The four-mile wide Astoria-Megler Bridge over the Columbia River from Washington State, is a great opening for one of Oregon’s main gateways: Astoria. Established in 1811 and the oldest settlement west of the Rockies, it’s an historic city. East of the Columbia River mouth, amongst wonderful natural beauty, it is an unspoiled city with an ever open door for tourists and exploration. The choices within and around it are stunning. State parks, heritage centres, museums and Victorian homes all go into the mix to ensure your stay is memorable.
An ideal starting point is the Riverfront Trolley – “Old 300”. Save on shoe leather and clamber aboard this restored trolley dating back to 1913. With on-board interpretation, witness the city’s historical attractions and so much more. The excursion runs for 2.6 miles along the Columbia River between Basin and 39th streets (catch it anywhere between the two), and lasts for one hour. A round-trip ticket costs $1, an all-day pass $2 and, if weather permits, operates between 12 p.m. and 7 p.m., seven days a week.
No visit to Astoria is complete without enjoying the incredible panorama from the 125-foot high Astoria Column. Here, from a wooded park, you will be rewarded with spectacular photo opportunities of the city, Saddle Mountain, the Columbia river, Clatsop Plain and the wild Pacific Ocean. Scenes which will literally take your breath away. This assumes you have any left after climbing all 164 steps winding within. If you feel less inclined towards its staircase, a mural by Italian artist Atillio Pusterla spirals its external wall. The mural depicts Oregon’s early history and the migration westwards by the settlers. The Column dates from 1926, and was built to resemble Trajan’s Column in Rome. This unique landmark is accessed from 14th and 16th streets.
In the month of June, the city is host to the Scandinavian Midsummer Festival, ScanFest. This is an immensely colourful three-day celebration of returning sunshine and summer warmth and one not to miss. The Festival runs from Friday through Sunday in mid-month. It brings Swedes, Norwegians, Finns, Icelanders and Danes together to honour their countries’ heritage with parades, folk dancing, Nordic dishes, costumes and plenty more. A pass for the three days is $8 (adult) and $3 (kids 6-12). Whether you sit it out as an enthralled spectator, or take the floor for a Polka, the whole experience will become a lasting memory.
The Columbia River Maritime Museum at Marine Drive is a definite must see. A museum of National Distinction, it takes tourists through a fascinating historical time-line from dug-out canoe, through the age of sail, and right up to the present day. With incredible interactive displays, experience life on the bridge of a World War II warship, or take the helm in a tugboat wheelhouse. Climb aboard a National Historic Landmark, the Lightship Columbia. Witness the dangerous work of the River Pilots. It’s all here. Admission is $12 (adult), $10 (seniors), $5 children 6-17 and free for children, ages five and under. The Museum is open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and is closed, Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
Astoria is not short of children’s attractions either. A visit to the Uppertown Firefighters Museum at Marine Drive and 30th street will keep them well occupied. Historical memorabilia and artifacts of hand-pulled, horse-drawn and motorized fire tenders from the 1870s to the 1960s are all on show. To enable them to get even more involved, interactive and educational play areas are located on the building’s second floor in the Astoria Children’s Museum. The Firefighters Museum is open Saturdays 12 p.m. to 3 p.m., May through August.
During the summer months, a major family attraction is the Astoria Aquatic Centre at 1997 Marine Drive. Utilizing some 200,000 gallons of water, it offers main, spa, recreation and kids pools. It has a lazy river and water slide as well as a fitness room for the more athletic, with free use of weights. There are individual locker rooms for men and women and also family changing rooms. A concession stand and snack bar is also available. Its comprehensive schedule includes open family swimming sessions, swimming lessons, therapy swimming, childrens birthday parties and open kayaking. For more information and admission prices, please visit www.astoriaparks.com.
Be up and about early so you don’t miss the Astoria Sunday Market. From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Sunday, May through October. Three blocks of 12th street are taken over by numerous stalls selling food, fresh fruit, vegetables, garden products, crafts, art, wood work and music. In excess of 100 vendors display home-made goods for sale. This, along with the surrounding open shops, makes for a fantastic, festive atmosphere. Why not mingle and chat with the locals before you embark on a leisurely stroll along the three-mile River Walk.
If the idea of life in the 19th century sounds appealing, the Flavel House is a great experience. It was once the retirement home of Capt. George Flavel, Astoria’s first millionaire. This imposing mansion dates back to the mid 1880s, before it became an historical museum in 1950. From the minute you step over the threshold onto gleaming hardwood floors, you are transported back in time to a far more genteel, elegant and affluent era. With a magnificent stained glass window and high ceiling at its entrance, this grand old lady is rich in the Queen Anne architecture of the Victorian period. Don’t forget your camera, but there is no flash photography once you are inside.
This amazing building is situated on 8th and Duane streets, across the road from the Court House. It opens 10. a.m. to 5 p.m. (May through September) and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. (October through April), but is closed on New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Admission is $6 (adults), $5 (seniors and adult students), $2 children 6-17, and free for children, ages 5 and under. There is also an Adventure in History pass for $12. Tickets are purchased at the Carriage House. For more information, call the Clatsop County Historical Society on (503)-325-2203.
Astoria offers many hotels. One of its more central is the Hotel Elliott on 12th Street. Its historic five floors house 32 elegantly restored rooms. Each has heated tiled floors in the bathrooms and cedar-lined closets. With a warm welcome, attentive service, and stunning architecture, the hotel is ideally placed across the road from the famous Liberty Theartre. Go to www.hotelelliott.com for more information or call (877)-378-1924.
Often referred to as “Little San Francisco”, Astoria offers an incredible mix of arts, unique shops, culinery delights and galleries. Its architecture is a blend of Victorian splendour and historic buildings. Surrounded by natural beauty, tourists can be spoiled for choice. Astoria’s watchword is “exploration”, so with its comfortable daytime temperatures and so much to see, a stout pair of walking shoes is highly recommended.