Most major rivers spend a leisurely time reaching the point where their waters empty into an ocean. Like the Nile, Mississippi, Danube, or Ganges; they meander through a complex of channels and waterways, depositing their sediments and creating vast deltas, rich in nutrients and wildlife. Not so for the Columbia River. It heads full bore into the Pacific Ocean bringing the force of 1300-miles of accumulated water and debris into an ocean not as placid as its name suggests. Here, at Astoria, this dramatic meeting of river and sea has created one of the most treacherous bars in any ocean. Since 1792, nearly 2000 ships have sunk in the area and thousands of lives have been lost, earning it the title “Graveyard of the Pacific”.
Columbia River Maritime Museum located in Astoria along Highway 30 on the east side of downtown. Look for the building with a roof shaped like a giant wave. Considered one of the best maritime museums on the West Coast, it is the official maritime museum of the State of Oregon.
Heritage Museum. Like many seaports, Astoria has a salty past and all its dirty laundry is on display in a second-floor exhibit called “Vice and Virtue in Clatsop County: 1890 to Prohibition”. There’s no sugar-coating of local history here as you learn about bootlegging, prostitution, drugs, and political corruption. A reconstructed Astoria saloon offers an opportunity to spin the roulette wheel; it’s all legal and G-rated. On the first floor, exhibits provide a look at the area’s tamer side including a display of artifacts from Clatsop and Chinook tribes as well as the Scandinavian and Asian immigrants who worked in the shipping and canning industries.