12 Top-Rated Small Towns In The Pacific Northwest

The Pacific Northwest is a region of the western United States located adjacent to the Pacific Ocean, running north to south from British Columbia, Canada, to Oregon. This region is known for its history of occupation with several Indigenous groups and its geological features, like active volcanos within the Cascade Mountain Range, Mount Hood in Oregon, and Mount Saint Helens in Washington. The cooler climate appeals to those not interested in a balmy summer experience who enjoy history and adventure. These small towns in the Pacific Northwest are the epitome of what it means to live and thrive within the spectacular region. With a sprinkle of intriguing tales from the past, outdoor recreation, and natural wonders, the Pacific Northwest can be found. 

Ashland, Oregon

Aerial view of Ashland, Oregon in autumn
Aerial view of Ashland, Oregon, in autumn.

Ashland is a small town at the base of the Siskiyou and Cascade Mountain Ranges, with a reputation for outdoor recreation combined with a modern art scene. Many physically inclined visitors enjoy the swooping trails of the various mountain biking adventures guided by owners of the same name (Ashland Mountain Adventures). Mount Ashland Ski Lodge is a popular destination in both summer and winter. Explore the Rouge Valley Wine Country, where seven separate wineries are at the amateur sommelier's disposal, or venture into the historical Railroad or Skidmore Academy District. With sweeping mountains and a cultural haven, Ashland will surely not disappoint. 

Bainbridge Island, Washington

Secluded residences on Bainbridge Island with skyline of Seattle in the background,
Secluded residences on Bainbridge Island. Image credit Andriana Syvanych via Shutterstock.

Bainbridge Island is only thirty-five minutes by ferry from the bustling city of Seattle and is a quieter, far more serene exemplification of the Pacific Northwest. A coastal cottage vibe has all the pickings of a fun getaway, with a free and accessible museum housed in a 1908 schoolhouse that educates young and old visitors. An assortment of hiking trails and parks show off the Island's natural beauty, such as the finely garden-curated Red Pine Park or the rustic and lush forestry of the Island Center. Lodging options range from over 70 hotels, inns, guest rentals, and vacation rentals, offering romantic beachside spaces and practical family homes. There is no short supply of entertainment either, especially in the downtown Winslow area, which thrives on old-school aesthetics and charm. 

Friday Harbor, Washington

A stormy day on San Juan Island, Washington with lighthouse.
Friday Harbor View, San Juan Islands.

This seaport town is located on the San Juan Islands, along with 172 named islands, such as Orcas Island, Lopez Island, and Shaw Island, the most popular tourist attractions. Friday Harbour, with a population of only 2,162, can be accessed through ferry by Washington State Ferry, by plane via Kenmore Air, and even by water taxi for shorter visits. Travelers can look around the San Juan Historical Museum at the Whale Museum, see marine life up close at the Spring Street Landing Mini-Aquarium, or even take a whale and wildlife watching tour around the teal waters. Have a unique stay at one of many farms around the Island, or try glamping to become one with the natural surroundings. 

Long Beach, Washington

Washington State International Kite Festival at Long Beach.
Washington State International Kite Festival at Long Beach. Image credit Bob Pool via Shutterstock.

Just as its name implies, Long Beach, Washington, is a quiet town with nearly 28 miles of silver sand and year-round maritime eats. It sits on a peninsula and stretches outward with blustery winds and pale grassy dunes, where visitors can go horseback riding at dazzling sunset or walk the path to the tide pools that brim with sea life. History buffs will adore the frozen-in-time vibes of the historic train station and the Funland arcade and then trace the steps of Lewis and Clark at the Lewis and Clark Integrative Centre at Cape Disappointment State Park. The town is known for its seafood, lifted straight from the sea, that is not to be missed. Wake up to the sounds of the crashing waters at the Lighthouse Oceanfront Resort, the epitome of inviting, small-town comforts.

 Yachats, Oregon

The town of Yachats on the rough Oregon coast in a beautiful sunset scene
Aerial view of Yachats, Oregon coast. 

Yachats sits along Oregon's Central Coastline, where the rushing riptides of the sea bring natural wonders close to home. Travelers can stay at the Overleaf Lodge and Spa, with magnificent rooms overlooking the crashing surf and whales migrating along the waters. Those seeking risks and adventure can climb up to Thor's Well, a dramatic, volcanic, rocky natural phenomenon known as the drainpipe of the Pacific. The 804 trail is popular for hikers, as it traces the coaling north with seven miles of sandy beaches. Hop into town and sip on some libation at Prairie Mountain Wineries, or indulge in one of many restaurants, tongues, and cafes the small sweet town offers.

Seaside, Oregon

Lewis & Clark End of Trail Monument Seaside, Oregon
Lewis & Clark End of Trail Monument Seaside, Oregon.

Seaside is an outdoorsman's dream come true, with kite flying, kayaking, swan boating, and boogie boarding popular pastimes for tourists and homeowners. Hiking in the Seaside ranges from strolls along the ocean promande to family hikes at the estuary through Gateway Park to the challenging Saddle Mountain. Appreciation of nature and its shimmering beauty abounds in Seaside, where the North Coast Land Conservancy encourages mindful stewardship and the use of neat and friendly beaches. Stay by the sea at various inns, such as the Beachside Inn or the Starry Night Inn, a newly renovated Victorian home. 

Port Townsend, Washington

View of downtown Water Street in Port Townsend Historic District
Port Townsend Historic District. Image credit 365 Focus Photography via Shutterstock.

Those looking for a season-side, historic aesthetic will adore the small town of Port Townsend. Well-preserved 19th-century buildings on the Olympic Peninsula are famous for outdoor activities, such as hiking through Fort Worden State Park (a former military installation.) Palace Hotel boasts its unique history; as a former fusion of both a hotel and brothel, it guides guests to step back in time with rooms furnished in the turn of the 20th-century style. Chetzemoka Park is a small waterfront park within walking distance from both uptown and downtown, with enchanting botanical gardens, and the potential to spot a deer grazing is relatively high. 

Sandpoint, Idaho

 Sand Creek River and Lake Pend Oreille in the downtown area of Sandpoint, Idaho
 Sand Creek River and Lake Pend Oreille near Sandpoint, Idaho.

Sandpoint Idaho can be found in the Northern tip of Idaho, surrounded by the stunning 43-mile-long Lake Pend Orville and Selkirk and Cabinet Mountains. Natural attractions can be found in the town during all seasons and explored along the Gold Hill trail, suitable for hikers or bikers. Activities abound in town, too, with arts celebrated all year round at the Panida Theater and the Northwest Winefest and the musical magic under the stars during The Festival in August. Options in dining are endless, from breweries and wineries to simple coffee houses and family-friendly restaurants. Visitors can lodge at the glamorous mountain resort Schweitzer, with direct access to the snow mountains, or stay at a reasonable price at Lodge, situated on 600 feet of a glimmering lakefront view. 

Bend, Oregon

 A woman in a red canoe on Sparks Lake, Oregon Cascade Mountains near Bend,
 Sparks Lake in Oregon Cascade Mountains near Bend. Image credit Bob Pool via Shutterstock.

Bend, Oregon, is known for its outdoor pursuits and undeniable natural beauty. The list of activities is rather lengthy and, thus, a must for those looking for an enthusiastic escape. Run through the scenic forests, canopied by the Cascade Mountains along Bend's Urban Trail system, or try a longer haul through the Three Sisters Wilderness. Move south from Pilot Butte State Park, where Newberry Volcano is located, one of the most accessible natural wonders within the state. Spend a quiet day inside the Deschutes Historical Museum or the High Desert Museum, where art thrives. Stay within the vast selection of lodging that  Bend offers, from RV and Camper Van Rentals to luxurious resorts like Riverhouse on the Deschutes, where a babbling brook and untamed wildness roam within arms reach. 

Winthrop, Washington

Hot air balloon festival in Winthrop, Eastern Washington
Hot air balloon festival in Winthrop, Eastern Washington. Image credit Oksana. Perkins via Shutterstock.

People who travel to Winthrop have a thirst for imagination and adventure. This tiny town used to be an old Western one, maintained with antique boardwalks and a modern flair for the dramatic. The Okanogan Forest is just in the backyard and is the ideal place to explore with hiking and climbing experts, especially along the Goat Wall, a primary draw for practiced visitors. Science drives are a must for the photogenically inclined, as Winthrop is a favorite outpost lagoon, the Cascade Loop, known for its charming towns and sublime aesthetics. Since the city is within the Methow Valley, a sixty-mile-long glacial valley, the recreational activities, and beautiful views are abundant. Stay in a homey cabin or inn, or even go complete method and Lodge at the Chewack River Guest Ranch, where the cowboy experience is indulged. 

Astoria, Oregon

Cars on the street in downtown Astoria with Astoria-Megler Bridge in the background
Cars on the street in downtown Astoria. Image credit Enrico Powell via Shutterstock.

More Victorian-era homes are etched into hills that overlook the Columbia River in this small and intriguing town. Astoria is a town surrounded by forests, a former fishing village with a Scandinavian flavor. Stunning views await along the Columbia Riverwalk; observing the flowing waters as they blend into the open ocean, especially as the sun sets, is quite a marvel. And because Astoria is one of the country's oldest settlements, a fair amount of cultural and historical institutions are dedicated to just that. Follow along the Astoria Riverfront Trolley, a 3-mile heritage streetcar line that follows a former freight railroad. Visitors to the Columbia River Maritime Museum, or Heritage Museum,  was built in 1904 and served as the city hall until 1939. Stay in town at the Lloyd Hotel Astoria Bayfront, which overlooks the bay and is easily accessible to all the city's activities. 

Gig Harbor, Washington

Mt Rainier in the background of small town Gig Harbor
Mt Rainier in the background of the small town of Gig Harbor.

This gateway to the Olympic Peninsula town became a popular tourist destination due to the easy access to several city and state parks. The town is a wonder and worth the stay, with one of the safest and most natural harbors and a pleasant view of Mount Rainer, and is entirely walkable. Finhol View requires a steady climb up 100 stairs but offers a panoramic view of the town. Hike or joy along Cushman Trail, a 6.2-mile paved pathway that runs through the scenic forests of the town. Feel some Italian charm in a Venetian gondola with rides around the harbor while a gondolier shares history while meandering through the sparkling waters. Satiate that seafood craving at Anthony's, a popular dine-in waterfront restaurant with an immaculate view of Gig Harbour's cove and marina. 

Capture the allure of the mountainside, the coastal towns, and the delicious dining experiences, and make memories of a lifetime in these small towns within the Pacific Northwest. Whether it is raining or the sun is shining, exploration is crucial and entirely worthwhile while taking in all there is to see in these delightful little towns, bursting with their remarkable character. 

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