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Astoria: The Rare, Four-Season Family Destination

This hip, historic Oregon town rocks as a family vacation or a couples’ getaway all year long

Published on: July 27, 2017

astoria column
You can climb up the 164 steps of the 1926 Astoria Column in any season. | Don Frank Photography

If you’re looking for a three-day trip for the whole family within driving distance of Seattle — one you can take every season of the year — you can’t do much better than Astoria, Oregon. And if you find the town so appealing that you want to return, you’re in luck: Astoria is a destination that is packed with fun and adventure in any season.

A traditional fishing town and the first European settlement on the Pacific Coast, Astoria has that rare combination of great year-round activities, fun cultural and historic sites, iconic movie cred and a killer brewery scene, along with just about every other element family travelers yearn for in a destination. And with a flurry of new activity in downtown retail, on the food scene and in local activities, the city shines brighter than ever for a family or couples’ getaway. Here’s a season-by-season itinerary.

Ziplining in Warrenton | Don Frank Photography

Summer: zip lines and Goonies fun

Hey, you guys! Summer is glorious in Astoria, offering lots of waterfront walks, beachcombing at nearby strips of sand, and loads of adventures.

At the Oregon Film Museum, families can create their own short films in front of three green screen sets, or find a favorite image from the Goonies gallery. Grab a Baby Ruth — Sloth’s favorite snack from the movie — in the gift shop. Choose your own idea of select a scene from movies made in Oregon like Kindergarten Cop, The Goonies or Free Willy (improvise or select a scene from a movie made in Oregon to reenact).

Peter Iredale Shipwreck
Peter Iredale Shipwreck. Photo credit: Don Frank Photography

At Fort Stevens State Park, explore the Peter Iredale Shipwreck, a shipping vessel that was blown onto the shore in 1906.  

For older kids, High Life Adventures, located just four miles away, in Warrenton, zips you along eight lines, from 15 ft. to 75 ft. off the ground, across a lake and through a canopy of trees (check website for restrictions).

Astoria Scuba & Adventure Sports can get you trained and geared up for underwater exploration, or try stand-up paddle-boarding on the Lewis & Clark River, the Seaside Estuary, the Skipanon River or other mild-moving waterways,  with the Clatsop Paddle Company.

  • Can’t-miss festivals: Mark these for next year: The annual Goonies Day is in June, with events inspired by the seminal ’80s family film in locations such as the iconic Goonies house. Between Aug. 21 and 27, head to nearby Long Beach, Washington, for the high-flying World Kite Festival.
  • Kid-friendly restaurant: There’s only one real option at Bowpicker Fish & Chips, but it’s a seminal experience to climb into the grounded fishing boat for beer-batter-dipped albacore tuna and thick-cut steak fries.
  • Grown-up pleasure: The range of artistic media presented at RiverSea Gallery astounds – look for the happy family scenes of Carol Aust or the kinetic sculptures of Bend artist Chris Cole.
kid at water line
Oregon coast | Don Frank Photography

Fall: coffee and trolley rides

Fall brings crisp winds from the sea and lots of opportunities for coastal outdoor adventures and cozy indoor learning. When the rains set in, hit up Coffee Girl at Pier 39, also home to a free, self-guided Cannery Museum with an antique cold storage facility fascinating to children.

Bring your skates! The Astoria Armory hosts community roller skating on Friday nights.

Plan to join one of the ranger programs at Fort Stevens State Park, a beachy peninsula just southwest of Astoria  – mushroom forays, birding hikes and clean-ups happen most weekends.

The covered 1913 Riverfront Trolley runs all weekend in good weather along the waterfront, passing by many destinations.

  • Can’t-miss festival: On the last weekend in September, the Pacific Northwest Brew Cup stages a family-friendly event with food carts, all-day music, activities for kids, and beer and cider.  
  • Kid-friendly restaurant: New kid on the brewery scene Buoy Beer Co. will accommodate your family graciously and with delight, and everyone will love the kid-friendly menu and fun atmosphere in a revamped cannery right on the river.
  • Grown-up pleasure: The city’s best cocktails are at Albatross & Co. Restaurant & Bar.
purple cow
Purple Cow Toys | Don Frank Photography

Winter: storms, sweets and shops

Make like local Norwegians and celebrate the dark months. Winter brings great storm-watching, moody river views, and — since rain won’t scare you — great sweet spots to duck out of the deluge.

You can climb up the 164 steps of the 1926 Astoria Column in any season, but winter is a great time to warm up little bodies for an expansive view of the mouth of the Columbia River. The park has a parking fee (annual permit) of $5 per vehicle.

If it pours while you’re there, Astoria Parks and Recreation offers programming for all ages and facilities including an Aquatic Center, the Port of Play for little ones.

Ducking in shops between raindrops is easy with kids in downtown Astoria: Check out stores like Tweentopia, Curious Caterpillar, Foxgloves, Lucy’s Books, Purple Cow Toys and Cargo.

If you have time to kill after dinner, don’t miss the downtown ARC Arcade, which has old favorites like Pac-Man, The Avengers, Street Fighter, and Super Mario Bros.

  • Can’t-miss festival: The Fort George Brewery Festival of the Dark Arts, happening mid-February, takes over an entire block for a celebration with fire dancers, tarot card readers, tattoo artists, belly dancers, cigar tents, old fashioned photography, live music and more than 60 Northwest-brewed stouts on tap.
  • Kid-friendly restaurant: Options abound at Fort George Brewery, whose downtown location has both a downstairs full menu and an upstairs wood-fired pizza menu.
  • Grown-up pleasure: Explore Astoria’s international art scene at Imogen Gallery, which displays a carefully curated selection of works inspired by river and sea.
lightship columbia
Lightship Columbia | Don Frank Photography

Spring: museums, ships and trails

There she blows! Spring heralds a season of outdoor adventure and a chance to pick and choose between compelling indoor history exhibits and rollicking outdoor activities.

The Columbia River Maritime Museum is a must in every season for its inspiring and comprehensive exhibits on the local history of taking to the sea, but spring brings a new roster of 3-D movies to its programming.

At Fernhill Glass, you can watch gaffers work or join in on a class or one-on-one instruction to make your own paperweight or ornament.

Mix outdoor time and history at Fort Clatsop State Park, set inland on the Lewis and Clark River. Take a half-mile trail just next to the Visitors Center, or choose the same 6.5-mile trail that Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery forged from the fort to the sea through woods, fields and dunes after building the fort in the winter of 1805-1806.

  • Can’t-miss festival: The Astoria Warrenton Crab, Seafood & Wine Festival is best for older kids.
  • Kid-friendly restaurant: The local favorite Beach Burrito has customizable options as well as a giant indoor play center for kids.
  • Grown-up pleasure: A full city block is given over to the impeccably designed Garden of Surging Waves, a site that pays homage to the thousands of Chinese immigrants who helped build Astoria and worked the hardest jobs in its factories (great for teens and easy with kids).
kid on trail
Hitting the beach trail | Don Frank Photography

Astoria: where to stay

Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa: Set in an refurbished canning factory right on the Columbia River, Cannery Pier Hotel is the prime choice for romantic couples and families with school-age children and older. Free cruiser bikes for rolling around town, a nice gym and daily wine tasting make it a standout, but the chance to have a driver of a 1950s Chevy cruiser deposit you downtown is the cherry.

Holiday Inn Express: Located right on the Columbia River, this moderately priced hotel gives you a pristine view of the Astoria-Warrenton bridge and the giant ships that float down it. A great option for families with infants.

Comfort Suites Astoria: With downtown access to the Riverwalk, a biking and walking path along the Columbia River, Comfort Suites is perfect for families that want to stay in the thick of things but still have some room.

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