The Main Street in Sandpoint, Idaho.

7 of the Quirkiest Towns in the Pacific Northwest

Did you know that the PNW region is sometimes referred to as Cascadia? This nickname is partly due to many towns in the region, like Cottage Grove and Yachats in Oregon, being nestled near or around the Cascade Mountains. Featuring a multitude of magnificent landscapes, there's a beautiful temperate rainforest around Yachats. In Rockaway Beach, whales can often be seen breaching the ocean's surface while old-growth coastal trees fringe its boardwalk.

So take it with a grain of salt because these are the PNW's quirkiest towns! Rock away to your own beat in Rockaway, a still lesser-visited town boasting seven miles of beach, or visit Sandpoint, known for its relaxed pace and natural beauty, perfect for those looking to connect with nature. For sand dune buggy rides, head to Florence, and wine enthusiasts will find their paradise in Walla Walla, with even more to explore in Zillah—seriously! These beautiful PNW towns, each with their unique personality quirks, are sure to catch your eye!

Cottage Grove, Oregon

Arched sign across East Main Street in Cottage Grove Historic District Oregon
Arched sign across East Main Street in Cottage Grove Historic District Oregon, via Ian Dewar Photography /

Cottage Grove, a two-time prestigious award winner of the All-America City Award in 1968 and 2004, has its quirks, as do all truly captivating towns! Standing out with something for everyone, visitors can discover live music, theater arts, and beloved eateries—the little things that turn new faces into regulars. Bordering Oregon Wine Country, you're in for vineyard wanderings during the day and fun evenings aplenty after wine tastings lead you to the local bars. On the other side, the Cascade foothills teem with wildlife along rushing rivers and photo-worthy waterfalls, making Cottage Grove a haven for outdoor explorers and photography enthusiasts!

Even if you're not the adventurous type to explore all the stunning waterfalls within a 5-mile radius, you can surely stroll to one and drive around the six scenic, historic covered bridges near downtown. A movie star in Buster Keaton's film "The General," Cottage Grove also appeared in old-time favorites "Animal House" and "Stand By Me." Home to over 20 outdoor murals depicting the small town's illustrious past, Cottage Grove keeps you sightseeing in between food breaks and wine sipping. Imagine a day trekking through gorgeous woods, hiking or horseback riding, taking a dip at Wildwood Falls, and ending in the charming red barn at Saginaw Vineyards or Coast Fork Brewing. Don't forget to stop by Territorial Seed Company to plant a memory back home of this storybook-like town!

Florence, Oregon

Riverwalk in Siuslaw River in Florence, Oregon.
Riverwalk in Siuslaw River in Florence, Oregon.

The beautiful town of Florence, steeped in history, is perfect for indulgences like shopping and dining in its Historic Old Town, set against a coastal ambiance. From spotting migrating whales offshore to exploring the interactive exhibits at Whale Park, water enthusiasts will enjoy paddling and swimming at Cleawox Lake, exploring the dunes, or windsurfing at South Jetty Beach. Whether you prefer crabbing for a fire-cooked dinner or savoring a warm bowl of clam chowder at Mo's, Florence, Oregon's Coastal Playground, invites you to experience everything along its miles of beaches and charming downtown. How about a quirky—and unforgettable—stay at a historic lighthouse keeper's house B&B, complete with a friendly resident ghost story?

Explore tide pools teeming with marine life or descend 200 feet (61 meters) into North America's largest sea cave, home to the bellowing, beloved sea lions, via an elevator. Thrill-seekers can rent dune buggies and traverse forty miles of coastal sands, then unwind with live entertainment at the Florence Events Center or the Three Rivers Casino Resort. Those seeking relaxation can opt for a riverfront hotel and dine at exquisite seafood restaurants, while others might prefer lakeside cabins, horseback rides, or comfortable camping. If you're in town for events like the Annual Wiener Dog Race or the Annual Rhododendron Festival, you're in for a treat!

Rockaway, Oregon

Rockaway Beach has seven miles of sandy shoreline and is one of Oregon's most popular vacation destinations.
Rockaway Beach has seven miles of sandy shoreline and is one of Oregon's most popular vacation destinations.

This epically named town has long been a favorite coastal retreat from city life. Even before highways, families in the 1920s traveled here by train, drawn to its sprawling, picturesque beach. Although more accessible and popular today, Rockaway still offers a unique charm amongst Oregon's polished beachscapes. With hundreds of vacation rentals and hotel rooms offering beach access, it's the ultimate destination for adventures along the vast coastline. The towering Twin Rocks, perfect for a picnic backdrop, stand tall on the horizon, offering unmatched photo opportunities. Visitors can enjoy a scenic journey aboard a steam engine train, traveling a route with views of Tillamook Bay, where the tide pools and ocean seem untouched by time.

This scenic slice of history is more than just your average beach town. Home to locals with vibrant personalities, expect adventures and sights along the seven miles of uninterrupted, sandy beaches. Enjoy authentic experiences like beach bonfires and stargazing. With whales occasionally breaching in view and old-growth coastal trees lining the Rockaway Beach boardwalk, the town offers a unique experience. Despite the summer tourist influx and some of the state's greatest festivals, Rockaway retains an intimate feel, perfect for outdoor activities like bird watching and hiking. The local museums showcase the town's unique and intriguing heritage. Downtown Rockaway welcomes visitors with a distinctive shopping and dining scene, infusing local flavors and flair into delightful and fun offerings.

Sandpoint, Idaho

First Avenue, the main street through the downtown area of Sandpoint, Idaho, on a summer day
First Avenue, the main street through the downtown area of Sandpoint, Idaho, on a summer day, via Kirk Fisher /

Dubbed "the most beautiful town in America" by USA Today and Rand McNally, Sandpoint is enveloped in nature, nestled along three Rockies mountain ranges at the foot of Schweitzer Mountain, Idaho's largest ski and board resort by area. Offering vast snowy terrain for skiing or snowboarding, it maintains an uncrowded atmosphere, much to the delight of snow enthusiasts. Sandpoint takes pride in both its "pace" and "place," boasting a vibrant arts community brimming with entertainment and events, yet retaining an authentic small-town feel. Without resorting to a typical resort vibe, it offers a wealth of outdoor activities, including lake and mountain adventures, complemented by acclaimed culinary establishments. With over 40 fine restaurants and a variety of lodgings, visitors can choose accommodations to suit their style, comfort, and budget.

At the northern tip of Idaho, just 60 miles from Canada, Lake Pend Oreille lies beneath the towering Selkirk and Cabinet mountains, encompassing this stunning community that invites you to stay outdoors even at night. In the summer, families can enjoy the Arts and Crafts Fair, lakeside camping, or winter sleigh rides, coupled with evening theatrical performances at the Panida Theatre and locally crafted gifts. Whether it's a lakeside weekend getaway or a weeklong family vacation on the shores of Idaho's largest lake, Lake Pend Oreille, visitors are encouraged to explore at their own pace. This majestic place has a way of slowing down even the busiest city dwellers to appreciate its beauty.

Walla Walla, Washington

Street view in Walla Walla, Washington
Street view in Walla Walla, Washington, via carterdayne /

Walla Walla Valley is a must-visit destination, especially in autumn when the town at its heart invites you to linger and mingle under the pleasant weather. With numerous wineries and lush vineyards throughout the valley during harvest time, the calendar is filled with family-friendly events like the Walla Walla Fair and Frontier Days, The Grit, and Wheelin’ Walla Walla Weekend. Offering culture and picturesque sights at every turn, the year-round sunshine encourages exploration throughout the day. From hiking and biking trails to golfing, boutiques, and art galleries for unique finds, visitors will create lasting memories and bring home souvenirs from the valley. Don't miss local favorites like spa experiences, museum visits, and evening theater productions.

Calling all wine enthusiasts, nature lovers, and culture aficionados, Walla Walla is a small town brimming with eclectic energy and surprises. From mountain vistas to riverside views, it offers a range of outdoor adventures for all ages and activity levels. Discover the perfect restaurant for each day and an ideal tasting room to complement riverfront dining. With a winery around every illustrious bend in the iconic river through the valley, it's no wonder Walla Walla is renowned as one of the nation's premier wine regions, home to over 130 wineries and 3,000 acres of grapes. Visitors are invited to come as they are and discover the robust flavors of this flourishing area, with accommodations available in the welcoming downtown or nestled among the sweeping vineyards and endless nature trails.

Yachats, Oregon

The Little Log Church by the Sea, Yachats, Oregon.
The Little Log Church by the Sea, Yachats, Oregon. Image credit Denise Lett via Shutterstock

Yachats, pronounced YAH-hots, is a small town that makes a powerful statement with its nature. Situated in a unique location, it offers more than just typical soft-sand beaches. Between the hazy Cascade Mountains on the horizon and the surging ocean waters, Yachats features black basalt sands and tide pools along the shoreline that reveal sea landmarks. A true gem on the Oregon Coast, Yachats is home to natural wonders such as Devil’s Churn, Spouting Horn, and Thor’s Well, offering epic adventures and peaceful sights along the tranquil beach, just within reach. For sweeping, phenomenal views, Cape Perpetua, south of town, is one of the best vantage points on the Oregon Coast.

The downtown area strives to impress visitors with top-notch art galleries, beloved restaurants like Ona Restaurant, and quality-focused shops and breweries. The town's botanical preserve provides a revered sense of serenity, while the city park, built on restored marshland, adds to the charm. Surrounded by a beautiful temperate rainforest and the Pacific Ocean, Yachats is an epic vision of verdancy and aquamarine colors. Thor’s Well, a huge sinkhole on the coast, makes a statement like no other in the country.

Zillah, Washington

Teapot Dome historic gas station in Zillah Washington on sunny summer day with blue sky
Teapot Dome historic gas station in Zillah Washington on sunny summer day with blue sky, via Ian Dewar Photography /

Zillah, with its zesty character, charms visitors with quirky attractions like the Chamber-operated Teapot—a gas station handcrafted by Jack Ainsworth in 1922. After functioning for many years along the freeway, the Teapot was relocated to town in 2012, serving as the restored visitor center. This unique slice of American history is unlike any other, featuring an Instagram-worthy Teapot Dome, merchandise for sale, and the Teapot Dome Historical Site, which commemorates the Teapot Dome oil reserve scandal during President Warren Harding's administration. Nearby, visitors can explore the Fallen Firefighter Memorial and the Zillah Veterans Memorial. Just a hop from I-82, Zillah is at the heart of Yakima Valley's wineries, with over 20 along the Rattlesnake Hills Wine Trail. Enjoy outdoor concerts at the wineries in the summer or events at Old Warehouse’s Perham.

The Rattlesnake Hills Wine Trail hosts popular wine tasting events year-round, while other wineries offer art sessions, winemaker’s dinners, flower arranging, and comedy shows. Ben’s Strip, one of Central Washington's largest airfields, is home to the non-profit Yakima Valley Aero Modelers, featuring Sunday fly-ins and special events. Visitors can explore the trail via horseback, bicycle, motorcycle, or vintage cars, and farm stands throughout Yakima Valley offer fresh produce, like the family-owned Jones Farms, known for their quality produce and pumpkin patch in the fall. Just off of I-82 in Yakima Valley, Zillah invites you to discover its giant teapot replica. And if that's not your cup of tea and you prefer coffee—just kidding—then enjoy the local wineries!

In the PNW, the beachscape of Rockaway meets the mountainous backdrop of Sandpoint, Idaho. Whether it's the soaring mountains, extraordinary water views, or tantalizing sea landmarks visible through black basalt sands, one of these towns is sure to capture your eye.

From Washington to Oregon to Idaho, each town in the Pacific Northwest boasts its own attractions and quirks. Whether hidden or obvious, these treasures are waiting to be discovered, no matter the weather or time of year!

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