From Portland, it’s a 2-hour drive north along I-5 and U.S. 30 west. oldoregon.com
Why go now: Because rain can actually be romantic when paired with thundering surf—and fresh, crisp beach walks when the storm breaks. Plus, in the off-season, you’ve got the typically packed place to yourself.
Scene: Yellow-slickered fishermen mixed with just a sprinkling of iPad-toting tourists in a small riverfront town with San Francisco–steep streets.
Number of bridges: 4.
Local shipwreck: The Peter Iredale, a four-master that ran aground in 1906 at what’s now Fort Stevens State Park (see below). You can explore the ship’s rusty hull at low tide.
Cheap date: On February 12, hit the Astoria Co-op for a free wine tasting and local food pairing (2–5 Feb 12; 1355 Exchange St.; astoriacoop.org).
Happy 200th: 2011 is Astoria’s bicentennial; the official townwide celebration kicks off in May. (Yet another reason to go now, while it’s still quiet.)
OMG, look at those waves: Fort Stevens State Park is one fine stretch of sand, with towering dunes, uninterrupted ocean views, and, in winter, some of the most impressive storm watching anywhere. For formidable whitecaps, the park’s South Jetty viewing platform is where you want to be—the Columbia River hits the Pacific here. Bundle up and watch the waves explode against enormous black boulders. 1675 Peter Iredale Rd.; oregonstateparks.org
Tokens of love beyond the trite: A box of chocolates? Snooze. Duck inside Lunar Boy Gallery, where owner Deborah Starr curates whimsical art like an inflatable elk head, squirrel-size underpants, and Astoria local David Sloan’s modern surrealist paintings. Closed Sun; 1133 Commercial St.; 866/395-1566.
Brighten a gray day: Sweet-smelling Bloomin Crazy Floral can cure any case of SAD. Pick up tropical plants, pretty vases, and, for Valentine’s Day, bouquets packaged with brownies or cake from a local bakery. Closed Sun; 971 Commercial St.; 503/325-3571.
Goonies HQ: Movie directors have always loved the Oregon Coast: Twilight, The Goonies, and Free Willy were all filmed on these jutting boulders and windswept beaches. Now, finally, there’s the new Oregon Film Museum to prove it. $4; 732 Duane St.; oregonfilmmuseum.com
Make it a weekend: The Hotel Elliott was built in 1924 but has modern comforts like heated bathroom floors. Right now, there are reduced off-season rates—even for river-view rooms. From $129; hotelelliott.com
Date night, Astoria-style
Candlelit dinner: Don’t be fooled by the bland name of the Astoria Coffeehouse Bistro or its rather retro façade. The ambience is romantic and the food sophisticated. Try the local wild coho salmon topped with a creamy caper sauce, or the Washington venison in a rich mushroom ragu with fresh tagliatelle. $$; 243 11th St.; 503/325-1787.
Beach picnic: Stock up at the Astoria Co-op, which has expanded into an airy, light-filled space. There’s healthy stuff like quinoa salad, red cabbage with toasted almonds and sesame seeds, and Willamette Valley Cheese’s creamy havarti and aged gouda. It’s mostly organic, and prices are reasonable. (Morning plan: Grab bagels and do breakfast by the sea.) 1355 Exchange St.; 503/325-0027.
Steamy soup: The hours are a bit unreliable (don’t believe what you read on the door), and the service isn’t always, shall we say, four-star, but that’s part of the charm of Charlie’s Chowder House, a local lunch hangout that makes the most delicious, most clam-filled chowder in a town brimming with bowls of the stuff. $; 1335 Marine Dr.; 503/325-2368.