My first thought when our plane landed in Portland was we must have chosen the worse time of year to visit Oregon. It was only 11am but outside it looked like much later in the evening. The TV screens showed images of roads being washed out and locals telling stories of how they narrowly escaped disaster from the onset of flooding in the area. On our way to the National Car rental location we pondered if we should be renting a boat instead of a car. Our destination was the historical coastal town of Astoria. In spite of the wet conditions, hydroplaning cars and road sides that looked as if they were moments from landslides we made it to our destination safely. The Hampton Inn was a welcome sight with a warm fireplace and hot coffee available in the lobby we were happy to be on dry ground. We had the appearance of road weary drowned rats and the friendly,sympathetic front desk staff quickly checked us in to a room with a view of the water that had a refrigerator, microwave and large work area. In the back of the hotel is a walkway along the river that leads into downtown. There is also a trolley that runs daily in the summer and weekends the rest of the year. At the front desk there was a sign warning of us about singing sea lions, it seems in the summer thousands of them gather to entertain the tourists and locals. The hotel offers ear plugs in case a sea lion serenade is not your thing. Since it was winter only a handful of the musical mammals were available so our concert was subdued.
The long nerve wracking drive left us hungry so we went to check out Fort George Brewery and Public House in the heart of downtown, with its own brewery on site they offered a 13 pour flight for $17.00 that allowed you to try all their home brews to include their Cavatica Stout that boasts an 8.8% ABV. Rustic, homey in appearance with reasonable prices the staff was friendly and the food had a spicy delicious kick to it. We had Sausage and Bean soup and shared a sausage platter. The beer, food, time change and dreary weather left us feeling like it was much later then it actually was so we drove through the quaint town that was beautifully decorated for Christmas before returning to our hotel.
Initially the following morning appeared to be more of the same cold, rainy and overcast, it seemed it was going to be a museum kind of day, so we drove to the Maritime Museum near town center, for a $12.00 entry fee you see the history of the area that is called the graveyard of the pacific, we were surprised at the number of ships that had gone down over the years. Interactive and historical the museum was a great way to spend a dreary morning. Before leaving we purchased 2 yellow rain/winter jackets for under $30.00 in the museum a great deal.
Walking out the museum door we were met with a big surprise, the clouds were gone and the sun had appeared, checking our outdoor to do list our first stop was The Astoria Column is an observation tower and local attraction located high above a hill with views that spanned from the Columbus River to the Pacific. The cost of admission was $2.00 per car when you pay admission be sure to purchase a paper airplane to send over the top. (I am not sure who cleans up all those little wooden plane wrecks). It took a little encouragement for me to climb the 164 spiral stairs to the top but as my brother always tells me if you want the view you gotta climb the mountain. At the top there were breathtaking views, but even more breathtaking winds, as I clung to the sides to keep from blowing over the sides we quickly took some photos before going back down. For those who have a fear of heights the view from the parking lot is also quite spectacular and far less windy.
The sun was still shining so we headed to the south jetty at Fort Stevens to see where the Pacific meets the Columbia River. We stood in awe at the viewing station watching the continuous line of massive waves that crashed into the jetty each one hitting with a force that was sending raging plumes of the Pacific Ocean over the beautiful smooth black rocks of the jetty. The view was almost hypnotic as we watched wave after wave attempted to outdo the previous. On the way out of the park we stopped to see the wreck of the Peter Iredale a ship that ran ashore in bad weather inOctober 1906, fortunately the entire crew was rescued and survived. Over time the unforgiving elements have disintegrated the ship it remains on the black sands beach and serves as a photo op for tourist and a reminder of how cruel the Pacific Ocean can be.
Back in Astoria we stopped at Drina Daisy for lunch, a small restaurant in the downtown area the white table cloths and simple decor gave the restaurant an elegant feeling without being overly pretentious. Serving Sarajevo Mediterranean cuisine the menu gave a friendly warning the flavor and appearance of menu items could change daily depending attitude and mood of the chef. The chef must have been in a very good mood that day as our Bosank Gulas (Bosnian Stew) and Cabbage Leaves stuffed with beef were beyond delicious, hearty large servings and beef that melted in your mouth made this restaurant a great find, combined with warm delicious bread, a unique large selection of wines and beers, great service from our waiter Ken as well as very reasonable prices would definitely return.
With a short amount of daylight left we drove over The Astoria Mengler bridge into Washington to Cape Disappointment Light House. If you enjoy a nice hike in the woods you can walk the half mile path to the lighthouse. Still manned by the Coast Guard this rustic lighthouse is on a rocky outpost and on a clear day would be a beautiful place to watch the sunset, if long walks are not your thing then consider visiting the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center much easier to get to you can get an excellent view of the lighthouse as well as learn more about the history of the area.
The sun had finally set on our beautiful day and we were ready to get a taste of the another well known Oregon treasure…beer. Our first stop was the Buoy Beer Company where we sampled the Oatmeal Stout and Roggenbier, both dark beers and ate Oregon Pink Shrimp Bread and Spiced Pistachios. The pistachios were good but getting the shells off was so difficult that we quickly gave up. If you visit be sure to look for the glass cut out in the floor where I was told you can often find a sea lion basking. The Rouge Brewing Company was a short walk from our hotel so this seemed like the best place to end our night, especially since beer tasting was top of our to do list. The bartender Donald was happy to allow us to sample as many of the more then 30 beers on tap until we found one that suited our taste I found my beer nirvana in a mix of the chocolate stout and hazelnut brown nectar they call a snickers. Don enjoyed the beer but his favorite was a maple bacon flavored vodka, it had the delicious smell of a morning campfire and the taste was just as promised. We shared The Rogue Pier Platter, a delicious mix of sausages and cheese and The cheese curds with jalapeño jelly. With drinks, delicious food, great service and a friendly crowd we sat at the bar until closing sharing stories with other patrons. At closing we purchased bottles of beer (and vodka) to go and walked the short distance back to our hotel where the front desk staff was happy to light the fireplace and allow us to continue our quiet party with our new friends until we were all too tired to talk. At midnight almost on cue the clouds returned and the rain began to fall again, almost to tell us we had been given our one perfect day to explore.
The following morning we were awake early preparing for another day of wet travel back to Portland, before we left we had one more area to quickly check out many people had mentioned that the movie Goonies had been filmed in Astoria and told us we needed to check out the house, so for all you Goonie fans if you come to Astoria with the hopes of seeing The Goony House what you will find is a neighborhood that you enter with a large sign that warns No Outlet to Goonie House, as well as many no Goonie parking signs. It was almost comical.
With a long wet drive ahead of us we pulled away from this beautiful little town knowing we had barely scratched the surface of places to explore, food to try and beer to drink. Driving past the pier 39 one last time we saw our talented Sea Lion friends who seemed to be singing to us a sad farewell but a welcome to come visit them again in warmer drier weather so they could introduce us to the rest of their singing company.