Whether you are just passing through or planning a longer stay, the city of Astoria is worth the stop.
Located along the Columbia River where the river opens up into the Pacific Ocean, the historic deep-water port city of Astoria was founded in 1811 and is one of the oldest cities in the state. The city was named after business magnate John Jacob Astor, the New York City based entrepreneur whose American Fur Company founded the site of the original Fort Astoria.
The city today is home to some 10,000 people with residences extending far up the hills overlooking the river and its busy port waters. At the edge of the downtown district, the towering Astoria-Megler Bridge spans the breadth of the Columbia River, connecting the city across 4 miles of rough water to neighboring communities in Washington state via U.S. Highway 101.
Our family enjoyed a brief two-night stay in the Astoria area on our way farther south along the Oregon coastline during the week leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday. Despite the time constraints of our visit, we quickly identified the city as one of those places where we "could totally see ourselves living." The natural surroundings and scenic views from the higher elevations of the city are completely breathtaking, and we greatly enjoyed the overall vibe of the historic downtown area. Certainly, we would more than welcome a return visit.
A few highlights from one afternoon in Astoria:
The Astoria Column
The Astoria Column is a towering work of art located at the top of Coxcomb Hill overlooking the whole of the city of Astoria, the Columbia River and the vast surrounding forest land. Visitors to the historic site are invited to climb 164 steps up a winding, central staircase to the observation deck that offers 360-degree views from the top of the tower.
The view from the top is rewarding, though, fair warning to those with a phobia of heights: Don't look straight down! (Malachi's dad skipped the climb for this reason, opting instead to enjoy the views from below.)
As history goes: The Astoria Column was dedicated on July 22nd, 1926, with three days of celebration and some 8,000 participants in attendance. (The exterior artwork, a 525-foot-long, sgraffito mural, was designed by artist Attilio Pusterla, a Milan-born, Italian immigrant to the United States.) Through the years, the city of Astoria has worked to periodically restore and reinforce the column structure. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. (Learn more)
Another fun fact: At the base of the column is an historic marker that reads:
Site of the first community antenna television installation in the United States. Completed February 1949. Astoria, Oregon.
There is a $5 park entrance fee to visit the column. From a sign posted at the Visitor Center: $2 of the entrance fee goes towards "large scale site improvements and the preservation and restoration of the column." Another $2 goes to general site maintenance and operations. And the final $1 of the entrance fee supports the city of Astoria funding public services, including police, fire, the public library and parks system.
Also important to note: While the park site itself is accessible and the parking lot beyond the fee booth offers ADA parking slots, the tower itself is not (at all) accessible. There is no alternative way to reach the top observation deck but to climb the steep, winding staircase up the center of the structure. (For us, this meant that my husband stayed on the ground below with our son and his mobility and medical equipment while I climbed the tower alone. Lack of accessibility is often a disappointing aspect of many historic sites.)
Find more information about The Astoria Column at astoriacolumn.org.
The Astoria Riverwalk
This 12.8-mile walking path extends along the Columbia River waterfront of Astoria and connects visitors to downtown shops and restaurants and unique attractions, including public art, maritime equipment, Coast Guard ships, and the local Columbia River Maritime Museum.
We enjoyed ambling along the well-paved pathway, taking in the river views with the mild temperatures of a beautiful, late-November afternoon. A stop at Custard King, a walk-up eatery with the feel of a vintage throw-back to the year of its establishment in 1951, was a surprising treat. (My husband highly recommends the veggie burger. I recommend the lemon curd custard. You can't go wrong with either choice!)
Fort Stevens State Park
Located in Hammond, Oregon, just outside nearby Astoria, Fort Stevens State Park covers 4,300 acres of recreation land that includes historic sites, trails, both sandy beach and lake areas, and one of the nation's largest public campgrounds. The park marks the most northerly trailhead of the Oregon Coast Trail, which winds its way along the state's coastline, crossing through 28 coastal towns. In the past, the historic Fort Stevens site guarded the mouth of the Columbia River for 84 years, from the Civil War through World War II.
Malachi and I enjoyed exploring the park on foot and by stroller while Jason spent the morning finishing up several work tasks at our campsite. The walking pathways through the park are nice, well-maintained, wide and accessible. It was a beautiful morning, though a bit chilly, with a moderate wind blowing off the Pacific Ocean, but we had fun hiking out to an old shipwreck site, located just where the waves break. (Check out our video HERE!)
The shipwrecked Peter Iredale was sailing from Salina Cruz, Mexico, in September 1906, heading to Portland, Oregon, when the ship became grounded. The crew was evacuated from the ship without casualties, but the ship itself remains. It is only a short hike out to the beach and also accessible by vehicle. (Learn more.)
Place to Stay: Astoria-Warrenton-Seaside KOA
We pulled our camping trailer into the Astoria-Warrenton-Seaside KOA, located in Hammond, Oregon, just across the road from the entrance to Fort Stevens State Park. The campground is located a short drive from downtown Astoria and may just be one of the nicest KOAs we have seen. If you are looking for a family-friendly campsite with fun activities and attractions on the northwest Oregon Coast, then our family highly recommends this KOA. Find more information at koa.com/campgrounds/astoria.