Astoria, Oregon. If it’s known for anything, it’s the setting for the classic 80’s movie The Goonies. Apparently this summer it it’s 30th anniversary! Where does the time go?
For me, Astoria has always been a dumpy town that my family drove through, and never stopped in, but quickly passed on our way to the resort towns of Seaside and Cannon Beach. So when Caliente invited me out to spend the weekend with her and her boyfriend, Handro, I snarkily replied “Why would I want to go there??” Her big push was to go play at the beach. Since I couldn’t imagine we’d want to spend anytime in a town full of decrepit buildings and sketchy individuals, I immediately pushed for driving out to Cannon Beach to play there. I was promptly shut down by Handro and the rest of our party on account it would be an additional hour drive after already driving for 3 hours to get to his home. I could see the logic but just could not imagine why we would want to hang out in Astoria. What could this shady, dying town possibly have to offer?
A lot, actually. But first a brief historic review: Astoria is located at the mouth of the Columbia River as it flows into the Pacific Ocean which, one hundred years ago, would have been a pretty great place to set up shop. The river was easy access to the interior of the Oregon and Washington and became a popular port town in the late 1800’s. Commercial fishing, fish processing, and lumber, made this an invaluable keystone of the Pacific Northwest for over a century. Eventually the town was eclipsed by the rise of metropolises like Portland, Tacoma, and Seattle. In the 1980’s the canneries, saw mills, and eventually railroad service closed their doors and turned their backs on Astoria. Like so many towns deemed obsolete as technological advances improve, little thought was given to the future welfare of the city. This would explain the dilapidation and disarray that was Astoria when I was a kid cruising through on my way to a beachy vacation. What I did not know was that in the late 1990’s there began a renaissance of art and reclamation of the town as a whole. This renaissance has continued to grow over the years turning this home of industry into a historic monument and fun tourist stop for several cruise ships. Suffice to say, I was pleasantly surprised to enter downtown for the first time in eons, greeted by novelty shops, art galleries, and historic buildings with fresh coats of paint granting them the chance to once again shine as they had during the town’s hay day.
A quick round of hugs and bag dropping at our host’s home and we were off like a shot! Handro’s first destination on our tour was to Fort Stevens State Park. This park is seriously HUGE! A long stretch of beach where you can walk or drive next to the surf for miles and miles, big grassy dunes riddled with bike paths and a campground that boasts tent sites, cabins, and yerts. BTW, yerts are weird looking! But back to beach.
Seriously, how gorgeous is that??
I couldn’t believe how blue the water was here. It almost looked tropical.
My favorite part of the park was the shipwreck. The Peter Iredale was a four masted sail boat cruising in from Mexico when it was run aground due to high winds during a storm in 1906. The boat was supposed to be repaired and returned to the water. However, in typical Northwest fashion, the weather would not cooperate and by the time it did, the ship had sunk into the sand beyond the point of retrieving. So there it remained, most of it getting sold for scrap.
It’s amazing to walk around this hunk of extremely sturdy metal and ponder it existing for as long as it has in the salty sea air and tides.
I love old stuff….
And the people who hang out with me near old stuff.
L to R: Caliente, Bestie, Mr. T, and Handro
Feeling thoroughly windswept and hungry we decided to venture into downtown for drinks and snacks. Our first stop was the Buoy Taproom. The restaurant building was once a cannery 90 years ago and sits atop restored (Thank God) pilings. It was a beautiful space and made me thankful that there are still individuals in this world who appreciate historic buildings and are willing to restore and preserve their story. Beyond the incredible ambiance, the food and beer was damn good as well! Oysters were the talk of the day. When in a port town, chances are you will find it’s quality of seafood unparalleled. I, for one, was completely uninterested in trying oysters, gross! Nor was Caliente. But with sufficient pressure from our peers we gave in and tried a few. I was certain it would be salty, chewy, rubbery, yuck! I was pleasently surprised to find them tender, mild, and delicious! They came served with goat cheese and pepper jelly. Yummy!! We also enjoyed their deep fried cheese curds and spinach dip. Mmmmm snacks 🙂
Another charming feature of The Buoy is their plexiglass section of the floor in the middle of the restaurant. Why? Well if there’s one thing Astoria has in spades, it’s sea lions. Big, fat, loud, sea lions. Furthermore they love to hangout and bask on the piling and connecting planks all along the pier. I’m sure it was on purpose that a large inviting plank was located just under the plexiglas. Sprawled atop said plank laid a fine and rather imposing specimen. It almost felt like I was in a zoo, for a moment, looking through glass at a giant animal I would hope to never come face to face with. But there he slept and jerked in his dreams just below my feet. It was daunting to stand on the glass even when logic tells you it will be fine. I didn’t even realize I was avoiding it until Hando laughed at the four of us as we cautiously stood on the precipice of the view.
Our stroll continued in and out of a town that has painstakingly preserved it’s history and heritage.
When did the Roebuck get dropped I wonder….
Each trash can uniquely made to look like a product one of the local canneries used to produce. Seriously, this place is cool.
After a fantastic evening stroll we decided to head back to Handro’s house for a board game and some giggles amid a pristine sunset.
The next morning, we strolled past some fantastic historic buildings.
Mr. T remarked how amusing it was that the old jail still looked like a jail. Upon consideration, I can’t say that I’ve ever seen a historic jail look so much like its former self.
Caliente thought this one looked like the Addam’s Family mansion.
A coat of black paint would do the trick.
Breakfast was served at The Labor Temple Diner. Delicious food, huge portions, and a fantastically friendly staff. Their menu had a great story about the building so rather than me rattle off to you about it, I’ll let you read it from the horses mouth.
To walk off our gut-bomb breakfast we visited some of the local art galleries and shops.
Riversea Art Gallery was truly impressive. A large gallery with artists spanning every medium and genre imaginable. There was something for everyone! If you’re an art lover like me, you’d be daydreaming about being rich enough to have on piece from each artist adorning your soon to be extremely eclectic home.
I really enjoyed Stacy Polson’s needle felted/Japanese inspired wall hangings.
Roger McKay’s use of classic paintings with modern childhood heroes was certainly intriguing to say the least!
And Jud Turner’s bio-mechanical art was sensational!
Last on the tour was Phog Bounder’s Antique Mall. What a fantastic place! The top floor (and ceiling) adorned with great finds for all likes. The downstairs was more of an upcycled artisans mecca, I was in heaven. The had a whole corner practically dedicated to Ball mason jars lol. Loved it!!
I could have bought everything!!! Alas, I was frugal and only got two rectangular medicine bottles to use for flower vases and a couple of small glass buoys to put in my larger planters. I am so coming back here with more money!!
As you can see, my tune has changed dramatically about the little port town of Astoria. I highly recommend visitation to anyone traveling through. This town has so much to offer! I can’t wait to go back again.