Aerial of Tofino, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada

6 Delightful Towns to Visit in Pacific Coast

Pack up your bags and get ready to explore some of the most delightful towns on the Pacific Coast of Canada and the United States. Take a bear-watching tour In Tofino, British Columbia, known for its rugged coastline, watch whales in Friday Harbor, Washington, or take a stroll down memory lane with a visit to a nostalgic arcade in Seaside, Oregon. Hang ten in Half Moon Bay, California, and try sandboarding in Florence, Oregon. Finally, Morro Bay, California, delights with its iconic Morro Rock and funky Embaradero shopping district.

Tofino, Canada

Aerial view of Tofino, BC
Aerial view of Tofino, BC

On Canada’s Pacific Coast, Tofina is a beautiful town surrounded by oceans, temperate rainforests, and natural beauty. It is a paradise for surfers, hikers, nature lovers, and weekend thrill seekers. With the 2024 bear-watching season already underway, why not book a tour with Jamie’s Whaling Station & Adventures Centres? Tours take 2.5 hours and occur in an open boat or covered cabin cruiser. Less adventurous travelers can book Tofino whale watching and sea otter tours, or for a day of sheer relaxation, hop on a boat or a seaplane and head to Hot Spring Coves.

Renowned as Canada’s surf capital, Tofino’s Long Beach and Cox Beach offer the best waves in town, with surfboards and wetsuit rentals readily available at Pacific Surf Co. Down the street, Surf Sister provides private or group lessons to get newbies on the water quickly. Landlubbers can explore an extensive system of scenic trails in and around Tofino, including the 197-square-mile Pacific Rim National Park. Visitors can access short walks, day hikes, and multi-day trekking along the famous West Coast Trail from Tofino and nearby Ucluelet. End the perfect day in Tofino with a visit to the tasting room at the Tofino Brewing Company, and enjoy a flight of craft beer alongside Toki Doki Japanese food from the Airstream trailer onsite.

Friday Harbor, Washington

Lime Kiln Lighthouse along the coast in Friday Harbor, Washington.
Lime Kiln Lighthouse along the coast in Friday Harbor, Washington.

Friday Harbor is a scenic seaside town on San Juan Island, the second-largest island in the San Juan archipelago. It is only accessible by ferry, seaplane, or private boat, making it an ideal escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The San Juan Islands are home to several different species of whales, including orcas, humpbacks, minkes, and grays, making Friday Harbor the perfect launch pad for a whale-watching tour, especially from April through October when orcas are on the move from Alaska to warmer climates. Try a full-day whale-watching sailing tour with All Aboard Sailing with an experienced captain and wildlife guide. Chances are sailors will also see seals, sea lions, and a variety of seabirds.

Another way to see whales in their natural habitat is to explore the island’s trails, such as the scenic trek to Lime Kiln Point State Park, also known as “Whale Watch Park.” Bring a picnic to enjoy along the shoreline or next to the vintage 1919 Lime Kiln Light. Spend some time in downtown Friday Harbor with a visit to Medio Café for coffee and handmade “ugly” donuts, go thrifting at Treasure Hounds Store or Funk & Junk Antiques, or shop for art inspired by the Pacific Northwest at Waterworks Gallery. Unwind with a massage at Lavendera Massage or dinner and a craft beer from the local San Juan Island Brewery at Friday Harbor House.

Seaside, Oregon

Canoeing on the Necanium river in Seaside, Oregon
Canoeing on the Necanium river in Seaside, Oregon

Take a nostalgic journey to simpler times with a trip to a coastal town whose name sums it up: Seaside. Located on the stunning Oregon coastline, the small town is renowned for its wide sandy beach and oceanfront promenade, known as the “Prom.” One of Oregon’s most famous landmarks, the Prom, is 1.5 miles long and intersected by the equally renowned “Turnaround,” where cars still cruise around like they did in the 1940s. A bronze statue called “The End of the Trail” stands at the Turnaround and commemorates the end of the 4,000-mile, 18-month journey of the exploratory expedition undertaken by Lewis and Clark from 1804 to 1806.

Seaside is an excellent destination for families, with attractions like the Seaside Aquarium, one of the oldest aquariums on the West Coast, Funland Arcade, Carousel Mall, where children and young-at-heart adults can enjoy a musical ride, and Captain Kid Amusement Park, which features go-karts, mini-golf, and a family roller coaster. A day on the Prom isn’t complete without a sweet treat like 172 flavors of saltwater taffy from Seaside Candyman, two scoops of ice cream from Zinger’s Homemade Ice Cream, or classic treats from Phillips Candies.

Half Moon Bay, California

Grocery store in downtown Half Moon bay California, via DreamArt123 /
Grocery store in downtown Half Moon bay California, via DreamArt123 /

Mavericks Beach in Half Moon Bay is famous for its colossal surf waves—a Maverick wave can be anywhere from 25 to 60 feet tall. The waves generally break off Pillar Point, just 20 miles south of San Francisco. The beach attracts top surfers from around the world and is a place for very experienced surfers only. There are plenty of other attractions in Half Moon Bay for anyone who wants to soak up the surfer lifestyle a little more safely, like the 2.8-mile out-and-back Devil’s Slide Trail. From the trail, hikers and walkers have a spectacular view of the coastline accompanied by the pounding sound of waves, while the cliffs above and below the trail provide nesting grounds for seabirds like peregrine falcons, pigeon guillemots, and western gulls.

Numerous tide pools exist along the coast of Half Moon Bay, like the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, considered one of the best marine life habitats in Northern California. Just north of Pillar Point Harbor, the semi-isolated reserve is home to sea stars, hermit crabs, sea urchins, and more. But because the tide pools constantly change, every visit is a unique experience.

Florence, Oregon

The riverwalk and boats lined along the Siuslaw River banks in Florence, Oregon.
The riverwalk and boats lined along the Siuslaw River banks in Florence, Oregon.

From the surf to the sand, Florence is home to the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, which features some of the largest coastal sand dunes in the United States, perfect for dune buggy rides, sandboarding, or hiking. The nearby iconic Heceta Head Lighthouse is a challenging yet worthwhile hike along a section of the Oregon Coast Trail to the 56-foot-tall lighthouse that sits 206 feet above the Pacific Ocean. The tower’s light, first illuminated in 1894, is visible 21 miles from land—the strongest light on the Oregon coast.

Another popular attraction in Florence is the 25-million-year-old Sea Lion Caves. The Sea Lion Caves is a wildlife preserve and bird sanctuary for Western and Californian gulls, pigeon guillemots, and cormorants, and it is the largest sea cave in the U.S.

To taste the town’s vibrant culture, visit the River Gallery in historic Old Town Florence, which features Pacific Northwest artists and a hand-selected collection of iconic Oregon hand-blown glass floats. The town is also known as an excellent destination for coastal antique and vintage thrift shops. A favorite place for classic New England-style chowder is Mo’s in the old town—a picnic table-style diner with sweeping views of the Siuslaw River.

Morro Bay, California

Morro Bay, California, USA: Downtown cityscape. Editorial credit: ByDroneVideos /
Morro Bay, California, USA: Downtown cityscape. Editorial credit: ByDroneVideos /

The charming coastal town of Morro Bay is synonymous with its iconic and recognizable landmark, Morro Rock. The rock stands 576 feet tall at the mouth of the harbor and was formed 23 million years ago from a plug of an extinct volcano. The rock is part of a chain of nine volcano peaks called the Nine Sisters. Visitors can drive to Morro Rock’s base, but renting an electric bike from Cal Coast Adventures on the Embarcadero in Morro Bay is much more fun. Visitors cannot climb the rock.

The Embarcadero is Morro Bay’s waterfront downtown, filled with unique shops, restaurants, museums, and tour operators. Sub Sea Tours lets visitors view Morro Bay above water and below from a semi-submersible vessel, while Lost Isle Adventures offers Tiki and Sunset Cruises.

Pack a picnic basket with gourmet treats and a bottle of bubbly from the Boat Yard Marketplace and explore Morro Bay State Park. The park offers many outdoor activities like kayaking, fishing, and bird watching. You can also visit the Museum of Natural History to learn about oceanography, geology, and Native American life. Back in town, choose from any number of seafood restaurants on the Embarcadero, like Dutchman’s Seafood House, one of the original Morro Bay seafood places, Harbor Hut for fine dining, or Kicker’s dog-friendly restaurant.

Discover the delightful small towns along the Pacific Coast and discover a world of scenic waterfronts, breathtaking landscapes, historic boardwalks brimming with seaside charm, and vibrant downtowns filled with boutique shops and cozy cafés. Some towns blend history with natural splendor, offering scenic dunes and picturesque districts, while others are full of iconic landmarks and abundant marine wildlife. Each town, with distinctive character and charm, promises memorable experiences for both relaxation and adventure.

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