Exploring Astoria, Oregon

Astoria was the port I was really looking forward to on this cruise on the Norwegian Sun. I may have passed through briefly during a drive a few decades ago, but had never had a good look at the community. A couple of history-oriented friends in Whitehorse like it, and one recommended a local brewery for lunch, so I knew that this would be a full day. The 41 photos in this post will give you a bit of an idea how busy – I shot well over 300 photos 🙂

Moonlight from our cabin’s balcony as we neared the mouth of the Columbia River on Thursday at 06:10 am.
Moonlight on the balcony of the cabin on the Norwegian Sun
I’d seen a comment somewhere that cruise ships dock at an industrial port at Astoria, and I was pleased to see that we docked directly overlooking a log sorting yard, as I enjoy watching that particular sort of activity. Okay, maybe that is odd 🙂
Log sorting yard at Astoria, Oregon
Sunrise at 07:07 am.
Sunrise at Astoria, Oregon
Clearing US Customs was a simple and friendly process on board – non-US citizens from Decks 9, 10 and 11 reported to the Four Seasons Restaurant at 8:30 and we were soon on our way to the shuttle buses that would take us downtown. For $7 each we could use the shuttles and any other public transportation all day.
Cruise ship shuttle buses Astoria, Oregon
We got off the bus on Commercial Street downtown (it would be about a mile and a half walk from the ship), and soon found an antique store with lots of goodies and good prices. Dad made a small purchase, but nothing jumped out at me as a “must have”.
Antique store in Astoria, Oregon

There are volunteers in blue jackets stationed all over Astoria to help visitors find their way around. Every one that we talked to was clearly proud of their community – that’s wonderful to see.

The wooden buildings of downtown Astoria all burned in a huge fire in 1922, and many of the dominant commercial buildings now date to within a handful of years of that fire.
The Associated Building (1923) in Astoria, Oregon
The Liberty Theatre, opened in 1925, is a gem by any standards. A $9 million restoration has brought it back to its original splendour, and volunteers are happy to show you around. As soon as I walked into the lobby I knew that this was going to be an exciting tour.
Historic Liberty Theatre, in Astoria, Oregon
This is the view from the stage. The frame of the chandelier weighs 1,200 pounds, and the light panels are made of a cloth and parchment fabric.
Historic Liberty Theatre in Astoria, Oregon
A view from one of the conference rooms on the upper floor of the Liberty Theatre. The old Bank of Astoria building is currently vacant.
The historic Bank of Astoria in Astoria, Oregon
The Columbia River Maritime Museum is both massive and amazing. Dad and I got perhaps 1/6th of the way through it before he got too tired and had to return to the ship. The sailing gillnetter seen in this photo was once a very common type in the Pacific Northwest. This is the only one of its type in the world now, though, and it’s a replica built in 1989.
Sailing gillnetter at the Columbia River Maritime Museum at Astoria, Oregon
The detail in the boats is wonderful, with replica crew members handling fish, cooking meals and doing other things that would be part of everyday life for them.
Historic fishing boat at the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria, Oregon
This Coast Guard rescue boat displayed as it would have looked while rescuing someone in heavy surf is a dramatic scene!
Coast Guard rescue boat at the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria, Oregon
Outside the museum, a real Coast Guard base.
Coast Guard base at Astoria, Oregon
An active Coast Guard cutter, and the museum’s lightship Columbia. The 128-foot was on station at the mouth of the Columbia River from 1951 until 1979.
Lightship Columbia at Astoria, Oregon
Down below in the “war room” on the lightship Columbia. Also down below there would have been up to 12 tons of food, 13,000 gallons of fresh water, 47,000 gallons of fuel, as well as all the crew cabins, machinery, etc.
The lightship Columbia at Astoria, Oregon
I had to go back into the museum to see more. I could probably spend a couple of days there.
Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria, Oregon
This map drawn by Gerardus Mercator in 1595 shows the North Pole as a pyramidal rock surrounded by a whirlpool feeding the oceans of the world via 4 rivers.
Arctic map (by Mercator, 1595) in the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria, Oregon
One large series of adjoining rooms has videos running, many of them showing ships dealing with violent storms at the mouth of the Columbia, where hundreds of vessels have been sunk, killing over 700 people.
Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria, Oregon
One of my friends recommended the Fort George Brewery for lunch, and the walk up 14th took me past several notable buildings.
Historic homes in Astoria, Oregon
Both the beers and the jambalaya I had at the brewery (the Fort George is one of 4 in town) were excellent. I had a pint of the Surf Pine Heather Ale first, and then the heavy Next Adventure Black IPA to better match the spiciness of the jambalaya. Mmmmm – just writing that makes me want to go back!
Fort George Brewery at Astoria, Oregon
After lunch, I continued up the hill towards the Astoria Column. The hill is quite steep, and I wished for a minute or 2 that my lunch hadn’t been quite so large! On the way, I passed Astoria’s first neighbourhood, platted in 1846 by Colonel John McClure and John Shively.
Shively-McClure Historic District in Astoria, Oregon
Finally, at 1:45 pm, I spotted the Astoria Column on top of Coxcomb Hill. Shuttle buses were running to it as well – but walking a few thousand uphill steps to get to it makes the famous 164 steps to get to the top of the column seem very easy 🙂
The Astoria Column at Astoria, Oregon
The Astoria Column was built in 1926, decorated with 22 scenes from the region’s history by Italian immigrant artist Attilo Pusterla using a technique called sgraffito.
The Astoria Column - Astoria, Oregon
On a day like we had, the views from the top are as advertised – wonderful. To the east over the Youngs River…
The view from the Astoria Column - Astoria, Oregon
…and to the west over Astoria and the Columbia River. I talked to one fellow up top who just couldn’t wrap his head around how large the Columbia River is.
The view from the Astoria Column - Astoria, Oregon
This relief map at the base of the column helps to put it all into perspective.
Relief map at the Astoria Column - Astoria, Oregon
I took a different route back to town, starting with a half-mile trail through the forest, then past several historic homes, both restored…
Historic home in Astoria, Oregon
…and more original. This one certainly has some architectural features that will make it a superb restoration project for someone with deep pockets.
Historic home in Astoria, Oregon
I ran out of time so didn’t see the inside of the Heritage Museum, or the Flavel House Museum in particular. Next time!
Astoria, Oregon
I ended up back at the Maritime Museum, and thought about taking either the shuttle bus or the century-old trolley (both of which are seen in this photo), but decided instead to keep walking.
Astoria, Oregon
Only by walking along the 4-mile-long River Walk do you see artifacts like this. I saw why rope pulleys and blocks-and-tackle were so inexpensive at the antique shop – they’re hanging around everywhere 🙂
Astoria, Oregon
The interpretation along the River Walk is excellent, both on the main walk and side wharfs.
River Walk - Astoria, Oregon
There seemed to always be something going on along the river – fishboats and pleasure boats coming and going, and a half-dozen freighters waiting for berths.
Astoria, Oregon
Here’s an industrial artifact from a long-gone building that I can’t figure out. Any guesses?
Astoria, Oregon
The number of birds, in this case cormorants, seems to indicate that the mouth of the Columbia River is a healthy place to be.
Cormorants at Astoria, Oregon
Now there’s a fine-looking fishboat.
Astoria, Oregon
The Maritime Memorial Park is an interesting place. The next time I come, I’ll be looking for some more information about some of the events memorialized on these walls that took several lives.
Maritime Memorial Park in Astoria, Oregon
The coolest artifact I found was certainly this boat-launching cradle, almost hidden by bushes.
An old boat-launching cradle in Astoria, Oregon
Back at the ship at 4:15 pm (15 minutes before the all-aboard deadline). There’s Dad on our balcony in the centre of the photo, waving at me – he was starting to worry that I had gotten a bit too distracted by something!
The Norwegian Sun in Astoria, Oregon
Goodbye Astoria. You’re definitely on my RV-destination list – there’s a great deal more I want to see.
Sailing from Astoria, Oregon
A final shot from the balcony at 8:15 pm. The next day, we would be at sea all day, en route to San Francisco.
Evening on the balcony of a cabin on the Norwegian Sun

As I finish this post off, it’s 03:00 am on Saturday. We’re about 4 hours from sunrise, and from sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge, certainly one of the most dramatic cruise port arrivals in the world, although it’s quite foggy at the moment so my fingers are crossed that it clears. It’s just taken me 36 minutes to load the 41 small photos for this post, at a cost of $14.40 🙁 But at 11:30, Dad and I will be meeting Cathy and her girlfriends for lunch at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, so this is a really special day from a few perspectives.


Exploring Astoria, Oregon — 4 Comments

  1. Astoria looks a really interesting place. I hadn’t heard anything of it before. The way the America’s Cup racing is stuttering along, keeping us all on tenterhooks, you will be there to see us win … we hope! Happy cruising. Those balcony rooms look the way to go – your father didn’t have to dance at a closed porthole to attract your attention! Best wishes from a green-eyed kiwi.

    Best regards, Marie G.

  2. I have heard that Oregon is a really interesting state to visit and would like to go one day. You managed to get in quite a bit of exploring, thank you for sharing your trip with us! The picture that really got me, was the one of the Columbia River. To think that the small river my family and I were wandering around on a month ago in Golden looks like THAT by the time it reaches it’s mouth was truly amazing!!!

  3. Being born and raised as a fifth generation Oregonian, I recall both living on the coast and longing to get back and visit it. No greater joy was there than as a kid and the thought of all that wonderful sand, thundering waves or searching through the flotsam for treasures in the pouring rain.
    The rain was always a part of Oregon’s wildness. It was a surprise then to see Oregon in the national news because it felt unattached to the big cities of California. You could drive for miles down it’s coast and see little evidence of human habitation and at night you could not be sure the road wouldn’t wash out.
    Time is that way, you get it in packages. Some good and some not so… Rarely do you grasp it in the present yet likely, later on you’ll lament.
    The 1950s, 60s, 70s, 80’s were my times. The 50’s as a child we had an old Willy’s Jeep and and fought our way through driftwood rocks and tides to remote beaches where we camped, roasted marshmallows and shivered in the old canvas and cotton camping gear.
    In the early 60s some friends and I ran away in the winter and tried to camp out on the rugged coast North of Florence. Luckily, we were tough because the incessant rain made us miserable and the firewood just smoldered with an open flame. We darn near froze to death but in those stubborn days we’d of rathered that -than to go home to parents with our tails between our legs.
    The later sixties saw us more mobile with vehicles but that meant jobs like logging, planting trees or commercial fishing.
    We rented the many summer cabins near abandoned on the remote cliffs and small towns. We pulled out driftwood from the beach and made it into furniture, made deer horn pipes and painted worry-rocks. Most jobs were seasonal so one had to be versatile. I worked at things like playing the banjo, silver smithing or scrimshaw. When food stamps came we were easily eligible. My foot loose ways got me up the coast as far as Alaska at times.
    The seventies was a time of enormous energy. I tried farming communes and selling art at craft fairs. A lot people grew things the law frowned upon but out in the woods people needed each other and red necks were way more friendly than they let on.

    No one seem to notice the towns were growing. It meant jobs as carpenters, realtors and jobs more geared to cities. The true Oregonians were always friendly because they had no idea what city living was like. We were filling our parents shoes now and took up their trades.
    We got older along the way and by the 90s saw the state turn to what other states had with chain companies and apartments going up in places that never had a house.
    Somewhere along the line people decided the rain was not as bad as the over crowded cities.
    There was good planning to Oregon though. People local and arrived stepped up and made a big difference. You see it often and it’s a source of great pride even as the century turned.
    Some years back I sailed from Portland down to Astoria on the Columbia river. Then turning South I sailed down the Oregon coast to Coos Bay. Along the way I stopped at the various towns and saw the old bridges, wharfs and all that still remains.
    It’s still there. A great place to live or visit. It’s never easy to say whether the places or I changed but old friends were warm and unchanged. We sat by the fire and it cheered me up, -made me feel right at home.
    You know, now that I’ve traveled the world I see the uniqueness of where I grew up but at the time I never realized it was in all in transit too. Time changes everything -for better or worse. There’s new kids out there doing what I did and likely that will continue for generations to come.

    • Thanks for sharing your memories, Will – I really appreciate it and I’m sure that my readers will as well. The Oregon Coast has always drawn me – in the late ’60s and early ’70s I went down from my homes in the Vancouver (BC) area whenever possible, and remember some of the remote cliffs and beaches you talk about. My brief visit to Astoria makes me want to get back to seeing much more of it.