The mouth of the mighty Columbia River, with its abundance of natural resources, was long a traditional meeting place for the Native American tribes of this region. Early European explorers and settlers found the river and its bays to be propitious as a trading and fishing center. These features continue to lure travelers seeking prime recreational opportunities to this historic seaport community.
Astoria (pop. about 10,000) is the oldest permanent U.S. settlement west of the Rockies, and its glory days are preserved by museums, historical exhibits, and pastel-colored Victorian homes weathered by the sea air. Hollywood has chosen Astoria’s picturesque neighborhoods to simulate an idealized all-American town, most notably in the cult classic Goonies.
Such idealization often creates the expectation of a Williamsburg of the West, where the portrayal of history and heritage is a focal point of the local identity. The reality of modern-day Astoria, however, is more accurately captured in a locally popular bumper sticker that defiantly proclaims, “We Ain’t Quaint!” Instead, Astoria is a real city, warts and all.
The preserved pioneer past and attractive Victorian homes may soften the rough edges of a once-bustling port that has seen better days, but not enough for anyone to mistake blue-collar Astoria for an ersatz tourist town.
The decommissioning of the U.S. Naval station after World War II, the decline in the logging and fishing industries, and the closure of several dozen canneries on the waterfront have had lasting effects. Empty storefronts tell the story of a resource-based economy bruised by progress, but there’s plenty of pluck left in this old dowager, and her best years may be yet to come.
Astoria has many charms: Historic buildings downtown are undergoing restoration, cruise ships are calling, fine restaurants  are multiplying, a lively music and arts scene  is thriving, and there’s new life along the waterfront , anchored by the excellent Columbia River Maritime Museum .
Any visitor to Astoria should consider crossing the Astoria-Megler Bridge to visit the extreme southwest corner of Washington State . Here the sands and soil carried by the Columbia create a 20-mile-long sand spit called the Long Beach Peninsula . Some of the West Coast’s most succulent oysters grow in Willapa Bay, the body of water created by this finger of sand. Historic beach communities plus numerous Lewis and Clark sites also reward the visitor to this charming enclave.
Amtrak Thruway Motorcoach Service runs daily between the north coast  and Portland ’s Union Station. Board the coach in Astoria at the Welcome Center (111 W. Marine Dr.). Departure from Astoria is at 8 a.m.; arrival in Portland, 10:15 a.m. Depart Portland at 6 p.m.; arrive in Astoria at 8:15 p.m. The bus stops on request at Seaside , Warrenton, and Gearhart . Contact Amtrak (800/USA-RAIL—800/872-7245, www.amtrak.com ) for information and reservations.
Getting around Astoria can have its pitfalls for the unsuspecting. Potentially troublesome for visitors are the steep hills and the city’s layout of seemingly random one-way streets. Holidays and summer weekends bring heavy traffic along U.S. 30, a.k.a. Leif Erickson Drive (east end of town) and Marine Drive (center and west), Astoria’s major traffic artery. In light of this, you might consider the following alternative.
For visitors willing to let go of their cars for a while, the Sunset Empire Transportation District, better known as The Bus (503/861-RIDE—503/861-7433 or 800/776-6406, www.ridethebus.org ), provides reasonably frequent transportation around Astoria and along the coast from Warrenton, including the campgrounds at Fort Stevens State Park  and Fort Clatsop , to Cannon Beach . Most routes are served every 40–60 minutes Monday–Saturday.