10 Fun Things to Do in Astoria, Oregon

10 fun things to do in Astoria will lead you through town, take you for a trolley ride, and refresh you when you need to take a break.

Being active in Astoria, Oregon, is easy. Stroll the 6-mile Riverwalk along the historic waterfront. Climb a massive column for a stellar view. And when you're ready, a place to taste beer and devour a wood-fired pizza. Astoria will definitely keep you busy. Our 10 fun things to do in Astoria, Oregon will lead you through town, take you for a trolley ride, and refresh you when you need to take a break.

Astoria, Oregon History

Astoria’s history is fascinating. Home to Chinook and Clatsop Indians for thousands of years, the mouth of the Columbia River was rich with salmon fishing, berry-picking, and hunting. The area served as a trade route with other tribes.

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Although explorers Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery stayed nearby during the harsh winter of 1805-1806, the town of Astoria was actually established in 1811 when the crew aboard John Jacob Astor's ship, the Tonquin, staked their claim and established a fur-trading post. Astoria originally called Fort George under the British, became the first permanent U.S. settlement west of the Rocky Mountains.

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Things to Do in Astoria

Artifacts from Astoria's fur-trading days can be seen at the maritime museum. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

Through the years, the town attracted immigrants from Nordic countries drawn to fishing. A large number of Chinese (22 percent of Astoria’s population at one point) came to work in the fish canneries. Astoria grew into a major port city and was part of the Oregon Territory and then became part of the State of Oregon in 1876.

Fun Things to Do in Astoria

Many of the fun things to do in Astoria relate to this rich history of the mouth of the Columbia River and the development of the Pacific Northwest.

Explore the Columbia River Maritime Museum

The Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria is one of the main attractions for visitors. The museum is vast—with full-sized vessels, hands-on exhibits, and artifacts telling the Pacific Northwest maritime stories of the past and today. If you want to know about the dangers of the Columbia River Bar and the brave Bar Pilots who guide ships across it on almost a daily basis, this is the place to come. If you are a fan of WWII history, the maritime museum has the bridge of the Destroyer USS Knapp. It features specialty displays about little-known aspects of WWII life.

Add in stories and displays of the local fishing industry, exciting explanations of Columbia River weather patterns, and a well-stocked bookstore and gift shop, and you'll know why this museum is number one on my “to-do” list.  Soon to open is an exhibit about shipwrecks of the area. There have been plenty of them at the mouth of the Columbia River over the years. The Columbia River Maritime Museum is open daily, 9:30 am – 5:00 pm​​ and there is an entry fee.

 

Maritime Museum

Inside the museum this U.S. Coast Guard Motor Lifeboat is shown in action climbing a 20-foot wave, attempting a daring rescue. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

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Have a Brew and Pizza at Fort George Brewery

Known for wood-fired pizza and brews with names like Atomic Juke Box and Vortex IPA, Fort George Brewery is an ideal place to rest after an active day in Astoria. Eating here is one of my favorite fun things to do in Astoria.

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You can also enjoy cider, soft drinks, and wine with your pizza or salad. Fort George was named after King George III while the Astoria area was under temporary British Authority during the war of 1812. Fort George Brewery has grown from a single Astoria brewpub to a city block filled with restaurants, tasting rooms, breweries, community spaces, and music venues. There is a street-level patio and upper deck that welcomes your furry friends and plenty of indoor seating. Even so, I recommend you make a reservation. Fort George is about a block up from the river and because it is located in the two-story 1920's Lovell Auto Company building, you can enjoy some great Columbia River views.

Fort George Brewery

Right at the Fork to enjoy brews, sunshine, and pizza. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

Cruise the River and Port

Columbia River Eco Tours, aboard their 40-foot Tollycraft Yacht, departs from the West Mooring Basin west of the Astoria-Megler Bridge, takes you under this magnificent bridge, and continues along the waterfront to get a view of the buildings including the restored Bumble Bee Seafood Cannery, now a museum.

The tour will take you close to both docked and anchored ships to get a good view and continues up the estuary to the Lewis & Clark National Wildlife Refuge. On the tour, you'll often see eagles at the Twilight Creek Eagle Sanctuary as well as nesting osprey, great blue herons, and migrating birds. The yacht has both indoor and outdoor seating and restroom facilities. Public tours are available by reservation at $150 per person.

Columbia River Eco Tours

Get up close to the ships, go birding, and see Astoria from the river by taking a motor yacht cruise. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

Taste Spirits at the Pilot House Distillery

As I wandered Astoria's historic downtown one day, I saw a sign advertising Pilot House Distilling on Duane Street. I entered the tasting room, filled with Astoria memorabilia and bottles of locally distilled spirits as well as a window where you can see the distillery. Pilot House Distilling, established in 2013, produces small batches of vodkas, gins, whiskies, agave spirits, canned cocktails, and other specialty items. They offer tastings of their award-winning spirits as well as bottle sales seven days a week. I was surprised to find out that they distill Absinthe and import agave from Mexico to make their own Agave spirits. A flight of your choice of 3 tastes is $10 and the special high-proof herbal liquor, Columbia Absinthe Verte, costs $10 per taste.

Pilot House Distilling

Some of the award-winning spirits on hand at Pilot House Distilling in Astoria. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

 

Ride the Astoria Riverfront Trolley

The Astoria Trolley takes you from the Astoria Red Lion Inn all the way past the Columbia River Maritime Museum to Pier 39. The narrated round trip is about an hour. This 1913 trolley, on loan from the San Antonio Museum Association, runs on old freight railroad tracks.  In season, the trolley operates daily from 12 noon to 6 pm. The fare is $1 for a round trip or $2 for all-day (hop on and hop off). (Note: Check website for seasonal hours and days which may change due to volunteer availability)

Astoria Trolley

The Great Columbia Crossing is a fun event when cars are not allowed on the bridge. Photo courtesy Great Columbia Crossing

Climb the Astoria Column

Visible from most areas of Astoria, high upon Coxcomb Hill, is the 125-foot-tall monument dedicated by the Great Northern Railway in 1926. The Astoria Column is decorated with artwork depicting three historic events: the discovery of the Columbia River by Captain Robert Gray, the end of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and the arrival of the ship Astor’s ship, Tonquin.

Astoria Column

You can climb the Astoria Column for an expansive view of the Columbia River and Astoria. Photo Courtesy Don Frank AWCC

But the fun part is that you can climb the spiral staircase all the way to the top of the column to enjoy a view of the Columbia River and Astoria. It will take you about a half-hour to climb the 164 steps to the observation tower. The tower is open from dawn to dusk but may close due to weather or other unforeseen circumstances. There is no charge to go into the tower, but parking at the 30-acre city park is $5.00.

Trek Across the Astoria-Megler Bridge

Annually, you can lace up your walking or running shoes and hoof it across the 4-mile Astoria-Megler Bridge during the Great Columbia Crossing. This 10K event will take you across North America’s longest continuous truss bridge, opened in 1966. The scenery is amazing and the mostly flat (and car-free) course will surprise you with quite a climb at the peak of the bridge, high enough to allow huge freighters to pass underneath on their journey to the sea. This is the only time of the year when pedestrians can enjoy the bridge and the views of the mouth of the Columbia River.

To Do in Astoria

The Great Columbia Crossing is a fun event when cars are not allowed on the bridge. Photo courtesy Great Columbia Crossing

Walk the Riverwalk

Any day of the year, you can enjoy the sights and sounds of Astoria’s historic waterfront as you walk the 6.4-mile Riverwalk. The walkway follows part of the Astoria & Columbia River Railroad. Park along the east portion at the Columbia River Maritime Museum, at the east end at Lagoon Road, or at the west trailhead at Pier 3 at the Port of Astoria. Take a moment to look at the huge ships, enjoy a close-up view of the Astoria-Megler Bridge, and visit the Maritime Memorial.

Astoria Riverwalk

As you walk the Riverwalk, you can learn more about Astoria's history. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

As you walk along on this flat trail, you can stop and learn about Astoria history at the interpretive kiosks, see the river pilot boats and headquarters, stop for ice cream or a meal, and do some birding. We had a fun and delicious American breakfast at a local hole in the wall, the Riverwalk Café, visible from the walk at Pier 11. If you get tired, just hop aboard the seasonal Astoria Trolley that runs on tracks part of the way. It provides a historical narrative of the area.

Visit Astoria’s Goonies Sites

Two must-see museums were actually featured in the cult movie, Goonies. The first is behind the Clatsop County Courthouse. The old 1914 county jail was featured in the jailbreak and chase scene in Goonies. In fact, right out in front, is parked the black Jeep Cherokee complete with fake bullet holes that was used in the movie. The jail is now the Oregon Film Museum, featuring films shot in Oregon as well as TV shows with Oregon scenes. Admission to the museum is $6 for adults and includes a bar-coded set pass. Scan the bar and you can video yourself in three film settings, from Twilight, Goonies, and The Shining.

Clatsop County Jail

The old Clatsop County Jail is now the Oregon Film Museum. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

The second is the Flavel House, an elaborate Queen Anne Victorian home of Captain George Flavel and his family. The mansion survived the 1922 fire which destroyed much of Astoria’s downtown. This was the retirement home of Captain George Flavel, who had it built from 1884-1886. Captain Flavel was a successful Astoria entrepreneur and one of the first licensed Columbia River Bar Pilots, those daring mariners who pilot ships across the dangerous bar at the mouth of the Columbia. You can visit the house. There is a 15-minute movie in the carriage house/gift shop and then the tour of the home is self-guided. Docents are on hand to answer questions. There is a small entry fee.

Flavel House

Captain Flavel was a licensed mariner who established the Bar Pilots and was a successful entrepreneur in Astoria. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

Sip a Cocktail and Watch the Ships

After all this walking, touring, and learning you may just want to relax for a while. At the Bowline Hotel right on the river at Ninth Street, there is a cozy-chic cocktail lounge and bistro. You can also opt for patio seating. Either inside or out, you can enjoy craft cocktails and coffee. You can also order locally sourced meals and small plates created by Executive Chef Jake Martin. It’s the place to relax, enjoy some fine food and drink and watch the ships, pilot boats, and barges go by. And, if you are lucky, you’ll spy a salmon or sturgeon jumping out of the water or a sea lion swimming by in search of its next meal. The Knot has generous hours—Monday through Sunday 8 am-11 pm.

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Martini

The Astor, a specialty martini, made with local spruce tip-infused gin, was a refreshing choice at The Knot. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

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When You Visit Astoria, Oregon

When we visited Astoria, we stayed at The Bowline Hotel, right on the river. Many of the activities on this list can be done within walking distance of the hotel. To reach Astoria, from out of the area, fly into  Portland International Airport (PDX). It's less than a two-hour drive via I-5 N and US-30 W from the airport. Astoria is very close to additional attractions including the Oregon Coast and the Long Beach Peninsula of Washington (just across the bridge).

When you visit the area, you'll find that the weather can be cold and damp, surprisingly sunny, or foggy in the morning and sunny in the afternoon. So, bring layers including a waterproof outer jacket. These 10 fun things to do in Astoria, Oregon will be best enjoyed with outdoor clothing and a good pair of walking shoes.

10 Fun Things to Do in Astoria, Oregon

Written by Elizabeth Rose

Elizabeth Rose is back again in the Phoenix area after more than a decade living in New Mexico and Washington state. She travels throughout the West and beyond writing about destinations, accommodations, festivals, and restaurants, especially farm to table cuisine. As an expert in cultural tourism, her writing reflects that passion. She has won awards for her photography and accompanies her articles with her own images. She also provides photos for magazine covers, web sites and magazine articles (both print and online).

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