The main street in downtown, Sisters in the summer. Image credit Bob Pool via Shutterstock

10 Picture-Perfect Towns in Oregon

Certain places compel us to take our cameras out. And with each new bend, hilltop, or change in the natural lighting, we find ourselves struggling to stow it for more than a few moments. Every wild beach, wooded trail, or cute small-town strip begs to be captured (though our phones never quite do the real scene justice, do they?) Oregon has more than its share of communities that are not only bathing in nature but have added their own creative touches. These ten small towns are some of the most picture-perfect that the Beaver State has to offer. 


Downtown Ashland, Oregon.
Downtown Ashland, Oregon.

Sitting cozily between the Siskiyou and Cascade mountain ranges, Ashland is so picture-perfect that it has inspired residents to express their own inner beauty. This Jackson County town (located just 16-miles North of the California border) cracked the top 10 of the "100 Best Small Art Towns in America." Creative types will enjoy the First Friday Art Walk (once/month), the Lithia Artisans Market (every weekend from March through November), and the regular mosaic of galleries, museums, and craft shops. Die-hard thespians will also be well-aware of Ashland, with its Oregon Shakespeare Festival that has been going strong for over 82 years. Those who prefer to appreciate the creations of nature herself will be treated to Ashland's lovely local trail system – ever-changing across four soft seasons. 

Cottage Grove

Cottage Grove Historic District, Oregon.
Cottage Grove Historic District, Oregon. Image credit Ian Dewar Photography via Shutterstock

Cottage Grove – the name alone makes one want to reach for their camera. But whereas one may expect rows of quaint summer getaway homes, the real treasures of this Lane County community are its cute covered bridges and elegant waterfalls. This "All-American City" (twice named by the National Civic League) is affectionately considered "the covered bridge capital of Oregon," which is fair since it has the largest collection of these wooden structures in the Western United States. Get the full experience, and at your own pace, by riding the 37.8-mile Covered Bridges Scenic Bikeway. The following day, if your legs still have some kick, try hiking the gentle forest trails to one of several fresh and mossy waterfalls. Or, for a satisfying local perusal, why not check out the 20+ (and counting) outdoor murals that reflect the history of this small town? The scenery and feel of Cottage Grove are so picture-perfect that it has been used as settings in several well known moving-pictures – most notably, the nostalgia-inducing classic, Stand By Me. 

Coos Bay

Marina in Coos Bay Oregon.
Marina in Coos Bay Oregon.

This harbor and logging town does not try to dress itself up as anything fancy; it simply exudes an understated and welcoming beauty. Sitting at the base of the inlet by the same name (which connects to the Coos River), this small waterfront community is sheltered from the Pacific Ocean, but still just a stone's skip from its enriching presence. Wandering through Marshfield District on an overcast, introspective day will make you want to poke your head into the wholesome shops, restaurants, and historic buildings, or simply enjoy the sounds of the daily harbor hustle. Just outside of the city limits, Oregon's Adventure Coast/the Southern Oregon Coastal Wilderness awaits. Stroll the sandy beaches just West of town, making sure to reach the wide-open sand dunes immediately North of the bay. 


Cars on the street in downtown Astoria
Cars on the street in downtown Astoria. Image credit Enrico Powell via Shutterstock.

Another aesthetically-pleasing small city (Oregon tends to call all of its settlements cities), this time on the Northwest Coast, is Astoria. Situated on the Southern shore of the Columbia River's wide mouth, just before it merges with the Pacific, the deep blue scenery is met in kind by the mix of bold and bright greens. Hike up to the 126-foot-tall Astoria Column for a panoramic view. The monument was erected in 1926, features murals that depict the local history, and is illuminated in the evening. For ground-level, or rather, river-level views, try taking the one-hour Astoria River Trolley tour. From either angle, the Astoria-Megler Bridge will no doubt become the focal point of your day's photo library. The longest continuous truss bridge on the continent connects Oregon with Southern Washington and makes for a nice addition to the drive either into or out of town, but is also open to pedestrians (who flock by the thousands) for one day in October – an event called the Great Columbia Crossing. 

Hood River

Downtown Hood River, Oregon, in winter.
Downtown Hood River, Oregon, in winter. Image credit Gary L. Quay via Shutterstock

Also on the Southern (i.e. Oregonian) shore of the Columbia River Gorge, where the North-South-running Hood River meets it, and the Cascade Range, the city of Hood River is an inland treasure. Oregon's highest peak, Mount Hood (11,249 feet), keeps watch over the town from the South. To the north, colorful sails can be seen zipping and soaring throughout the Columbia River, giving Hood River the cool designation of the windsurfing capital of the world. And in between, the "Fruit Loop" brings motorists by a combination of 27 farm fruit stands, wineries, breweries, flower fields. There are also a host of pristine hiking and mountain biking trails to enhance the picture-perfect goodness of Northern Oregon further. 

Cannon Beach

Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach, Oregon.
Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach, Oregon.

Who would have thought that some rocks could be so attractive? Well, something about Cannon Beach's Haystack Rock, and other offshore boulders, add contrast and scale to the ocean and wide sandy beaches. Cannon Beach is an idyllic resort city just 35 miles South of Astoria. Combining upscale restaurants and lodging with the wild and soothing Pacific Coast, this Clatsop County gem was named by USA Today as one of America's 10 Most Romantic Coastal Destinations. Walk the wet, flat beach (which was named one of the 21 Best Beaches in the World by National Geographic), or spice things up by joining a horseback riding tour. While you're at it, keep an eye out for Gray Whales, which pass by in the tens of thousands during their winter and spring migrations. Cannon Beach is also a great place for birdwatching, with the adorable Tufted Puffins even nesting upon Haystack Rock. 


A view looking down the main street in downtown Sisters.
A view looking down the main street in downtown Sisters. Image credit Bob Pool via Shutterstock.

Sisters is situated perfectly off the Eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains (named after the three prominent peaks clearly visible from town), the Western boundary of Oregon's high desert, and the Deschutes National Forest, which sprawls far and wide to the Southwest. This captivating environmental niche typically draws crowds to Bend, but with that city growing ever more crowded, nearby Sisters offers a quaint and equally-picturesque alternative. Rich in year-round sunny days (quite uncharacteristic for much of the state), Sisters is an easy place to appreciate the serenity of the mountains, the woods, and the contrast of the high-desert sagebrush, but also the relaxed pace of comparatively undiscovered community (complete with one-of-a-kind mom n' pop shops, and even and outdoor quilt show). 


Street view in Silverton, Oregon.
Street view in Silverton, Oregon. Image credit Laurens Hoddenbagh via

Just 15 miles East of the state capital, Salem, sits Silverton, aka "Oregon's Garden City." The year-round moderate temperatures support the 80-acre (and growing) Oregon Garden –  beckoning greenthumb visitors to the Southside of town. Silver Falls State Park is another fine example of a network of forested hiking trails that pass by waterfalls (there are ten ranging in height from 30 to 178 feet). To the West, Willamette Valley (i.e. wine country) gives even more incentive to go appreciate the extensive Oregonian outdoors, and maybe a local sampling or two. Silverton residents also do their part to contribute to the beautiful setting. There are, once again, tons of colorful murals punctuating the commercial core, and there are multiple community events to plan a visit around, including the Homer Davenport Community Festival, and the Silverton Fine Arts Festival. 


The harbor at Newport, Oregon.
The harbor at Newport, Oregon.

Oregon's Central Coast cannot be neglected in the quest for stunning small towns. Nothing against tropical beaches, but the perfectly-imperfect shores of the Pacific Northwest up the aesthetic ante. Agate Beach, on Newport's North end is the longest, but Nye Beach is a quick and easy (and beautiful) option for getting one's feet wet in the middle of the day, or enjoying the sunset at the end of it. To make this section of shoreline even better, it is bookended by the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, to the South, and the Yaquina Head Lighthouse (Oregon's tallest), to the North. And to round out the scenery, the Newport Historic Bayfront brings the boats and seagulls, and sealions together, in view of the Yaquina Bay Bridge, for some delightful textures that only a marina can deliver. 

Lincoln City

Overlooking Lincoln City, Oregon.
Overlooking Lincoln City, Oregon.

Let's hit one last stop on the Central Coast and then your memory card/phone data will surely be running low. Lincoln City has a seven-mile shoreline, filled with sandy beaches and green spaces (including Devil's Lake State Recreation Area, Friends of the Wildwood Open Space, and the Roads End State Recreation Site). Adding some artificial pop to the ubiquitous earthy tones are the kite festivals that Lincoln County hosts in both the summer and fall. And all year long, the Lincoln City Art Trail (which can be self-guided using the digital Art Trail pass) brings folks on a seven-mile journey through many neighborhoods and all kinds of murals, sculptures, statues, mosaics, and more. 

Oregon is a photographer's dream. The scale of the snowy mountains, wild Pacific coastline, and seemingly infinite forests hopelessly stretch landscape shots to their maximum. At the same time, an intimate portrait orientation will highlight the whimsy of a wooded trail, the height of an enchanting waterfall, and the comfort of an understated, shop-lined main street. But while a picture does speak volumes, these ten picture-perfect small towns, and their surrounding landscapes, need to be seen in person.

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