Enjoy Astoria’s Bustling Arts Scene

Soak up the arts along with excellent dining and fun on the river.
April 12, 2023

Just 14 miles from where the mighty Columbia enters the Pacific, Astoria is a vibrant city known for its thriving creative life. Its annual FisherPoets Gathering, one of the nation’s most unique literary festivals, has drawn lovers of the written (and spoken) word and nautical life for 26 years. Recent years have seen a new focus on visual arts, with nearly a dozen new galleries opening their doors. That makes Astoria the perfect place for a relaxing art-filled getaway along the banks of Oregon’s largest river.

Bar 600

Day 1: Check Into a Hotel Steeped in History

Start by checking in at the newly remodeled Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa, situated in a historic building on a pier over the Columbia River with a monumental view of the Astoria-Megler Bridge. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you see Douglas Granum’s monumental bronze work, The Big Catch, at the entrance to the property, depicting a 6.5-foot-tall fisherman holding a 180-pound salmon. (It was inspired by a 1908 photograph by documentary photographer Asahel Curtis.) 

Cannery Pier has long been a place where local history and modern luxury converge, but a holistic 2022 renovation has brought the property’s past lovingly to the forefront. Exposed beams and images of Oregon’s industrial past give it a local feel, while elevated amenities like in-room fireplaces, a full-service spa and a cocktail bar make your stay luxurious.

Shake off any lingering road stress at the new Bar 600, part of the hotel’s famed evening wine hour. In your room — equipped with a clawfoot tub, a riverfront balcony and other luxuries — get a first glimpse of works by Oregon Coast artist Duncan Berry. He is known for his Japanese folk-art-style fish rubbings (gyotaku) capturing the exquisite beauty of natural life (find more of his work downtown at RiverSea Gallery).

Public spaces in the hotel are similarly filled with art and culture. Don’t miss the new second-floor Hall of History laying out the hotel’s past, beginning as the Union Fishermen’s Cooperative Packing Company in 1882. Cannery operations at the site ceased in 1982, and the building was first reinvented as a hotel in 2005 by Astoria icon Robert “Jake” Jacob. Guests today can experience its latest evolution as Astoria’s only full-service luxury hotel.

For dinner stroll to Bridgewater Bistro right next door. Under new ownership, the restaurant continues its tradition of favorite menu items like savory Dungeness crab cheesecake, cioppino and Oregon bay shrimp Louie salads in an elegant riverfront space.

Spa lounge

Day 2: See Art, Then Get a Massage

With more than a dozen galleries clustered downtown, Astoria is made for gallery hopping. Look for Kate Speranza’s jewelry made of Astoria’s iconic purple glass vault lights at RiverSea Gallery. Encounter the expressive beauty of April Coppini’s animal portraits at Imogen Gallery. Or check out an exhibition capturing fantasy and the surreal at the Brumfield Gallery. Be sure to stop by Astoria Visual Arts, a nonprofit arts organization and gallery, to view work by the latest artist-in-residence. (The organization also collaborated with Cannery Pier to display winning works from its “Icons of Astoria” at the hotel.) Then head for classic Cajun-style seafood boils and a signature Bloody Mary at the SEA Crab House on the riverfront — also a perfect spot for scouting sea lions. 

Back at Cannery Pier, book your complimentary car service for the evening. The hotel’s fleet, currently a 1959 Silver Cloud Rolls Royce and a1962 Chevy Impala, is a sweet throwback that chauffeurs visitors to downtown destinations in style. Then unwind at the hotel’s renovated Aveda spa with a new relaxation lounge overlooking the river with a massage, custom facial or dry-brushing body treatment. Take a dip in the saltwater whirlpool, or do a round in the Finnish sauna, a nod to the city’s onetime moniker as “The Helsinki of the West” (locally referred to as “Finntown”) thanks to its many Finnish immigrants.

For dinner head to the South Bay Wild Fish House, where you can try the local catch like Oregon albacore, black cod, sole, rockfish and calamari brought in by second-generation family fishermen. Then see a show at the Liberty Theatre, a refurbished 1925 vaudeville performing arts center renovated in 2006 that hosts regular live music, comedy, theater and national acts.

Astoria Nordic Heritage Park

Day 3: Watch Ships and Stroll on the Riverfront

Make yourself a cup of coffee, then settle into your room’s window seat. Each one comes with a pair of binoculars, making it a great perch for viewing cargo ships up close and personal. Curious about where all those ships are headed? The front desk provides every room with “The Shipping News,” a schedule listing the destinations of each vessel.

While you wait for a big one to cruise by, catch a glimpse of smaller boat traffic from the Astoria Yacht Club, a hot spot since 1931 that hosts a weekly regatta throughout the summer. Before heading home, take a final stroll along the Astoria Riverwalk, which leads to waterfront sites like the Columbia River Maritime Museum and the new Astoria Nordic Heritage Park, which celebrates the many Nordic immigrants who arrived in Astoria in the late 19th century. In addition to a colorful arch lined with Nordic flags and interpretive signage telling stories of early Scandinavians in Astoria, you’ll also find several playful statues of trolls and gnomes in this fully-accessible park. It’s the perfect place to snap one last selfie before you head home, refreshed and inspired. 

About The

Emily Grosvenor
Emily Grosvenor is the editor of Oregon Home magazine and author of Find Yourself at Home: A Conscious Approach to Shaping Your Space and Your Life.

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