Oregon Coast Guide: X Marks the Spot for History Buffs

Port of Call: Astoria

By Martin Patail May 20, 2011 Published in the June 2011 issue of Portland Monthly


Columbia River Maritime Museum


Built on the original pilings of the Union Fish Cannery (established in 1897), this lavish hotel marries turn-of-the century charm with modern comfort. Historic photographs festoon the lobby walls while floor-to-ceiling windows practically put you in the Columbia River and on the passing freighters. Come evening, local historians, bar pilots, and prominent Astorians regale guests with tales from the city’s industrial past.

THE PILOT HOUSE; from $495
The three-bedroom Pilot House sits on Astoria’s Pier 14 and blends luxury with grit. The 107-year-old pier still houses a working pilot station that’s on the National Register of Historic Places, where river pilots wait to guide passing ships through the Columbia’s treacherous shallows. Luxe amenities include jetted tubs and a gourmet kitchen. And surrounded by water on three sides, the Pilot House remains a spellbinding post to enjoy the stormy river.


Hip, bright, and erected next to the site of the original Fort of Astoria, Blue Scorcher serves toothsome pastries, breads, and cakes using vegetarian and local ingredients. Don’t miss the freshly baked cinnamon rolls or the famous house-spiced chai. Or, if your Fort Stevens hike has left you famished, try the French toast, made from inch-thick slabs of challah bread and doused with syrup and seasonal-fruit jam.

04 072 eatdrink fish chips lhi2t8

Image: Mary Saunders

The white-bearded, endearingly surly owner Uriah Hulsey has been running this eccentric lunch counter for 31 years, creating a can’t-miss Astorian destination with his unexpected mix of fresh crêpes, just-off-the-boat seafood, and shockingly spicy vegetarian fare.

Arguably the best fish and chips this side of the Thames, Astoria’s only food cart, located directly across from the Columbia River Maritime Museum, serves up steaming heaps of beer-battered albacore tuna and steak-cut fries from a converted gillnet boat.


Astoria turns 200 this year, and for anyone who wants to understand the city’s deep connection with the cold waters at its edge, this museum is a must-do. Here, the ocean’s timeless danger and romance are juxtaposed against the radical evolution of seafaring technology since the 19th century. Beautifully crafted exhibits drop you in the middle of the aquatic action, including creaky, deep-sea fishing vessels, giant commercial tankers, and a dramatic Coast Guard rescue.

Wreckage peter iredale at fort stevens state park qr1odl

Wreck of the Peter Iredale at Fort Stevens State Park

Image: Fort Stevens

From the 19th century through World War II, the Columbia River’s deep reach into the country’s interior made it a no-brainer target for potential invaders. As such, the waterway was heavily fortified and vigorously defended from Fort Stevens. Now a serene 4,200-acre park, this erstwhile stronghold guarding the mouth of the river is still littered with barracks, bunkers, and gun batteries, all evidence of its martial past.

The city’s history may stretch back for centuries, but in some circles Astoria’s biggest claim to fame is serving as the setting for The Goonies. Housed in the jail used in the film’s opening scene, this museum is an altar for Gooniephiles, with props, original scripts, and memorabilia. Some of the city’s other cinematic achievements, such as Kindergarten Cop and Free Willy, are also chronicled here.

Standing high on a hill overlooking the city, this colorful, 125-foot column was erected in 1926 to commemorate the history of westward expansion. It’s adorned with 14 murals depicting great moments in pioneer history, such as the discovery of the Columbia River in 1792. Climb to the top of the column’s winding steel staircase for breathtaking views of the river and the town below, and a prime spot for your own modern-day reflections.

Filed under
Show Comments