Car-Free Getaway: Astoria and the North Coast

November 13, 2017

One of the coolest little towns on the Oregon Coast actually lies just inland from the ocean along a magnificent span of the Columbia River. If you’re a coastal lover, fear not: Hip and historic Astoria is an easy bus ride from the Pacific. This former trading hub and salmon-canning center has become a haven for painters, writers, history buffs, foodies and craft-beer lovers — so much so that plenty of folks seeking an active arts and culture scene but with a less-harried pace have relocated here in recent years.

Getting There

From Portland, Columbia County Rider offers daily bus service along U.S. 30 to the town of Rainier, where you can connect to a Sunset Empire Transportation District bus to Astoria. Alternatively, NorthWest POINT offers daily bus service from Portland to Astoria via Cannon Beach and Seaside. The trip takes about three hours each way, whichever service you go with.

For help planning your car-free route, consult NW Connector’s robust trip-planning tools, which allow you to easily determine the best route based on the time of day you intend to travel. NW Connector covers much of northwestern Oregon, meaning you can use the site to extend your stay by planning trips to and from destinations such as Eugene.

Historic Astoria

You’ll find much to see and do within Astoria’s compact and walkable downtown, home to offbeat shops, numerous restaurants, and several intimate and atmospheric accommodations that capture the town’s colorful personality. The Hotel Elliott, Commodore Hotel and Norblad Hotel all occupy handsomely restored buildings that date to the early 20th century, and a few of the beautifully restored Arts and Crafts and Victorian homes that proliferate in the blocks just south of downtown now house romantic bed-and-breakfasts. Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa sits beneath the iconic Astoria–Megler Bridge and atop century-old pilings, once the site of a fish-canning company; the hotel offers complimentary day-use bicycles to guests.

Oregon Film Museum

As you descend back into downtown via Eighth Street, stop to tour the opulent interior of the Flavel House Museum, a splendid 1885 Queen Anne Victorian that takes up an entire city block. Across the street, you may recognize the former Clatsop County jail from scenes in ’80s movie classic “The Goonies,” which was filmed throughout Oregon’s northern coast. The building now houses the Oregon Film Museum. In fact, you may get a sense of deja vu as you tour the city, and for good reason: Astoria has starred in many classic films. If you’re visit coincides with a second Saturday of the month, then plan to attend the year-round Astoria Art Walk, when shops and galleries stay open late to exhibit work from local and visiting artists.

Astoria Column by Leah Nash

With its dramatic waterfront setting and hilly terrain, Astoria is sometimes dubbed “Little San Francisco.” To fully appreciate the setting, make the 30-minute walk up to Coxcomb Hill, where — after catching your breath — you can climb the 164 steps to the observation deck atop the Astoria Column, a 1926 obelisk painted with murals that depict several key episodes in the history of the U.S. settlement here. You’ll be treated to views of the ocean to the south and west, Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier to the east and northeast, and downtown Astoria and the Columbia River — including the dramatic 4-mile-long Astoria-Megler Bridge — to the north.

The Riverfront

Stroll a few blocks north to the waterfront, which is traversed by the Astoria Riverwalk — the paved, picturesque path follows the former route of Burlington Northern Railroad for more than 5 miles. It’s perfect for strolling or biking, or you can travel the route via the Astoria Riverfront Trolley, which offers hop-on/hop-off service throughout the day. One key stop is the Columbia River Maritime Museum, with its engaging interactive exhibits on every facet of the region’s legendary nautical heritage. Continue to Pier 39, which contains the oldest extant cannery building on the Columbia as well as the Bumble Bee Cannery Museum, Coffee Girl cafe and Rogue Ales Public House.

Northwest Wild Products by Justin Bailie
Buoy Beer Co. by Justin Bailie

Eating and Drinking

Downtown Astoria abounds with one-of-a-kind restaurants, many of them specializing in local seafood. It’s worth braving the inevitable line (it moves quickly) to savor some of the tastiest fish and chips in Oregon at Bowpicker, a funky outdoor eatery set inside a converted fishing boat. Astoria Coffeehouse & Bistro and Carruthers both serve first-rate contemporary Northwest fare as well as craft cocktails. Speaking of which, for an expertly prepared martini or over-the-top Bloody Mary with an amazing view of the river, be sure to drop by the retro-chic Inferno Lounge.

Astoria also has several stops along the venerable North Coast Craft Beer Trail, including the expansive Fort George Brewery + Public House, which occupies a handsome warehouse with soaring windows and a large patio, and Buoy Beer Company, a lively tavern that sits on a pier above the river — a window built into the floor gives you views of barking sea lions lounging on a dock below. Both of these acclaimed craft breweries serve tasty and creative pub fare.


Coastal Excursions

You can reach some of the prettiest beaches in Oregon by bus or taxi along U.S. 101. Sunset Empire’s Pacific Connector bus stops at Sunset Beach State Recreation Site, which has a beautiful stretch of dune-backed sand. It also has access to the Fort to Sea Trail, which leads 6.5 miles inland to Fort Clatsop, at Lewis and Clark National Historical Park. The trail follows the very route the intrepid Corps of Discovery used during their famed 1805-06 explorations of the area.

Fat biking on Cannon Beach

Looking to extend your trip? Consider taking Sunset Empire or NorthWest POINT buses south 20 miles to Seaside, with its aquarium, old-fashioned candy shops, family-friendly amusements and paved 1.5-mile boardwalk. Or head 9 miles farther south to the charming coastal arts community of Cannon Beach, where you can stroll or ride a fat bike along the beach admiring 235-foot-tall Haystack Rock. From both Cannon Beach and Seaside, you can also catch the NorthWest POINT bus back to Portland.


If You Go

Check ahead — The Oregon Coast is a year-round destination, but many believe it’s best experienced during fall, winter and spring when crowds thin. Even so, some coastal businesses operate limited hours during off-peak months, so be sure to call ahead before setting out.

Cab services — Tired of walking? Your car-sharing apps won’t work here on the Coast, though you can hail a number of reliable cab companies that service the area, including Mom’s Cab and Royal Cab.

Bike travel — Want to bring your bike along with you? All busses on the NW Connector route are equipped with bike racks, so you can load it when you board and alert the driver that you’ll remove your bike at your chosen stop. For service, Bikes & Beyond in Astoria is an excellent resource.

Leave no trace — No matter where your car-free travels take you, be sure to practice leave-no-trace ethics. Stay on designated trails, leave what you find where it’s at, respect wildlife and be considerate of locals.

About The

Andrew Collins
Andrew Collins divides his time between Oregon and Mexico City and writes for a variety of outlets, including Fodor's Travel Guides and his own website, He's the editor of several magazines and guidebooks, the author of Ultimate Road Trips USA & Canada, and a teacher of writing classes for Gotham Writers Workshop. Andrew spends his free time road-tripping, hiking, kayaking, and winery- and brewery-hopping around the state with his partner, Fernando Nocedal.