Find Small-Town Style and Charm in Astoria, Oregon

1. Where to Stay

One of the suites at the Commodore Hotel.Photo: Courtesy of Commodore Hotel

Choose the most stylish option in town, the Commodore Hotel (from $74 for rooms with shared bathrooms; from $149 for suites with private bathroom), for rooms that are small but smartly designed with mod furniture and abstract wall art that extends onto the ceiling. Originally opened in the twenties, the building was abandoned and fell into disrepair for more than 40 years before it was rehabbed in 2009, a fact that’s hard to wrap your head around while sipping on a latte from adjacent Street 14 Coffee in the colorful, cozy lobby.

Check into the doily-free Rose River Inn (from $95), the nicest of several bed and breakfasts on the town’s steep back hill, and a short walk from the waterfront. A colorful garden surrounds the 1912 Craftsman-style home, whose five comfortable rooms have historic details like clawfoot tubs, fireplaces, and antiques.

Watch ships pass beneath the Astoria-Megler Bridge through large windows at the Cannery Pier Hotel (from $179), which juts out 600 feet into the Columbia River on the site of a fish-packing facility. All 46 rooms feature decks, water views, and binoculars for spotting sea lions and blue herons year-round, and there are complimentary Oregon wines and smoked salmon served in the lobby every evening.

2. Where to Eat

The Bridgewater Bistro's high-ceilinged dining room was was formerly part of a fish cannery.Photo: Courtesy of Bridgewater Bistro

Dine on the dock at the Bridgewater Bistro, whose 35 tables sit under old-growth fir beams in an airy dining room that was once the boatyard for the Union Fish Co-operative Cannery. Order one of nearly 30 wines by the glass and stick to seafood-focused small plates like Scandinavian-style pickled herring ($7) and Dungeness crab cheesecake ($11) while enjoying views of Washington State across the river.

Settle into a booth at the Columbian Café, a quirky, 21-seat diner in the center of town that has drawn regulars for over 30 years with a cheerful décor and a commitment to fresh ingredients. Behind the counter, a lone chef turns the catch of the day into tasty (and often spicy) dishes like rockfish tacos, garnished with smoked cheddar and homemade salsa and beans ($12) as well as an ever-changing selection of vegetarian options.

Kick back with one of the dozen or so beers on tap at the Fort George Brewery and Public House, a casual hangout for locals that regularly hosts tasting events and live music. A selection of four sausages made in-house ($8.50) is an ideal match for whatever you’re drinking, but the menu also caters to vegetarians. Be sure to try as many brews as you like—they’re only $3 per sampler glass and they’re not distributed outside the northwest.

3. What to Do

Vintage Hardware culls unique finds from Astoria and around the country.Photo: Courtesy of Vintage Hardware

Scour Vintage Hardware for artifacts from Astoria’s 200 years of history – it’s the oldest settlement west of the Rockies – and interesting finds from Clatsop County. Located in the crumbling Deco lobby of the old Astor Hotel, this depository for furniture, architectural salvage, antique hardware, and custom-built pieces takes up 4,000 square feet. Recent memorable finds include arched French doors from an elementary school ($3,500) and an elk antler chandelier ($3,000), but there are plenty of items that go for single and double digits. If you’re visiting in summer, check out the Vintage Flea Street Faire, which sets up outside on Duane Street on the first Saturday of the month, July–October.

Check out the urbane newcomers that are giving this formerly rusty, industrial town a more contemporary edge. Sift through racks of vinyl at Commercial Astoria, opened in September 2012 by radio DJ Greg Glover, one of many Portland residents who’ve made the town their second home. You’ll also find screen-printed tees ($20) designed by Glover here, as well as Dixon soaps ($7), and Seaworthy jewelry. Another new arrival with city roots is beauty apothecary and spa Flourine & Co., which sells high-end cosmetics from Bare Minerals and Oregon City’s Alchemilla. Rounding out the mix is Portland-based Cargo, which imports unique global finds, from a Turkmen children’s hat ($84) to Indonesian teak chairs ($280).

Tap into the thriving local art scene at Imogen Gallery, which opened in August 2012 and focuses on exhibiting works made in Astoria and the Pacific Northwest. Exhibits rotate monthly, and this spring features Jennifer Mercede’s colorful abstract paintings and Kim Hamblin’s delicate paper cuttings. Alternatively, peruse crafts at the beloved Astoria Sunday Market (May–October), which heaves with 150 vendors and live music each week. Be sure to visit the hugely popular Hammered Frets, which makes functional guitars from cigar boxes and hand-carved necks.

4. Insider’s Tip

Fort Stevens State Park is practically the only undeveloped stretch of waterfront in the area.Photo: Courtesy of Astoria & Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce

Given Astoria’s industrial past, it’s nearly impossible to find a stretch of undeveloped waterfront here, but twenty minutes outside of town you’ll find exactly that at Fort Stevens State Park. Here you look down the beach for miles, often without seeing anyone else, and see the corroded steel shell of the Peter Iredale, which washed ashore in 1906. Though only a portion remains, it’s enough to remind you why this stretch of coast is called the “Graveyard of the Pacific.”

5. Oddball Day

The Columbia River Maritime Museum traces the region's long history as a port with thousands of artifacts.Photo: Courtesy of the Columbia River Maritime Museum

Get in touch with Astoria’s maritime side and learn why it’s been a vital port since Lewis and Clark arrived in 1805. Start by tuning into Coast Community Radio (90.9 FM) for the 8:48 a.m. ship report, which relays the comings and goings of vessels on the Columbia River – including many from Asia – and weather conditions. Fuel up on organic, free trade coffee and artisan pastries at Blue Scorcher Bakery Cafe before your morning ride on a Tollycraft Yacht with Columbia River Eco Tours, led by oceanographer Christopher Lloyd. Discussing both history and ecology, the three-hour tour ($125; book in advance) navigates east past the Coast Guard Station – popular with singing sea-lions – to the Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge, where you might see bald eagles, osprey, and herons. Afterward, line up for beer-battered albacore tuna ($8) at Bowpicker Fish & Chips, a boat that sits on land, and then explore some of the thousands of artifacts from the collection of the Columbia River Maritime Museum ($12). Then stroll along the Riverwalk, which passes revitalized docks, warehouses, and conveyer belts flipping with sardines in the summer. Make your way to the old Bumble Bee tuna cannery, where Astoria Scuba rents kayaks ($25) for paddling in nearby Young’s Bay, which is calmer than the river. Next, drive to the top of Coxcomb Hill and climb the Astoria Column for a must-see panorama of the area. When you’re ready for dinner, have a warming bowl of local clam chowder ($6) at Baked Alaska, located on a pier with beautiful sunset views. End the day at Mary Todd’s Workers Bar (281 W. Marine Dr.; 503-338-7291), an old-school fisherman’s dive under the bridge, where locals pack the joint every Sunday night for “meat bingo,” where prizes include hams, meatloaf, and whole turkeys.

6. Links

The local Chamber of Commerce is the best source for restaurant, hotel, and store listings.

Coast Weekend covers food, events, and attractions in the broader region.

Visit the site of Astoria’s Oregon Film Museum to learn about the movies (The Goonies, Free Willy, and more) that were filmed here and across the state.

Ride Oregon is a great resource for cyclists, with route suggestions and rental options.

Find Small-Town Style and Charm in Astoria, Oregon