For too long, we overlooked Astoria, Oregon for its flashier coastal cousin Cannon Beach. After depleting our travel fund and finally scoring a yurt at Fort Stevens State Park, we opted to spend an economical weekend exploring this Victorian seaport town, and we can’t wait to go back.
Astoria is located in the northwest corner of Oregon where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean. At only three hours by car from Seattle, it makes a manageable getaway for area families. Astoria is the oldest city in the state, founded in 1811. The city is often called “little San Francisco.” In the 1980s the fish processing and timber industries that sustained the city were in decline. But new and exciting developments are underway. Read on for seven family-friendly activities to try in Astoria.
What to do in Astoria, Oregon
Visit the Columbia River Maritime Museum and Lightship Columbia
The Columbia River Maritime Museum is devoted to the history of the Columbia River and is hands-on, interactive, and much larger than I expected with lots to see and do for the reasonable price of admission. (Children up to 17-years-old are only $5 and little ones five and under are free!)
Favorite experiences for us included the special exhibits “Shipwrecks!” and the “Science of Storms”. We learned about how science and technology help to track and predict the weather and also explored the Lightship Columbia. The museum is also located along the Astoria Riverwalk – Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, which follows part of an old rail line along the waterfront.
Explore Astoria Oregon’s Downtown Historic District
Astoria is named for its founder, John Jacob Astor, a wealthy fur baron and financier from New York. Take a little walk around Astoria Downtown Historic District and explore a chock-full of interesting historical architecture, in between spontaneous stops at local cafes, galleries and shops. If you enjoy period architecture, check out the Historic Astoria Loop Hike, which meanders by notable 19th-century and early 20th-century homes. We also appreciated the Chinese garden and city sculpture park Garden of Surging Waves, located on 11th and Duane Street across from City Hall, dedicated to the Chinese community’s significant contributions to the town of Astoria.
Climb to the top of the Astoria Column for panoramic views
The Astoria Column is likely to pop up on all “must-do” lists and it’s well worth a visit. Built in 1926, the 125-foot-tall column is on the National Register of Historic Places. Covered in art, the concrete pillar represents the interesting history of the area. You can climb the 164 spiral steps to the top observation deck for panoramic views, from the mouth of the Columbia to the ocean and beyond. Kids will enjoy picking up an inexpensive balsa wood plane from the gift shop and dropping it off the top (or, if you’re lucky, you can score one down below). Admission is free, but parking is $5 (good for one year).
Hike the Cathedral Tree Trail and see the ancient sitka spruce
On the short (1.6-mile) easy, family-friendly Cathedral Tree Trail hike, you’ll meander through the urban forest of Astoria and end at an impressive 300-year-old Sitka spruce. Access the trail from the Astoria Column parking lot as well as from a neighborhood street on Irving Avenue (but parking there is tricky). My son (and dog) loved walking through the tree’s giant exposed roots. The trail also includes a boardwalk that is fun for kids. Parts of the trail may be too muddy and slippery during the winter months, so check conditions before you go.
Drive across the Astoria-Megler Bridge
The photogenic Astoria-Megler Bridge spans the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington and was built in 1966. The bridge was featured in well-known movies, including “The Goonies”. At 4+ miles it is the longest “continuous truss” bridge in North America and the final link in the highway U.S. Route 101 up the West Coast. We enjoyed taking a scenic drive and then exploring the other side of the river where we came across an “Instagrammable” rusty barge.
Explore Fort Stevens State Park in Astoria
The magnificent 4,300-acre Fort Stevens State Park boasts one of the biggest public campgrounds in the country and loads of recreational opportunities from swimming to biking to hiking and more. (It is also the final resting place of the mighty Peter Iredale shipwreck.) If you snag a campsite here you’ll have easy access to the Iredale from nice walkable and bikeable paths.
Enjoy a Yummy Seafood Dinner
We treated ourselves to a dinner out at Ships Out Fish & Chips and it did not disappoint. There’s an extensive seafood menu, daily specials and kid’s fare. We appreciated that it was dog-friendly with plenty of festive outdoor seating. (Located at: 92351 Lewis and Clark Road.)
Where to Stay
We stayed in a yurt at Fort Stevens State Park and brought simple breakfast and lunch items to save on dining costs. Yurt camping is economical and fun. You can even do it year-round because they include basic electricity and heating. These sites are snapped up quickly for the fairer months and are available 6-months in advance. I highly recommend setting up an availability alert with www.reserveamerica.com so you won’t miss out.