The West Coast of the United States is a world-renowned travel destination for a reason. From the birthplace of American cinema to the temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest and everything in between, people from all over the world travel to this part of the world to experience the natural beauty and cultural significance of this region. There are nearly 50,000 miles of Pacific coastline to explore and between the well-traveled cities of Los Angeles and Seattle, there is no better way to explore this region than by visiting the small coastal towns below.
The town of Sequim is just fantastic. Found on the Olympic Peninsula, Sequim is the lavender capital of North America. There is even the Sequim Lavender Festival Weekend in July. Beautiful and serene, the town is a prized destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Hike through pristine forests, go biking through the Olympic Discovery Trail, or explore the rest of the Sequim-Dungeness Valley using Sequim as a launching pad. Lavender festivals, irrigation festivals, and farmer’s markets abound in Sequim. Be sure to time your visit to coincide with one of these events!
Called Carmel by locals, this lovely Pacific town is known for its beaches and its rocky coast. The shopping here is top notch as is the surfing. Carmel feels like a storybook town, a place where quaint little cottages are overgrown with vines and flowers. There are farm-to-table restaurants, mossy roofs, and the streets are set with cobblestones. Carmel has a distinctly European feel. The rugged mountain range of Big Sur starts here. Use Carmel to explore the state and drive along Pacific Coast Highway for an amazing drive along the ocean. Carmel Valley Ranch comes highly recommended as a place to stay and offers great views.
They say it is easy to fall in love with Ashland. As a top ten entry in “The 100 Best Small Art Towns in America,” they may have a point. Ashland is nestled at the foot of the Siskiyou and Cascade mountain ranges. This cultural hot spot has award-winning galleries, theaters, and restaurants. Ski at the famous Mt. Ashland Ski Area or visit the annual Oregon Shakespeare Festival if the arts are more your thing. In the summer and spring, head to Crater Lake to see the deepest lake in the state.
Bainbridge Island, Washington
When you approach Bainbridge Island by ferry, gliding past misty harbors and shoreline cottages, there is a real sense that the natural world here has been left untouched. Thirty-five minutes from Seattle by ferry, Bainbridge Island is a hidden gem you will want to visit again and again. Head through the town center, a neighborhood called Winslow which overlooks Eagle Harbor. Grab a coffee and a bun or some calamari at Doc’s Marina Grill and explore this quaint little community before visiting the town’s many attractions like Bainbridge Gardens or Frog Rock. Hike, swim, and fish to your heart’s content on this secluded island town.
Florence's historic old town is one of its greatest features and is not to be missed. Walk across the gorgeous Siuslaw River Bridge and wave at the kayakers who often frequent the river below. Oregon has excellent clam chowder and LoveJoy’s Restaurant & Tea Room is both gluten-free and delicious. Visit the Florence Events Center or the Three Rivers Casino Resort for some live entertainment. Looking for an interesting accommodation? Stay in the Heceta Lighthouse B&B for an unforgettable view of the seaside cliffs and beach below. Grab a pair of binoculars and try to spot the migrating whales as they pass by the Oregon coastline.
This sunny Santa Barbara town is worth a day trip for anyone in the area. The European influences in the town’s architecture are unmistakable. Ride the trolley for a guided tour or stroll through the village where visitors can spot five Danish windmills, the Little Mermaid Fountain, and the Round Tower of Solvang. The Danish pastries here are divine, and there are five bakeries to try them at. There are over 20 wine and beer tasting rooms here, and many museums, like the Solvang Amber Museum, for visitors looking to expand their knowledge of Solvang’s Danish roots.
La Conner, Washington
Some people call La Conner the best weekend getaway in the state because of its temperate climate, gorgeous mountain views, and fun events going on all year long. In November, the Art’s Alive event is a showcase of regional artists which has been running for nearly 40 years. One hour north of Seattle, La Conner is located on the Swinomish Channel and was a major steamboat hub during the 1890s. Enjoy a meal of Dungeness crab at the Nell Thorn Restaurant overlooking the channel for an unmatched dining experience. Families with children will want to visit Pioneer Park. It is a great picnic spot during warmer months.
This town of just over 10,000 on the Oregon coast has a palpable laid-back beach town vibe. Shutterbugs and influencers looking for attention-grabbing photos will want to visit this Lincoln County. The Yaquina Head Lighthouse, with its irreplaceable fresnel lens, is both the tallest of its kind in Oregon and picturesque. Visit Newport’s beaches where gray whales and migrating orcas can be spotted in the spring and autumn. The town’s Deco District in the heart of Newport is full of espresso bars and bakeries, and a retro Art Deco Heritage Area.
Found just south of San Rafael, Sausalito is a Bay-area jewel thanks to its views of the water and the tasty seafood found in town. Find the catch of the day at the farmer's markets set up near Dunphy Park. Not in the mood to cook? Visit the many revered eateries in Sausalito like Fish, Poggio, and Bar Bocce. Take the Golden Gate Ferry for a day trip to San Francisco. GO Kayaking over the sapphire waters of the bay and try and check out the collection of floating homes here. There is always something to do in this tourist Mecca.
Port Townsend, Washington
This town on the Olympic Peninsula is beloved for its Victorian-era architecture and its amazing harbor. It is one of only three Victorian seaports on the National Register of Historic Places.” Steeped in maritime history, the town was called the Paris of the Pacific Northwest by Sunset Magazine and hosts tons of festivals and events for visitors to enjoy. Come out for the art walk held on the first Saturday of every month and the Strange Brew Fest held in January. Visit Chetzemoka Park, Port Townsend’s crown jewel and a place that is harder to forget than it is to pronounce.
Fort Bragg, California
This former lumber town has come a long way since its founding, shedding its roughspun exterior and transforming itself into a variable destination town. Ride the Skunk Train over trestle bridges and through forests of old-growth redwoods, some of the largest trees on the planet. Whale watching is commonplace in town and boats are always coming and going from Noyo Harbor. Kayak the Noyo River, unroll a towel at Hidden Beach, or take a ceramics class at Little Cup Ceramics. Roll up your sleeves and get into it in Fort Bragg. You will feel like a local in no time.
Cannon Beach, Oregon
This is not your father’s beach town. Cannon Beach was called “One of America’s Best Beach Towns,” by National Geographic due to its proximity to Portland and the hiking nearby. Ecola State Park is an enchanting area that stretches along nine miles of the Oregon coastline. Visit the Sitka spruce forest and then try to find Haystack Rock as seen in the 1980s classic, The Goonies. Lastly, grab some cajun & creole food at Castaways, a local favorite.
The vast Pacific Coast is a pleasure to explore. Drive along the jaw-dropping Pacific Coast Highway with the top down or hike the redwood forests of Northern California. Whale watch between Seattle and San Diego and experience some of the best seafood around. There is a reason that the West Coast is the best coast, and the towns found on it are a big part of that.