Food, Drinks and History
Astoria is dense with history. Whatever brings you to town, it's impossible to miss the pull of two centuries packed with violence, optimism, greed, good intentions, disasters, revivals, and a struggle as constant as the Columbia waters that rage past every day. It's well worth it to plan a day in Astoria diving into the city's multifarious past. Not to worry―this is no boring museum-hopping trip. Astoria's history is interwoven with its daily life. You can experience the city's rich past while eating and drinking your way through a couple quasi-educational days.
Start your visit to Astoria with lunch at the Fort George Brewery (15th and Duane, a short two blocks from the Commodore). Like a lot of the establishments you'll be visiting, the Fort George is housed in a historical building. Built in 1924, the Fort George building was home to an auto service station from its construction through the late-1990s. You can get started on your history tour by asking the staff what they know about Astoria. Everyone in town has at least a few good stories. If you talk to the locals, you'll start seeing some patterns (and probably a few inconsistencies).
After lunch, walk a block-and-a-half over to the Heritage Museum at 16th and Exchange. This is your official history lesson. You get the big picture of Astoria's rich history as well as a lot of intriguing facts about this unique city. (For example: Clark Gable started his acting career in Astoria in 1922.) The wide-ranging collection of artifacts gives you a good feel for how Astoria looked, felt, and smelled during its heydey at the previous turn of the century. The upstairs features a recreation of the kind of bar and gambling palace that Astoria was famous for in the late-1800s, when it was one of the West Coast's wildest boom towns.
Next, head eight blocks across downtown to the Flavel House Museum, a well-preserved mansion built by Astoria's own eccentric rich guy, Captain George Flavel. This museum recreates the Victorian-era home of the city's leading family, an infamously quirky bunch to say the least. This will give you another taste and smell of Astoria (of the more genteel type) during the late-1800s.
Now that you've had your official history lesson, it's time to check in to the hotel and take a break. Drop off your bags and luxuriate in the room for a bit. Shower up. Wear the robe. Watch some TV.
As evening comes on, it's time to get out into the city. Go to Albatross, right across the street, for a top-notch drink and a bite. You'll probably want to stay at the Albatross all night, but other adventures await.
Head three blocks over to the Voodoo Room (1114 Marine Drive). Cocktails, witchcraft and live music lie in wait for you at this eclectic, ramshackle establishment.
The next morning, get breakfast at Columbia Cafe (1114 Marine Drive, adjacent to the Voodoo Room). This place features fresh, locally-sourced ingredients and an up-close and personal griddle-based experience.
After check-out, grab a last coffee at Street 14 Coffee and hit the Columbia River Maritime Museum on the way out of town (you could walk too―it's only 4 blocks away at 1792 Marine Drive). This is totally worth it. It's a big-city museum experience right here in small-city Astoria. Just take a look at the outside of the building. Yes, that's a full-sized boat being tossed on 50-foot seas. Whatever else you did or didn't learn (or remember) from your other museum jaunts, you'll have some good takeaways to prove to your friends back home that you didn't just go on an Astoria pub crawl.
If you’re going on an out-of-town record shopping expedition, Astoria is unlikely to draw your attention. Yelp only lists a single music store, the unappealingly named Bach & Rock, and some of the reviews are likely to give you pause or strike you as unreliably over-the-top. Google isn't much better. A search for "Astoria Oregon record store" is topped by a Yellow Pages link with three listings: a Barnes and Noble, a guitar shop in Seaside, and The Bent Needle, which sounds promising but which is actually an embroidery shop catering to the Coast Guard base in Tongue Point. The second listing gives you Christie's Mallternative, which we'll get to below, and the third link is the Yelp Page for Bach & Rock. The rest is pretty standard irrelevant crap.
Astoria does have a decent vein of vinyl that you can mine effectively if you know how to look for it, but you need to go off the grid for this one. So hit the ATM, get on US 30 going west, and prepare to dig through Astoria for some great additions to your record collection.
When you hit town, your first stop should be the Bach & Rock (corner of 16th and Marine Drive). Yelp is as misleading here as Yelp gets, both in the positive and negative directions. This place is consummately Pacific Northwest, and it's worth blocking out some time because it's not only full of great records in many genres, it's a genuine personal experience. Part music & video store, part head shop, part pet rescue, part tropical jungle, and part espresso stand, the Bach & Rock just may be the strangest business you've ever entered.
If you're a serious buyer, you should probably get lunch before you wade in. A good place to fuel up is right across the street at Bowpicker Fish & Chips, a food cart housed in a converted gillnet boat. The hours are erratic, but their twitter feed always has the latest open times. If the Bowpicker isn't open, head over to the Fort George Brewery (15th and Duane) for lunch and some beer.
Now it's back over to Bach & Rock. Take your time and do it right. The records are scattered around, but they're extremely if somewhat idiosyncratically organized. When you're finally done here, you might think the whole trip to Astoria has already been worth it just for the one record store listed on Yelp. There's more out there, but now you're going to have to do the real digging.
Bike and Brewery Tour
Whether you're coming through town on your bike to hook up with the Pacific Coast Bike Trail, or you're hauling your bike to use for day rides in the area, Astoria is the perfect place to stop off for a beer-tasting adventure. With five local breweries, and numerous pubs and bars serving locally- and regionally-made beers, Astoria has a thriving beer culture. Bicycle is the perfect form of transportation for touring it. If you don't have a bicycle with you, you can rent one from Bikes & Beyond.
Because of its size and geography, Astoria is a very bike-friendly city in general, but it's the Astoria Riverwalk trail that really makes biking here a pleasure. This 3.5-mile route runs along the Columbia River waterfront, offering spectacular views of the river on one side and the historic districts of Astoria on the other. Not only is this a great trail for cyclists of all levels, it runs through Astoria's brewery infrastructure like a main circuit cable. Three of the breweries are literally right on the trail, and the other two are only a couple of short blocks inland.
If you're biking into town from Portland, get lunch and a couple of beers at the Rogue Ales Public House at the eastern edge of town where the Riverwalk trail begins. If you're driving, park your car near the Commodore on Marine Drive near 14th Street, unhook your bike, and jump onto the trail that's just feet away. It's a fast mile-and-a-half ride out to the start of the trail at Pier 39.
At Rogue, which sits out over the Columbia River on Pier 39 (the old Bumble Bee Cannery), you'll find 30 taps, including limited-edition brews made right there and available only in this location. With outdoor seating and a great view of the river, you could easily get sucked into Rogue for the rest of the day–it's tempting, but don't make that mistake. There's plenty of excellent locally-made beer to get to elsewhere. It's fine to spend the first half of the afternoon here, but eventually you'll have to get back on your bike and pedal into town. Your next stop is the Wet Dog Café, an adjunct of the Astoria Brewing Company. This pub is right on the trail, and it has sizeable indoor and outdoor seating areas that both face out towards the river. As you sip one of Astoria Brewing Co.'s many beers, you can watch the other bikers go whizzing past, marvel at the speed and size of the cargo ships headed up and down the river, or do what beer drinkers around the world do: discuss life, the universe, and everything.
Astoria was the first American settlement on the Pacific Coast. Its past is thick with gamblers, bootleggers, knife-fighting fur traders, temperance crusaders, socialist dockworkers, the lost, the crazed, the KKK, and much more. After a fire destroyed much of the city in 1922, the downtown section of Astoria was completely rebuilt and remains much as it looked in 1926. It's a well-preserved remnant of America's small-city downtown past, but it's no Colonial Williamsburg. Astoria is a living, breathing place where buildings on the National Register of Historic Places house decades-old businesses alongside new concepts in brewing, cuisine, and entertainment. Every time you come, you'll get a fresh experience and a few surprises.
WHERE THE COLUMBIA MEETS THE PACIFIC
Astoria is located in the northwest corner of Oregon, where US Route 30 ends its 3,073-mile journey from Atlantic City, New Jersey. To get to Astoria, find your way to Highway 30, point your windshield west, and keep going.
Between 8th and 15th Streets in downtown Astoria, Route 30 divides into Marine Drive and Commercial Street. We are centrally located in the historic downtown district at the corner of 14th and Commercial Streets.
If you're already in Portland, just get on Route 30 heading west out of town. That's the road that peels off I-405 after the Fremont Bridge and shoots through the Northwest Industrial District. It's also known as NW Yeon Avenue, and then NW St. Helens Road, and then something else. Its name changes a bunch of times before you get to Astoria, where it's Marine Drive. You'll know you're close when you start hitting cross streets in the low-20s. At 15th Street, the highway splits into Marine Drive going west and Commercial Street going east. Stay on Marine until 12th Street, just two blocks from where the road divides. Take a left on 12th, then another immediate left onto Commercial heading back the way you came. The Commodore is at the next intersection, the northeast corner of 14th and Commercial. (That's right, there's no 13th Street in that part of Astoria.)
If you're coming into the Portland International Airport and want to take the fastest route to Astoria, head east out of the airport to I-205 North. Continue on I-205 until it merges with I-5 North. Go another 30 miles to Exit 36 in Longview. This puts you onto WA-432, which brings you to the Lewis and Clark Bridge (follow the signs from 432). The bridge crosses the Columbia River and drops you onto US Route 30. Go westbound, and you'll be in Astoria in no time.
If you're coming to Astoria from Seattle or points farther north, you can join up with US 30 in one of two ways:
1) Blast down I-5 South to Exit 36 in Longview. This puts you onto WA-432, which brings you to the Lewis and Clark Bridge (follow the signs). The bridge crosses the Columbia River and drops you onto US Route 30. Go westbound, and you'll be in Astoria in no time. There, Route 30 is known as Marine Drive until it splits into Marine Drive going west and Commercial Street going east. Stay on Marine until 12th Street, just two blocks from where the road divides. Take a left on 12th, then another immediate left onto Commercial. The Commodore is at the next intersection, the northeast corner of 14th and Commercial.
2) Take the scenic route on US 101, one of America's most beautiful highways. From I-5 South, exit at Olympia and head west to US 101. You'll cross into Oregon on the majestic Astoria-Megler Bridge. Go eastbound on US 30, also known as West Marine Drive. The road splits at 8th street, putting you on Commercial Street. Keep going another 6 blocks and you're there.
If you're driving to Astoria from California, or anywhere south of Portland, you have two good options:
1) The slow and scenic route. Get on US 101 going north and take your time. This is one of the most beautiful highways in America. Stop off at some of the amazing ocean-side towns along the Oregon Coast on your way. When you're almost out of Oregon, you're in Astoria. Following US 101 will take you over the majestic Astoria-Megler Bridge into Washington State. Instead of getting on the bridge, go eastbound on US 30, also known as West Marine Drive. The road splits at 8th street, putting you on Commercial Street. Keep going another 6 blocks and you're there.
2) The fast way. That's I-5 North to Portland. Just before downtown, take I-405, then exit quickly to US 26 West. That takes you out to US 101 on the Oregon Coast. Turn north on 101 and go until it hits US 30 at the base of the majestic Astoria-Megler Bridge. Instead of getting on the bridge, go eastbound on US 30, also known as West Marine Drive. The road splits at 8th street, putting you on Commercial Street. Keep going another 6 blocks and you're there.