During my first morning in Astoria, Oregon, I found myself where I am on most mornings: standing in line for coffee.
Even within the small curbside coffee shop, I was already looking forward to spending the day in this small city located on the southern mouth of the Columbia River.
With my mug filled to the brim with steaming coffee, I overheard a conversation between two locals discussing the unusually sunny December weather. As I stepped out of the shop, one local said to the other, “It’s a little slice of heaven here.”
Now loaded with caffeine and high expectations, I began my first day in Astoria, eager to see every view the city had to offer — the rushing Columbia River decorated with red and black cargo ships, the emerald forested hills, the Victorian-style neighborhoods and the snowy peaks not too far away.
A morning walk alongside a 100-year-old shipwreck
Located just a 20-minute drive away from Downtown Astoria is Fort Stevens State Park and the wreck of the Peter Iredale. Crashing onto the beach more than 100 years ago, the remains of the sailing vessel are still rooted in the sandy coastline. The shipwreck occurred just off of what is considered the “Graveyard of the Pacific” — a dangerous stretch of ocean currents along the Pacific coast that is lethal to traveling ships. Now rusted and decayed, the shipwreck reminds visitors of the power of the Pacific Northwest coastline — treacherous and timeless.
Lunch at Bowpicker
Heading back into town, I made a quick stop at Bowpicker Fish & Chips, an Astoria staple I had already received a recommendation for in just the first few hours of my visit. Located inside an old converted boat, guests are served fish and chips from a walk-up window. Crunchy, warm and filling, the freshly caught Albacore tuna, beer-battered and fried, was well worth the wait in line outside the stationary boat. Enjoying this classic coastal cuisine was the perfect way to cover the December chill coming from the river.
A riverwalk alongside a small barking community
With lunch now finished, I was eager to see if Astoria had any boats that could actually float, so I headed down to the riverside. Alongside the entire town, a path runs along the Columbia River, traced by an inactive, rusty train track. Continuing down the path, it’s impossible not to get lost in the number of huge cargo ships that decorate the river. Not far from where I stood is the Astoria-Megler Bridge, which is just over four miles long, stretching across the Columbia. Every day, massive ships from all around the world enter and exit through this bridge to drop off their cargo in one of the major ports in Portland or Vancouver, Washington. In order to wait their turn down the river, these ships park right in front of Downtown Astoria, offering visitors and locals a never-ending view of activity in one of the West’s most popular port of entries.
Continuing my walk along the river, I was soon met with a cacophony of what sounded like barking dogs — a lot of them. As I headed closer to the sound, I soon found an entire community of sea lions not far from the pier, fighting and flopping for space. As I would learn over the course of the day, the barking of these sea lions echoes in almost every corner of the town. Although this was charming for a visitor like me, I could tell the barking could either drive one mad or become the background noise for this community.
An afternoon view above Astoria
Looking for a view of the entire city, I headed to the Astoria Column, which was built in 1926 and is a symbol of the meetings of many people living in the Pacific Northwest. Heading up the 164 spiral steps to the top, the column’s observation deck offers a 360-degree view featuring Astoria, the Pacific Ocean, the entirety of the Columbia’s mouth, Mount St. Helens, Mount Rainier and the seemingly endless Oregon and Washington forests. From above, Astoria is seen as both the welcomer for boats coming from all around the world and the friendly goodbye as ships continue on in their paths back into the Pacific. The city of Astoria also blends in with its natural elements — Victorian-style homes slowly fade into forest walls and docked fishing boats blend into the river shore. To top it off, looking out toward the East, Astoria also offers views of some of the tallest mountain peaks in the West.
Warming up at Fort George Brewery
I ended my day in Astoria at Fort George Brewery — sipping on a beer. Fortunately, ending my day in a brewery does not happen quite as often as beginning my day in a coffee shop, but it seemed like the perfect way to relax in the midst of the early sunset. Fort George Brewery, located just a block away from Astoria’s main street, crafts its own beers right beside its warmly lit taproom. I ordered the Cavatica Stout, sat back and enjoyed the roasted dark beer in the mellow atmosphere of the brewery, reflecting on my day.
I had seen both beached and floating ships, walked alongside the crashing Pacific waves and barking marine life, admired the inland mountain peaks that did not seem so far away and filled myself up with local delicacies. My expectations, set by the local in the coffee shop, had been met. This place really was “a slice of heaven.”