Joe, Lily and I just got back last night from a mini-vacation to the Oregon coast. Originally, we’d planned on skiing and snowboarding at Mt. Hood, and spending the night beside a fireplace, sipping brandy, with our [my] sore bums and aching limbs. Considering, however, that I’ve 1) never skied, 2) never snowboarded, 3) never sipped brandy, we opted instead to head toward water, something that we, collectively, feel more at home with. We took off west, toward the Pacific, along highway 30 north from Portland, toward the historic town of Astoria, Oregon. Along the way, we stopped on a whim at the Gnat Creek Fish Hatchery, and got the VIP treatment—a behind-the-scenes, guided tour—replete with the most interesting things you’ve probably never heard about Chinook Salmon. We left with myriad restaurant recommendations for Astoria, and a deep appreciation for the hard work that our state puts in to maintaining the health of our native fish populations. We also had a wonderful history lesson on how the white man ruined everything for the Indians.
Astoria is not only the oldest settlement west of the Rockies (founded in 1811), it’s also the town where The Goonies was filmed. It’s also a lot of other things. Astoria, and what little I know about it, is like a cleaner, Olympia, WA, with a claim to fame. And it seems like all you need to beat Oly, as those who are native to Washington state, call their beautifully filthy state capital: something that makes you slightly more interesting. I, however have this motto—when in Rome—which is actually a colloquial saying, that I tend to treat more like a guiding precept for life. This has gotten me into trouble. When I actually was in Rome, it landed me parked under an overpass bridge in the passenger seat of a very tiny vehicle with a twenty-year-old guy named Gabriela. More often than not, the scene is less The Monster of Florence and more Vicky Christina Barcelona, but my little guiding precept has never failed to help me see the good in every place I’ve been. I’m into local flavor, I guess you could say.
Astoria was a downtown, with houses built on a hill behind downtown, where the Pacific meets the Columbia River. It’s full of antique malls and old, historic storefronts that never quite became the businesses that now occupy them—coffee shops, bookstores and restaurants that look like they were stuffed into clothing three sizes too small. But that’s kind of what I liked most about it. The new defers gracefully to the old, and attempts wholeheartedly in the face of progress and modernization, to preserve the quaintness that draws Portlanders like us, to places like that.
We perused the antique stores (one of my all-time favorite things to do, ever, ever), and came away with a few finds—a not-so-old but so-heavy tri-fold, carved mirror for my dresser ($35) and a circa-1960s green glass fruit bowl ($8.75). We picked up a few gifts along the way, too. We ate a delicious dinner at Bridgewater Bistro, and while we didn’t dine on the cheap (as we intended to), we sampled the best the menu had to offer: anchovy boquerones with cucumber relish and crostini and prosciutto-wrapped figs with balsamic essence; red clam and mussel chowder with potatoes, basil, cream and curry ; gnocchi with Oregon truffle and green garlic, bathed in herb butter; and of course fish n’ chips, with savory slaw made to order. It was good. We enjoyed it, and exhausted from eating so much, retired to our modest room at the Lamplighter Inn to hang out with our menstruating hairless dog and watch Youth in Revolt.
Sunday morning, we ate breakfast at the Pig & Pancake before checking out, and toured the Oregon Film Museum before we headed to Seaside. The museum is housed in the old Clatsop County Jail, and the $4 admission per adult was worth it to see the tiny four-sleeper jail cells with barred doors just a few inches above the top of my head and a few inches narrower than my size 4 hips.
We drove on fifteen miles south across the river to kitschy downtown Seaside, where we wandered around in the windy cold, drank coffee, shopped and dined at a place called Dundee’s, where I had a teriyaki burger and a Michelob Ultra (a word on this: I forget how good cheap, domestic beers are when I live smack-dab in the middle of elitist craft-beer land, not that I didn’t morph into a weird microbrew snob in college thanks to a good friend, whom I’ll never forgive). After we were officially stuffed and broke, we navigated the good ol’ Focus east on the 26 through the snow, back to Portland. It was just the kind of weekend we needed.
Here’s a million pictures.