Boats and houses in Yaquina Bay in Newport, Oregon, via Sergio TB /

6 Breathtaking Towns to Visit in The Pacific Northwest

The Pacific Northwest is simply breathtaking, nestled between the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Cascade Mountains to the east. The luckiest states in the region are Oregon and Washington, which also encompass a large portion of Northern California and Idaho, as well as parts of Alaska.

From mountain towns to coastal gems, the genuinely warm town of La Conner, Washington, offers views of Mount Baker across the water. Manzanita, Oregon, tucked between the blue of the ocean and a landscape of spruce and pines, is renowned for its great weather, a contrast to the typical overcast conditions found elsewhere along the coast. Crescent City, California, serves as an old-school gateway to the breathtaking trails of Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park.

Cannon Beach, Oregon

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

Just 90 minutes northwest of Portland, Cannon Beach prides itself on scenery unlike any other in the entire US. This picturesque town, nestled between a long, sandy coastline, is home to Haystack Rock, which is visible from downtown. Protruding from the waters as if a creature crawling up the shore, it is accessible at low tide for close-ups with sea creatures at its base and birds overhead. Attracting families, worldwide travelers, and bloggers, the beach is perfect for adventures, photography, or just a relaxed walk and scenic lounging while letting the kids play.

Despite its overwhelming popularity, the town maintains a cool and local atmosphere with regulations against chain stores and restaurants. Visitors can taste regional flavors at family-owned restaurants, browse art galleries, and buy handcrafted souvenirs directly from the creators amid their outdoor explorations. The blend of small-town charm and breathtaking natural beauty makes for a truly enchanting coastal town, featuring places like Tillamook Head. Its more than four-mile shoreline, with numerous ways to enjoy pristine beaches, is sure to be a highlight of any group's PNW adventure, offering activities from swimming and surfing to fishing and bird watching.

Crescent City, California

Beautiful pottery at the Trading Co. Native Made Moccasins building in Crescent City, California
Beautiful pottery at the Trading Co. Native Made Moccasins building in Crescent City, California

Founded in the mid-19th century and devastated by a tsunami in 1964, Crescent City is a NorCal gem with a scenic waterfront that allows crowds to breathe deeply, far from the bustle of the city, amid the musty aroma of coastal redwoods and salty ocean breezes. The historic coastal town provides access to the breathtaking trails of Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. Crescent City features a rustic downtown and typical California pursuits like beaches and classic attractions. The family-friendly Crescent City Cinemas offers free refills and a game room alongside movies, and Tsunami Lanes, a vintage bowling alley, boasts the best fries in town.

The ancient coastal redwoods create a mystic atmosphere, perfect for strolling or biking, with rentals available from Redwood Rides at South Beach. Part of the longer, renowned California Coastal Trail, you can test your paddling skills on the Crescent City Harbor Trail, with the sea breeze at your back and mist in your face. From beachgoing at the crystal-clear waters of South Beach to surfing at Crescent Beach and stand-up paddleboarding at Pebble Beach, you will return with your hair salt-sprayed and your heart filled with wonder. Unwind at the oceanfront Sleep Under Stars RV Park in downtown. After a morning stroll to greet the sunrise at the panoramic Battery Point Lighthouse, enjoy a visit to the Ocean World aquarium, where a group of performing sea lions entertain visitors.

La Conner, Washington

Rainbow Bridge in the Town of La Conner, Washington.
Rainbow Bridge in the Town of La Conner, Washington.

Located on the Salish Sea between Seattle and Vancouver, the waterfront town of La Conner exudes a spirit of adventure. This breathtaking blend of a fishing village and an art community sits on the Swinomish Channel and is a real cultural hub of the Pacific Northwest. Home to fewer than 1,000 people, it serves as a long-loved respite for artists, musicians, and writers. The springtime annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors to celebrate the tulip fields that bloom at different times, making this a month-long festival complete with a parade and ample opportunity to wander through the flowers.

There's a reason to visit La Conner in every season, as it is the "most perfect Washington state weekend getaway destination" and "top romantic getaway in the state," according to voters. Its beauty is simple yet aesthetically pleasing, like the Daffodil Festival in March, which invites exploration and photography among the yellow and white flowers. The genuinely warm and friendly locals enjoy life between water views and Mount Baker. Downtown offers an eclectic mix of boutiques, galleries, three museums, and culinary experiences for all tastes, as well as a classic car festival and “Brew on the Slough” for beer enthusiasts.

Manzanita, Oregon

People on the beach on the Oregon coast, Manzanita
People on the beach on the Oregon coast, Manzanita. Image credit Rob Crandall via Shutterstock

Manzanita, one of the least crowded towns in the PNW, is also one of the most beautiful, proudly holding the title of the third-most photographed scenery in all of Oregon. Nestled between the blue of the ocean and a landscape of spruce and pines, this north coast gem breathes sea breezes and forest scents. From the large coastal headland of Neahkahnie Mountain to the sheltered Nehalem Bay just north, the cozy Oswald West State Park offers nature-filled fun, shade, and modest elevation changes along the rugged coastline. The lovely, walkable downtown features nautically named streets, boutique shopping, seafood restaurants, and a fabulous seasonal farmers market—making it the perfect getaway for every taste.

The pretty little coastal town boasts seven miles of pristine, white-sanded beachfront lined with retreat homes. Panoramic views and perfect weather to enjoy all day long, with only a few other beachgoers scattered along the stretch, complete the picture-perfect scenery. Ringing Nehalem Bay, visitors can enjoy a wide variety of activities both wet and dry, such as golfing, surfing, horseback riding, kayaking, paddleboarding, and biking, with rentals available in town. The bay boasts excellent fishing spots, including for Chinook salmon, sturgeon, and steelhead trout. There's also crabbing and clam digging at low tide, and the nearby towns of Nehalem and Wheeler are worth a day trip. Manzanita's scenic turquoise surf draws tourists and photographers from Portland and beyond to the striking exposed cliffs for views of dreamlike, hazy horizons.

Newport, Oregon

The harbor at Newport, Oregon
The harbor at Newport, Oregon

Embodying the offbeat vibe of the Oregon Coast, Newport is a town like no other, enriching this stretch along the Pacific with its unconventional attractions, lighthouses, and unique aesthetics. Nestled between the ocean and the expansive Yaquina Bay, the Historical Bayfront area is home to one of the largest and most photogenic commercial fishing fleets in the state. It's perfect for strolls and mingling with locals along the working waterfront. This intriguing cultural district features shops, art galleries, chowder houses, and restaurants juxtaposed with fish processing plants and historic buildings. The top attraction along the coast since the early 1900s, Nye Beach, has been a haven for the arts ever since.

Don’t miss the original lighthouse at Yaquina Bay and the second lighthouse from the late 1800s, the 93-foot-tall Yaquina Head Lighthouse, the tallest active one in Oregon, located just to the north. The Oregon Coast Aquarium is a world-class family attraction that allows nature lovers from near and far to glimpse into the secret world of the sea. Its mesmerizing turquoise tunnels and large wall tanks enable face-to-face interactions with colorful fish, sharks, and alien-like creatures. Located some 2.5 hours southwest of Portland, this idyllic beach town is perfect for both low-key beachy kitsch and wildlife enthusiasts, while the striking Yaquina Bay Bridge on Highway 101 is an iconic art-deco arch spanning the bay.

Port Townsend, Washington

View of downtown Water Street in Port Townsend Historic District lined.
View of downtown Water Street in Port Townsend Historic District lined. Editorial credit: 365 Focus Photography /

With so many breathtaking towns in the Pacific Northwest, the list would not be complete without Port Townsend, Washington. This town features a timeless blend of architecture and Pacific views, making it unforgettable from every angle. Add in a vibrant arts and culture scene and an eventful downtown filled with vibrant local businesses set against stunning natural beauty and the sea breeze, and you'll never want to leave this magical city. Many come for the impressive selection of outdoor activities, including hiking, biking, bird-watching, and whale-watching at Fort Worden State Park, which are perfect even for a quick getaway.

Nestled between the Salish Sea and Olympic National Park, Port Townsend offers a refined mix of nature and culture, renowned for its Victorian grandeur and the bustling harborside—a sight to behold. After a shoreside stroll at sunset, consider dining at the Blue Moose Cafe or Doc's Marina Grill on the water. As a community of scenically inclined creatives, it constantly draws inspiration from its surroundings, offering an impressive array of attractions that both locals and tourists enjoy, such as the awe-inspiring whale-watching tours via Puget Sound Express and views of speckled islands that beckon endless adventures.

The Takeaway

These descriptions leave you with visions of salty hair and happy hearts after a paddle bike ride with sea mist in your face. The six gorgeous towns in Oregon, Washington, and Northern California, including Port Townsend, take your breath away and elevate your PNW getaway to the next level. Enjoy stunning sunsets and wild coastal waves while engaging in activities like swimming, surfing, fishing, and bird-watching. Crescent City, for instance, is home to the coastal redwoods and three beaches with varying surf conditions, as well as the oceanfront Sleep Under Stars RV Park right downtown.

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