Getting Wrecked in Astoria: 28 Hours of Beer, Food, and History
If you have a taste for beer, seafood, or history, Astoria is where it’s at. About a two-hour drive from Portland sits this small fishing town, right at the mouth of the Columbia River. Large container ships frequently pass by as they make their way to port or out to sea. A chorus of sea lions can be seen sunbathing on the docks. And Victoria-era homes jut out from the steep hillsides, one of which made a brief appearance in the cult classic The Goonies, and is now a museum.
Astoria—which is usually buzzing with activity in the summer—is sleepier midwinter, making it a quiet coastal getaway for travelers looking to dodge crowds. That said, quiet does not mean boring. It’s filled with museums, state parks, antique shops, hiking and cycling trails, river- and ocean-to-table restaurants, food carts, cafes, microbreweries—plus, Fort George Brewery’s annual beer festival, which is returning on February 18 after a three-year hiatus.
I spent a jam-packed 28 hours in Astoria. Here’s where I went and what I did in this historic port town during the winter.
10 a.m. Pier 39 is the former home of Hanthorn Cannery, which produced 30,000 cases of canned salmon each year in the late 19th-century. Today, the historic cannery houses businesses such as Coffee Girl, Rogue Brewery, The Vineside wine bar, and Astoria Scuba. Coffee Girl is tucked away at the end of the pier facing the river. Customers can enjoy a cup of coffee and watch ships go by. The coffee house offers a selection of espresso, pastries, breakfast, and lunch. I tried one of its monthly drink specials: a “Roaring Twenties” latte with Irish cream and brown sugar cinnamon. You'll find a new set of specialty drinks in February, but they won’t be around for long. 100 39th St
11 a.m. At 12.8 miles, the Astoria Riverwalk spans the entire waterfront of the city, passing eateries, hotels, breweries, and museums. Trolley tracks run along the path as well. The “Old 300” trolley only operates from spring to fall for $1 per ride.
Besides the occasional cyclist or individual walking their dog, you’ll likely see wildlife on the riverwalk, including California sea lions lounging on the docks, double-crested cormorants, seagulls, and buffleheads bobbing along the river. My friend and I even spotted a juvenile bald eagle with its mottled plumage perched on a tree branch.
1 p.m. Step onto 11th and Duane St and you’ll find a playful Botjoy mural of grinning robots with the words “keep smiling” and “what brings Astoria joy?” painted by Portland-based artist Gary Hirsch. After painting his first “Bot” on the back of a domino in 2010, Hirsch started Botjoy, a global art movement dedicated to spreading “joy, courage, love, and gratitude.” Besides Astoria, Hirsch’s murals can be found in Portland, New Orleans, Boulder, and other cities.
You’ll also find a handful of food carts ranging from Surf 2 Soul’s po’boys and hush puppies to farm-to-table bowls packed with rice, beans, slaw, chipotle sour cream, cilantro pesto, and sarza at Good Bowl. (Note: some of the carts only accept cash or Venmo.)
2 p.m. What does a stolen boat have in common with one of the most dangerous bar crossings in the world? On Feb. 3, a man stole a yacht from a marina in Astoria and piloted it in the Columbia Bar. A large wave capsized the boat, tossing him overboard into 20-foot seas where he was fortunately rescued by a Coast Guard swimmer.
The Columbia Bar, located where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean, is known for its violent waves—some reaching heights of more than 40 feet—and fierce winds that pound ships making the perilous crossing. It has even garnered the nickname “The Graveyard of the Pacific” after wrecking more than 2,000 vessels since 1792.
In 2021, the Columbia River Maritime Museum opened a new exhibit featuring shipwrecks along the Oregon coast, such as the Beeswax Wreck: a Spanish galleon carrying beeswax in its cargo that wrecked on the Nehalem Spit in the late 17th-century. Besides shipwrecks, you’ll find plenty to keep you occupied at the CRMM, including an exhibit highlighting the U.S. Coast Guard and the Columbia River Bar Pilots and interactive displays like piloting a tugboat or trying your hand at sailing knots. 1792 Marine Dr
3:30 p.m. What’s better than a mid-day scoop of creamy frozen custard? The Custard King drive-in has been a fixture of Astoria since the 1950s, serving up burgers, fries, chowder, shakes, and its namesake homemade frozen custard in vanilla or chocolate flavors with your choice of toppings. 1597 Commercial St
5:30 p.m. Fort George alums David Coyne and Nathan Lampson have expanded Astoria’s thriving beer scene with a new brewery they launched in November 2022 in a former beer distribution warehouse: Obelisk Beer Company. The brewhouse is spacious with a relaxed, industrial vibe. Beers currently on tap range from a citrusy Czech-style pilsner to a velvety English oatmeal brown stout, many of which have been created in collaboration with Pacific Northwest brewers like Ex Novo Brewing and Living Haus Beer Company. 598 Bond St
6 p.m. Busu Astoria is the hidden gem of Astoria. Operating out of a window on 11th street, the restaurant serves Japanese dishes to-go. The restaurant—which opened 5 years ago—uses local ingredients and changes its menu weekly. I ordered the pink shrimp and seared scallop–topped seafood congee with fresh dulse seaweed and a blue oyster mushroom miso soup. (Hot tip: get to Busu Astoria early. It's open until it sells out—which usually happens fast.)
7:00 p.m. Astoria offers a variety of accommodations, including the Astoria Riverwalk Inn, Norblad Hotel, Hotel Elliott, and more. But I stayed at the Bowline, a luxury 40-room hotel in a converted seafood processing plant which opened July 2021. The rooms are crafted with lofty ceilings, fireplaces, soaking tubs, and, to top it off, private balconies overlooking the Columbia River. Rates can run well over $400, depending on when you visit, so an overnight stay can cost you a pretty penny.
The hotel’s Scandinavian-inspired Knot Bar was buzzing at all hours. If you’re looking for a late-night (or morning) drink, the bar’s menu has everything from a Smoking Gun—with mezcal, tequila reposado, and orange and cardamom bitters, to a grapefruit-infused Salty Dog.
Bowline is nestled on a pier—one that happens to be the sea lions’ favorite hangout. So, even when you’ve curled up to sleep in your plush king-sized bed, the sea lions are still wide awake, barking. (The hotel graciously provides ear plugs "in case of the sea lions.”) I slept the whole night through and woke up to a view of morning mist hanging over the river and sea lions popping their heads up from the water. 1 Ninth St
10 a.m. On the corner of Duane and 15th sits Blue Scorcher Bakery and Café, a local haunt that draws you in with the aroma of coffee freshly-baked pastries. The line was out the door by the time we ordered breakfast: a cardamom almond roll, a brown butter cinnamon roll, a cheese-stuffed Danish, a breakfast sandwich with chipotle mayo and a fried egg in the middle, and a CBD honey latte. Blue Scorcher is a cozy spot to sit back with a cup of joe from local roaster Astoria Coffee Company and one of the bakery’s pastries, or maybe two, or three … or four …
11 a.m. About 10 miles from Astoria—across Youngs Bay—is Fort Stevens State Park, a 4,300-acre former military installation that once guarded the mouth of the Columbia River for 84 years, from the Civil War through World War II. Today, tourists can explore its concrete artillery gun batteries, visit the historic wreck of the Peter Iredale on Clatsop Spit, hike or bike along miles of trails, or climb to the top of an observation tower looking out over the south jetty of the Columbia River.
The abandoned structures are rather eerie, particularly the isolated Battery Russell, which sits a mile south of the main fort and faces the ocean. Most of the batteries can be found at the fort’s historical site, including Battery Pratt with a life-size replica of the 6-inch rifles once used there. I spent nearly three hours at Fort Stevens, but you could spend an entire day there and still not have seen everything. (Note: in mid-January, two whales washed ashore near the Peter Iredale shipwreck. Officials have urged visitors to maintain distance from the whales.)
2 p.m. My friend and I made a brief afternoon visit to Fortune and Glory Cider Company (formerly Reveille Ciderworks): Astoria’s first hard cider manufacturer. Every batch of its hard cider is based on a blend of eight to twelve varieties of northwest apples fermented with English cider, British ale, or Belgian Saison yeast. Fortune and Glory’s menu includes English pub-style and Belgian farmhouse-style ciders. Back to Black is a blackberry cider with notes of hibiscus, blueberry flowers, and black tea; Blue Monday, an English pub cider, is made with Willamette Valley blueberries and a kick of lemon; Lemony Thicket, a tart-fruited farmhouse cider boasts raspberries and lemon zest.
There are also snacks to be had: hummus and chips finished with crumbled pistachios, a house-made cheese ball with toasted pecans, and Belgian Liège street waffles on Saturdays and Sundays. But if your stomach is calling for more, there are a number of spots nearby to grab a bite to eat. (If there’s anything I’ve learned about downtown Astoria: there’s almost always a brewery or restaurant in sight.) 1450 Exchange St
Final note from my travels: As an individual who is particularly COVID cautious, I would like to note that many of these restaurants, breweries, and cafés offer outdoor seating or takeout options if you don’t feel comfortable eating indoors.