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Astounding Astoria: Portland’s cool coastal cousin

Sunday, August 31, 2014


Astoria bridge

Sun sets over Astoria-Megler Bridge

Manhattan has Brooklyn, and more specifically Williamsburg. Portland has the Oregon Coast, and most importantly, the port of Astoria, .
It might seem strange comparing the two, what with Williamsburg just being a subway stop or two from the Big Apple and Astoria being…well…around a two-hour drive from downtown Portland. But the comparison sticks if you look at how both have become hipster havens for city folk looking for a new place to crash.

Astoria has always been a haven for guys with great mustaches. Way back, say two centuries ago, wealthy New York industrial magnate John Jacob Astor sent out the Astor Expedition that founded Fort Astoria as its primary fur-trading post in the Northwest, and made it the first permanent U.S. settlement on the Pacific Coast. It was an extremely important post for American exploration of the continent and was influential in establishing American claims to the land. Fort Astoria was constructed in 1811.

Speed up to 1985, when Hollywood invaded this small coastal port town and made the adventure-comedy classic “The Goonies” (Truffle Shuffle, anyone?).

In between those years Astoria has seen its share of ups and downs from the shifting tides of the fishing industry that it once relied heavily upon as well as logging and timber that once played a major role in this region. Today, tourism and a growing art scene are two of the economic activities that drive this city.

And with that drive, Portland’s Wiliamsburg has taken off.

Here’s what makes Astoria so hip:


Morning stroll

Riverfront trolley

Astoria's riverfront trolley

 The Riverwalk is a great place for an early morning jog, i.e. the 5.1mile trail that separates downtown Astoria from the Columbia River. Because it hugs the waterfront (and is on the same route as the Riverfront Trolley (503) 325-6311, also known as Old 300, which you can ride for $1 if you're feeling lazy) this paved path offers a mini-view of this city’s history. Not only do you pass by the Columbia Maritime Museum (1792 Marine Drive, (503)325-2323) but you also run right by several of the old canneries and still operational fish processing plants.

Venture past the Astoria-Megler Bridge and you will find yourself next to a ship yard of once sea-worthy vessels that now look more like haunted ghost ships of their former selves.


Sip and eat

Finding a great place to eat on the Oregon coast can be as tricky as trying to spot a pod of traveling "grey-back" whales. But, as with whale watching, if you know what to look for, you’ll be able in for a treat. Thankfully, Astoria has plenty of great places to dine. Here are just a few: 

Astoria Coffeehouse & Bistro (243 11th St., (503) 325-1787) is a great place to dine whether its breakfast, lunch, dinner or you just want a frothy cappuccino.  
Albatross (225 14th St., (503) 741-3091) is a relatively new joint from the same dude who gave us McMinnville Thistle. Eric Berchard’s slender café is big on atmosphere and soon will be even bigger as he plans to expand into a space next door. Check it out on Facebook for upcoming events and more.

Beer lovers are well catered for in Astoria, too: Fort George Brewery (1483 Duane St., (503) 325-7468, seems to be where all the cool kids hang out with their own kids. Buoy Beer Co. (No. 1 Eighth St., (503) 325-4540) is kid-friendly too, with the added bonus of being able to drink your brew while watching baby seals sleeping under the secret, see-through floor.


Finding souvenirs 

Cargo Astoria

Cargo, Astoria

 Cargo of Astoria 240 11th St., (503) 325-8067) is likely the most unusual shop you will encounter on the North West Coast. The jewel-box sized sister store to Portland’s much bigger Cargo store, this delightfully decorated shop is stuffed with new and vintage wares from around the world. For many years Vintage Hardware (101 15th St., 503 325-1313) has “lived” inside the bowels of a former hotel. The rustic, if not downright decaying nature of the space was the perfect setting for this store’s unique mix of gadgets, gizmos and unusual furnishings. Now you will find it closer to the waterfront in its brand new home on the Riverwallk.  Commercial (1269 Commercial St., (503) 701-4261) is a unique retail experience, bringing new and vintage clothing, jewelry, accessories, LPs, and gifts to shoppers with an independent spirit, hand-picked and curated by Greg Glover and Alana Jevert. The Astoria Sunday Market (12th Street, (503) 325-1010) offers not only food but wonderful coastal crafts, perfect for a Sunday outing. 

The explosion of cool spaces and places are proof that the coastal town they forgot to shut down has been reinvented a la Williamsburg, but with nearby beaches that put Brooklyn to shame. 


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