Part one of a three-part series exploring Oregon’s north coast
Recently, my husband and I spent a week exploring Oregon’s spectacular north coast. It’s an easy drive south on Highway 101 from Astoria to Nye Beach (130 miles). Along the way, we stayed in Astoria, Cannon Beach, Pacific City, and Nye Beach (basically halfway down the state’s coastline). Each town has its own vibe — Astoria with river traffic; the artsy Cannon Beach, laid-back Pacific City, and serene Nye Beach. Discover miles of beaches, iconic rock monoliths, artisanal products, and friendly locals. Find fishing, clamming, oyster harvesting, and boat trips everywhere. Part One highlights Astoria; Part Two follows the road from Astoria to Cannon Beach, and Part Three focuses on the final leg from Pacific City to Nye Beach.
Astoria sits at the mouth of the mighty Columbia River where it joins the Pacific Ocean. The city was founded in 1811 by John Jacob Astor — the first permanent settlement west of the Rockies. Astor’s fur-trading company built Fort Astor (then Fort George, now Fort Stephens) to protect the area’s strategic location. Many of the warehouses used for salmon canning and other trades have been converted to hotels, restaurants, and craft breweries. It’s easy to explore Astoria’s historical treasures and modern sites — it’s on the waterfront, and it’s walkable, much like San Francisco, hills and all.
We stayed at the uniquely situated Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa. The hotel is built 600 feet into the Columbia River with every room offering spectacular views of the river and the Astoria-Megler Bridge. The maritime industry here is so vibrant that rooms are supplied with a pair of binoculars as well as the daily report of ship travel on the river.
The lobby of this boutique hotel is replete with open space, floor-to-ceiling windows, and an industrial chic vibe featuring metal beams and supports, high ceilings, exposed wooden planks, and second floor seating that has you feeling as though you’re floating over the lobby with its bird’s eye view of river traffic. Warmed by a fire, it’s the lobby where guests enjoy complimentary breakfast, afternoon hors d’oevures and wine, and just-baked cookies in the early evening. The espresso machine keeps you going every day, all day. Savor wine, beer, and small bites from Bar 600, conveniently located in the middle of the lobby with the same knock-out view.
When you enter a guest room, the views of the river and bridge are mesmerizing. With more than ample space throughout (including a balcony), relax and enjoy the rustic decor, comfortable furnishings, fireplaces, and soothing showers equipped with various rain showerheads and water streams. There’s even a river view from the soaking tub. The wooden enhancements in each room showcase the influence of the Scandinavians drawn to Astoria in the early 1900s.
To kick-start your stay at the hotel, take a cruiser bike out for a spin along the river, reserve the hotel’s vintage car and drive around town, schedule a spa appointment, or hit the gym.
SHOP AND PLAY
We started our tour of Astoria by walking along part of the Astoria Riverwalk past remnants of the fishing industry and the once-active Astoria and Columbia River Railroad. Now it’s bustling with tourists, restaurants, breweries, and shops. There’s even a trolley you can hop on and off of as you see the town along a part of the 12.9 mile Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail.
At the other end of the Riverwalk, explore the Columbia River Maritime Museum. This fascinating site provides insight into the river and its fishing, shipping, and military history. Wander among the largest collection of maritime artifacts in the Pacific Northwest.
Astoria has several other interesting historical museums; we visited three of them: Flavel House Museum, Heritage Museum, and the Oregon Film Museum. Flavel House was built by Captain Flavel during the height of the Victorian Age. Experience those glory days as you tour the house and gardens. The Heritage Museum celebrates the history of Oregon’s Clatsop County through exhibits of Native Americans, early settlers, immigrants, and the region’s commerce. At the Oregon Film Museum, you’ll find memorabilia from the many films made in the state — you can even create your own scene on one of their sets. It’s all housed in what was once was a working jail.
Astoria Column, built in 1926 as a tribute to the city, offers a panoramic view of the city, the Pacific Ocean and the Columbia River. The 125-foot concrete structure sits atop a hill and depicts the region’s history from Captain Robert Gray’s explorations to the Oregon Trail and the coming of the railroad. The history is scratched on the column from bottom to top.
Pilot House Distilling opened in 2013 downtown showcasing numerous artisanal spirits including vodkas, gins, whiskies, absinthe, agave spirits and canned cocktails. This unassuming location brings alive every aspect of the craft – distilling, aging, bottling and labeling, and of course, selling. The tasting room has a casual vibe where you can try the spirits as you savor their creative cocktails. Favorites include the jalapeno lime and lemon ginger vodkas and the Painted Lady gin (a subject of their artistic labels). The A-O Come Hell or High Water whiskies are aged in barrels tethered on a fishing boat that ventures out to sea for six months to a year.
Pilot House Distilling is part of The North Coast Food Trail. The organization was created to help visitors appreciate the bounty of the area (partners are identified with NCFT throughout this series).
Here’s what we tried around town:
It’s easy and fun to get caught up in the river traffic and spend time in the lobby of the Cannery Pier enjoying their specialties (or bring them to your cozy room and private balcony). Breakfast includes assorted pastries, fruit, cereals, eggs, and of course coffee. During the daily wine hour, a local smoked salmon company is featured along with other tasty treats. Try grilled prawns, oyster shooters, flatbreads and more from the Bar 600 menu. At this point, it’s all about taking in the scene (inside and out) and waiting for the cookies, warm from the oven.
Blue Scorcher Bakery & Cafe, a favorite for coffee and pastries in the morning, is also popular for brunch items until 3 p.m. Track the baking of your favorite bread via their weekly online schedule.
Astoria Coffeehouse & Bistro is quite the place. Not only is it busy in the morning serving espresso drinks and freshly baked goodies, but at night, the friendly bar and intimate dining area attracts locals and visitors alike. We caught it on a Monday for “Sushi, Martini & Sake Night.” The fish is so fresh, both the nigiri and sashimi melt in your mouth. Start with edamames on the house and cold sake, then opt for whatever fish was just caught.
Patty Burness can be found on Instagram (pburness) and reached by e-mail at [email protected].