One of the things that I hated most about living in Las Vegas was the lack of a viable ‘day trip’.
It wasn’t that there were no day trips available, it was that they all more or less looked and felt the same. When you live in Las Vegas, you can make it to the following towns and back in one day (assuming you spend 4-8 hours at your destination):
Red Rock Canyon
The Valley of Fire
While some of these places are okay getaways (honestly, most of them suck), they all lack one thing, and that is a distinctive character. For the most part, when it comes to getting away from Vegas, you have a choice between the desert, the desert, the desert, and the desert. You can only look at so many dry hills and casinos before it just seems like more of the same.
The Pacific Northwest, on the other hand, has a little bit of everything available on a whim. For instance, I have the following destinations available to me within a 2-3 hour drive from my own home:
Glacier covered mountains (The Olympics and Cascades)
The Mediterranean (Sequim , Port Angeles, the San Juans, etc)
The Rain Forest
The Pacific Ocean
The Puget Sound
The Columbia River
Three major cities (Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver)
I don’t want to overstate the issue, but this particular region of the USA sort of has everything. In my opinion, this is why people generally don’t want to leave.
I’ve actually been reticent to say positive things about the area over the past few months because I don’t want to encourage another wave of rat-bastard Southwestern US doucheweazels to come up here, but who am I kidding … those guys are so upside down in their homes that they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Two weekends ago I decided to take a day trip, and on this occasion I went to one of the few places I have not been to in this nation … Astoria, Oregon.
Now, in general, small towns scare me. At times, they give me outright panic attacks.
The reason for this is simple unfamiliarity. The smallest city I have ever lived in was Las Vegas … a “city” of roughly 2 million people.
Fortunately, small towns in the Northwest are very different from small towns in the East. As a member of an interracial family, I’ve never really been comfortable going to small towns east of the Mississippi. We’ve always gotten strange looks, and I always maintained a sense of hyper-alertness in the event that a flaming cross was tossed in our direction followed by 8 guys named ‘Bubba’ chasing us while screaming “You’re not going to win a second time you goddamn gooks, my grand pappy lost his leg in Da Nang!”.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that hillbillies think that all Asians come from Vietnam, and most of them are still kind of pissed over losing the war.
Fortunately, there aren’t a lot of ex-military, bible-thumping people who think that God hates race mixing up here. As a matter of fact, there aren’t that many bible-thumping people at all. The Pacific Northwest has the highest rate of Atheism in the entire USA.
Sure, this area has its share of lumberjacks, hunters, and other folks that might be considered “redneck”, but let’s face it … they’re far too stoned on Western Washington hard bud to care about my family’s racial composition.
Anyway, even though it only has a population of 10,000, Astoria actually feels like a somewhat large town. I’m not sure if it’s the fairly dense downtown, the ships in the harbor, the sea lions barking on the pier, the riverfront train, the huge Astoria-Megler Bridge looming in the background, or all of the above … but Astoria really does come across as a substantial seaside city.
My absolute personal favorite thing about Astoria is simply that it’s quite possibly the prettiest town I’ve ever seen in my life.
It’s located at the mouth of the Columbia River, only a few miles from where it empties into the Pacific Ocean, and almost all of the houses are built on a hill with a view of the surrounding river and mountains. It looks like Utopia on the edge of the universe.
At 68 inches of rain per year and roughly 200 days of precipitation, Astoria is one of the rainiest places in the USA, although this could be said for almost all cities in Western Washington, south of the rain shadow from Olympia to Aberdeen to Astoria and all points in-between.
While roaming the streets, I found a somewhat hidden culinary gem. I passed a small Fish and Chips stand just outside of Downtown, and when I stopped and ordered their signature dish, it was like there was a party in my mouth and everyone was invited. Seriously, these are the best fish and chips I have ever had in my life.
Because the fish is made with 100% albacore tuna instead of that gross fast-food fish crap.
Let there be no doubt about it, I am going to crave food from this place, and I will make many a future trips to Astoria to eat here. Don’t get me wrong, this fish doesn’t taste as good as Steve Wynn’s cock (just ask the Review-Journal), but it’s a close second.
Also, while in Astoria, we took a trip to the Goonies House. For those who are not aware, the Goonies was filmed almost entirely on location in Astoria, and the house has been almost perfectly preserved.
As a matter of fact, given its natural beauty, Astoria is a frequent film location. According to Wikipedia, other movies filmed in Astoria include Overboard, Short Circuit, The Black Stallion, Kindergarten Cop, Free Willy, Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, Benji the Hunted, The Ring,The Ring Two, Into the Wild, The Guardian and Cthulhu.
The owners of the Goonies house actively encourage dorks like myself to visit on foot (cars, however, are not welcome). To be honest, I didn’t like the movie at all, but still … the nostalgia of seeing the house was cool.
Astoria is also home to the 4.2 mile long Astoria-Megler Bridge which links the State of Oregon with the State of Washington. This is the longest continuous truss bridge in the entire USA.
Given my general propensity to get a boner for towers, bridges, and pretty much anything interesting … I drove back and forth across the bridge. Twice. At 200Mph no less. At least that’s my official position.
Anyway, after one visit, I’m a big fan of Astoria, and it will from here on out be in my rotation of day-trip cities.
If you’ve yet to visit Astoria, then by all means, enjoy the pictures and live vicariously.
The next time you are in the PNW, you might want to explore the place for yourself.
I think you’ll be glad you did.