24 Hours in Astoria, Oregon

I’ve wanted to visit Astoria, Oregon since I was very young. This is solely because one of my favorite movies back in the day was Kindergarten Cop. You know you know it! Tough guy Arnold Schwarzenegger is forced to go undercover as a kindergarten teacher in search of the bad guys.. Filmed in Astoria, I always thought the seaside town looked adorable, and how neat that they filmed at an actual school. Also home to the Goonies filming locations, I can at last say I’ve visited the charming port city and guess what? It’s even more gorgeous than I’d imagined.

An Overnight in Astoria

After an incredible visit to Long Beach Peninsula in Washington, I traveled into Oregon to experience Astoria for a quick overnight stay. Right on the Washington border, I arrived close to sunset, and the views of the Astoria–Megler Bridge were jaw-dropping. The beauty that graces the Pacific Northwest is unlike any other I’ve seen, and this bridge is one of the prime examples.

Laying on the Columbia River and being Oregon’s very first city, the town takes its heritage quite seriously. While on the surface Astoria may just seem like a port city, look closer and you’ll discover fantastic activities and events throughout the year. Not to mention, cozy dining and lodging on the bay.

As I arrived on my 9th day of my 12 day trip to the Pacific Northwest, things were really starting to feel like a whirlwind. So much to see and savor, so little time. So much, that my “24 hours” in town were more like 17 hours. Not a bad introduction at all, though.

Bridgewater Bistro overlooking the bridge and Cannery Pier Hotel. (c) Mary Farah
Lively atmosphere at Bridgewater Bistro. (c) Mary Farah
Warm welcomes out front. (c) Mary Farah

The Re-birth of Astoria and Opening of Bridgewater Bistro

Having spent the day road tripping through forests and connecting with nature in Washington, I was feeling pretty famished. As I entered Bridgewater Bistro, one of the top-rated restaurants in town, I loved the lively atmosphere and pianist playing. Drinks were flowing and people were chattering in the open, airy space. I was immediately escorted to a gorgeous table for 2 overlooking the stunning bridge over the water, as well as the exquisite Cannery Pier Hotel, where I’d be staying that evening.

“It’s about as great as it can be right here”, says owner/manager, Tony Kischner, who joined me during my visit to his bistro. Tony and his wife, Ann, are no strangers to the fine dining world, having owned restaurants on the Long Beach Peninsula for 27 years before opening Bridgewater Bistro 14 years ago.

Back then, the quaint Astoria was feeling a bit sorry for its self. “Astoria was a beautiful town that had fallen on bad times”, explains Tony. With fishing having gone to Alaska, there wasn’t much of a livelihood left. Until it was time commemorate the bi-centennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition. The excursion that had found the explorers heading from St. Louis, Missouri, to smack dab on the Columbia River.

With up to a million Lewis and Clark enthusiasts expected to arrive from 2004 through 2007, business developers saw potential to bring back Astoria. As were the Kischners, who had their eye on the new Cannery Pier Hotel, which celebrated its grand opening in 2006. When word got to Tony that no restaurant would be in the hotel, he knew that guests splurging on such impressive rooms wouldn’t want to seek out Mickey D’s. His culinary wheels began turning.

Bistro’s clam chowder. (c) Mary Farah
Berry crumble. (c) Mary Farah

A Star (Gluten-free) Bistro is Born

As Tony began to consider the possibilities of a restaurant to accompany the Cannery Pier Hotel in Astoria, it was thanks to a newspaper ad that set the seeds for Bridegwater Bistro. “We started looking up and down the waterfront then suddenly this building became available. I saw in the newspaper that 2 guys had bought the Red Building and there was a restaurant space.”  The Red Building might be a hopping business space now, but back then was in need of a lot of work. A boat yard dating back to 1896, it went through a major facelift to become what it is today. It was a true labor of love for Tony and his family.

While upscale restaurants are usually happy to accommodate one’s gluten allergy, Bridegwater Bistro takes it a step further. After having traveled around the world with Tony and enjoyed all the breads and carbs, Ann wasn’t feeling so hot. She decided to see a holistic Doctor in Portland who suggested she try a gluten-free diet. Hesitant, the pastry chef took the Doctors orders and immediately felt an improvement. Great for her health, but what would this mean for her baking?

Gluten-free Fine Dining

At Bridgewater Bistro, there are not many gluten-free options. Instead, gluten-free is the only option. While not a dedicated gluten-free facility, the bistro goes a step beyond the usual adjustments. Fryers are indeed dedicated. Usual favorites like fish and chips are off limits for me, yet I enjoyed it all at the bistro. You can imagine my surprise as I realized even the clam chowder was gluten-free. Growing up, my most favorite bowl of the seaside favorite was at The Crab Cooker in Orange County’s Newport Beach. A Manhattan chowder, the creamy, tomato-based soup was always a bowl of happiness to me. I’ve not been able to enjoy it in years, but Bridegwater Bistro came pretty darn close to my childhood favorite.

Another highlight was the bread. Ann’s recipe and baked in-house, their rolls don’t scream “no gluten” and had the flakiness that wheat-based breads get so easily. If you want to enjoy Bridegwater Bistro and don’t have gluten concerns, they do serve regular bread as well as hamburger buns and sandwich bread with a gluten-free option. This is one of the few items that don’t pose a cross-contamination risk. All of their pastas and meat entrees are automatically gluten-free.

And, let’s not forget dessert. All items listed are gluten-free, and most can also be vegan. Since the berry crumble with ice cream came highly recommended, how could I say no? Warm and decadent, it was the perfect end to a fantastic evening. Next up, I was ready to check out the hotel-just across the Red Building’s parking lot.

My amazing living room. (c) Mary Farah
Handy wet bar and dining nook. (c) Mary Farah
Comfy bed. (c) Mary Farah
Morning view from the deck. (c) Mary Farah

The Cannery Pier Hotel and Spa

Walking into the Cannery Pier Hotel and Spa felt like I was on a ship-the water and bridge are surrounding you with more stunning views to take in. While the staff got me checked in, I was even offered a glass of Eola Hills Pinot Noir. When in Oregon!

My one bedroom suite was breathtaking. I had a patio that literally had the Astoria-Megler bridge to my right, and the water just 600 feet below me. While my patio was narrow, it didn’t stop me from standing on the deck and taking in that sea breeze and hearing those waves crash. It truly was heaven.

Feeling a bit like a kid in a candy store, I noticed that my couch in the living room was a pull-out. That came in handy as I decided to get some work done and sip at my Pinot, listened to the ocean with the windows open and watched some TV. While I often bring work with me when I travel, good speed internet is a concern. The hotel’s worked just as good as at home. Having brought leftovers back from Bridegwater Bistro, the fridge and microwave also came in handy.

When I retired to my bedroom, I was struck with how quiet it was. While one may think it could be noisy to be on the water like this, the building was built brand new for the hotel. The walls are thick and I easily could have slept in longer. If a bath sounds good before bed (or in the morning),  rooms come with a jetted tub or hot tub.

Morning Walk

After I checked out Cannery Pier’s continental breakfast (including espresso shots for $2 in their small necessity shop), I decided to peek around town some more before heading to Portland. In downtown Astoria, you’ll find dozens of nooks and crannies including the Grocery Co-Op. While this homegrown, miniature version of Whole Foods screams “Oregon” with its eco-friendly ways and fair-trade everything, it’s actually a really great shop. Every staff member I crossed paths with greeted me and asked if I needed any help. It would be my go-to place for my allergen-friendly foods if I were a local.

With several old buildings and colorful street art, I loved the trend of vegetarian cafes I encountered. I looked at a few menus and each place had little or no meat items, and gluten-free labels. Old-town shops like Rusty Dahila and Purple Cow toys made for quite a bit of window shopping. I was also intrigued to walk down 10th street where a handful of art galleries lined the avenue. McVarish Gallery caught my eye with its strong political statements and art by local, Morrison Pierce.

If you’re wondering-yes, I got to John Jacob Astor elementary school and 90’s baby Mary loved seeing it at last!

“The Kindergarten Cop School”. (c) Mary Farah
Downtown welcomes you. (c) Mary Farah
Cute local shops adorn the streets. (c) Mary Farah

Visit Astoria

I returned back to Cannery Pier one more time to enjoy my suite just a bit longer. The sun was shining and the views just seemed to get better. My check-out was pain-free but next time, I’ll need more than 24 hours in this beautiful city on the river.

Learn more and plan your own trip to Astoria HERE. Just 95 miles from Portland, and 180 miles from Seattle. xo

(*Disclosure: I was hosted on a media visit on behalf of this feature. All opinions are my own.)

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