Experience the bridge between history and today
written by Kimberly Bowker | photography by Austin White
Astoria is an outpost of history that stakes its claim at the momentous merging of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean. The little fishing town, with a population of about 10,000, is settled in Oregon near the Washington border. On an outcropping of a remembered past, Astoria aligns its exploratory history with today’s adventures, as visitors breathe in timeless ocean air on what seems like the edge of the world.
As the oldest continuous settlement west of the Rockies, Astoria embraces and shares its significant role as a place of meeting between people, nature and time. The Clatsop Indians lived here for thousands of years, and in 1792 the Boston ship Columbia Rediviva first sailed across the mouth of the Columbia River. In 1805, Lewis and Clark wintered in nearby Fort Clatsop while in search of the coveted Northwest Passage, and in 1811 John Jacob Astor ambitiously established an international fur-trading operation based in the town of his eventual namesake: Astoria.
After working up a thirst along the River Walk, pause for a handcrafted beer at Buoy Beer Co., located above blue waters in a restored cannery building nearly a century old. Head upland to the next stop on your beer tour through the charming old streets of downtown Astoria to Fort George Brewery + Public House. Feast on a Northwest coast-style lunch paired with a fresh brew while overlooking the ships on the Columbia River in one of the brewery’s historic buildings constructed in the 1920s. Astoria was known as Fort George while under British rule during the War of 1812 when King George III ruled Britain.
Continue strolling historic downtown, witnessing the evolution of time as the architecture changes. Duck your head into a variety of boutique and antique stores, such as Cargo, which sells collectibles and gifts from around the world, and Farm House Funk, an antiques dealer with flair. Don’t forget to grab a coffee at the Rusty Cup.
If history is a passion, make time to navigate Astoria’s many museums. Learn about local past at the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum, what life was like in the oldest surviving cannery building on the Columbia River at the Hanthorn Cannery Foundation Museum, or experience the Victorian era at the Captain George Flavel House Museum in a beautiful 1886 Victorian-style home. Rediscover movies at the Oregon Film Museum located in the old Clatsop County Jail, or view firefighting equipment dating to the late nineteenth-century at the Uppertown Firefighter’s Museum.
You can absorb history even as you sleep, relaxing at the Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa. On the Columbia River, the hotel sits on century-old pilings that previously held the Union Fisherman’s Cooperative Packing Company. For more recent history, book a room at the colorful Atomic Motel, which delights in its 1950s origins. At the center of 1920s downtown are the boutique Commodore Hotel and an 1880s Victorian home doing business as the Benjamin Young Inn.
Travel farther afield during your Astoria explorations and take a 15-minute drive to Fort Clatsop, a Lewis and Clark National Historic Park. Walk the nature trails in the wooded area and explore the replica of the fort where the Corps of Discovery wintered from 1805 to 1806, after traveling 4,000 miles to determine a route to the Pacific Ocean.
To complete your historic getaway, visit the Astoria Column standing 600 feet above sea level. It takes 164 steps to reach the top of the column, built in 1926 and covered with murals recounting the region’s historic timeline of discovery. From the top, cast your gaze over an expansive view of the 4.1-mile Astoria-Megler Bridge that crosses the Columbia River. See with your own eyes where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean, and stand witness to this corner’s grand history of time.