Now that is a bold statement. No doubt about it. And we don’t say it lightly. We give mad props (and have plenty of memberships, too) to a whole heap of museums here in Oregon who do a bang-up job for the minis and their adults. OMSI, The Oregon Maritime Museum, World Forestry Center, Evergreen Aviation Museum and The High Desert Interactive Museum in Bend, to name a few, are all on our shortlist of awesome. But this museum goes a step above and beyond – combining three amazing museums into one, focusing explicitly on Oregon – and doing it exceptionally well.
As soon as you step in the door, you know you are somewhere different. There are plenty of adults there without kids. There are teens and ‘tweens roaming on their own, snapping pics with their iPhones. There are preschoolers climbing on everything and families wandering happily together, whether the skies are gray or blue.
As you explore and dive into your experience here, you begin to realize that this museum is Oregon itself – it is where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean and treachery often ensues. It is where Lewis & Clark succeeded at the adventure put before them by Jefferson. It is the shipwrecks, the lives lost, and the brave souls who are the Columbia River Bar Pilots and the Coast Guard Rescue Squads. It is the ebbing and flowing of the economy and the history of Oregon – the fur trade, the commercial fishing and canneries, the logging and timber business. You are walking amongst the state’s remarkable history, notable port, mightiest river and living legends. Super cool!
Funky, Cold Astoria
So what and where is it? Let’s start with where. It is in the totally day-trip worthy town of Astoria recently voted number five on the Top 20 Best Small Towns to Visit in 2013 by Smithsonian Magazine. Rad! An hour-and-a-half from Portland and a world away from our everyday (in only the best sense), Astoria sits right on the uber-pretty and incredibly treacherous mouth of the Columbia River.
Now as for the famadise of a museum…got an idea yet? Yes! It’s that museum you have been hearing cool things about. The one you’d made a mental note to go see sometime. Well now is the time! The Columbia River Maritime Museum is home to an incredible collection of Oregon history, maritime chronicles, and superbly interactive kiddo exhibits. It is housed in bright, clean, airy spaces with a never-boring living back drop; the museum sits along the river and showcases huge freighters, Coast Guard cutters, fishing vessels, and the ever-moody and dynamic Oregon coastal sky. Ahoy!
The first gallery is known as the Great Hall with incredibly life-like fishing boat displays (the boats are real, the fishermen not so much), a tugboat pilothouse, and old school sailboats chronicling our history on and working in the sea. Around the perimeter are all sorts of things to check out, climb on and step into. The Great Hall does not disappoint.
Take Me To The River
Further into the museum are displays detailing the many treacherous coast guard saves, the immigration history of Astoria, the canneries, Lewis and Clark’s end of journey experience, and artifacts from all around this port and the northern coast of Oregon. Go here to find out why it’s known as the Graveyard of the Pacific. Yowzers.
For the kidlets there are boats of all sorts to climb in almost everywhere you look. Plus large screens showing big waves and all sorts of sea-worthy adventures, sea bells that can be rung, stern wheels to turn, and fish models to view from your knees or under your toes. Be sure to pilot the tug boat (buttons, radios, screens, and voice recordings of what tugs hear are all on hand) and pose by the life-size buoys for a perfect photo backdrop. It’s all a-okay to touch, play and climb. Whatever you do, don’t whistle on a fishing boat or discuss the weather… you can find out why when you visit.
The museum is currently showing a Sharks 3D movie in their theater ($5 a ticket and running through November), has summer and spring break camps, and keeps things rolling with numerous family-friendly events throughout the year. It’s an amazing, interesting, thoughtful and well-executed destination for a day, afternoon, or as part of an overnight/weekend getaway. And hey – can we have enough ideas for rainy days?! Nope.
Where to Stay, What to Do, and The Most Historical Shout-out in a Bathroom Ever
For more adventure in this amazing coastal destination where river meets the sea, visit Fort Stevens and get a sense for a defense outpost in use from the Civil War until World War II. Climb the Astoria Column’s many steps and if it’s a clear day get a birds-eye view of all the action on land and water. Drive across the iconic Astoria-Megler Bridge and celebrate this 4-mile engineering marvel that’s the last stretch of I5 to be built, connecting Mexico to Canada. Ride the trolley along the working waterfront, watch the freighters heading up and down river, or check out the movies filmed here at the Oregon Film Museum.
Your best bet for a famtastic meal is the Fort George Brewery. Get the kiddos a Dakota Fanning and someone in your brood needs to get the fish & chips. Yum! Games like Jenga, Scrabble, dominoes and puzzles are on hand to help ease long wait times and cool gear means a memento might come home with your crew. Spoiler alert: be sure to use the restroom when you’re there. It’s a sight to behold!
There are hotels of all price points and levels of comfort. The Hotel Elliott in downtown Astoria rocks an awesome rooftop deck and a family-friendly price point. The Commodore boutique hotel is also right downtown, sports an Ace Hotel style and has an excellent coffee shop just off the lobby. If you want to go fancy, The Cannery Pier Hotel is where to be. And for basic and dependable the Holiday Inn Express has a thumbs-up groovy riverfront location.
The Columbia River Maritime Museum is visually stunning, fully-engaging, and mega-daytrip-worthy for your mini mariners. It’s easy to find on Marine Drive and is open every glorious day of the year from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm. Adults are $12, seniors are $10, kiddos 6-17 are $5 and under 6 are free. Astoria is also an exciting option for a getaway-to-play adventure. This intriguing small town truly gives its super cool museum an incomparable home. Land ho!
Columbia River Maritime Museum
1792 Marine Drive
Astoria, Or 97103
Hours: Open daily 9:30 am – 5:00 pm
What was your little one’s favorite exhibit at the Columbia River Maritime Museum?
Photos courtesy of Liz Overson, Yelp, wanderlymagazine.com and Columbia River Maritime Museum’s Facebook page.