The gorgeous city of Vancouver on the Pacific coast.

11 Most Charming Cities In The Pacific Northwest

The Pacific Northwest (PNW) is a naturally glorious region along the coast, with mountains, verdant state parks, forests, and open spaces. The vast landscape is stunning and uncrowded, even in its city scene, which disperses tourists with a conglomeration of sights and attractions for every taste. The PNW comprises Washington, Oregon, parts of British Columbia, Montana, Idaho, northern California, and southeastern Alaska. Enjoy easy access from your home to these charming cities with some of the US' best fresh and chic restaurants, rich art scenes, and views of the Pacific Ocean.

Astoria, Oregon

 Astoria, Oregon, the first permanent U.S. settlement on the Pacific coast
Astoria, Oregon, the first permanent U.S. settlement on the Pacific coast.

Astoria is Oregon's oldest settlement, founded in 1811, just west of the Rockies. Home to just over 10,000 residents, the charming port city with fascinating maritime ties and views is a popular destination for sightseers. Seek one-of-a-kind architecture strewn across historic streets, panoramic views from a boat, as well as galleries and museums like the Columbia River Maritime Museum. The ocean and the Columbia River offer myriad adventures for water sports fans, including sailing and swimming.

Now add in the mountains and picturesque Victorian downtown, and you get the best of the Pacific Northwest. Discover history and attractions during the day and a vibrant lifestyle into the night that will astound any visitor. Escape the typical city vibes for strollable, small-town charm, including the unmissable restaurant scene of delicious seafood and unpretentious local vibes. Take the lovely Astoria Riverfront Trolley and enjoy how nature blends into the modern city for one spectacular environment.

Bellevue, Washington

Aerial photograph of downtown Bellevue, Washington
Aerial photograph of downtown Bellevue, Washington.

This extraordinarily family-friendly city in Washington boasts the second-largest downtown in the state. Called the Eastside, it is an epic economic hub and a place to discover culture along Puget Sound. Bellevue will refresh you from the typical city soot and heated steel during the summer with many parks and verdant areas. Seek culture at the Bellevue Arts Museum, the Meydenbauer Center, and the Pacific Northwest's largest arts and crafts fair in July. Enjoy the recently renovated Meydenbauer Bay Park with its vibrant waterfront and beach for scenic strolls, relaxation, and water pursuits.

Find the new Inspiration Playground at the 20-acre Bellevue Downtown Park to let the kids loose under the sun in the fresh air. For some quiet time, shop at the Bellevue Collection, The Shops at The Bravern, and the award-winning Bellevue Library. Visit the Wintergrass Music Festival in February and the Bellevue Jazz & Blues Festival in May. Let the holiday magic envelop you along Snowflake Lane at the Bellevue Collection and at the Bellevue Downtown Ice Arena in Downtown Park.

Bellingham, Washington

A photo of Mount Baker with a sailboat and houses in the Bellingham town area.
A photo of Mount Baker with a sailboat and houses in the Bellingham town area.

Bellingham is a truly magical city in Washington, where nature meets you for sweeping adventures amid the Salish Sea, Mt. Baker, and North Cascades National Park. Recharge after ventures with some fresh farm-to-table cuisine or cool off at craft breweries. The city is a real food lover's paradise, with award-winning restaurants using locally sourced ingredients from nearby farms and local waters, while the craft beverage culture includes cideries, distilleries, wineries, and local kombucha. Discover the city's charming art scene and historical treasures amid local hotspots like small businesses, restaurants, and markets over unforgettable family moments.

Gawk at street architecture with iconic buildings and stroll through the Whatcom Museum campus in the downtown arts district with changing cultural, natural, and historical landscape exhibitions. Bellingham's abundant parks and green spaces are great for relaxing in the sea breeze with alpine notes. Explore extensive forest trails in the foothills and rugged mountains of North Cascades National Park and bathe in the waters of the Salish Sea along the many miles of coastline. The wintertime brings heaps of tourists for magical holidays and to shred some alpine snow.

Bend, Oregon

Aerial view of the Old Mill District in Bend, Oregon.
Aerial view of the Old Mill District in Bend, Oregon.

Bend is a really charming city that takes you straight back to your childhood vacation in a mountainous area. The city is Central Oregon's hub for arts and craft beer. Seek out the best beer spots via the Cycle Pub; it's great for your health and the environment while bonding with friends or getting acquainted with strangers. Enjoy scenic paddling along the crystal-clear Deschutes River and share a frosted craft beer pint with a new friend after a hot day out.

The surreal city, in the shadow of Mt. Bachelor and the statuesque Deschutes National Forest, is replete with hiking and mountain biking opportunities. Trek to the unique Pilot Butte, an extinct volcano, and the Lava River Cave at the nearby Newberry National Volcanic Monument. Visit in winter with a pair of skis, snowshoes, or a snowboard and immerse yourself in the magical holiday feel that brings everyone together under a local vibe. Join Bend's Art Walk every first Friday of the month and seek out the best restaurants, wines from the vineyards, and local artwork downtown at any time.

Boise, Idaho

Fall colors in Boise, Idaho.
Fall colors in Boise, Idaho.

The Lonely Planet named Boise, one of three US destinations on the global travel authority's list, among the top 30 destinations to visit in 2023. The city is one of the world's hottest destinations to "connect," where tourists truly immerse themselves in the distinctiveness of the town and the local nature. Find plentiful open spaces for fresh-air recreation and relaxation along the clean river, while the innovative Boise downtown offers something for everyone, like artists, restaurants, breweries, and wineries. Connect with locals and other visitors, with Mother Nature along the hiking trails, and with history and culture through plentiful venues and over food and drink.

Boise's tree-lined streets, steps from mountains and the river, are where urban meets wild in a type of glamour that only a clean, artistic, and vibrant city can achieve. Escape into its modern-day mountain culture to relax or push your limits over hundreds of miles of trails. Spend time at the vibrant cultural heart with great breweries, art museums, and the best nightlife in the state. Enjoy special family moments at regular events and activities, and stroll through the beautiful Eighth Street Cultural District downtown. The fun and diverse city, where modern living meets small, idyllic town charm, is a delight to visit and turns new tourists into loyal followers.

Olympia, Washington

Aerial view of Olympia, Washinton.

This Pacific Northwest city is the region's cultural hub, strewn with attractions and second-to-none waterfronts offering coastal views and river panoramas. Visit Olympia for interesting American history or on holiday in between the mountains and the sea. It is your chance to discover alluring nature under sea brine and fresh mountain air. The stunning Olympic Mountains and the banks of the beautiful Capitol Lake are some of the US' most beautiful sights that frame the city.

The waterfront city is a great place to relax, immerse yourself in local culture, dive into nature, or take a trip back in time. Its most charming downtown is strewn with theaters, restaurants, galleries, and shops, while the imposing Washington State Capitol Building is a marvelous architectural feat. Discover the small city on a stroll along the cultural scene with stops for fascinating history like the Old Capitol Building from 1892.

Portland, Oregon

The spectacular cityscape of Portland, Oregon.

Portland, the economic heart of the state, is the real epitome of west coast culture. The vibrant city is soaked in history, culture, and attractions, most concentrated in the Cultural District. Find bright venues for each evening at the Center for Performing Arts and Northwest Film Center, daytime excursions through the Oregon Historical Society, captivatingly verdant parks, and outdoor concerts in the summer. The Pearl District in the northwest is a former industrial center that is now the home of the Artists Repertory Theater and the Portland Classical Chinese Garden.

Be beachbound from downtown, just an hour to the coast, to enjoy the sun, sand, and sea. Find dining, boutique shopping, and art galleries for feasting throughout the Southeast and North/Northeast Districts. The fabulous city is the gateway to the state's best recreational attractions, with Astoria, Seaside, and Cannon Beach just northwest and Oregon's fertile wine country to the south for many spectacular day trips. The Columbia Gorge to the east is awe-inspiring Mother Nature's work for vistas with historic landmarks, while the Oregon Cascades are your go-to hiking destination for any level through mountains, forests, and streams.

Salem, Oregon

The Oregon State Capitol building in Salem.

Starting with its small-town charm, Salem is inarguably unlike any other city in the state or the whole country. Experience its one-of-a-kind attractions and atmosphere, home to crafters and creators, artists, and entrepreneurs who like sharing all the charms of Salem, the "most Oregon part of Oregon." It is enchanting from morning to night, over the simplest things like a fresh cup of Joe from one of many worthy cafes downtown, like Cafe Capri Reed. Fuel up quickly for your day's explorations with a champ's breaky from Word of Mouth Neighborhood Bistro with creative options like Flying Biscuit.

Why not feed some ducks next for good fortune at Pendleton Woolen Mills' 5-acre complex and have a snack yourself at Taproot or The Old Mill Cafe? Enjoy fresh air paddling through Minto-Brown Island Park, which is also a sanctuary, with its 29 miles of trails, 1,200 acres of lush, open, and wooded areas for a picnic with your pet, and observation platforms to sight plentiful wildlife and birds. Beat the heat with all-natural ice cream from Slick Licks with your favorite topping to go exploring Salem's Walking Art Tour around public art displays through town, like its 5-foot grasshopper, vibrant murals, and historical pieces. Have dinner at the Best Little Roadhouse with mini-golf, a patio setting, a garden, and a fire pit.

Tacoma, Washington

Tacoma, Washington, USA with Mt. Rainier in the distance on Commencement Bay.
The charming city of Tacoma, Washington, with Mt. Rainier in the distance.

Tacoma is a charming city with a unique vibe and culture in each of its many districts. Discover them all, or choose a theme that speaks loudest to immerse yourself fully. Shop your heart out in the historic Proctor and Stadium districts, with unique boutiques, sights, and plentiful foot traffic to mingle. The museum district boasts a vibrant mix of art, glass, and history, while Sixth Avenue is your go-to for upbeat dining and music venues in the evening. The lively urban core with vibrant culture downtown melds the old and new, like classic cars of yesteryear and historic theaters with the latest art performances.

The creative and sophisticated city is also blessed with natural offerings. Come in the winter to the nearby Crystal Mountain Resort, the state's largest ski area with Mount Rainier views. The Nisqually Entrance is open year-round to enjoy its Longmire recreation area in any season. Join a free weekend snowshoe tour at the Paradise recreation area in winter, with snowshoes provided on a first-come, first-served basis with two tours daily at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.

Vancouver, British Columbia

The gorgeous skyline of Vancouver, British Columbia.
The gorgeous skyline of Vancouver, British Columbia.

This British Columbia's west coast jewel enchants from the first sight and feel of the urban hub amid water to the three sides at the base of the Coast Mountain Range. The place where the mountains meet the ocean attracts millions of visitors each year from around the world. Canada's largest west coast city has everything you desire out of a getaway and much more to return to, like numerous ski resorts and summer recreation areas. Enjoy a simple drive of under 40 miles from the Canada-US border, easy traffic from Seattle, or fly into Vancouver International Airport from anywhere in the world, as well as boat access.

Come in winter for a day trip to Garibaldi Mountain or the Whistler-Blackcomb Resort at Whistler, with the best skiing and snowboarding in North America. There are plenty of activities to fill up your summer days by the coast, like boating, water skiing, hiking the wildlife trails, and camping. Vancouver, the multicultural center for Western Canada, will treat you to cuisine from Aboriginal dishes to Japanese, Greek, Latin American, and more. Seek out relevant small neighborhoods for a quaint, authentic dining experience, a pub sit, or a cafe to bask in the culture. Find theater and music downtown and every type of accommodation you desire, but book early as the popular city receives high seasonal demand.

Victoria, British Columbia

Historic British Columbia provincial parliament buildin
Historic British Columbia provincial parliament building in Victoria.

There are many distinct cities in the world, but none hit the spot quite like the capital of British Columbia, Victoria. This coastal jewel in British Columbia, on the southern tip of the beautiful Vancouver Island, is a postcard come to life with pursuits that seem too good to be true and expanding opportunities every time you revisit. Take in the breathtaking vistas of Canada's most dramatic landscape, with the ocean and mountains visible from everywhere in town. There are fabulous eateries and great farmers' markets throughout, where you can feast on dishes made from organic fruits and vegetables and drool-worthy baked goods.

Victoria completes the charming PNW cities list as its oldest city. It is home to the oldest Chinatown in Canada (so you know where to get authentic food) and has heavy influences from First Nations, Britain, and other Asian countries. Stroll through the enchanting flower gardens at Butchart Gardens amid its world-famous blooms and seek brilliant British heritage sights like horse-drawn carriages, tearooms, and double-decker buses. Enjoy water sports, whale watching, and sailing, and stay at the Craigdarroch Castle for sunset after having an afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress Hotel.  

Visit PNW coastal cities during the summer for warm weather and pleasant waters to enjoy along hundreds of miles of beach-lined shores. Beat the crowds in the shoulder months of May and October and seek winter recreation galore from January to April with many ski resorts nearby, holiday festivities, and cozy city pursuits.

The natural charm that knows no bounds lets you enjoy the mountains during the summer for hiking and camping, while the eager cities will surprise new and many-time tourists with scenes on constant refresh. Find any type of accommodations that will make you feel at home, even though you will want to stay out as much as possible in the new city, where you will feel like a local in no time.

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