Spend a Budget-Friendly Family Weekend in Astoria on the Oregon Coast 

Stunning view of downtown Astoria from the top of the Astoria Column.

Editor’s note: A final version of this piece appears in Seattle’s Child March 2023.

For too long, we overlooked Astoria for its flashier coastal cousin Cannon Beach, but after depleting our travel fund and finally scoring a yurt at Fort Stevens State Park, we opted to spend an economical weekend exploring this Victorian seaport town, and we can’t wait to go back.

Astoria is located in the northwest corner of Oregon where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean, and at only three hours by car from Seattle, it makes a manageable getaway for area families. Founded in 1811, it’s the oldest city in the state, and has even been called “little San Francisco.” In the 1980s, the fish processing and timber industries that sustained the city were in decline, but new and exciting developments are underway. Read on for seven family-friendly activities to try in Astoria.

What To Do in Astoria Oregon

Visit the Columbia River Maritime Museum and Lightship Columbia 

The Columbia River Maritime Museum is devoted to the history of the Columbia River and is hands-on, interactive, and much larger than I expected with lots to see and do for the reasonable price of admission. (Children up to $17 years old are only $5, and little ones five and under are free!) 

Favorite experiences for us included the special exhibits “Shipwrecks!”; the “Science of Storms” where you learn about how science and technology help to track and predict the weather; and exploring the Lightship Columbia. The museum is also located along the Astoria Riverwalk – Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, which follows part of an old rail line along the waterfront, and we enjoyed a picnic lunch there.

Explore Astoria’s Downtown Historic District

Visiting the Garden of the Surging Waves in downtown Astoria Oregon.
My husband and daughter had fun with the Steampunk masks they picked up in a downtown shop. Steampunk and Victorian-era Astoria make a creative pairing.

Astoria is named for its founder, John Jacob Astor, a wealthy fur baron and financier from New York. Take a little walk around Astoria Downtown Historic District and explore, and in between spontaneous stops in the local cafes, galleries, and shops, you’ll find an area chock-full of interesting historical architecture and more. If you enjoy period architecture, check out the Historic Astoria Loop Hike, which meanders by notable 19th-century and early 20th-century homes. We also appreciated the Chinese garden and city sculpture park Garden of Surging Waves, located on 11th and Duane Street across from city hall, which is dedicated to the Chinese community’s significant contributions to the town of Astoria.

Climb to the Top of the Astoria Column for Panoramic Views

Breathtaking views of downtown Astoria, Oregon from the top of the Astoria Column.
The views at the top of the Astoria Column may take your breath away!

The Astoria Column is likely to pop up on all Astoria’s “must-do” lists, and it’s well worth a visit. The 125-foot-tall column was built in 1926 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The concrete pillar is covered in art, representing the interesting history of the area, and you can climb the 164 spiral steps to the top observation deck for panoramic views from the mouth of the Columbia to the ocean and beyond. Kids will enjoy picking up an inexpensive balsa wood plane from the gift shop and dropping it off the top (or, if you’re lucky, you can score one down below ). Admission is free, but parking is $5 (good for one year).

Hike the Cathedral Tree Trail and See the Ancient Sitka Spruce

On the short (1.6-mile), easy, family-friendly Cathedral Tree Trail hike, you’ll meander through the urban forest of Astoria and end at an impressive 300-year-old Sitka spruce. The trail can be accessed from the Astoria Column parking lot as well as from a neighborhood street on Irving Avenue, but parking there is tricky. My son (and dog) loved walking through the tree’s giant exposed roots, and the trail also includes a boardwalk that is fun for kids. Parts of the trail may be too muddy and slippery during the winter months, so check the conditions before you go.

Drive Across the Astoria-Megler Bridge

The photogenic Astoria-Megler Bridge spans the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington and was built in 1966. It has been featured in well-known movies, including “The Goonies,” and at 4+ miles it is the longest “continuous truss” bridge in North America and the final link in the highway U.S. Route 101 up the West Coast. We enjoyed taking a scenic drive and then exploring the other side of the river, where we came across an “Instagrammable” rusty barge.

Explore Fort Stevens State Park

The mighty Peter Iredale shipwreck at sunset at Fort Stevens State Park.

The mighty Peter Iredale shipwreck (1906) at sunset.

The magnificent 4,300-acre Fort Stevens State Park boasts one of the biggest public campgrounds in the country and loads of recreational opportunities from swimming to biking to hiking and more. (It is also the final resting place of the mighty Peter Iredale shipwreck.) If you snag a campsite here you’ll have easy access to the Iredale from nice walkable and bikeable pathed paths.

Enjoy a Yummy Seafood Dinner

We treated ourselves to a dinner out at Ships Out Fish & Chips, and it did not disappoint. Located at 92351 Lewis and Clark Road, there is an extensive seafood menu, daily specials, and kid’s fare. We appreciated that it was dog-friendly with plenty of festive outdoor seating.

Where to Stay

We stayed in a yurt at Fort Stevens State Park and brought simple breakfast and lunch items to save on dining out costs. Yurt camping is economical and fun, and you can even do it year-round because yurts include basic electricity and heating. These sites become available six months in advance and are usually snapped up quickly for the fairer months, and I highly recommend setting up an availability alert with www.reserveamerica.com.

If this is your first yurt camping experience, check out my post on Our Unforgettable Yurt Camping Trip on the Oregon Coast, with lessons learned from our first yurt stay at the Oregon Coast.

Well, there you have it, I hope this post has inspired you to visit Astoria if you have not already. Please save and share the article in Seattle’s Child available here.

Ships at work at the Astoria marina.

Images and content copyright © 2023 Tournesol Adventures. All rights reserved.

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