One does not simply drive to Astoria and back. If you go, you’ll probably want to try the city’s many breweries—scoring a fir-infused Magnanimous IPA in the shadow of Fort George’s giant fermenters, sipping a Czech pilsner while spotting sea lions through the see-through floor at Buoy, swinging by Wet Dog, Astoria Brewing, and the newest brewery on the block, Reach Break. By then, you’ll be too pleasantly soused to drive home. So you’ll stay, run into an old neighbor at Astoria Coffeehouse & Bistro, get invited to dinner, sample the nightlife, stroll the Riverwalk by moonlight, and ponder moving here (thus fanning local fears of creeping Portlandification). Yes, a trip to Astoria can be treacherous for the daytripping romantic. But there’s an alternate trek that confines (most of) the city’s salty-dog temptations to just one brief lunchtime stop. Call it the Lower Columbia River Loop: a route that swaps traffic for tranquility, and tourist crowds for little-known towns.
Head out of Portland on Highway 30. Turn in at PGE’s Trojan Park, about three miles past St. Helens, to explore the former nuclear site. Shut down in 1993, the park is now a peaceful (and safe!) place for fishing, bird-watching, and disc golf. Now hightail it up 30 to Astoria in all its drizzly autumn glory. But this time, consider leaving town—via the four-mile-long Astoria-Megler Bridge—with time for the scenic route.
In Washington, turn right onto Lewis and Clark Trail Highway (401) and head to WA 4. From rugged Skamokawa Vista Park, head southeast to the river hamlet of Cathlamet and the 16 taps at River Mile 38 Brewing Company. Next, cross the bridge to Sauvie-esque Puget Island (population 828). On Fridays, visit Stockhouse’s Farm market, where creameries and crafters hawk wares by the veg stand (open until October 14, with a pumpkin patch in effect through Halloween).
Ready to head home? Catch a $5 ride on the last working ferry on the Lower Columbia, where the once-an-hour trip might unite kayakers, commuters, and hay trucks. From Westport, it’s an easy 70 miles to Portland. (Or, if the siren’s call is too strong, just 26 back to Astoria.)
Heading home via the Westport ferry? Treat yourself to a nightcap at long-time dive the Goble Tavern near Rainier.
Score Skamokawa Farmstead Creamery’s jalapeño chevre at Puget Island’s Friday farmer’s market (also at nearby Cathlamet Market Fresh). Cool down with a pint of Broken Hose Amber at River Mile 38 Brewing.
Overnighting on the Lower Columbia? The 90-year-old Hotel Cathlamet is pet and bike friendly. (On Puget Island, Stockhouse’s Farm rents out four-person guest cottage Rog’s Retreat.)
Just off of WA 4, admire the century-old Grays River covered bridge.
Skip Astoria and head for a beach. On the Oregon side, the rusted shipwreck of the Peter Iredale at Fort Stevens State Park offers a spooky, sandy photo op. On Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula, find stick forts and soft waves at Cape Disappointment State Park’s Waikiki Beach.