Aerial view of Port Townsend, Washington.

6 Cutest Small Towns on the Pacific Coast to Visit in 2024

Exploring the Pacific Coast of the United States is definitely a bucket list item! Stretching from the lush forests of Washington to the sun-drenched beaches of Southern California, this spectacular coastline features everything from epic scenic drives along rugged cliffs to mountain ranges and even areas of deserts and dunes. The Pacific Coast is also home to some of the cutest small towns in the country. From the storybook setting of Carmel-by-the-Sea in California to the artistic and creative allure of charming Astoria in Oregon and the Victorian-era elegance of Port Townsend in Washington, these towns invite exploration in 2024.

Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

Large numbers of people enjoy the Pacific Coast of California at the dog friendly Carmel Beach, at Carmel by the Sea.
People enjoying the Pacific Coast of California at the dog friendly Carmel Beach, at Carmel by the Sea.

Usually referred to simply as “Carmel,” the attractive Californian town of Carmel-by-the-Sea is a must-include on a Pacific Coast travel itinerary. Popular for its stunning natural scenery and quaint village feel, Carmel makes for a picturesque escape on the Monterey Peninsula and is just a few minutes' drive south of the city of Monterey itself, making it easy to combine as a day trip or weekend retreat. The town’s white sandy beaches, particularly Carmel Beach at the foot of Ocean Avenue, are a big draw and are perfect for sunbathing, surfing, and scenic walks, with the famed Pebble Beach Golf Links just to the north.

Among the city’s most enchanting features are its many “storybook cottages” as well as the historic Carmel Mission, founded in 1771. One of California’s most beautiful missions, visitors can get a glimpse into the state’s colonial past at the attraction’s Basilica Museum. The year 2024 is a great one to visit with popular events like the Carmel International Film Festival, held each October, drawing filmmakers and cinephiles from around the world for screenings, panel discussions, and, yes, even celebrity sightings. The Carmel Bach Festival, held this year in July, is a great excuse for classical music lovers to visit.

Port Townsend, Washington

Aerial view of Port Townsend, Washington.
Aerial view of Port Townsend, Washington.

Port Townsend in Washington is a charming historic town located at the northeastern tip of the Olympic Peninsula near Seattle. This cute small town boasts exceptionally well-preserved Victorian architecture along with a rich maritime heritage, especially around its downtown area. Designated a National Historic District, downtown Port Townsend features many ornate old buildings that now house vibrant shops, galleries, and eateries, making it perfect for leisurely strolls and shopping.

The town’s waterfront attractions include its historic seaport and the Northwest Maritime Center, an educational center offering scenic boat tours and cruises, as well as kayaking adventures along the scenic Sound. The Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival, slated for September 2024, is a great time to plan a visit and celebrate the area's boat-building heritage with demonstrations, races, and workshops. The Port Townsend Film Festival also takes place in September and showcases independent films and documentaries. Nature lovers will appreciate Fort Worden State Park, just outside the downtown area and famous for its panoramic views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Cascade Range, as well as the nearby Olympic National Park.

Astoria, Oregon

 Boat pier near the Riverwalk Inn in Astoria, Oregon.
Boat pier near the Riverwalk Inn in Astoria, Oregon. Editorial credit: Victoria Ditkovsky /

In Oregon, Astoria is considered something of a jewel in the crown among the state’s cutest small towns. Located at the mouth of the Columbia River where it meets the Pacific Ocean, Astoria is the oldest American settlement west of the Rockies and was founded in 1811 by a wealthy fur trader from New York. A sense of this rich past can be seen in the town’s well-preserved Victorian homes and commercial buildings located in the Astoria Downtown Historic District. The town’s compelling history can be explored at the Columbia River Maritime Museum with its extensive exhibits on the region's maritime heritage, including the perilous journey of the river bar, known as the "Graveyard of the Pacific."

Another must-visit historical site is the Astoria Column, which stands atop Coxcomb Hill. This monumental tower features a hand-painted spiral frieze that ascends to panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. For an authentic experience of Astoria's past, take a tour of the Flavel House Museum, a beautifully restored Queen Anne-style mansion that reflects the opulence of the late 19th century. Fun things to do in Astoria in 2024 include the always fun Astoria Regatta, held in August, and the Great Columbia Crossing in October, a fun event that challenges participants to a 10K walk or run across the iconic Astoria-Megler Bridge, North America’s longest continuous truss bridge.

Ojai, California

Street view of Post Office in Ojai California
Street view of Post Office in Ojai, California.

Back in California, Ojai is something of an oasis in the Ventura County hills between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. Known for its somewhat bohemian, laid-back spirit, Ojai attracts visitors looking for a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of city life. It’s a feeling that’s helped no end by its location in the Topatopa Mountains, which provide a picturesque backdrop and a playground for outdoor enthusiasts with its hiking, biking, and horseback riding adventures, some of the best to be found in nearby Los Padres National Forest.

In-town attractions include the Ojai Art Center, the oldest non-profit art center in California with its roster of exhibitions, plays, and musical performances, as well as the popular Ojai Music Festival, taking place in June 2024. Another highlight of Ojai is its thriving wellness community, with several spas and retreat centers like Ojai Valley Inn & Spa offering treatments utilizing local ingredients and traditional techniques (oh, and golf, too!).

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach, Oregon
The spectacular beach at Cannon Beach, Oregon.

Cannon Beach is the quintessential Oregon coastal town. Located 75 miles west of Portland, this spectacular stretch of the Pacific Coast is famed for Haystack Rock, an immense sea stack that rises 235 feet from the edge of the shoreline. Not only is this stunning natural monument a focal point for visitors, but it also provides an important habitat for marine life and nesting seabirds (so bring those binoculars!). Be sure to also include the trails in Ecola State Park in your travel plans.

Cannon Beach is especially popular among artists and art lovers, with numerous galleries showcasing local and regional creatives. More can also be learned about the region at the Cannon Beach History Center and Museum. Popular 2024 happenings include the three-day long Stormy Weather Arts Festival held in November; the quirky, family-friendly Sandcastle Contest taking place in June; and the Savor Cannon Beach Wine & Culinary Festival, a foodie celebration held in October with gourmet dinners, cooking demonstrations, and tastings.

Mendocino, California

The seacoast village of Mendocino, California
The seacoast village of Mendocino, California.

Mendocino is a popular place to visit in Northern California for its stunning rugged cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, as well as its attractive old Victorian-era architecture. It’s a great jumping-off point to explore the Mendocino Headlands State Park, which surrounds the town on three sides with miles of trails boasting dramatic ocean views. Some of the best paths lead to secluded beaches and tide pools and promise to be popular spots for whale watching during the migration seasons in the spring and fall of 2024.

Interested in the arts? Mendocino is a hub of creativity, with the Mendocino Art Center, established by artists in the 1950s, continuing to offer workshops, exhibitions, and artist residencies. In July 2024, the Mendocino Music Festival will take place with its 38th season of performances from classical and jazz to opera and bluegrass, all set against the scenic backdrop of the Pacific Ocean. Another notable event is the Mendocino Film Festival, scheduled for June 2024.

The Final Word

As travel plans for 2024 are made, be sure to consider venturing beyond the usual tourist destinations to discover some of the many charming small towns of America’s Pacific Coast. Each of these destinations offers a mix of nature, history, and culture, with a healthy dose of culinary treats to sweeten their appeal. From the charming streets of Mendocino to the historic waterfront of Astoria, these six cutest towns on the Pacific Coast are waiting to be explored.

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