C’mon, admit it: We all cried at the end of “Free Willy,” whether we saw it back in the 1990s or more recently for old-time’s sake. But did you know it was filmed here in Oregon?
The classic scene when the famous orca whale jumps to his freedom over the breakwater happened at the Hammond Marina, a 20-minute drive west of downtown Astoria in Hammond, at the northwestern tip of the state.
The “Free Willy” site is one of more than a dozen famous film locations in Astoria that can easily be toured in a day, rain or shine. It’s a lot more than just “The Goonies,” the cult classic that put Astoria on the map back in 1985 and is celebrated each year on the town’s official Goonies Day, June 7. (Note that the Oregon Governor’s Office of Film & Television has closed off public access to the iconic white house from “The Goonies” due to vandalism and trespassing.)
Taking a self-guided tour of the film sites — both memorable and obscure — is a great way to spend the day on a nostalgia trip.
Start at the Oregon Film Museum to grab a map of scene locations and explore the production behind the crop of films made in Oregon, often referred to as “Hollywood North.” Housed in the historic Clatsop County Jail, it’s the site of the famous jailbreak in “The Goonies,” as well as scenes from “Come See the Paradise” (1990) and “Short Circuit” (1986).
From this site you can also see the Flavel House, where Mr. Walsh works in “The Goonies.” The house-turned-museum is filled with period furnishings and artwork that celebrates the life of Captain George Flavel, one of Astoria’s most influential citizens in the 1800s.
The iconic 125-foot Astoria Column — the city’s proudest landmark — is pictured in nearly all of the films shot here, including “Kindergarten Cop” (1990) and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III” (1993), as well as “The Goonies,” “Free Willy” and “Short Circuit.” Visitors can climb the 164 steps of the spiral staircase to a viewing deck 600 feet above sea level for a panoramic view of the lower Columbia area.
The 4.1-mile-long Astoria Bridge is another defining shot for classic made-in-Astoria movies. Connecting Oregon to Washington across the mouth of the Columbia River, the span is the longest continuous truss bridge in North America. Pedestrians are allowed on the bridge just one day per year, during the Great Columbia Crossing, set for October 16, 2016.
True film buffs will want to hunt down the more obscure movie scenes too, like the medical supply store that doubled as Naomi Watts’ newspaper office from “The Ring Two,” and the house where Ally Sheedy’s character meets robot Number Five in “Short Circuit.”
The kids will also appreciate a trip to Youngs River Falls, eight miles south of downtown, where the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fought a clan of Japanese warriors when they traveled back in time in “TMNT 3.”