My family and I spent last weekend in Astoria, OR. My wife and I had passed through this coastal Oregon city over a decade ago on a trip down the coast, before any kid was in the picture. Then, it was a quick visit – a hotel stay for the night and a meal at a Pig ‘N Pancake. So we looked forward to staying in the area longer and checking out some of its unique spots. Here we are in the car right before leaving Portland for the 2-hour drive on Highway 30, for the most part along the Columbia River. Just after entering Astoria, there are scores of shops and restaurants along the river. We parked in the parking lot of the Oregon Maritime Museum (it was closed) and went for a walk along the Astoria Riverwalk trail. We enjoyed the views of the river and watched barges move slowly up and down, took a look at some boats and displays outside the museum, and learned a little about the city’s history from some interpretive signs. Here’s the Toyota Highlander Hybrid we had for the weekend parked in front of the riverfront trail on this chilly but nice Friday evening. Dinner was enjoyed at the Rogue Ales Public House on Pier 39, after we arrived too late at the cash-only and closed-at-6pm Bowpicker Fish & Chips, served from a gillnet boat (next time, family), and another place that was recommended was also closed for the day. Looking out the window from our table at Rogue, my son watched Double-crested Cormorants diving into the river looking for meals of their own.
We ended our evening at the Astoria KOA (Kampgrounds of America), where we stayed in a small deluxe cabin. I had never been to a KOA before (my wife neither). While we had fun, it was certainly a different experience. We’re not seasoned campers – I can count on one hand the numbers of times I have camped in my life; it’s just not something my family did growing up. A geology field trip to Death Valley State Park in CA; a long hike and camping next to a lake in the Beartooth Mountains with a roommate in Bozeman, MT; my wife, son, and, I for several nights at Yosemite National Park in 2010; with a bunch of fellow freethinking-families at Jessie M. Honeyman State Park on the southern Oregon coast in 2011; and just recently the four of us for a weekend at Silver Falls State Park south of Portland with a Hike It Baby group.
The KOA is full of cabins, RV sites, and tent camping sites, but also includes all sort of activities for families, such as indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a playground, volleyball court, mini-golf, and a huge bounce pillow. KOA staff also do various programs and provide guests with a schedule. A kitchen is on site, too, and folks can get pizza delivered to their campsite. A cool thing, I’m sure, but for me it’s difficult to consider this camping. Perhaps that’s why KOA’s slogan is “Remember. It’s not camping. It’s kamping.” If you go in with expectations for what it is, you’ll enjoy yourself, as we surely did (especially the free pancake breakfast each morning). But I think I prefer real camping over this kind of stay!
Our son loved the giant bounce pillow, while our daughter was a ham on the playground.
Our second day in Astoria brought us to Fort Stevens State Park, the largest state park on the Oregon coast, next to the town of Warrenton and just across the street from the KOA. The site is of historical and military interest, but we simply wanted to enjoy some nature and views of the coast. We went for a hike out along the jetty on the north side of the park, with views of the where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean. A bit windy and chilly for some of us. Afterward, mom took a nap in the Highlander while the kids and I played on the beach near the shipwreck Peter Iredale. When we got back to the cabin, we made some sandwiches for dinner, and my wife and I took turns watching the kids so we each relax a little in the indoor hot tub. That’s a rare thing to happen!
The next day we packed up and explored Astoria some more. We drove across the four-mile Astoria-Megler Bridge to Washington and back. Our daughter enjoyed watching the upper tresses of the bridge through the Highlander’s sunroof, while our son pondered how the bridge would fair if a tsunami were to come up the river (oh, the mind of a nine-year-old).
We checked out the famous house from the movie The Goonies, and visited the Astoria Column. While we were bummed that the column itself was closed for restoration, the views from the spot were amazing, such as the one below (left) showing the Columbia River, the bridge, and a little bit of Washington across the way and the Pacific Ocean farther out.
We enjoyed the weekend: for Father’s Day, a few-days belated birthday celebration for me, and simply needing to take a break from the every day. It was fun driving a vehicle not our own. We currently own a Subaru Forester (a Subaru before that, too, and I previously drove two Toyota trucks). The Toyota Highlander Hybrid had a lot of perks our current car is without (sun roof, video monitor for reversing, lane change notifications, etc.), but the thing it had the most that we realized is space. Extra leg room and the cargo space in the back. Traveling with kids means lots of stuff to bring along. Our own car is always packed to the top; there was plenty of room to spare in the Highlander. This is the kind of vehicle we’ll consider when the times comes to replace our current one!
Note: My family and I received a courtesy weekend in Astoria through from Toyota USA in exchange for my honest thoughts on Exploring Portland’s Natural Areas. We drove a loaned vehicle from a Portland-based car fleet company and were given vouchers for our stay at the Astoria/Warrenton/Seaside KOA.