We met my parents in Long Beach, Washington for a weekend of hikes, history, sandcastles, and occasional sun, and concluded our visit with a half-day adventure across the Columbia River in Astoria, Oregon.
I had never been to Astoria and didn’t know what to expect. My parents picked up some tourism brochures and on one of our evenings together, we spent a little time looking up things to do. Given the history of the area, I wasn’t surprised to see a number of forts and parks on the list.
While they sounded very interesting, my parents had already hit some of those earlier in their trip so we decided to focus on a few activities that would be new to all of us and that would allow Brian and I to hit the road around lunchtime on Sunday for our several hour drive back to Seattle.
Coming from Long Beach, we traveled along the Columbia River and were able to cross over the Astoria-Megler Bridge—previously known as the “bridge to nowhere” but now known as the “bridge to the world!” According to their brochure:
The bridge stretches 4.1 miles from Astoria, Ore., to Point Ellice, Wash., and contains the longest continuous three-span through-truss in the world. When opened on Aug. 27, 1966, the bridge completed U.S. 101 as an unbroken link between the Canadian and Mexican borders.
Once we reached Astoria we wove our way down to the river so we could park near the bridge and take some pictures along the water. Sundays must be a slow-start day—we didn’t see too many people out, and even some of the nearby seafood shops seemed to just be waking up for the day.
As we walked around, Brian was caught off guard by this odd stop sign in the middle of the road! It was small so cars could pass over it and placed in the concrete at the intersection by the docks. I’ll admit, I didn’t look to see if there was also a traditional sign or if that was the sole signage, but it certainly caught our attention and we looked twice before moving ahead!
After our bridge viewing we relocated east along the bank so we would be within walking distance of a few of our sight-seeing destinations.
Along the water is a paved walkway along the tracks of a historic 1913 trolley that takes you back and forth between Basin Street and 39th Street. You can take unlimited rides for $2 a day and enjoy a narrated trip of downtown and the waterfront.
The trolley wasn’t running yet that morning so we took the path toward the first of our stops, the pier at the end of 36th street, which was supposed to be teaming with sea lions!
For the past few years the sea lions have taken over the docks, causing between $100k-150k in damages a year, stealing fish from the fishermen, destroying the docks, and creating a huge mess. The port has tried multiple methods for deterring them. Apparently sea lions hate colorful moving objects so they have deployed beach balls, flailing tube men and more.
While we were there, strings of colorful flags lined many of the docks. This latest tactic must be working because there wasn’t a single sea lion in sight! We were a little bummed not to see them, but I can appreciate that the locals, especially those who rely on the port, were probably pretty happy to have the respite!
Our second destination was one I had stumbled upon online called the Hanthorn Cannery Museum. We walked a wooden platform out to the end of the pier where the former cannery is located. Now home to the museum, office buildings, coffee shops and more, the buildings are expansive and occupy the pier.
The museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and run by former employees of Bumble Bee Seafoods, which was founded in Astoria. Thousands of employees worked at this cannery location between 1875 and the late 20th century before the headquarters closed in 1981.
As we walked inside, we followed the red crabs painted on the floor to various exhibits. There were huge open spaces filled with all kinds of old equipment and smaller, more intimate rooms with promotional posters, cans and items belonging to the former employees.
Everything was accompanied by information displays , and the interior rooms also had TV screens with film about the cannery’s history. It was amazing learning about the salmon as well as the cannery itself, which was one of the largest employers in Astoria for many years.
We spent a while going through each of the rooms, which are free to visitors, and then made our way back toward the entrance via the cannery workers hallway. This hall, which is big enough for cars to still drive through, features the signatures and sentiments of many of the former workers.
We took time to read many of the remarks, calling out to each other when we read one that was particularly interesting. Many were simply signatures with the years the person worked at the cannery, but some included their job/position and memories as well. It was touching and made me think about what it must have been like for those individuals and the community when the cannery eventually closed its doors. It was such a significant force in Astoria, and I’m glad the employees were able to turn it into a nonprofit museum so others can learn about the history.
We walked back to the cars and headed downtown for our final stop of the day, the Astoria Column.
Along the way we pulled over, parked and got in a lengthy line for Bowpicker Fish and Chips, which was supposed to have the very best fish and chips around. Based on the line we encountered, I had a feeling that must be true. The line was a healthy mix of tourists and locals so I felt pretty confident it wasn’t just hype drawing people here for lunch on a Sunday afternoon.
As with any good food truck, they serve food until they run out. They also only serve two things–fish and chips. The people ahead of us seemed to be taking forever and ordering some hefty quantities so I was hoping there would still be some left by the time we were ready to order. My mom and I stepped out of line once we were approaching the elevated counter and let the guys order a couple of helpings for us to share, and we took our lunches with us to the Column so we could sit outside and enjoy our picnic before making our ascent.
I’ve had my fair share of fish and chips in my day, and I will readily admit that this was among the best. Whether it was because they use Albacore tuna or because it’s perfectly beer battered, I don’t know, but it was absolutely worth the wait!
After our picnic we had the perfect opportunity to work off our lunch exploring the Astoria Column.
Dedicated in July 1926, the column was one of 12 landmarks created in the early 1900s between St. Paul, Minn. and Astoria by the president of the Great Northern Railroad who wanted to commemorate important moment’s in the country’s history.
The column sits on 30 acres of property high on a hill overlooking Astoria and the Columbia River and features a design depicting 22 significant events that occurred in or around Astoria. My mom had a brochure that details each of the 22 moments, and we spent some time trying to follow along with the history as we admired the column from the outside plaza.
We also decided to tackle the 164 steps of the spiraling staircase that leads you up the column and to a small overlook that gives you 360 degree views of the surrounding area.
Although overcast when we began our day, the sky had cleared by midday and we had the perfect viewing platform of the surrounding area. To the north we could just make out the Astoria-Megler bridge spanning the Columbia River while to the south we had sweeping views over the Youngs Bay and Youngs River, with Saddle Mountain off in the distance.
I was a little jealous my parents had the rest of the afternoon to continue exploring Astoria. With so many other things left on my list, we’ll simply have to go back!