Before visiting Astoria, Ore., I asked a former resident what I
should do there. “Catch up on your reading,” he said. Obviously
he’s out of touch with his Northwest Oregon roots, because during
my visit, I never so much as opened a book.
Where tourism is concerned, Astoria has hit its stride. Long
known for its proximity to Fort Clatsop, the early 19th-century
Lewis and Clark outpost, the city by the Columbia River has evolved
into a marketable destination with modern-day allure. The area’s
visitor industry and community groups have collaborated to create a
getaway that’s small enough to enjoy in a few days but big on
selling points for clients.
Turning the Town Around
Among those who have helped turn the town around is Astoria
native Chester Trabucco, who recently restored the fading 1924
Hotel Elliott as well as the rundown 1925 Liberty Theater just down
the block. In the same neighborhood, the once-decrepit Bank of
Astoria building has evolved into the classy Columbia River Day
Spa, and a 1920s watering hole called the Schooner has found new
life as a cozy, contemporary restaurant.
“Five years ago, the downtown was tougher, with very little
appeal to tourists, but our residents have worked together to make
it more attractive,” said Hotel Elliott manager Michael Willock.
“Now, travelers are starting to look at Astoria as its own
The Hotel Elliott served as an ideal home base for my historic
explorations of Astoria, the oldest settlement west of the Rocky
Mountains. Surrounding the hotel, neighborhoods of century-old
Victorians recall tales of the region’s earliest residents. Most
notable of these is the stately Flavel House, an immaculately
preserved showpiece of Queen Anne architecture built in 1885.
The Heritage Museum, housed in a 1904 building once used as City
Hall, presents exhibits about the birth and growth of the town,
including thousands of historic photos. Rising above the city atop
500-foot Coxcomb Hill, the 125-foot Astoria Column provides a
360-degree overview of the area, and murals on its exterior paint a
local history lesson.
Down by the River
Astoria’s riverside perch has long defined its character, and
innovators are opening up lodgings and attractions that honor that
relationship. Take Robert “Jake” Jacob, son of a former salmon
cannery worker, and owner and architect of the new Cannery Pier
Hotel. Jacob placed the hotel on a dramatic perch, jutting 600 feet
into the river.
“Astoria is so unique because of its proximity to the big ships
that run up and down the Columbia,” said Donna Quinn, the hotel
sales director at Cannery Pier. “We want to give all of our guests
the experience of watching those giant vessels gliding by, as they
have for decades, which explains why each of our accommodations has
a river view.”
From the Cannery Pier Hotel, I learned more about the Columbia
by strolling along the Astoria River Trail, a five-mile boardwalk
and footpath hugging the water. Specific viewing locations line the
route, like the 14th Street ferry dock, where a radio speaker
broadcasts live conversations of pilots, boaters and the Coast
Guard. The 40-passenger 1914 Astoria Riverfront Trolley, operated
by community volunteers, offers a fun and less strenuous way to see
the sights along the shore. For a deeper immersion into Astoria’s
relationship to the water, clients can browse the clever
interactive exhibits of the 38,000-square-foot Columbia River
Maritime Museum, fresh from a $6 million expansion.
Another Astoria resident that’s making a difference is Steve
Nurding, who bought a 1905 Colonial Revival building called the
Officer’s Inn Bed and Breakfast, 10 miles west of downtown.
Situated next to the former U.S. military outpost of Fort Stevens,
the mansion once housed top-ranking members of the Army and their
families. An enthusiastic supporter of historic restoration,
Nurding has carefully preserved the pressed tin ceilings,
wrap-around porches, inset cupboards, elaborate fireplaces, French
doors and ornate staircases of the home, which is listed on the
“This is a great place for people who want to step back in
time,” said Nurding. “Along with independent travelers and history
buffs, we’re encouraging all kinds of groups to consider the inn as
a setting for a meaningful gathering.”
I used the Officer’s Inn as a stepping stone to sites of
interest outside of downtown Astoria, including Fort Stevens State
Park, with its thoughtful museum and preserved gun batteries; the
dramatic wreck of the three-masted ship Peter Iredale, rusting on
Clatsop Beach since 1906; and Fort Clatsop National Memorial, where
the Lewis and Clark expedition endured the cold, wet winter of
Driving 20 minutes south from Astoria, clients can stroll the
streets, shops and boardwalk of Seaside. Twelve miles further
awaits quaint Cannon Beach, home of Ecola State Park and its
jaw-dropping ocean views.
Before I left Astoria, I stopped by the town’s new Tapiola Park
Playground, where kids play on miniature versions of Fort Clatsop,
the Astoria Column, Flavel House and other attractions I had just
visited. Built and paid for entirely through community efforts, the
park epitomizes the collaborative spirit of a city with a healthy
perspective on the past and good intentions for the future.
|WHERE TO STAY|
Cannery Pier Hotel
No. 10 Basin St.
Astoria, OR 97103
Launched in late 2005, the 46-unit boutique hotel offers river
views and fireplaces in every room. By summer, it’s opening an
adjacent freestanding restaurant, banquet facility, wine-tasting
area, brewpub, art gallery, ice cream parlor and crafts
demonstration deck. Expect 24 more hotel rooms within three
Nightly rates, which come with continental breakfast and afternoon
wine and snacks, range $149-$325. The Pilot House, with a full
kitchen, is $525.
357 12th St.
Astoria, OR 97103
This 1924 downtown landmark reopened in 2003 after a $5 million
renovation. Each of its 32 rooms and suites boasts heated bathroom
floors, cedar-lined closets and jetted tubs. The basement,
currently home to a wine bar and cigar room, will add a fine-dining
restaurant this summer.
Through May 16, nightly room rates range from $89-$250 per double,
including breakfast and late-afternoon wine. The four-room
Presidential Suite goes for $550.
540 Russell Place
Hammond, OR 97121
Once housing Army officers and their families, the 1905 Colonial
Revival building reopened in February as a bed and breakfast.
Meticulously renovated, its double rooms and multi-bedroom suites
appeal to couples as well as groups. For clients who crave modern
facilities, the basement will eventually include a fitness room and
a billiards/big-screen TV room.
Through April 15, nightly rates range from $75-$115 per double,
with a full breakfast.
Astoria-Warrenton Chamber of Commerce
111 W. Marine Dr.
Astoria, OR 97103