First visited by Lewis & Clark in 1805, then permanently settled six years later by wealthy New Yorker John Jacob Astor, Astoria, Oregon has many claims to fame—America’s oldest permanent settlement west of the Rocky Mountains; the former “Salmon Canning Capital of the World” and the town is also on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “Dozen Distinctive Destinations” list. Hollywood has featured Astoria in quite a few movies, too, including Kindergarten Cop, Goonies, and Free Willy. For a small town, Astoria certainly has a large list of accolades!
You might want to begin exploring the city along its waterfront. Board “Old 300” between Basin and 39th streets and for just $1 you’ll enjoy a four-mile ride in a beautifully refurbished 1913 streetcar. A knowledgeable conductor and guide narrate the trip, so it’s a great way to learn about Astoria’s 200 years of history. Don’t be shy about asking questions! Along the route, you’ll get a good view of the Astoria-Megler Bridge, considered the longest three-span truss bridge in the world. There’s a trolley stop at the Columbia River Maritime Museum, so hop off there to take a tour.
Inside the museum, you’ll discover why the treacherous mouth of the Columbia River is often referred to as the “Graveyard of the Pacific” and also learn about the dangerous work of Columbia Bar and River Pilots. One of the most popular exhibits in the museum is a diorama of a 44-foot Coast Guard lifeboat plowing through crashing waves. It depicts a true story—the lifeboat was tossed almost completely vertical during a rescue mission and still survived, so it’s now mounted that way on permanent display. Museum admission also includes a tour of Lightship Columbia, a National Historic Landmark, docked just outside. The Lightship was once anchored five miles out to sea and served as a floating lighthouse to guide ships to safety.
For a birds-eye look at the confluence of the Columbia River and Pacific Ocean (and for panoramas of the town, the Astoria-Megler Bridge, and Lewis and Clark’s water route to Fort Clatsop) climb the 164 steps to the top of Astoria Column on Coxcomb Hill. On a clear day, you won’t be disappointed in the view from 725-feet up! The Column itself is quite unique and was decorated in 1926 using a “sgraffito” technique (carving through colored layers of plaster) by Italian artist Attilo Pusterla. His depictions of Pacific Northwest history spiral from the bottom to the top of the Column.
Once back down at sea level, there are plenty of museums and Victorian homes to admire, including the 1886 Queen Anne Flavel House—former home of river pilot Captain George Flavel, now serving as a museum. The house is two and a half stories tall, covers 11,600 square feet, and takes up an entire city block. In fact, Astoria boasts more buildings on the National Historic Register per square foot than anywhere else in Oregon. Those accolades just keep coming!
Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce
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In addition to writing about her travels, Denise Seith is also a treasure hunter and loves a good latté. She and her husband own an online gold prospecting and metal detecting equipment store found at GoldRushTradingPost.com