Pop quiz: what’s the oldest American settlement west of the Rockies? San Francisco! Logical choice – but, no. Seattle? Nope. Uh, Portland? Nope again.
It’s actually Astoria. Fort Astoria was founded in 1811 by John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company. Thanks to Europeans’ fondness for beaver pelt hats, fur trading was a Big Deal back then – and Astor cashed in nicely.
Today, his namesake Astoria exudes an abundance of historical, geographical and cultural charm. Here are six solid reasons for making Astoria – just a two-hour drive from Portland – your next daycation (or longer) destination:
1. HISTORY – ON STEROIDS
As noted above, Astoria goes waaay back – knowing some of that history is not only helpful but, quite simply, fascinating. The best place to start your Astoria Education is the Heritage Museum (1618 Exchange St.). You’ll learn about the history of Clatsop County from its Native American roots and Lewis & Clark’s “wintering over” in 1805-06 at Fort Clatsop (a 20 minute drive across Youngs Bay and well worth a visit) to Astor’s fur trading empire and beyond. Astoria’s rough and tumble “Shanghai” trade – when young men were kidnapped and forced to work on ships sailing to China – is especially intriguing as is information on the Great Fires of 1883 and 1922. Follow that up with a visit to the Captain George Flavel House (441 8th St.), an elegant 1886 Queen Anne Victorian home decked out in period furnishings. (Mikey’s dad worked here in the film The Goonies. See No. 4 below)
2. COLUMBIA RIVER MARITIME MUSEUM
Continue your Astoria education at this nautical themed museum (1792 Marine Drive). History comes alive with photos, replicas and the-real-thing exhibits that chronicle the area’s pivotal relationship with the mighty Columbia River.
Now that you’re schooled in all-things-Astoria, it’s time to immerse yourself in the city and its historical buildings. Dozens of Victorian homes dot the hillside; in fact, over 350 homes in use today in Astoria are over 100 years old. Watch for “for sale” signs – it’s fun to guess how much one of these historic delights cost (compared to Portland, they are a bargain). As you cruise around Astoria’s formidable hills, you’ll understand why Astoria is sometimes called “Little San Francisco” – and you’ll be glad that your brakes are in good working order.
While you’re driving around, gawking at the Victorian homes, stop by a few of the locations from films shot in Astoria. At the Visitors Center (111 West Marine Drive), you can pick up a free (very basic) “Movies in Astoria” handout. Or you can spring for the $3 booklet that includes a self-guided tour. The most popular – and family friendly! – movies include The Goonies (1985), Kindergarten Cop (1900), Short Circuit (1986) and Free Willy (1993). The Goonies House (368 38th St.) is always a favorite as is Astor School (3550 Franklin) where Ahhnold (Schwarzenegger) taught in Kindergarten Cop.
5. THE RIVERWALK AND THE TROLLEY
The Riverwalk is an awesome five mile pedestrian and bike friendly path that hugs the Columbia River and meanders by piers, restaurants and historic sites. The trolley (“Old 300”; old300.org) is a delightful and very inexpensive way to add a historical touch to your Riverwalk experience. For $1 per ride – or $2 for an all-day, on and off pass – you can travel back in time as a guide provides information on the sites you’re seeing and the history behind them. The trolley runs (weather dependent) from noon to 6 p.m. through Oct. 2.
6. ASTORIA COLUMN
Top off your Astoria sojourn with a visit to the Astoria column. This iconic tower, built in 1926, sits atop Coxcomb Hill and offers panoramic vistas of the ocean, river and Youngs Bay. The views – and Instagram pics – are worth the 164 step slog to the top.
If you go:
Visit travelastoria.com or the Visitors Center (111 West Marine Drive/Hwy. 30, Astoria; 800-875-6807) for an abundance of additional details on Astoria.