Oregon, the 9th-largest and 27th-most populous US State, situated in the Pacific Northwest region of the Western United States, is celebrated for its diverse landscape featuring rugged mountain ranges, volcanoes, luxuriant forests, high deserts, semi-arid shrublands, and abundant water bodies. While the state capital, Salem, and some big cities like Portland, Eugene, and Gresham get all the attention, the many gorgeous small towns that dot the state’s coastline and interiors also attract crowds of tourists with their distinctive aura. So, on your next long vacation or weekend tour, these small towns are worthy locales to spend your holidays in the Beaver State.
The foremost permanent American settlement to the west of the Rocky Mountains, Astoria is a pleasant port town along the southern shores of the Columbia River at the extreme northwestern corner of Oregon. Encircled by forests of Douglas Fir, Hemlock, and Spruce trees and placed a stone’s throw away from the Pacific, Astoria plays a prominent role as the lower Columbia basin’s trading center and as a hub of the town’s seasonal sport fishing tourism. For astounding views of the surrounding area, ascend the 125-foot-high Astoria Column constructed atop Coxcomb Hill overlooking the Columbia River’s mouth. When in town, do not forget to tour the Goonies-centric Oregon Film Museum, Captain George Flavel House Museum, Astoria Fire House No. 2, Columbia River Maritime Museum, Astoria-Megler Bridge, Fort Astoria, Fort George Brewery, Astoria City Hall, Liberty Theater, and the John Jacob Astor Hotel.
Founded in 1852 during the Oregon Gold Rush, Jacksonville is placed at the base of Miller Mountain in the Jackson Creek valley about 5 miles west of Medford. Esteemed as the erstwhile principal financial center of Southern Oregon, a major portion of the town forms a part of the Jacksonville Historic District, featuring an assemblage of meticulously preserved 19th-century Victorian-era architectures and landmarks that take visitors back in time. Jacksonville’s shopping scene is an ideal mix of the old and new, with the downtown boasting innumerable one-of-a-kind souvenir shops, antique stores, boutiques, bookstores, luxury hotels, and award-winning restaurants. The Jacksonville Woodlands Association Trails offer more than 16 miles of interconnected trails for adventurists, while indoor lovers can spend time at the Beekman House Museum, Beekman Native Plant Arboretum, Peter Britt Gardens (Britt Park), Art Presence Art Center, and Jacksonville Cemetery. From June to September, diverse musical performances in a natural amphitheater captivate thousands of cultural connoisseurs at the Britt Music & Arts Festival, one of the Northwest’s premier performing arts festivals.
Baker County’s seat, this friendly town named in honor of U.S. Senator Edward Dickinson Baker, occupies the Baker Valley between the Blue and Wallowa Mountains and along the Powder River. A town on the historic Oregon Trail, Baker City contains a well-preserved historic district that encompasses an area of about 42 acres in the downtown and features over 130 properties, including the Baker City Hall, Baker City Tower, Geiser Grand Hotel, Baker Heritage Museum, etc. The town’s other points of interest include the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, Crossroads Art Center, the downtown U.S. Bank, and the Eltrym – the town’s only movie theater. Besides being the headquarters of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, the town is a celebrated spot for those traveling along Interstate 84 and serves as a gateway to the nearby Hells Canyon Recreation Area, Eagle Cap Wilderness Area, Elkhorn Mountains, and Anthony Lakes Ski Area. Baker City hosts many annual events, such as the Miners’ Jubilee, Hells Canyon Motorcycle Rally, Salt Lick Art Auction, and We Like ‘Em Short – the most favorite short film festival.
Bounded by the Pacific Ocean on the west and the temperate rainforest of the Central Oregon Coast Range on the east, Yachats, often called “The Gem of the Oregon Coast,” is a tiny coastal town in Lincoln County. Home to a population of 994 inhabitants as per the latest US Census, the town's name has been derived from the indigenous Siletz language and means “dark water at the foot of the mountain.” Instead of sandy beaches seen in other coastal towns, a significant portion of Yachats’s coastline is dominated by black basalt rock, resulting in the formation of sea landmarks like Devil’s Churn, Thor’s Well, and Spouting Horn. Enjoy a stroll on the 804 Trail that continues as the Oregon Coast Trail past the 7-mile stretch of the beach and connects with Amanda’s Trail, leading to Cape Perpetua, the highest point of the Oregon Coast. Downtown Yachats features innumerable top-class art galleries, gift shops, cafes, breweries, diners, and some notable attractions like the Little Log Church & Museum, North Fork of the Yachats Bridge, Yachats Community Presbyterian Church, Yachats Commons, and Yachats Public Library. The town also houses a number of impressive natural areas, including the Siuslaw National Forest, Yachats Ocean Road State Natural Site, Yachats State Recreation Area, Smelt Sands State Recreation Site, Yachats Community Park, and Gerdemann Botanical Preserve.
Oregon’s Garden City, Silverton, is situated along Willamette Valley’s eastern margins about 12 miles northeast of Salem. Initially settled as a logging town, Silverton was named after Silver Creek, a tributary of the Pudding River that finally drains into the Willamette River. The town serves as a gateway to the Silver Falls State Park, Oregon’s most extensive state park, with 24 miles of walking trails, 14 miles of equestrian trails, a 4-mile bike path, and an 8.7-mile Trail of Ten Falls. Silverton’s other prominent attractions include the Town Square Park, the 80-acre Oregon Garden, the Shrine of Bobbie the Wonder Dog, Coolidge McClaine Park & Pavilion, Frank Llyod Wright-designed Gordon House, Gallon House Bridge, and the Palace Theater. This pleasant destination also has many unique shopping outlets, antique stores, art galleries, colorful outsized murals on local buildings, and an array of dining establishments. Throughout the year, Silverton hosts several festivals like the Silverton Poetry Festival, Silverton Wine & Jazz Festival, Silverton Strawberry Festival, Homer Davenport Community Festival, and Silverton Art Festival.
Often called the “Windsurfing Capital of the World,” Hood River is located at the heart of the Columbia River Gorge at the meeting point of the Hood and Columbia Rivers. With year-round recreational activities like hiking, mountain biking, standup paddleboarding, skiing, kiteboarding, windsurfing, kayaking, etc., and functioning as gateways to a significant portion of the historic Columbia River Highway, and the Mount Hood Scenic Byway, Hood River is indeed an outdoor lover’s paradise. However, Hood River is not just for adrenaline junkies; art enthusiasts, foodies, and wine aficionados are equally attracted to this beautiful community. Being a world-class arts destination, Hood River houses six diverse art galleries and a public art walking tour within the downtown area, besides the Columbia Center for the Arts and different museums like the Western Antique Aeroplane & Automobile Museum and Hood River County Historical Museum. Hood River’s countless wineries, cideries, microbreweries, and eateries offer agricultural foodstuffs from the bounty of the adjacent farms, orchards, and vineyards. The town celebrates many annual events, including the Hood River Valley Blossom Time, Hood River Hard-Pressed Cider Fest, Hood River Hops Fest, Hood River Valley Harvest Fest, and the Roy Webster Cross-Channel Swim.
A favorite coastal Oregon tourist resort destination in Clatsop County, Cannon Beach has been recognized by National Geographic as one of the world’s most beautiful places. Named after a naval cannon that swept up after a shipwreck, Cannon Beach is renowned for the iconic 235-foot-tall Haystack Rock, an intertidal sea stack situated just off the coast and protected as a part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Close to Haystack Rock are the Needles that rise straight out of the water. The town’s other well-known attraction is the Ecola State Park, which stretches along the coastline and offers panoramic coastal views, an extensive network of hiking trails, walking pathways to picnic areas, and a scope to witness the diverse wildlife in the tidepools and the surrounding forests. Do walk on the soft sandy beaches that lead to the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse at the mouth of Ecola Creek, visit the Cannon Beach History Center & Museum, have a look at the artworks of the Pacific Northwest artists in the local art galleries, watch glass blowers at work in their studios, attend year-round live theater performances, and spend quality time at different parks like Haystack Hill State Park, Tolovana Beach State Recreation Site, and the Les Shirley Park. The annual sand castle building contest, Fourth of July parade, Spring Unveiling, and the Stormy Weather Arts Festival also draw thousands to one of America’s best Art Towns every year.
Sisters, a pretty mountainside community in Deschutes County, about 154 miles southeast of Portland, forms a part of the Bend, Oregon Metropolitan Statistical Area. Tucked at the foothills of the snow-capped Three Sisters Mountains, this idyllic town is best known for its Wild West ambiance, outstanding sceneries, and artsy joints. Sisters’ vibrant downtown district and its main thoroughfare - Cascade Avenue, is sprinkled with multiple specialty stores, modern art galleries, cute cafes, eclectic shops, unique diners, and wonderful B&Bs catering to residents and tourists alike. Being the headquarters of the Deschutes National Forest’s Sisters District, many hiking, equestrian, and mountain biking trails, like the Peterson Ridge Trail and Suttle Lake trails, start from the town and lead to the Three Sisters Wilderness area. Visitors can also participate in the various annual events like the Sisters Rodeo, Sisters Folk Festival, Sisters Glory Daze Car Show, Artists Studio Tour, and the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show.
Surrounded by the Wallowa Mountains in the south and west and the Hells Canyon in the north and east, Joesph, a small mountain town in Wallowa County, aptly upholds its reputation as the “Little Switzerland of America.” Named after Chief Joseph, a leader of the Wallowa band of the indigenous Nez Perce tribe, Joseph amalgamates the innovativeness of an artistic community with the warm hospitality and awe-inspiring natural beauty of Eastern Oregon. Moreover, with the renowned Valley Bronze foundry in the town, a vast collection of life-sized bronze sculptures lines the streets of Joseph’s downtown, including its art galleries and local stores. The crystal-clear blue-green waters of Wallowa Lake offer a serene escape, while the Wallowa Lake State Park is a hub for outdoor activities like fishing, boating, kayaking, paddleboarding, camping, and wildlife-watching. During the warm months, the Wallowa Lake Tramway takes one to the top of Mount Howard, providing sweeping views of the Wallowa Lake and the Wallowa Mountains. Also, explore the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, the Eagle Cap Wilderness, Wallowology – Natural History Discovery Center, Old Chief Joseph gravesite at the Nez Perce National Historic Park, Iwetemlaykin State Heritage Site, Josephy Center for Arts & Culture, and the Zumwalt Prairie Preserve. Annual events, such as Chief Joseph Days and Oregon’s Alpenfest, attract throngs of tourists to Joseph every year.
Florence is an attractive coastal town centrally placed on the Oregon Coast at the mouth of Siuslaw River, approximately halfway between Newport and Coos Bay. Initially inhabited by the Siuslaw tribe of Native Americans, this Lane County town is a favored tourist destination along the U.S. Route 101 Highway and to the north of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. Florence’s miles of less crowded beaches and rolling dunes provide the ideal ambiance for those seeking both relaxation and recreation. Stroll through the cobblestone streets of the historic old town district and browse the landmark properties, locally-owned shops, specialty stores, stylish boutiques, restaurants, and museums like the Siuslaw Pioneer Museum and Oregon Coast Military Museum. The Siuslaw River Bridge, Darlingtonia State Natural Site, Heceta Head Lighthouse, Sea Lion Caves, Three Rivers Casino Resort, the Sweet Creek Falls Trailhead, Hobbit Trail, Neptune State Scenic Viewpoint, and the nearby Jessie M. Honeymoon Memorial State Park are some of Florence’s fascinating attractions that should not be missed.
Nicknamed “Covered Bridge Capital of The West,” this quaint town is situated to the south of the junction of Row River and Coast Fork Willamette River. Sandwiched between a National Forest and the Ocean, Cottage Grove perfectly combines small-town tranquility with the amenities of bigger metropolises. Visitors are especially drawn to the town’s six covered bridges (Centennial Covered Bridge, Chambers Covered Bridge, Mosby Creek Bridge, Stewart Bridge, Dorena Bridge, and Currin Bridge), all conveniently located within a short distance of the downtown that is in turn packed with museums, art galleries, diners, and the Cottage Theatre. Those who wish to undertake the covered bridge adventure by bike must follow the 36-mile-long Covered Bridge Scenic Bikeway that offers incredible panoramic vistas of Cottage Grove’s Cascade Mountain scenery. During summer, head to the photo-worthy waterfall and swimming hole-filled Umpqua National Forest, where hikers can trek the 8-mile-long Brice Creek Trail or a 3-mile-long trail that leads from the Cedar Campground to the Brice Creek Falls. Every year, Cottage Grove hosts many events like the Bohemia Mining Days, Oregon Gran Fondo Bike Ride, Cottage Grove Half Marathon, Antique Aircraft Fly-In, Rock, Roll-N-Rumble Car Show, Western Oregon Exposition Heritage Fair, Cycle the Lakes, and Christmas Extravaganza.
A peaceful seaside community, Rockaway Beach is situated in Tillamook County on the northern Oregon coast, approximately 25 miles south of Cannon Beach. Initially established by the Rockaway Beach Company as a seaside resort, Rockaway Beach predates the Pacific Coast Highway as an acclaimed vacation destination. Travelers come to Rockaway Beach to take advantage of its wide-open spaces and seven miles of pristine sandy beaches that offer various activities like beachcombing, kite flying, picnicking, etc. In addition, Rockaway Beach is home to many exciting attractions like the Kelly’s Brighton Marina on Nehalem Bay, the Big Tree at the Cedar Wetlands Preserve, the historic Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad, Troxel’s Rock Garden, the Jetty Fishery Marina & RV Park, Surfside Resort, the International Police Museum, Rockaway Beach Surf Club, Manhattan Beach State Recreation Site, and Twin Rocks.
Mosier is a picturesque town situated at the center of the Columbia River Gorge, almost halfway between Hood River and The Dalles in Oregon’s Wasco County. Renowned for its luxuriant cherry orchards and arid hills covered by vineyards, the town’s Main Street draws visitors with a tall totem pole, cute cafes, a cheerful plaza, and charming eateries. One of the most well-known Gorge trails, the 4.5-mile-long Mosier Twin Tunnels trail overlooking the waterfront offers recreational opportunities besides breathtaking views of the surrounding natural scenery. However, no trip to Mosier is complete without visiting the three fantastic vineyards: Analemma Wines, Garnier Vineyards, and Idiot’s Grace Winery; hiking the scenic 2.7-mile-long Mosier Plateau Trail that leads to a 100-foot-tall waterfall; and enjoying U-pick experiences at the orchards of the Evans Fruit Company.
Occupying the heart of Oregon’s wine country, McMinnville, the administrative center of Yamhill County, is located in the agriculturally rich Willamette Valley at the meeting point of the North and South Forks of the Yamhill River. Surrounded by hills lined with hundreds of vineyards and wineries, McMinnville is at the core of Willamette Valley’s well-developed wine industry. Stroll the tree-lined streets of the downtown and stop by the vast collection of antique stores, stylish boutiques, cozy coffeehouses, craft breweries, wine-tasting rooms, and award-winning eateries offering Zagat-rated Italian food to farm-to-fork cuisines. Visit the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, Yamhill Valley Heritage Center Museum, and the all-season Wings & Waves Waterpark. McMinnville’s mild year-round climate is ideal for outdoor recreational activities at different parks, like Joe Dancer Park, Meadows Community Park, Lower City Park, and Wortman Park. The town also hosts many annual festivals, such as Turkey Rama, the International Pinot Noir Celebration, the MAC Food Truck Festival, the UFO Festival, and the McMinnville Wine & Food Classic.
From the windswept charm of the Hood River to the tranquil coastal town of Cannon Beach, there is no shortage of pretty destinations in the Beaver State. Each of these enchanting small towns is reputed for its outstanding natural sceneries, historic charm, vibrant festivals, delicious wineries, and a multitude of recreational activities. So, whether you are a nature lover, an architecture buff, or an adventurist, embark on a journey to these Oregon towns for a treasure trove of unforgettable experiences.