On the waterfront  a few blocks east of downtown Astoria , the Columbia River Maritime Museum (1792 Marine Dr., 503/325-2323, www.crmm.org , 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, closed Thanksgiving and Christmas, $10 adults, $8 seniors, $5 children 6–17, under 6 free) is hard to miss. The roof of the 44,000-square-foot museum simulates the curvature of cresting waves, and the gigantic 25,000-pound anchor out front is also hard to ignore.
What’s inside more than matches this eye-catching facade. The introductory film is excellent and intense, giving a good glimpse of the jobs of bar pilots, who climb aboard huge ships to navigate them through tricky passages. Floor-to-ceiling windows in the Great Hall allow visitors to watch the river traffic in comfort.
Times when tribal canoes plied the Columbia, Lewis and Clark camped on its shores, and dramatic shipwrecks occurred on its bar are recounted with scale models, exquisitely detailed miniatures of ships, paintings, and artifacts. The most dramatic exhibit is of a 44-foot U.S. Coast Guard motor lifeboat, poised precariously on a wave in a life-size re-creation of a rescue on the Columbia River Bar.
The chance to walk the bridge of a World War II destroyer, steer a tugboat, or tie a cleat hitch and other useful knots adds a hands-on aspect to the experience. Local lighthouses, the evolution of boat design, and harpoons are the focus of other exhibits here.
There are also some artifacts from the Peter Iredale  and other ships that have met their ends on the Oregon coast. Other exhibits include scrimshaw, fishing and cannery memorabilia, a small watercolor of the harbor by a crewmember on Robert Gray’s 1792 voyage of discovery, and sea charts dating as far back as 1587.
Admission to the Columbia River Maritime Museum also lets you board the 128-foot lightship Columbia, now permanently berthed alongside the museum building. This vessel served as a floating lighthouse, marking the entrance to the mouth of the river and helping many ships navigate the dangerous waters. After almost three decades of service it was replaced in 1979 by an unstaffed 42-foot-high navigational buoy.
The gift shop has a great collection of books on Astoria ’s history and other maritime topics.