The Pacific coastline of North America extends from the westernmost reaches of the Alaskan Aleutian Islands to the southern end of California, at the border between the United States and Mexico. Although in geographical terms, it applies to as far south as Panama, this article is focused on the former description, which includes the American states of Alaska, California, Oregon, and Washington, as well as the Canadian province of British Columbia. With a diverse landscape that ranges from snowcapped volcanoes and glaciers in the north to sun-drenched beaches and swaying palm trees in the south, the Pacific coast is a dream for living, and so is for visiting. Travelers have a dizzying array of towns to choose from for their trip here. From north to south, here is a list of towns we think are the most charming to visit on the Pacific coast.
Located on the northern shore of a deep fjord in Prince William Sound, Valdez is an oil and fishing port framed by the Chugach Mountains, which serve as a spectacular entrance to passengers coming by ferry or driving on the Richardson Highway. The surrounding nature calls outdoor enthusiasts to kayak in glacial waters, hike to nearby vantage points and waterfalls, and ski in fresh, powdery snow during winter. The town has a fair bit of history to tell in the Valdez Museum, with plenty of artifacts from the early settlers to the aviation and oil industry. Check out one of the world's largest collections of Native Alaskan art in the Maxine & Jesse Whitney Museum. While the town is small, it doesn't lack great places to eat, such as The Fat Mermaid, which has some of the best seafood dishes on the menu. Don't forget to also spend some time sampling local beer at the Valdez Brewing and Growler Bay Brewing Company; both taprooms are long favorites among locals and visitors.
One of the busiest cruise ports in the Last Frontier, Skagway lies in the northernmost inlet of the Inner Passage on the state's panhandle. Visitors are mostly attracted to its natural scenery. Being close to towering peaks and ice, the adventurous can set out to trek on the Laughton Glacier, raft down the Taiya River, or take on the legendary 33-mile-long Chilkoot Trail. Another appealing reason to come, especially for history geeks, is its association with the Klondike Gold Rush, with a downtown that has been well-restored and included as part of a larger national historic park. A piece of it is also found on the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway, which was first operated in 1898. It has now been converted into a train ride that is on the "must-do" lists of most visitors here. If you are not part of the cruise, stay in town for its lively saloons, especially at Red Onion, which also happens to offer a tour of its "brothel." This Alaskan town is a classic when it comes to charming its guests.
Prince Rupert, British Columbia
This quaint community sits on forested Kaien Island off the northwestern coast of British Columbia and is the region's main center of commerce and shipping. Prince Rupert is best known for its location on the edge of the Great Bear Rainforest, where grizzly bears and wolves are found hidden in the dense evergreen woodlands, with the town providing access to the remote wilderness through its tour operators. The same is also done to spot orcas and humpback whales, some of the most majestic creatures that thrive in the Chatham Sound. The town presents visitors with its rich indigenous cultural heritage of the Ts'msyen people, with their artifacts displayed in the impressive longhouse of the Museum of Northern British Columbia. Learn about the area's canning past at the North Pacific Cannery National Historic Site, which features a well-preserved collection of wooden stilt buildings connected by a network of boardwalks. The charm of Prince Rupert can also be felt in Cow Bay, the historic heart of town with colorful shops, art galleries, and dining halls to suit everyone's taste.
Tofino, British Columbia
Perhaps the greatest town on the west coast of Canada, situated on Vancouver Island, Tofino is loved near and far for its beaches and nature. Its proximity to the wild, rugged shores and rainforests of Pacific Rim National Park makes it reasonable enough for a visit, offering some of the best trekking, surfing, and wildlife encounters on the island. Facing the Clayoquot Sound, the town has a stirring array of things to see and do. While most quickly head off to nearby Chesterman Beach with their surfboards, those sticking to town can get an insight into the area's history at the Tofino Clayoquot Heritage Museum or check out First Nations artwork at the House of Himwitsa, and for a more modern approach to it at the Tofino Gallery of Contemporary Art. Some of its best eateries range from the rustic ambiance of Wolf in the Fog to the refined servings of The Schooner, while for hot drinks and pastries, there is no better place than Rhino Coffee House. Whether you come to surf in summer or storm-watching in the colder months, Tofino is that one cozy place that is always present whenever you need it.
Friday Harbor, Washington
On the east coast of San Juan Island, the largest of the eponymous archipelago, Friday Harbor is the main commercial hub of the region. Surrounded by marine-rich waters, those coming to town by boat should have a great chance of seeing whales and seals swimming in the distance along the way. Walk off the ferry dock, and you will be right in the center of the action, where colorful storefronts of boutiques and gift shops line the streets of the compact-sized downtown. Head to the Whale Museum to learn about the giant mammals of the Salish Sea, travel back in time to the former farmhouse of the San Juan Historical Museum, and admire the rotating exhibits of the San Juan Islands Museum of Art (SJIMA). Dine into a wide selection of restaurants, from scrumptious brunch portions of Rocky Bay Cafe to oysters with a view at Downriggers, and if you are coming on a Saturday between spring and fall, be sure to drop by the farmers' market at Brickworks Plaza for the freshest local produce from goat cheese to blueberries.
Sequim is one of the loveliest towns in the state of Washington, located on the northern coast of the Olympic Peninsula. It is known for its lavender farms, bearing the title of the "Lavender Capital of North America," and hosting one of the most anticipated events in western Washington every summer - the Sequim Lavender Weekend. The sunny and dry climate of the area also makes it a preferable choice for growing berries and grapes, with the latter turning into a favorite alcoholic drink for many in wineries such as Olympic Cellars. Many restaurants offer a taste of locally sourced produce, from organic sourdough pizzas of Alder Wood Bistro to mussels and the famous Dungeness crab served in Salty Girls Seafood. For its art scene, see the displays of Sequim Museum or browse through the local galleries on Washington Street. When the wild finally gives you a call, the Olympic National Park is just a short drive away.
Cannon Beach, Oregon
The Oregon Coast is among the most appealing places on the Pacific side of the country, with sandy beaches that almost seem to stretch forever. In Cannon Beach, the shoreline is famous for being the home of Haystack Rock, a giant basalt sea stack that rises to 235 feet and has been featured in countless travel magazines and computer wallpapers. Strolling past the iconic natural structure is a quintessential experience here. It gets even more breathtaking during sunset, an upgrade for a photographer's dream. Cannon Beach isn't just known for the rock. However, the town is a charming place to spend a holiday with its abundance of lodging options and a growing food and art scene to explore. From glasswork to oil paintings, the creativity for art is so well-expressed here that it earned its place as one of America's 100 Best Art Towns, which is celebrated with events, namely the Stormy Weather Arts Festival and Earth and Ocean Arts Festival throughout the year. Only 90 minutes away from Portland, this is one of the easiest antidotes the West Coast can ever offer.
If you are looking for a quiet side of the Oregon Coast to settle in for a few days, Yachats may be the place you have been looking for. With a disputed etymology, the town received its name from a mix of Native words, which roughly translated as "where the trail leaves the beach". The roaring waves of the Pacific will be the sound you hear while you walk along its rocky shore, search for marine creatures in the tidepools, or simply gaze out of your hotel's window. Better experience the coastline by stepping foot on the trails of nearby Cape Perpetua, with old-growth forests on one side and the rugged coast on the other. Yachats also come as a surprise for its unexpected culinary offerings, home to award-winning restaurants like The Adobe and family favorites like The Drift Inn. Find antiques and gemstones to take home at Styx, Stones, N' Bones, among the few quirky stores in this small town that you will have a great time browsing.
Like most towns in Northern California, Mendocino seems to be isolated from the rest of the Golden State, making it an ideal spot to escape from the cities down south and be surrounded by nature. With redwood forests to trek in, sandy beaches to walk on, and the open ocean to tackle some waves, the town has all the essence of the Pacific coast's wildest side. Mendocino also has a historic side that is worth putting your kayak or surfboard down for a while, with heritage-listed buildings such as the Chinese temple of Kwan Tai and the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse to see. For its picturesque location, it isn't difficult to understand why it has drawn artists for generations, with some of their best works on display at the Mendocino Art Center. The area is also particularly known for its fresh produce. Fom mushrooms to sea urchins, the restaurants of Mendocino offer a sensory delight for the tastebuds with their creative approach to local ingredients. Simply coming for a day trip or staying overnight, it is hard not to nod your head that this little town has the power to charm anyone visiting.
A gem on the central coast of California, Carmel-by-the-Sea is, as its name suggests, located by the water. The sugary sandy beaches, backed by a long row of cypress trees and washed by emerald waves of the Pacific Ocean, are already captivating to visitors. They serve as a favorite subject on canvas for many artists, whose masterpieces are shown in the countless local galleries within one square mile of the town's vicinity, as well as the annual Carmel Art Festival. Walk along Ocean Avenue to find the boutique store of your dreams. Some of them are hidden in courtyards, the architectural pride of the town, and the work of local designer Hugh Comstock. The fairytale-inspired buildings also house incredible dining spots like Anton & Michel and Chez Noir, serving some of the greatest flavors you could ever ask for on the coast. So when you are cruising down the Monterey Peninsula and making your way to Big Sur, stop by this charming place for a while; there is a reason why it is considered "One of America's Top Beach Towns."
Another town in the state with a giveaway name, Oceanside, calls itself the "original SoCal beach town", with palm trees lining its beachfront, seaside bungalows, and a love for surfing and skateboarding; it is not hard to see why. Walking the entire length of the wooden pier is an exercise not to be missed, where you can catch your breath, stop for pictures, observe the catches of anglers, or enjoy performances by talented buskers and performers. Whether you are a novice or an experienced surfer, the California Surf Museum is another must-visit in town. The same can be said for its art scene, which, other than the Oceanside Museum of Art, one can admire the many murals wherever a wall is present. Build up an appetite for the town's gastronomy, from its first Michelin-starred restaurant - Dija Mara, to the waterfront delights of Stratford at the Harbor. Do drop by local boutiques such as The Ozone, and if you are in town on a Thursday night, the main thoroughfare is transformed into the Sunset Market, with up to 200 merchants selling all sorts of weird and wonderful.
Stretching more than 3,500 miles on its drivable distance, the Pacific Coast is a trip of a lifetime whether you are only visiting a couple of spots or covering the entire length of it. The grandeur of Mother Nature is at its peak here from north to south, and every part is distinctive from one another. The towns that are fortunate to land their place on the coast are just as magical to explore, so buckle up, make sure you have enough fuel, and hit the road!