Destinations often shine in the quieter days of the year. That’s true for Astoria, when the cooler months seem to amplify all that’s wonderful about this historic town near the mouth of the Columbia River. With riveting lectures and festivals to tickle the mind as well as the belly — plus a wealth of places to eat, drink and shop that opened in 2022 — Astoria in winter brings out a community gathering vibe that makes the town even more special. Here are a few ways to enjoy a getaway where you can really get to know the town and its maritime culture.
Catch a Lecture at a Brewery or Museum
Every Thursday throughout the winter (usually November through May), the Fort George Brewery + Public House holds a series of lectures called the “Thursday Talks,” where various experts enlighten the crowd on subjects as diverse as local shipwrecks, hummingbirds or maybe even a philosophical discussion on modern technology.
Check the brewery’s website for updates on topics throughout the winter, but experts often come from places like the Clatsop County Historical Society and the National Park Service, among others. The hour-long talks take place in the brewery’s Lovell Showroom and max out at 100 attendees. Treat yourself to a pint of Etymology or another new annual release, and feel your mind expand.
Another venue for winter lectures, Columbia River Maritime Museum hosts its popular “Past to Present” lecture series, as well. Talks typically take place on Tuesday mornings in January and February, and focus on — you guessed it — the maritime world, focusing on topics that shed light on Columbia River ships, shipwrecks, and navigation on Oregon’s biggest rivers.
Celebrate Dark Beer and Fisher Poets
Plan a trip to be in town in mid-February for the Festival of Dark Arts, a stout beer and art festival that also celebrates tattoo artistry, contortionists, ice sculpting and — as they proudly promote — thick-cut bacon. More than 70 rare and unique beers from more than 50 breweries set up in just one block downtown. Tickets go on sale in late November; reserve your place early because the event sells out quickly.
Later in February the FisherPoets Gathering attracts nearly 100 poets, songwriters and storytellers to town as they wax lyrical about life at sea. Most of the artists have ties to the commercial-fishing industry — including Astoria’s own Rob Seitz of South Bay Wild Fish House restaurant. They perform or recite original works Friday and Saturday evenings at venues like the Voodoo Room, the Ten Fifteen Theater and the KALA performance gallery. Workshops on Friday and Saturday offer insights on gyotaku (or fish printmaking), creative writing and even knot tying.
Spot Ships From the Columbia River at a Heritage Park
Major ships from all over the world cruise by Astoria coming and going each day, and getting a glimpse (and understanding) of these at times gargantuan vessels is easy. On weekdays, tune in to KMUN’s Ship Report precisely at 8:48 a.m. for a 10-minute rundown on what to expect that day. Meanwhile, websites like Marine Vessel Traffic give up-to-the-minute reports on ship locations. You might see anything from National Geographic passenger ships to bulk carriers loaded with wheat, logs, chemicals or even automobiles.
Astoria’s Nordic and Scandinavian history dates back to the late 1800s, when settlers from Finland, Sweden, Norway and other Germanic countries began arriving with the completion of the railroad from San Francisco. By 1910 more than a third of Astoria’s population identified as Scandinavian. Today a new monument and park, the Astoria Nordic Heritage Park, honors that heritage on the waterfront downtown with interpretive panels that explain the many faces of town.
Enjoy Great Books and Waterfront Goodies
What would winter be without a great book to cozy up with? The folks at Lucy’s Books, an independent bookstore that moved to a larger storefront downtown in 2022, can help you find an engrossing read. Looking for antique door knobs or Edison phonographs? Look no further than Astoria Vintage Hardware — which also carries vintage furniture, doors and jewelry — another shop that settled on downtown’s main road in 2022.
One of Astoria’s largest waterfront buildings, Pier 39 on the east side waterfront, offers an eclectic mix of things to eat and buy in a complex that once housed the Bumble Bee Cannery. Inside you’ll find several charming shops like Mess Hall Market — located near the cannery’s original mess hall — with gorgeous restored plank floors and shelves stocked with upscale kitchen goodies and a special blend of beans made by Astoria Coffee Company.
Head Downtown for Smashburgers and Rum Drinks
Downtown, the food scene is hopping. After a collapse of its home on the water, Buoy Beer Company moved into a temporary space at the Astoria Food Hub in 2022. Around the block on the waterfront, newcomer Fedé trattoria serves regional Italian cuisine. In front of Reach Break Brewing, one of Astoria’s two food-cart pods bustles through the winter with carts like Coastal Smash serving up perfectly crispy burgers and fries.
Less than a block away, cavernous tiki bar Dead Man’s Isle — also opened in 2022 — has the feel of a tricked-out Caribbean hideaway. Pro tip: Watch for occasional spotlights, hidden secrets and a plate of togarashi (Japanese chili pepper blend) tots with your rum-soaked Dead Man’s Grog cocktail. For a morning pick-me-up, try the Gathered Bakeshop & Market for pastries, tarts and cakes made daily. You’ll be back after sampling the blackberry-cardamom tea cake or peanut butter–dark chocolate sandwich cookies.