People visit a main attraction in waterfront Newport, Oregon - the Sea Lion Docks.

6 Most Overlooked Towns in The Pacific Northwest

The Pacific Northwest is renowned not only for Portland, with its unique culture, and Seattle, a hub for coffee enthusiasts and the actual state capital of Washington, but also for its often overlooked and quirky towns that cater to every adventurer's taste. Explore the deep-sea wonders at the Oregon Coast Aquarium, once the home of Keiko, famously known as Free Willy from the film, or embark on water sports adventures from the deep port of Coos Bay, the largest of its kind.

Among these towns, one finds some of the PNW's most pristine natural landscapes, including Oregon's ruggedly beautiful coastline. This area is dotted with hidden gems amidst verdant forests along the headlands, offering lookouts across rocky outcrops and down to the ocean's waves. Snoqualmie, a town reminiscent of a museum, boasts the world-renowned Snoqualmie Falls, while Westport, known as a surfing haven, is home to the historic Grays Harbor Lighthouse.

Coos Bay, Oregon

Overlooking Coos Bay, Oregon.
Overlooking Coos Bay, Oregon. Image credit Manuela Durson via Shutterstock

Situated along Oregon’s Adventure Coast, Coos Bay is an active harbor and vibrant city on the southern coast, adjacent to North Bend. Rich in artistic expression and shaped by its history, it serves as a gateway to the Southern Oregon Coastal Wilderness's untamed expanses. With attractions ranging from the Oregon Dunes to serene beaches and forested hikes, the area's rivers, lakes, and the Pacific Ocean itself offer a plethora of water sports. Visitors can explore off-the-beaten-path locations and travel along the Cape Arago Highway before meandering through the historic Bayside Marshfield District, which features buildings, theaters, shops, restaurants, galleries, and town greens from yesteryears.

The town is nestled between the rugged coastline that defines the state, towering sand dunes, Elliott State Forest, and Shore Acres State Park, inviting outdoor enthusiasts and travelers for both land and sea adventures. Without the crowds, visitors can enjoy a weekend getaway or an extended vacation, with Florence, Oregon, just an hour away for day trips, and more stunning beaches along the scenic Cape Arago Highway. Highlights include the Coos Art Museum, showcasing avant-garde and coastal scenery art, and the Coos History Museum, offering engaging historical insights. The Oregon Coast Music Festival in July, sightseeing cruises, and watching sunsets from the beach are must-do activities.

Idaho City, Idaho

Downtown Idaho City, Idaho.
Downtown Idaho City, Idaho.

Just a short drive from Boise, the capital, Idaho City is a charming destination for a weekend filled with history and nature without the crowds. Founded in 1862 during the gold rush, it was once the largest city in the Northwest. From a peak population of 7,000 to just under 550 today, the town's 200 businesses from its boom days have left behind a rich architectural legacy and a wild west charm, with many buildings preserved or restored after fires, including a trading post, county jail, and firehouse. The Charcoal Gulch hike, a few minutes from downtown, offers a four-mile round trip that’s perfect for stretching your legs or for a sunrise adventure.

Don’t overlook the Boise Basin Museum for a dive into local history, or take a guided walk around town before exploring the Boise National Forest with your group. The popular route from Mores Creek Summit to Sunset Mountain through dry coniferous forests features stunning views, bright trailside wildflowers, and culminates in a breathtaking overlook of the hills and mountains. Surrounded by beautiful scenery, the town offers trails for all skill levels, including the family-friendly 1.8-mile Buena Vista Loop, perfect for a leisurely forest stroll.

Newport, Oregon

Yaquina bay harbor marina in Newport, Oregon.
Yaquina bay harbor marina in Newport, Oregon. Image credit steve estvanik via Shutterstock

Newport, a captivating town where Yaquina Bay meets the Pacific Ocean along Oregon's western coast, is steeped in history that dates back at least 3,000 years to the Yacona tribe. Today, it is home to around 10,500 people and thrives as a marine community, boasting the state's largest commercial fishing fleet. The town offers a variety of attractions for families and individuals alike, including the renowned Oregon Coast Aquarium, marine science research facilities, a vibrant arts scene, and a rich food culture, earning it the title of “Dungeness Crab Capital of the World.”

Located approximately 2.5 hours southwest of Portland, Newport is an ideal destination for a weekend getaway filled with maritime experiences. Attractions include the historic Yaquina Bay Bridge, Yaquina Head Lighthouse, and, of course, the Oregon Coast Aquarium, which was once the home of Keiko, the orca made famous by the movie "Free Willy." Visitors can also explore the Marine Science Center, encounter sharks, rays, and exotic sea life in the underwater tunnel, and interact with the giant Pacific octopus, sea birds at the aviary, and creatures in the touch pool and moon jelly tank.

Reedsport, Oregon

Traffic travelling along Fir Avenue in downtown Reedsport Oregon
Traffic travelling along Fir Avenue in downtown Reedsport Oregon, via Ian Dewar Photography /

Reedsport, discovered by those who extended the Southern Pacific Railroad track to Coos Bay, is enveloped by ancient forests and offers a gateway to myriad outdoor activities, from scenic hiking to camping. As the hub for the Oregon Dunes, Reedsport maintains a quaint atmosphere, highlighted by its chainsaw-carved wood sculptures and painted totem poles that narrate its history. Located along the Umpqua River, the 55-acre Hinsdale Garden showcases rare and vintage rhododendrons, providing an educational and sensory-pleasing stroll just outside of town on Highway 38.

The town offers easy access to both the ocean and the dunes, bringing to life a mix of dry and wet adventure scenarios amidst its three rivers and wildlife-rich forests. At the heart of the real Oregon Coast crossroads, Reedsport reveals the rugged spirit of the state and its own significant history, complemented by scenic views, historic sites, and the modern culture of its friendly locals. The Umpqua Discovery Center integrates the area's cultural history with its natural surroundings through exhibits. Visitors can enjoy hands-on experiences along Dean Creek, featuring scenic picnic spots and the Roosevelt Elk Habitat, which is accessible year-round.

Snoqualmie, Washington

Historic Snoqualmie Railway Museum.
Historic Snoqualmie Railway Museum. Image credit ColleenMichaels via

Snoqualmie, nestled in the Snoqualmie Valley, has developed around its railway system, turning the town, especially Railroad Avenue, into a living museum. At the heart of downtown, the Northwest Railway Museum explores the history of railroads with an extensive collection of artifacts and a book and gift shop that celebrates a vital piece of Washington's heritage. Snoqualmie Falls, attracting 1.5 million visitors annually, stands as the town's most celebrated natural landmark. This 270-foot waterfall, surrounded by hiking trails offering multiple viewing points, is a testament to nature's grandeur.

The falls and surrounding 2-acre park are accessible daily from dawn until dusk, catering to both adventurous explorers and those preferring a more relaxed visit at the gift shop. The Salish Lodge and Spa offers luxurious pampering and accommodations, welcoming pets as well. The town, famously used as the backdrop for "Twin Peaks," invites visitors to explore film locations, art galleries, and local dining options. Located just 30 minutes east of Seattle, Snoqualmie is renowned for its breathtaking waterfall, a sacred site to the Snoqualmie Indians, who found spiritual significance in its cascading waters. The site is easily accessible, with ample parking and facilities for a memorable visit.

Westport, Washington

The marina at Westport, Washington.
The marina at Westport, Washington.

Westport, a quaint beach town at the mouth of Grays Harbor on Point Chehalis, remains under the radar for many in the Pacific Northwest, despite being a favorite local staycation spot for residents of Seattle and Portland. The Westport Marina District, bustling with photogenic fishing boats and sailboats, offers a glimpse into the town's vibrant maritime life. Visitors can enjoy fresh seafood, embark on fishing or whale-watching charters, or try crabbing along the beach. The historic Grays Harbor Lighthouse adds to the town's charm, offering picturesque views from the peninsula.

Westport is a haven for surfers and fishermen alike, thanks to its consistent waves and experienced charter fleet. The town's welcoming atmosphere extends to its shops and restaurants, where the day's catch is served fresh. With surf breaks for all skill levels, Westport is recognized as a premier surfing destination in the region. Its extensive beaches provide opportunities for beachcombing, whale watching, and enjoying sunsets. Embracing a "disconnect, decompress, and recharge" ethos, Westport is notably dog-friendly, allowing visitors to enjoy its offerings alongside their pets.

PNW Overview

The Pacific Northwest (PNW), an area of stunning natural beauty, extends from Washington's peninsular tips to Idaho City's mountainous trails. Coos Bay, the largest deep-draft port between Puget Sound and San Francisco, caters to enthusiasts of boating, deep-sea fishing, and those seeking solitude amidst expansive sea vistas. These six towns offer a gateway to "Cascadia," with its 31 national parks and numerous state parks, directing adventurers to scenic rainforests, mountain trails, and beautiful beaches. Newport exemplifies the region's charm, blending historic bayfronts, lighthouses, and fresh, local seafood, highlighting the enchanting nature of these overlooked towns in the US.

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