue a short distance to Dismal Nitch, which is part of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Area. It’s a convenient and safe place to turn around.
Let history bring to life the Lewis and Clark Expedition
Growing up in this part of Oregon, I learned a lot about the Lewis and Clark expedition in grade school. Just in case these names don’t ring a bell, Thomas Jefferson commissioned a US Military expedition, led by Captain Meriwether Lewis and Lieutenant William Clark, to explore and document the newly purchased Louisiana Purchase. The group left St. Louis, Missouri in May 1804 and finally saw the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean in November, 1805. The expedition covered over 8,000 miles of territory. The two leaders and several other participants kept copious journals that returned intact, giving historians an abundance of information to piece together the intriguing story.
The Lewis and Clark National Historical Park is a fascinating collection of five mini-museums aimed to recreate the world the explorers experienced when arriving just as a Pacific Northwest Winter was starting. The main museum and interpretive center is located at Fort Clatsop and is excellent — especially when the live exhibits are open. Watch historians dressed in the garb of the day tan elk hides and sew moccasins while answering questions ranging in topics from the role of Sacagaweja to refining ocean water to make salt. Entrance is $10 per person (16 and older) for a week visit or, like me, use the $80 annual America the Beautiful Pass (other pass options are available here).
Although this Historical Park is heavy on Lewis and Clark, primarily because they produced so much written documentation, it’s important to learn about the native people who lived and thrived in this area prior to this expedition. The Clatsop Indians inhabited this area generations before explorers started to visit the abundant land. The accounts of Lewis and Clark help piece together a world that forever changed with Euro-American expansion. Insightful information is available at several of the five installments to learn more.
Hunt for unique treasure — antiques, art, music and kitsch
One of my favorite things to do in Astoria, Oregon — especially with friends — is to wander the tight knit downtown streets looking for fun surprises. This is a treasure hunt of antiques, yarn stores, music and book shops, art galleries, Gypsy apothecary, and just plain weird curio cabinet wonders (see photo above.) Most of the fun stores are within easy walking distance of the Astor Building, which is the tallest Art Deco designed building in the downtown area.
Go for a hike — a great thing to do in Astoria, Oregon
There are endless ways to jump into nature here. A favorite urban hike of mine (and a great introduction for those new to the area) is the Astoria River Walk, which runs along the historic waterfront for 12 miles. You can cheat and also take an old-time trolley for a considerable fee of $1. The “nature” is mostly sea lions barking with a low guttural chant and river water lapping up against creosote-soaked pilings while seagulls fly above — but a great way to take in the fresh marine air and the harbor atmosphere. If energy level starts to wane, grab ice cream at Frites and Scoop. Look for the green markers on the map below, which offers many other truly evergreen options of varying difficulty levels.
Watch the ships navigate the Columbia River
The complexity of powerful currents of the Columbia River rushing into the salty Pacific Ocean is considered one of the most treacherous maritime zones in the world. As such, special river boat pilots are used to assist the large ships — carrying cargo to and from all points in the world — in order to navigate the dangerous waters to and from safer, more predictable waters. Look for bright orange jet boats that drive out to the giant ships to exchange crew members. Watch in awe as huge container ships glide underneath the tallest span of the Astoria Megler Bridge. A great place to watch this spectacle is Maritime Memorial Park (right under the bridge) or the 6th Street Viewing Platform.
Catch a salmon in the Columbia River
Fishing can be a fun way to spend time together, and I make the early morning trip out to the best fishing spots with my three brothers for a day each August. My brother Will is a licensed guide and knows all the tricks to catch Chinook Salmon (also known as King Salmon) in August and the Coho version of the species in September.
Although I’m not an early morning person, I can’t deny that experiencing the sunrise from the rocking river — miles wide — is about as inspiring as it gets. The odds are pretty good, with the right guide, that you’ll land a big fish and the adrenaline rush of reeling in a 20-ish pounder is exhilarating. Deep-sea fishing and tuna expeditions are also available in the Summer months through September and mostly depart from the Port of Ilwaco on the Washington side of the Columbia River.
For more information on a guided Salmon fishing trip, contact Will Kessi at River King Adventures: [email protected]
Check out a shipwreck on the beach
Davy Jones’ Locker is well-known in these parts as the treachery (mentioned above) involved in sailing near the mouth of the Columbia River regularly captures victims. Many a vessel have ended up at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, or, in the case of the Peter Irdale, on the sandy beach of Fort Stevens State Park. The four-masted steel-hulled ship ran ashore in October of 1906, and has remained a fixture of Oregon Coast mystique for over a hundred years. Not much is left but a skeleton of rusted steel, but one can’t help but have a deep respect for the power of the ocean after checking out this site. This part of the beach is also open to vehicles, so be careful to watch for monster trucks cruising along the harder packed sand.
About four miles North of this shipwreck location visit the South Jetty Observation Tower, which rises above the flowing seagrass on wooden steps to reveal a wide open view of the kinetic Pacific Ocean. This is a romantic place to view the setting sun while the waves crash on the rocks (and beach) below. Sunsets on the beach are a great thing to do in Astoria, Oregon.
Visiting a museum is a great thing to do in Astoria
A fun thing to do in Astoria is learn about all the cameo appearances made by this photogenic city in at least 12 feature films — most famously The Goonies, Kindergarten Cop and Free Willy (both one and two.) The Oregon Film Museum is a hoot and although very Goonies focused, offers fun information about the variety of projects showing off the idyllic quaint seafaring town, abundant with water and nature. The Flavel House, in her intricate Victorian glory, is also a great way to get into the character of turn-of-the-20th-Century Astoria.
Map of things to do in Astoria, Oregon
The map below is very comprehensive with my tried and tested favorites and covers the Greater Astoria Area — including the Washington State side of the Columbia River. Food and beverage locations, including stores, are shown in red. Blue refers to lodging options. Purple markers highlight museums, shopping or other indoor points of interest. The green markers guide you to outdoor things to do from parks to hikes to marinas for salmon fishing.