colorful houses in Astoria, Oregon

11 Unforgettable Small Towns to Visit in Oregon

The magic of the Pacific Northwest is something one must experience firsthand to truly appreciate.

While Oregon might be best known for the vibrant city of Portland, the state is also full of the timeless beauty of the untamed coast.

Oregon has unbelievably lush rainforests, the powering sound of the ocean hitting the rocky shoreline, but also soft winding hills and striking mountain ranges.

These 11 towns are some of the most memorable towns the state has to offer.

Cannon Beach

Cannon Beach on the Oregon coast
Cannon Beach on the Oregon coast

When the sun falls softly against the Pacific Ocean, and the sky behind Haystack Rock becomes a soft orange hue, you will understand Cannon Beach’s worldwide popularity.

The town is situated right along the coastline and is one of the most popular spots to visit in the state. That is all for good reason, with the collection of landmarks and parks for visitors to see.

Just north of town is Ecola State Park, with phenomenal views of the area. The park has temperature rainforests full of weaving coastal trails, perfect for a vigorous day of hiking.

Indian Beach lies inside the park and is the ideal place to hit the waves and surf, or take a slow day and explore the many tidepools.

In the opposite direction lies Tolovana State Recreation Site, with wide stretches of sandy shores, slowly sloping into the ocean. It is also a perfect place to see the aforementioned Haystack Rock, in all its glory.


Downtown Joseph Oregon
Downtown Joseph Oregon, via benedek /

You only need a few minutes in Joseph to understand why it is known as the ‘Little Switzerland of America,’

The nearby Wallowa Mountains supply wonderful views, with jagged snow-capped peaks, including the towering Matterhorn at 9,826 feet and Sacajawea Peak, at 9,845 feet.

Visitors should tie up those hiking boots and explore the Eagle Cap Wilderness, in the Wallowa–Whitman National Forest. This alpine paradise has over 350,000 acres of rugged terrain, including glacial lakes, and diverse ecosystems.

The town was named after Chief Joseph, who was a leader of the Wallowa band of the Nez Perce Tribe. The presence and influence of the Nez Perce Native American heritage can be felt in the cultural fabric of the area around Joseph.

If you want to relax, walk through Joseph's downtown area to admire Western-inspired storefronts. Many buildings in town incorporate local materials, reflecting the surrounding natural beauty.


Astoria, Oregon, along the Pacific coastline.
Astoria, Oregon, along the Pacific coastline.

As the oldest town west of the Rocky Mountains, Astoria has a unique place in American history.

The town is flanked by the Columbia River to the north and the Youngs River to the south. This watery boundary lends the town a scenic, riverside character.

Astoria features prominent cliffs, particularly on Coxcomb Hill, providing expansive views of the Columbia River. The town’s rugged slopes showcase Victorian and Craftsman residences, representative of its maritime legacy and 19th-century aesthetic.

An interesting local landmark is the Astoria Column, a dedication to its long local history. Built in 1926, it features a spiral mural depicting significant events in Astoria's history, including the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

There is a good chance you have seen Astoria in a theatre near you, having appeared in many movies, most famously in the movie 'The Goonies.'

Hood River

The gorgeous town of Hood River, Oregon.
The gorgeous town of Hood River, Oregon.

On clear days, the dormant stratovolcano Mount Hood dominates the skyline from Hood River. Its snow-capped summit casts a contrast stark against the blue Oregon sky landscape.

Hood River's strategic location makes it a premier windsurfing destination, because of its reliable, consistent winds. In fact, it is often called the ‘windsurfing capital of the world.’

If you have not experienced it yet, now is an excellent opportunity to give it a try.

For something at a slightly slower speed, visitors can get their ticket punched and embark on a historic train journey through the stunning surrounding landscapes on the Mt. Hood Railroad.

Exploring local wineries for tastings is a must, as is embarking on the Fruit Loop Tour—a rustic agricultural adventure with 28 on-farm fruit stands, wineries, breweries, cideries, and vivd flower fields.


Street view in Tillamook, Oregon
Street view in Tillamook, Oregon, via Christa Boaz /

Just over an hour west of Portland lies Tillamook, one of America’s premier dairy towns.

Tillamook has the rocky shoreline of the Pacific Ocean, as well as sprawling green fields, creating a natural blend of coastal and pastoral beauty.

If you love milk, Tillamook is home to the Tillamook Creamery, a dairy cooperative producing cheese, butter, and ice cream. The creamery gives out tours and tastings, providing insights into dairy production.

If dairy is not for you, there is still plenty to do. Cape Lookout State Park has some superb hiking trails that offer unforgettable views of the Pacific Ocean.

Another treat is the Tillamook Air Museum, which houses historic aircraft in a former blimp hangar. In 1942, the U.S. Navy built two hangars at Tillamook. Only one remains, which acts as the museum.

Baker City

Aerial view of Baker City, Oregon, on a hazy day.
Aerial view of Baker City, Oregon, on a hazy day.

Close to where the Wallowa Mountains and the Blue Mountains meet, Baker City sits peacefully as the centerpiece of Baker County, known as ‘the base camp for Eastern Oregon.’

If you find yourself driving near Baker City, do not miss out on experiencing the Elkhorn Scenic Byway. This path winds through the mountains, providing breathtaking alpine views.

Baker City boasts one of the Northwest's biggest and most well-preserved historic downtown areas.

Main Street is lined with gems like the Geiser Grand Hotel, a historic landmark dating back to 1889. Known for its Victorian elegance and elaborate interiors, it has old-world charm and modern comforts in the heart of downtown Baker City. Just look for the clock tower.

Another local must-see is the Baker County Courthouse. Constructed in 1909, this Neoclassical-style building features grand columns and beautiful detailing, while still serving as the seat of local government.

Gold Beach

The legendary roadside rock formation "Kissing Rock" in Gold Beach, Oregon.
The legendary roadside rock formation "Kissing Rock" in Gold Beach, Oregon.

Long sandy beaches stretch out against the Pacific Ocean, with sea stacks rising majestically from the shore.

When you come to Gold Beach, the seemingly endless playground of the ocean is at your disposal. The dramatic beauty can be enjoyed if you are going for a beach stroll or just admiring some of the area’s phenomenal sunsets.

The town is located at the mouth of the untamed Rogue River, which is a designated ‘wild river.’ Wild rivers are free of dams, and usually only accessible by trail. This has left the river in a natural, undeveloped state.

The area around Gold Beach is a haven for nature lovers. Bald eagles and ospreys soar overhead, while whales can be seen splashing far into the ocean horizon. Further inland, inside the forests, deer and elk make the area their home.


The town of Yachats on the rough Oregon coast in a beautiful sunset scene
The town of Yachats on the rough Oregon coast in a beautiful sunset scene

On one side of Yachats, you have the rich biodiversity and enchanting moss-covered landscapes of the temperate rainforests.

On the other side, you have the immense beauty and power of the Pacific Ocean, pounding on the shoreline.

Yachats’ shore features volcanic basalt, which has left many pockets of rock perfect for playing around in tide pools.

In the area, some very distinct landmarks have been created by the power of the ocean.

The Devil’s Churn is a narrow, deep inlet along the shoreline where waves rush in with force, creating powerful surges and churning waters. It is a mesmerizing way to see the power of the Pacific Ocean.

Make sure to see Thor’s Well, a collapsed sea cave that has formed a deep hole in the rocky shoreline. When the tide is high, seawater surges into the hole, appearing to vanish into the depths.


Playground at Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, Oregon
Playground at Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, Oregon, via Ritu Manoj Jethani /

McMinnville is famous for its flourishing wine industry and the rolling farmlands surrounding the town.

The easiest way to explore the regional wine culture is through the many vineyard tours or tastings. As well, McMinnville has a mix of events, like the International Pinot Noir Celebration, which draws wine enthusiasts worldwide.

The town is striking to see, with a historic downtown district with well-maintained 19th-century architecture, characterized by weathered but beautiful brick buildings.

In McMinnville, the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum displays historic aircraft, including the famous Spruce Goose.

The Spruce Goose, officially known as the Hughes H-4 Hercules, was a massive flying boat designed and built by Howard Hughes and his team. Howard Hughes was a highly influential American businessman, aviator, engineer, and film producer and perhaps famous for his unconventional personality.


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

This small artsy town gets its name from the three peaks dominating the landscape to its west.

The town of Sisters has an interesting diversity of biomes not far off from town. First off, the town is encircled by the Cascade Mountains.

To the southwest lies the Deschutes National Forest, with a huge collection of hiking trails and outdoor activities. To the east, the high desert terrain stretches out with its arid wide-open landscape.

Sisters’ town center is full of buildings that will remind you of the Old West. This town's atmosphere pays homage to the spirit of the Old West and allows visitors to be immersed in a classic period of American history.

This frontier legacy comes alive each year during the Sisters Rodeo, which has been running for almost 80 years. This event celebrates rodeo traditions with thrilling bull riding, barrel racing, and roping competitions.


Old western style architectural Masonic Lodge building in the rural town of Brownsville, Oregon.
Old western style architectural Masonic Lodge building in the rural town of Brownsville, Oregon.

You might recognize Brownsville already. ‘Stand by Me,’ the 1986 film directed by Rob Reiner, was partially filmed here. The town served as the backdrop for the fictional town of Castle Rock.

Founded all the way back in 1846, Brownsville has an ageless feel with its well-preserved 19th-century buildings, reflecting its pioneer origins.

The downtown core has many structures built from the 1880s to the 1920s, and even some historic houses dating back all the way to the 1850s.

The Moyer House, constructed in 1881, is a Victorian-era residence with complicated woodwork, and furniture from the time, providing a glimpse into the town's late 19th-century legacy.

For a taste of the past, Pioneer Park stands as a 26-acre living reminder of Brownsville's early settlement period. Sites like this give invaluable insights into the challenges and triumphs of the region’s early inhabitants.


These towns lend captivating looks at the diverse landscapes of the different corners of Oregon.

Whether driving along the coastline or hiking through an alpine wonderland, these towns in Oregon have a natural beauty and a rich sense of history and culture.

So, if you find yourself wandering through the state, explore the beaches, gaze at the iconic rainforests, and enjoy everything the state has in its borders.

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