Astonished in Astoria

While the big news to come out of our trip to Astoria last week revolved around the collapse of the pier supporting a section of the Buoy Beer building—in which no one was injured, thank heavens—it was also noteworthy because of the stellar weather that afforded virtually unobstructed views of the river traffic on the Columbia from our waterfront room at the ever-delightful Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa.

Endless entertainment on the river.

I was there at the invitation of the hotel to get a preview of their multimillion-dollar renovation scheduled for the end of this year—currently on tap to be completed in 2023—that will not only completely redo the front desk and lobby area, but will also add a craft cocktail bar with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out at the hotel's spectacular view of the river, with a menu of small plates featuring the best of what's in season from local farms and fishers. The spa will also get a makeover, updating services and amenities.

Birria and tacos…be still my heart!

The addition of the bar and kitchen is a smart investment, since the area near the bridge isn't exactly swimming in nearby dining options—though it is fun to schedule a chauffeured ride into town in one of the hotel's fleet of vintage cars. But if you're up for spectacular New Mexican take-out, my friend Jennifer Bright recommends the Taqueria los Compas food truck that's just a few short blocks away. It usually has at least two authentic birria stews along with delicious tacos, burritos, tortas and more. Hint: If a brisk early walk along the waterfront is your jam, then stop in and get the breakfast versions of the above items.

Fresh-caught halibut fish'n'chips!

A ubiquitous stop in Astoria, at least for my beer-loving husband, is at Fort George Brewery and Public House right downtown, with two dining options in the main building—upstairs for pizza and downstairs for pub grub, including spot-on fish and chips. Their charming pocket bar next door, the Lovell Taproom, was closed for a short period but is again open with its own tap list if you're looking for a more intimate experience.

Jennifer also recommends the sustainable seafood at South Bay Wild, a relatively new spot owned by fishing family Rob and Tiffani Seitz, as well as Brut, a wine bar and retail shop recently opened by Lisa Parks. Also mentioned were Naked Lemon bakery, Busu and Sasquatch Sandwich Shop as good bets.

New favorite: Historic Pier 39.

But our favorite by far on Jennifer's list was a bakery and café on the west end of town, Coffee Girl. Excellent coffee and house-made pastries are on the menu, but its location stole our hearts. It's on historic Pier 39 off Hwy 30 and is the city’s oldest and largest waterfront building. It literally sits out in the Columbia River, accessed by a short, planked bridge, and contains shops, a museum and a working cannery. It's magical to sit on the deck out front and watch the river traffic flow by.

The cozy pub at the Shelburne Hotel in Seaview.

We also managed an afternoon adventure across the Astoria-Megler bridge that soars over the Columbia, connecting Oregon's north coast with Washington's  Long Beach Peninsula. Anchored on the south end by the historic and very-much-still-working fishing town of Ilwaco where you can pick up whatever seafood is being pulled out of the area's waters at several dockside markets—Fish People and Tre-Fin Dayboat Seafood are two of many options—we were there to visit Cape Disappointment's Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center where our friends Leslie Kelly and her husband Johnny had signed up to be volunteer guides for the month.

Local oysters, local beer!

Feeling a bit peckish and with some time to kill before meeting our friends, we decided to stop in at the pub at Shelburne Hotel & Pub in nearby Seaview where we'd stayed decades before. Still as warm and inviting as we remembered, especially on a wet, cool spring day, we snacked on crispy-on-the-outside, luscious-in-the-middle cornmeal crusted Hama Hama oysters with fries and a couple of stellar local pints—Leadbetter Red Scottish Ale and Semper Paratus Porter—from just-down-the-block North Jetty Brewing. (Going to be looking for this brewery in the future!)

The historic North Head Lighthouse.

Thus fortified, after a short hike to the stunning North Head Lighthouse, we made our way to the Center and were given a tour of the exhibit tracing the journey of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark's Corps of Discovery from its beginnings as a US Army unit commissioned by President Jefferson tasked with scientific and commercial exploration (for future exploitation) of the recently acquired Louisiana Purchase, ending with the Corps' eventual arrival on the country's western edge.

An all-too-brief sojourn with Leslie and Johnny had us trundling back over the bridge at twilight to our room at the hotel. A quick drive the next morning to the beach at Gearhart so the dogs could get their yayas out on the sand before heading home was the perfect end to our 48-hour trip, one we'll hopefully repeat at greater leisure in the not-too-distant future.

Beach Time: Manzanita Weekend

It had been well over a year since we'd been to the beach for more than a day trip—almost criminal considering Portland is an easy 90 miles from the coast—so for a birthday treat we rented a small house in Manzanita for a long weekend. Situated at the quieter north end of town near Neahkanie Mountain, and with rain in the forecast, we'd have a chance to read and write and maybe, just maybe, get in a few dry walks on the beach.

Cloudy to cloudless in 24 hours.

Winter sojourns on the Oregon coast require a certain flexibility. Storm fronts can blow in and just as quickly blow over, so it can pour all morning then suddenly break into high overcast (or…gasp…sun!) allowing time for long-ish strolls.

The high tides in winter—this year there have been several so-called "king tides," a non-scientific term for exceptionally high tides—bring a great deal of detritus to affected beaches. Driftwood, seaweed and grasses, along with ribbons of sea foam or "spume" churned up by the waves, litter the tidal zone, as well as colorful chunks of plastic large and small, and the bodies of creatures caught in the storms, including velella velella, birds and shellfish.

Great selection at Cloud and Leaf Bookstore in Manzanita.

When, not if, the next storm front arrives, it’s the perfect time duck into the exceedingly cozy Cloud and Leaf Bookstore for reading material, then repair to the San Dune Pub for a pint. A stop at the surprisingly well-stocked Manzanita Fresh Foods market on the way home for dinner odds and ends and we were set for the evening.

Which kicked off with a stellar pasta dish from my brother's old blog, crab and thinly sliced ribbons of chicory in a shallot and wine sauce, all warmed together with the hot pasta until the chicory wilts but still has a nice crunch. A curly endive salad in a creamy vinaigrette, a glass of a dry rosé to drink, and we were as happy, if not more so, than we would have been going to a fancy seafood place.

Safe from tsunamis…whew!

We could then head to bed knowing our rental house was safe from the aforementioned king tides and tsunamis, as declared by a line painted on the main road just down the hill. Tsunamis, triggered by earthquakes offshore in the Cascadia subduction zone, are a big topic in coastal towns, since they can affect hundreds of miles of coastline, threatening people on the beach, those living in low-lying areas, and anyone living or working near the bays and estuaries that make the Oregon coast such a rich environment.

Safe for now…

Not that it was on the mind of the young four-inch banana slug making its way across the patio, but that tsunami line out on the road means it's likely to reach full adulthood as long as it doesn’t meander too far afield.