Chris & Allyson vs. Oregon (2018)
Day Three: Cannon Beach. Astoria: Oregon Film Museum, sea lions and Astoria Column. Portland: The Peculiarium and Pearl District.
The approach to Cannon Beach, one of Oregon's most famous sites.
Goonies never say die.
Getting vertical in front of Haystack Rock.
Oregon surely has many beautiful beaches, but only one was an iconic shooting location for "The Goonies." And that beach is about 90 minutes from Portland, so it's the one you're gonna visit. Stop kidding yourself.
Cannon Beach is not quite the Jersey Shore. Even in the high season, the weather is likely to be in the 60s. The skies are often overcast and the ocean temperatures are cold. You could lay out, but your sweatshirt and blanket will probably prevent you from getting much of a tan.
Fortunately, Cannon Beach is also unlike the Jersey Shore in a great way: the scenery is stunning. The world-famous highlight is Haystack Rock, a 235-foot lump of basalt situated just off the beach. Like all the best volcanic features, it looks entirely out of place, as though aliens dropped it there in hopes of one day opening a nearby bed and breakfast. The cloudy skies were no deterrent – Haystack Rock is probably stunning in anything short of a thick fog. It wasn't the "beachiest" of beach visits, but we did soak it all in while walking a few miles on the sand.
Adventures in Astoria
Astoria's old jail is now a movie museum.
Getting into the "Goonies" spirit at the Oregon Film Museum.
Visiting the residents of Astoria's docks.
Sea lions doing their thing in Astoria.
Astoria's slice of history: The Astoria Column.
The view from the top of the Astoira Column. Go west, young man!
In "The Goonies," Cannon Beach seems to be a manageable and scenic bike ride from the heroes' hometown. In reality, the city of Astoria is 25 miles north. But if you made it to Cannon Beach, you have a car, so you're gonna visit Astoria. Stop kidding yourself.
Astoria isn't big -- the population is just under 10,000 -- but historically speaking, you can't beat the location. It's at the mouth of the Columbia River, just miles from where Lewis and Clark reached the Pacific. It is the oldest U.S. settlement on the West Coast. It bears the name of John Jacob Astor, the eastern businessman who fronted the cash for a fur trading company lo those many moons ago.
Astoria never developed into a mega-city. Portland and Seattle soaked up most of the maritime trade. But the town that's left can be described as ... cute? The peninsula that holds the bulk of the town is very vertical, quickly rising from sea level to about 600 feet. It's steep enough that most homes have an ocean view. The local economy seems a little beat up, but thanks to all that seaside weather, so do most of the buildings.
The people of Astoria do want to entertain you, so they created the Oregon Film Museum. Ostensibly, it's a facility dedicated to the many films shot on location in the Beaver State. Practically, it's the consummate tourist trap. The museum is in the very small former Clatsop County jail, which served as the shooting location for jail scenes in "The Goonies." The cells contain small Goonies displays, cardboard cutouts of the characters, and notes on what different crew members do on a movie set. The museum’s other room (yes, there are only two) has a few interactive "sets" where you can insert yourself into other Oregon movies, such as "The Shining" -- assuming the equipment is working, which it might not be. It's fun, but it's the recreational equivalent of a speed bump.
In the true spirit of "The Goonies," the real adventure would be to locate Mikey's house. The Oregon Film Museum will give you a map, emblazoned with the warning that most shooting locations in town are private property and should be treated as such. As of 2018, the owner of Mikey's house was not thrilled about Goonies fans never saying die and trying to stand on his porch. He posted an extremely threatening warning sign on the private driveway leading to his home, and reportedly calls the cops frequently. I'm sure the cops love him.
The "viewing area" recommended by the museum is many hundreds of feet away, and its most interesting feature isn't the view of the house. Instead, it's the sound of the sea lions. A colony has taken to one of Astoria's marinas, flopping around on the docks whenever fishing boats aren't around. They're very loud and very fat, and if you're not squeamish you can get very close. They also smell very bad, but that's part of being a sea lion.
There are other shooting locations in Astoria, including the school from "Kindergarten Cop" and a few spots from "Twilight." But the biggest attraction in the city is a bit more traditional. The Astoria Column is at the top of the town, standing in a clearing that offers views of the ocean, the river and lots of pretty scenery. (On a clear day, at least.) And what is the Astoria Column?
"The Column is the 'crowning monument' in a series of 12 historical markers constructed between St. Paul, Minnesota and Astoria, Oregon. These markers were the pet project of Ralph Budd, who was president of the Great Northern Railroad at the time. Budd and other businessmen and scholars wanted to celebrate Astoria’s early settlers for their role in expanding the United States to the Pacific Coast." So sayeth the column's website. One of the Astors ponied up the cash to build it, and in the 1920s it became a reality.
The column is 125 feet tall, and you can climb its interior thanks to a 164-step spiral staircase. The exterior is decorated with a stunning wrap-around spiral frieze, depicting historic scenes from the conquering of the frontier. The views from the top would be phenomenal on a sunny day. On a cloudy day, it's the looks you get from your wife halfway up the staircase that will be seared in your memory forever. But make sure you climb that entire staircase: Goonies never say die!
Return to Portland
Back to Portland for a stop at the Peculiarium.
Making new friends, Portland style.
Closing out a very Oregon day at an Oregon brewhouse.
The notion to "keep Portland weird" is nice, but how many people are going that extra mile? Well, the good folks at The Peculiarium are working overtime so you don't have to. It's hard to know the exact evolution of shops such as this. Do you open a kitschy "museum," then add a gift shop selling many worthless trinkets? Or do you develop your museum to give your worthless trinket shop a competitive edge? The website for the Peculiarium calls it a "store and snack bar" dating to 1967; beyond that there's not much hard data.
But it is very entertaining. Visitors can sit on Krampus' lap, pose in a diorama of an alien autopsy and journey via video display into a zombie brain. The writing in the museum is relentlessly sharp, quirky and funny, to the point where you'll want to reward the author by buying a worthless trinket. Once you've seen a ventriloquist dummy in a pint-sized electric chair, you owe somebody. We bought a refrigerator magnet because it was the right thing to do.
The Peculiarium is also a delightful gateway to the Alphabet District, another Portland neighborhood jammed with restaurants and other nightlife. We walked the length of it before settling on a sushi place, like the pioneers would have.
Coda: From the files of keeping Portland truly weird. On our initial visit to Powell's Books, we found a dictionary of demon names. Laughing, we picked the demon that must inhabit Allyson's stomach when she's feeling bad. (It's an inside joke, literally and figuratively.) After a day of touring, both of us forgot the demon's name.
This was an easy fix: We had a short walk to Powell's from our hotel, and surely the demon dictionary would still be on the shelf. Who would buy such a thing?
Some weirdo, apparently. The book was gone -- not moved, or reshelved, or misplaced. It was gone. Someone purchased it. Or it disappeared into a demon dimension. We were freaked out enough by this that we retreated to the nearby Deschutes tap house for Oregon-brewed beer and a brownie dessert. No demon would dare attack you while you're enjoying a brownie. Even the spawn of the underworld have limits.