Last November I moved from California to a tiny town called Rosburg in Washington. I quickly discovered the wonders of Astoria, Oregon. It’s the closest place to shop from Rosburg, and Astoria is only 45 minutes away, “over the river and through the woods” along a country road bordering the Columbia River.
Drenched in history and natural beauty, Astoria welcomed and delighted me as I discovered its charms and slowly became a “local.” Venturing into Astoria to shop, eat, drink, and socialize, I found an array of cool things to experience. Exploring this little mountain hamlet at the mouth of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean, I found myself in awe of nature’s beauty. Nestled in lush green forests of towering Douglas fir, hemlock, and spruce trees, Astoria invites us to slow down and breathe deeply. Museums, historical sites, breweries, restaurants, and shops offer plenty of things to do in Astoria.
Gateway to Astoria
Serving as a majestic gateway into Astoria, the impressive 4.1-mile Astoria-Megler Bridge spans the massive Columbia River. It marks the border between Washington and Oregon. For a closer look at the bridge, a really unique event in Astoria takes place every October. The Great Columbia Crossing 10K provides an opportunity to walk or run across the longest continuous truss bridge in the country. The bridge skims the water’s surface before steeply veering up high into the sky so that massive ships can pass below. Spiraling back down to sea level, the bridge offers a picturesque view. Victorian houses and shops perched along the green-hued hillside hint at the unique character and flair of this little gem of a town. You can register to walk the bridge in advance.
History & Museums
I learned about the history-steeped past of the U.S.’s first permanent settlement on the Pacific Coast (founded in 1811) by visiting Astoria’s plentiful museums. The Columbia River Maritime Museum draws the eye while traveling on Marine Drive alongside the Columbia River with a real boat marking its entrance. Learn why the Columbia River earned the moniker “the graveyard of the Pacific” by viewing an exhibit on local shipwrecks, tour a floating lighthouse, and marvel at the skills of Columbia River Bar Pilots by viewing the retired pilot boat Peacock.
Once the salmon canning capital of the world, Astoria is known as “Little San Francisco” for its steep streets and Victorian architecture. In the ‘80s, the area gained fame as the setting of the cult classic film, The Goonies. Celebrate Goonies Day annually in June, or visit the Oregon Film Museum year-round to see movie paraphernalia and pick up a trail map for a local Goonies driving tour. Stop at the downtown Gizmo’s Arcade for an ‘80s flashback experience that’s fun for all ages.
Housed in a neoclassical 1924 bank building, the Museum of Whimsy stirs the imagination with its unusual exhibits. “Expect the unexpected” when visiting this unique collection. You’ll see oddities ranging from wax heads to Victorian foot sculptures. You never know what you will discover.
Fort Clatsop, Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, Fort Astoria, and the Flavel House are additional popular historic sites.
Wind along the circuitous towering tree-lined road to the Astoria Column. Cresting the hill at the top of the town rewards visitors with a 360-degree view of breathtaking landscapes. Set in the middle of a green grassy knoll, the impressive Astoria Column rises 125 feet into the sky. Dedicated by the Great Northern Railway in 1926, the Astoria Column highlights the journey of the area’s many settlers with intricately painted artwork. Walk the spiraling staircase inside the column to the top and see how far you can glide a balsa wood airplane found at the on-site gift shop.
Climbing the narrow flight of spiraling stairs to the pinnacle of the column felt too daunting to me—heights! Instead, I opted for an invigorating peaceful hike through the forest on the nearby Cathedral Tree Trail.
Another favorite discovery is Shively Park, just about a mile from the Astoria Column. This serene, wooded park sports abandoned Greek-style buildings, standing as a witness to its earlier heyday. Look for banana slugs while enjoying an easy walk in the woods, often in solitude, as this little gem is not on most mainstream maps.
While driving through Astoria, I’m always thrilled by the deer running up the streets and the sea lions barking at the edge of the Safeway parking lot.
Head downtown for even more things to do in Astoria, Oregon. A multitude of local breweries and eclectic shops dot the artsy downtown area in the heart of Astoria. Park the car and amble along the sidewalk. Browse the variety of storefronts from apothecaries, dispensaries, and gift shops, to bookstores, thrift stores, and hidden surprises. Pop into Godfather Books for a coffee and peruse their new and used books, puzzles, and stickers. Hit Sleeper Coffee for hot or cold drinks and an assortment of handmade clothing, stickers, souvenirs, and special treasures. Don’t miss the stairway down to a unique collection of individually owned consignment racks in the underground thrift store.
Speaking of underground adventures, the Astoria Underground Tour gives a surprising glimpse into Astoria’s mysterious tunnels. From the street level, look for the purple stones set in the sidewalks that illuminate the area underneath it with an amethyst glow.
For things to do in Astoria from May to October, the Astoria Sunday Market is the place to be. Held in the heart of downtown Astoria, the Sunday Market takes place from 10 AM to 3 PM. Local artisans and vendors sell fresh produce, arts and crafts, unique creations, food, and more. I found a beautiful sunstone—the Oregon state gemstone—and a cute little handmade ceramic whale that I love! The weekly live music creates a lively atmosphere to tap your toes to while soaking up the community vibes. The Sedona Fire Band, a regular act at the market, is a local favorite!
Visit the waterfront promenade to walk along the Columbia River at the edge of town. This paved walking path lines the waterway. It weaves through local breweries, restaurants, and shops, keeping pedestrians cool with the refreshing riverfront breeze. Look for sea lions hanging out along the wharfs.
Eat & Drink
After working up an appetite exploring Astoria’s history and myriad shops, take a break at a local brewery. Visit Fort George Brewery for good eats and refreshing brews, complete with an outdoor courtyard and games for kids of all ages. Listening to live bands Sunday evenings from 6 to 8 PM adds to the fun.
Grab a pastry next door at the Blue Scorcher Bakery, located in one of the few buildings that survived a devastating fire more than a century ago. Try their soup of the day, breads, pastries, and coffee to start the morning or for a midday energy boost.
Find local favorite fish and chips made with big chunks of albacore tuna at the Bowpicker, located in a converted gill net boat. Other favorites include Buoy Beer, the Supper Club, and Charlie’s Cosmic Cheese Shack. Check out The Growler Guys with their 42 taps and connected laundromat, where you can nosh at the outdoor food trucks—I recommend Fantastic Teriyaki!
Astoria’s waterfront and downtown lodging includes Hotel Elliot. Known for their signature wonderful beds, the historic 1920s building offers updated modern-day luxuries. The Norblad Hotel features 33 stylish rooms in an independently owned and restored building. The Norblad is conveniently located within walking distance to downtown Astoria’s plethora of dining and shopping options.
Notable & Nearby
When exploring things to do in Astoria, Oregon, consider visiting neighboring towns. I love Seaside’s bustling beachfront shopping and dining. Here, you can also walk on trails near the beach with your dog! Gearhart is just down the road. It offers beachfront trails where huge elk roam and often stop traffic to cross the street. Golfers will enjoy the local course and on-site McMenamins Sand Trap Pub, one of a collection of iconic area restaurants. Keep driving to explore the gorgeous Cannon Beach. The beach is home to puffin breeding grounds and the famous Haystack Rock—bring an umbrella!
This stunning crown jewel of the Pacific Northwest presents so many options for things to do in Astoria, Oregon. Still somewhat of a secret (sans crowds!) than its more famous neighbors like Portland and Seattle, Astoria holds a special place in my heart. Astoria’s friendly vibes and beautiful scenery will etch an indelible mark in the memories of those lucky enough to discover its special charms. I feel so fortunate to count myself among them. I encourage you to experience the awe of this riverfront wonderland.
Interested in planning other adventures across the U.S.? Check out this guide to 29 things to do in Washington, D.C.