Aerial view of the town and massive rock formation along the coast in Morro Bay, California. Editorial credit: ByDroneVideos /

6 Coolest Towns on the Pacific Coast for a Summer Vacation in 2024

The Pacific Coast has always been an incredible place for a summer vacation. Think of charming beaches, stunning rock formations, and plenty of historic attractions, and that is just a sneak peek of what to expect. Fortunately, these incredible features are sandwiched in quaint small towns, all of which share a coastline with the largest and deepest ocean in the world. To add icing to the cake, these small towns are devoid of crowds like larger cities while still brimming with things to see and do.

From Cannon Beach, Oregon, and its scenic beaches to Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, and its fairytale-like streets, uncover six coolest towns on the Pacific Coast to visit this summer for unique experiences.

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Haystack Rock along the coast of Cannon Beach, Oregon.
Haystack Rock along the coast of Cannon Beach, Oregon.

With its unique shoreline and surrounding natural attractions, Cannon Beach easily stands as one of the most appealing destinations on the Pacific Coast. Here, it’s all about the coastline, especially as it is home to a famous beach decorated with iconic rock formations like the 235-foot-tall Haystack Rock. At low tide, visitors can walk up to this rock and marvel at its tidepools, and sometimes, seabirds like puffins can be spotted chilling on the rock. Cannon Beach also features Ecola State Park, where visitors are spoiled with hiking trails. It offers access to breathtaking views of the Oregon Coast, including its priceless jewels, such as the inaccessible Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, seabirds, and whales. Ecola State Park also features the Indian beach where surfers can have thrilling adventures with the endless waves.

Back in town, visitors can explore some artworks at Archimedes Gallery or DragonFire Gallery and learn about the town’s past at Cannon Beach History Center & Museum. Those interested in local culture should also plan their trip in July to attend the lively Independence Day Festivities full of dance, food, and entertainment. If there's still time, visitors can wrap up with a delicious meal at Driftwood Restaurant or Newmans at 988 if there's still time.

Astoria, Oregon

Boats docked along the coast in Astoria, Oregon.
Boats docked along the coast next to the famous Astoria Megler Bridge in Astoria, Oregon. Editorial credit: Debbie Ann Powell /

Astoria is a charming coastal town with a rich history dating back even before it was established as a settlement in 1811. Today, it is a bustling destination for summer vacations due to its numerous natural and historic endowments. This town is located on the south shore of the Columbia River, where it empties into the Pacific Ocean, so visitors here are always a few miles from those gorgeous ocean beaches. Astoria also features stunning attractions like the Astoria Column, which rises up to 125 feet and features panoramic views of the town and the Pacific Ocean on clear days. The iconic Astoria-Megler Bridge is also an impressive addition to the already beautiful area.

For some adventures, the best way to enjoy the views is to walk on the Astoria Riverwalk while browsing through restaurants, museums, and shops lined on the way. Other incredible attractions in the town include the Heritage Museum, the Columbia River Maritime Museum, and the Flavel House Museum. From retelling the area’s history through exhibits to showcasing the unique Queen-Anne architectural style, there is something for everyone.

Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

Stores along a street in Carmel-by-the-sea, California.
Cute stores lined along a sidewalk in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. Editorial credit: Robert Mullan /

Carmel-by-the-Sea is one of the finest towns on the Pacific Coast of California, situated on the Monterey Peninsula. In summer, the town’s scenic allure glows for every visitor, especially at Carmel Beach, where activities like surfing, swimming, sunbathing, and picnicking are also offered. Hikers can explore the 3.5-mile Scenic Bluff Path along the beach for impressive views of the waters. Next, head to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve and keep a camera handy to hike and capture views of crashing waves, cypress trees, tide pools, wildflowers, and even marine mammals.

For more jaw-dropping views, take the scenic 17-Mile Drive along the coastline from Arrowhead Point in Carmel to Spanish Bay in Pebble Beach. Along the route, stop by charming beaches and picnic areas to savor the panorama and wildlife from the viewpoint. For some history, visit the Carmel Mission, built in 1797, featuring a basilica, a garden, and a museum filled with artifacts. Before leaving Carmel-By-The-Sea, don’t forget to explore the town’s fairytale architecture, best represented by structures like the Hansel Cottage and Gretel Cottage. Or, indulge in local culture at the Carmel Bach Festival, which boasts beautiful music and performances in July.

Bandon, Oregon

The Bandon Lighthouse on the Coquille River in Bandon, Oregon.
The Bandon Lighthouse on the Coquille River in Bandon, Oregon.

A summer in Bandon promises sensational visual treats and mind-blowing memories for every visitor, regardless of their outdoor preferences. For starters, the town is positioned by the mouth of the Coquille River, where visitors can admire the 40-foot Coquille River Lighthouse at the confluence of the river and the Pacific Ocean. By the side of the lighthouse lies Coquille Point Beach & Kronenberg Park, featuring wildlife, a beach, and a trail that offers vistas of the Pacific Ocean and parts of Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Meanwhile, the Coquille River calls for boating, fishing, and canoeing adventures.

Additionally, Bullard’s Beach State Park is near the town, offering horse riding trails and 4.5 miles of beachfront for sunbathing, picnicking, and strolling. Back in town, walk through Bandon’s Old Town to gaze at its beautiful Victorian-style structures, shop, and explore.

Morro Bay, California

View of Morro Rock along the coast of Morro Bay, California.
View of boats and Morro Rock along the coast of Morro Bay in California.

Morro Bay is an inviting summer town directly opposite the bay of the same name in the central coast region of California. Here, summer visitors will be met with stunning natural attractions, such as the 580-foot Morro Rock towering above the harbor on the mouth of the bay. The Morro Rock Beach is at the base of this rock and invites visitors to get up close to the rock, sunbathe, and play on the sandy dunes. The town also features the Morro Strand Beach State Park, home to a three-mile beach for recreation, sand dunes, and interesting wildlife.

While in this area, visitors are invited to the Morro Bay Museum of Natural History in Morro Bay State Park, which features interactive exhibits about the area’s natural history. For more unique experiences, head to Embarcadero and have fun exploring restaurants, galleries, and shops with dazzling views of the bay.

Florence, Oregon

The Heceta Head Lighthouse along the Pacific Coast in Florence, Oregon.
The Heceta Head Lighthouse along the Pacific Coast in Florence, Oregon.

Florence is a slice of paradise by the Siuslaw River on the Pacific Ocean, bordered by many stunning natural and historic treasures. Once here, stroll through Old Town Florence to see shops, eat, explore a museum and galleries, and admire the Siuslaw River Bridge. Proceed to North Jetty to admire the dunes and the ocean, and then head to Heceta Beach to explore its tide pools, play on the soft sands, and surf the waves. Next, one can go to the nearby Heceta Head Lighthouse to hike, admire the iconic 56-foot tower and ocean views, and book a room at the Heceta Lighthouse B&B to feel like a lightkeeper. If there’s still time, visit Sea Lion Caves to watch wildlife and fish, hike, camp, and ride canoes in the waters. Summer visitors can end the day at the Florence Farmers Market, perfect for socializing and entertainment.

Wrapping Up

Summer vacations in these Pacific Coast towns always make so much sense. Besides being a stone's throw from the vast ocean that serves to cool off the summer heat, visitors in these towns have great seafood to taste, interesting attractions to explore, great pictures to take, and thrilling adventures to experience. Plus, they are never really too crowded. Summer can be short, and there's no better way to maximize it than by spending it in these towns on the Pacific Coast.

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