Cannery Pier Hotel 2021_Photo Courtesy Michelle Hopkins

Road-tripping to Oregon’s Coastal Playgrounds

It was an idea born out of the creative mind of the late Robert “Jake” Jacob, a local resident. It might be said by some in the small coastal city of Astoria that the “dreamer” had lost his mind. The thought of building a boutique luxury hotel on top of a condemned dock and former cannery — in the middle of mighty Columbia River, no less — seemed preposterous.  Well, that oddball idea became a hugely successful enterprise. Opened in 2005, the Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa is a luxurious beacon that draws visitors to Oregon’s northwest shore.

A stunning transformation provides a sophisticated stay in a property that has retained much of its historic charm. I was pleased to see signs of yesteryear — the sense of those canneries with its smokestacks, exposed steel beams, wooden trusses, and historical photographs adorning the walls. Boasting vistas of the coastal town and commanding Astoria-Megler Bridge, my room offered a private balcony for a front-row show to the fascinating life on a real working river and the quaint seaside city — where comfort and designed interiors meet the great outdoors. Chic amenities include a soaking tub and binoculars for taking in and enjoying perfect panoramas.

After a day exploring Astoria’s treasures, I came back for the hotel’s complimentary happy hour (5-6 p.m.) at Bar 600. Sitting on the deck, I enjoyed a glass (or two) of the Cannery Pier’s own brand name pinot noir and delicious appetizers.

Bridgewater Bistro - Astoria Oregon

Bridgewater Bistro showcases the sustainably sourced, high-quality fish and seafood of the Oregon coast. At top, the Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa is a destination property in the Columbia River. (Michelle Hopkins photos for

More enticing food was enjoyed at the nearby Bridgewater Bistro. Tucked along the marina in a historic boatyard/cannery building, a stone’s throw from the Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa, some of life’s greatest pleasures awaited. From the seafood to the live music (thanks to a talented local pianist) to the seafaring décor and the sweeping river views, the eatery captivated me.  The evening menu featured mouth-watering sustainable ingredients such as Oregon Bay shrimp, Willapa Bay oysters, and Manila clams, and heirloom tomatoes. (P.S. May I recommend the Abacela Vintners Blend #24? This wine was so spectacular, I brought home two bottles.)

Now that we I settled into my luxury home base, it was time to explore.

Dubbed Little San Francisco because of its Victorian-era homes etched into the hills, Astoria has a strong Finnish heritage. Founded in 1811, the city of approximately 10,000 residents is considered the oldest settlement west of the Rockies, and has seen its fair share of maritime warfare and devastating fires. Intriguingly, Astoria is considered the most haunted town in Oregon. Famous for its maritime and military past, spirits are said to wander streets and haunt buildings, including the Liberty Theater, Flavel Mansion, and the Uppertown Firefighter’s Museum.

 The Liberty Theater is an architecturally stunning Vaudeville Theater built in 1925, where supposedly the notorious gangster Al Capone hung out. A ghost by the name of Paul is said to live here. During the years, many members of cast and crew claim to have spotted him around the theater and even witnessed objects gliding through the air. Whether you believe or not, it’s worth poking your head into this iconic playhouse.

Less spooky but just as fascinating are the stories of the treacherous waters and perilous passages that dominated adventurous old-time sailing. I spent a few hours exploring the many interactive exhibits at the Columbia River Maritime Museum devoted to that activity. The Graveyard of the Pacific section is dedicated to the some 2,000 ships met their doom; the Shipwrecks and the Brix Maritime Hall gave visitors young and old the chance to take the controls inside an operating replica of a Columbia River towboat.

In Astoria, Oregon’s Gems Await

Gnat Trail with Arline LaMear

Former mayor of Astoria Arline LaMear (left) hikes spruce-covered Gnat Trail with writer Michelle Hopkins. (Photo supplied by Michelle Hopkins)

When you drive into Astoria, what might not immediately come to mind is its notoriety as a hiking destination. A few miles outside of the city, I discovered a surprising number of options for those keen to explore on their own two feet. My hiking guide was Arline LaMear, a petite 83-year-old woman who happened to be the former mayor of Astoria, a children’s book author, and raconteur extraordinaire. Our two-hour scenic hike at the Gnat Trail took us through a lush 100-year-old forest of western hemlock and Sitka spruce, which rose near a creek that LaMear says supports runs of steelhead, coho, and Chinook salmon. There’s also a fish hatchery to explore, a couple of small waterfalls to see, and Gnat Creek’s deep upper ravine to explore.

Next up, LaMear t0ok me to the Astoria Column. Overlooking the mouth of the Columbia River, the impressive painted mammoth edifice was built in 1926 by the Great Northern Railroad and Vincent Astor, the great-grandson of Astoria’s founder John Jacob Astor. Through art, the 125-foot-tall historical landmark depicts stories of triumphs, conflicts and turning points of the frontier. You can climb the 164-step spiral staircase that ascends to an observation deck. I attempted to climb to the top, but alas I’m claustrophobic, so I only went up a little less than halfway. From what my fellow visitors told me, the vistas from atop are breathtaking.

A mere 25 miles (40 kilometers) from Astoria along Northern Oregon’s rugged coast, the captivating town of Cannon Beach is well worth the drive. As soon as I arrived, the iconic and breathtaking images of the giant sea stack, Haystack Rock, Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, picturesque beaches, and adorable beach shacks, had me snapping one photo after another.

Cannon Beach - photo Michelle Hopkins

Cannon Beach is noted for its unique rock formations along the immaculate Pacific coast of Oregon. (Michelle Hopkins photo for

A little history about Cannon Beach: Back in 1806, renowned explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark wandered along the shoreline and fell in love with the coastal rock formations, golden beach, and giant Sitka spruce forests. But it wasn’t until the 1930s, with the completion of Highway 101, that Cannon Beach became a popular summer getaway. (From April to July, you might be fortunate enough to catch sight of its resident Tufted Puffins.)

After a long beach walk, it was off to lunch. The Wayfarer Restaurant & Lounge offers a casual beachy vibe and patio overlooking Haystack Rock, making it a great little spot for sipping drinks and munching on seafood. Not gourmet but delicious all the same, we went for the Northwest Chinook salmon with fingerling potatoes.

The Quirky Joys of Portland

It had been years since I last visited Portland, so I wanted to spend a night to reconnect with Oregon’s largest city. Conveniently located downtown, overlooking the Hawthorn Bridge, I had a beautiful suite at the Portland Marriott Downtown Waterfront Hotel.

In the bustling lobby of the Marriott, the Proof Reader Whiskey + Craft + Kitchen offers a creative menu and a setting that’s easy to adore. The dining room features décor inspired by a library/whiskey room. The wild salmon with sauteed yams, fennel and kale was a symphony of flavors. Combined with the Proof Reader charcuterie board, I was in gourmet bliss. The dishes were paired with a smooth, yet bold 2020 Seven Falls Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington. For whiskey afficionados, the restaurant offers more than 150 types of local and global selections.

Portland is legendary for its food-truck scene. The city is home to more than 500 food trucks and food pods, offering a dizzying array of culinary delights — it’s hard to pick favorite. Want Mexican food? A Mexican hot spot is Fernando’s Alegria. Its specialty, the Pollo Tinga Burrito is a delectably messy blend of chipotle-spiced shredded chicken with rice, beans, sour cream, and fresco cheese.

A visit to Portland is not complete without a stop at Powell’s City of Books. The landmark institution covers an entire city block and is the world’s largest new and used bookstore. You can spend hours roaming the floors, but do take the time to check out the Rare Book Room. (Only open during certain hours). Right now, the oldest book on its shelves is the collected works of Decimus Magnus Ausonius, printed in Venice, Italy by Johannes Tacuinus on August 11, 1494. It is up for sale for a cool $6,000. But that isn’t the most expensive tome here. That honor goes to a two-volume first edition of the Journals of Lewis and Clark, published in 1814, and selling for $350,000. (There are only 23 copies in existence in the world).

Whether you are passing by or visiting Oregon, the coastal playgrounds of Astoria and Cannon Beach, and Portland with its quirks and artisan aesthetic, provide much to see and do. Alas, four days went far too quickly, but I promised myself I would return because there is so much more yet to explore.

More about the Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa

Location: No. 10 Basin Street, Astoria, Oregon (see map below)
Reservations: 503-325-4996 or online at
Notable: Complimentary sunrise hot breakfast (daily 7-10 a.m.), Wine Hour, fresh-baked cookies, fitness studio, bicycle cruisers rentals, and free vintage chauffeur car ride.
Promotions: Hello Spring and welcome in 20% Off Midweek Savings at Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa.