Imagine yourself drifting along to the melody of seagulls, the lapping of ocean waves, and the distant bark of playful sea lions while the misty sea breeze nips at your fingertips and you wiggle your toes in the sand. The Oregon coast is home to many beautiful places, but one in particular recently ranked #25 out of the top 150 American small towns. With picturesque Victorian-style homes, the longest continuous-truss bridge in the world, and a city built on a hillside that seems to float on the very waves itself, let us explore some more reasons why your family should immediately make Astoria your next Oregon vacation destination!
The Columbia River Maritime Museum
To be honest, I wrote this portion first because I needed to budget room for the rest of the content! The Columbia River Maritime Museum is a must-visit, and my brief description here offers the tip of the iceberg your family can delight in. I even recommend setting time aside for exploring during their whole operating hours of 9:30am to 5pm because the staff is kind enough to let you exit and return with a flash of your receipt. Speaking of payment, kids 5 and under are free, while ages 6-17 only cost $5, so the bulk of your cost will be the adult admission at $16 each. If budget allows, our family thoroughly enjoyed adding $5 per person to view a 3D movie in their 36-seat theater, which has different films scheduled throughout the day. Once inside, pass through life-size replications of many different styles of boats and into the labyrinthine layout of the museum. Find your family wandering among realistic displays and artifacts mixed with interactive exhibits, like making the ship’s Captain decisions as your vessel passes through the Pacific graveyard, learning to quick-fasten an ocean rescue belt, or getting your hands on the controls of a mock wheelhouse that looks out to the Columbia River itself. Wherever you turn, there is more to see, more to touch, and more to learn. Even the vast outdoor grounds of the museum spark interest, with massive ship’s propellers, anchors, chains, and a replica of the Pilot boat Peacock. The Coast Guard often has an active rescue vessel moored at the docks as well. This museum alone is enough reason to make the trip to this beautiful city!
The Astoria Column
Witnessing the sprawling, hillside city and the states divided by massive waterways from the top of the iconic Astoria Column is an absolute pleasure. Even the local residents make a habit of visiting this attraction, especially since the only fee associated with this place is a $5 annual parking fee. Simply the art that decorates the surface of the tower itself is enough to draw anyone’s attention, detailing the history and birth of the town with realistic embossed characters and scenes. While it may be 164 grueling steps to the top, the view is breathtaking–and firmly fenced for those of you wary of heights! Most families aim for the gift shop on the way out of somewhere, but I recommend a visit to the dog-friendly gift shop before venturing up in order to snag a superb wooden airplane (or five) to launch in celebration once your family reaches the top of the tower. They are only $1 a piece and will spend an inordinate period of time drifting and soaring among the air currents. Plus, if luck is on your side, you might spot some bald eagles who frequent the tops of the nearby towering pine trees! Make sure to catch a glimpse of the column at night, too, as the city lights it up in dazzling purple-blue LED lights in Astoria’s own unique style of lighthouse.
Astoria Downtown Historic District and Riverfront Trolley
Specialty crafting stores, bakeries, vintage wear, books, and toy stores are just the threshold of all the chic options packed into roughly 38 city blocks in downtown Astoria. Add in the fact that you can hitch a ride back and forth on the Riverfront Trolley using your $2 all-day riding pass, and the pot sweetens! The ADHDA is dedicated to preserving its historical culture while embracing a vibrant community, and it shows. The Maritime Museum is a central feature of this district, and other sparks of interest include the Custard King, which has been serving shoppers ice cream since 1951, nowadays drawing them in with deluxe burgers and dogs. There’s also the Astoria Aquatic Center which hosts a six-lane competitive pool and a family-wading pool featuring slides and a lazy river! Still not satisfied? Stop by the old Clatsop County Jailhouse, which now houses the Oregon Film Museum, celebrating the 400+ major motion productions filmed using Oregon as a backdrop. Relax your aching feet after a long shopping spree with cheese curds, rockfish tacos, and a pint at the Rogue Pier 39 Public House. There is no excuse not to find a happy place for each member of your family in the downtown district!
Astoria-Megler Bridge: Gateway to Adventure
While the sterling arch and stunning span of the 4.1 mile Astoria Bridge is one of the most recognizable parts of the city, it also highlights their central location to an amazing array of destinations and activities. Being situated right on the border of Washington, it is a simple trip–with a purely spectacular view of both states and the Columbia–across the bridge and up into Ilwaco, the home to Cape Disappointment Lighthouse as well as North Head Lighthouse. Since the city of Astoria does not have prime beach access, many find it best to travel briefly down Hwy 101 and over into Fort Stevens State Park, which is an excellent place to visit if ruins of military embattlements, historic ship wreckage, gorgeous sandy beaches, or scenic hiking/biking trails are of family interest! The camping here is sublime, featuring a wide selection of 521 sites, from primitive style to deluxe cabins. Travel just a little further south down the 101 to arrive at Seaside, which is genuinely a family-fun center with a carousel, an arcade, and even swings installed directly on the beach! One of my wallet’s favorite parts of Astoria is convenient access to big-box stores. Within 6 miles of downtown are classic staples like Costco, Safeway, Fred Meyer, Walmart, Ross Dress for Less, and Dollar Tree, almost unheard of among smaller coastal cities. This makes forgetting those incidentals less hassle and budget sacrifice. Safe to say, it is doubtful your family will find needs that will go unfulfilled while staying in Astoria!
Michelle is a married mother of two toddler girls and a house full of pets. As a homegrown Oregonian, she enjoys spending her time on family adventures throughout the PNW to fuel her creative inspiration! Photography, crochet, freehand mandala designs, hiking, and gardening are a few of her hobbies that are highlighted on Instagram @xenonvogue. Each new day is a chance to be present and involved, so Michelle strives to live honoring the knowledge that this too shall pass.