Hikers on the Dog Mountain trail in Washington state's Columbia River Gorge; White Salmon. Image credit Laura Kneedler via Shutterstock.

8 Picturesque Small Towns in The Pacific Northwest for a Weekend Retreat

The PNW defines picturesqueness along its stretch through OregonWashingtonIdaho, parts of California, and British Columbia in Canada. For vast coastlines and sandy beaches, Manzanita excels in blissful serenity, and starting the list is the very popular, ultra-beautiful Cannon Beach. McCall In the towering embrace of the pine-covered mountains reaching 9,000 feet, offering a cozy downtown feel with leisure pursuits. Gig Harbor is head over heels in the waters with local favorite pastimes like paddling, motor boats, and sailing. For majestic mountain ranges and skiing, get through this list of launchpads for the picturesque outdoors, particularly the last three towns.

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Aerial View Over Cannon Beach Pacific Ocean Coast Oregon
Aerial View Over Cannon Beach Pacific Ocean Coast Oregon.

The list of the PNW's most beautiful places cannot go without this extraordinary town, perfect for a weekend retreat or longer. Its fringe of fine sands and the crown of Haystack Rock, named by National Geographic as one of the world's 100 most beautiful places, are simply breathtaking. Protruding majestically just offshore, the Oregon icon is accessible at low tide, with starfish at the feet and fowl on the head. The town attracts artists, photographers, and couples for romantic strolls down the beach with more scattered rocks and anyone looking for a serenely relaxing escape. Along this stunning stretch of the Oregon Coast, the charming village by the sea offers coastal views with sea breezes through the streets and natural feats along the magic landscape.

Post-nature enjoyment, Cannon Beach treats visitors to a culinary bounty with down-home Pacific Northwest flavors, seafood, and international dishes. Sleepy Monk Coffee Roasters gets you going for a day full of adventures, whereas Pelican Brewing is top-rated among locals and tourists to mingle from sundown. Don't miss Cannon Beach History Center & Museum and Icefire Glassworks. At the same time, Wright's For Camping is a popular choice for staying on budget in nature among plentiful, hospitable accommodations by the beach, including luxurious oceanfront lodging. Home to stunning sunsets and an inviting mix of galleries, boutiques, and restaurants, Cannon Beach, one of the top art towns in America, is just 90 minutes out of Portland.

Forks, Washington

Red pick up trucks from the Twilight series in Forks, Washington.
Red pick-up trucks from the Twilight series in Forks, Washington.

The tiny town in the heart of the Olympic Peninsula, where Bella's father lived, is the famous set for the Twilight series. Forks welcomes visitors to a serene retreat to explore this northwest corner of the Pacific Northwest. As authentic as it gets, fitting the definition of a wild enclave in between the Olympic mountains and along the Pacific Ocean beaches, it is a beguiling array of adventurers and recreational options despite being the rainiest town in the contiguous United States. Blessed with an average rainfall of 120 inches annually, the natural surroundings are second to none, with alpine meadows and rainforest valleys to the east and over 100 miles of saltwater shores to the north and west. Originally called Quillayute, after the Quileute tribe, Forks, a logging community, became a tourist destination for the movie franchise.

Not without its sunny days either, visitors can enjoy the rugged Kalaloch Beach and others straight from the screen, a short drive away, as well as 200 scenic miles of crisscrossing wild rivers with healthy runs of native salmon and steelhead. Encompassing lakes, waterfalls, and mountain trails, the 2,000-mile surrounding area touches the world-sought-after landscapes of the most notable Olympic National Park, Rialto Beach, and the Hoh Rain Forest, one of the nation's largest temperate rainforests. Offering guided Twilight tours and lodgings for tourists like the Miller Tree Inn Bed and Breakfast and the Olympic Suites Inn, the Olympic Adventures Campground is a great choice to really indulge in PNW's natural bounty.

Gig Harbor, Washington

Late afternoon sunlight at the Harbor in Gig Harbor, Washington
Late afternoon sunlight at the Harbor in Gig Harbor, Washington.

Steeped in history and spoiled in nature on the shores of Puget Sound, Gig Harbor was originally home to native peoples wistfully called the sx̌ʷəbabš. Translating Swift Water People, they found a safe harbor, while Croatian settlers began commercial fishing that still supports the economy. Quick to follow, the Scandinavian settlers brought businesses that enrich the cultural offerings to this day. Remaining a place to connect with nature that inspires advancement, Gig Harbor is deeply entrenched in its waters for survival, tourism, and recreation. Home to 12,000, with local favorite pastimes like paddling, motor boats, and sailing, the town reminisces of its heritage with native crafts, Scandidavian-style architecture, and traditional Croatian cuisine, as well as a museum on the harbor's history.

South of Bainbridge Island, the town enjoys access to idyllic locations for your quintessential Pacific Northwest getaway, with nature preserves like the Olympic National Forest and Mount Rainier National Park. Visitors can enjoy canoeing and kayaking in picturesque views or watch the town's national champions compete in racing with freeing views along the waterfront, places to dine, shop, and brew stops like Tides Tavern or Green House for family-style meals. The slower local pace and warm welcome offer visitors a chance to exchange the grayish city for lush landscapes and clear waters. Offering accommodations for every group, like locally owned inns, hotels, and vacation rentals, the Waterfront Inn and the Maritime Inn are, of course, waterfront. Visitors can look forward to gondola tours and spending a whole day alone at the most popular Sunrise Beach Park.

Manzanita, Oregon

Aerial view of the beach town of Manzanita, Oregon.
Aerial view of the beach town of Manzanita, Oregon.

Manzanita is a shining gem along the northern Oregon coast, with its stunning seven-mile-long sandy beach revered for strolls, beachcombing, and breathtaking sunsets. Offering a 360-degree change in atmosphere from that in the city and a slower pace with friendly locals, Manzanita feels uncrowded, where the sound of crashing waves is a soothing reminder that everyone needs to relax and remember the important things in life that this quintessentially Pacific Northwest town aspires to deliver. Neakahnie-Manzanita State Park is just north of downtown, while the infamous Oregon Trail starts just east. Watch all your big city worries dissolve along the endless beaches and woeful forest hikes that will clear your head.

Only a 100-mile drive from the capital, Salem, and 85 from Portland, Manzanita offers a downtown view of Neahkahnie Mountain to the north. Oswald West, the famous Oregon governor, visited the town for inspiration from its captivating nature, capturing its essence by declaring the state beaches to be forever open to the public for free enjoyment. Packing big guns at the heart of culinary experiences with delightful bakeries and fine dining, there's also gourmet grocery shopping as well as a wine and beer scene. Do not miss the Big Wafe Cafe, a seafood restaurant perfect for every meal of the day, while Sunset Surf Motel is the most popular budget stay.

McCall, Idaho

Boys crosscountry skiing with their dog in McCall, Idaho.
Boys crosscountry skiing with their dog in McCall, Idaho.

McCall, the largest city in rural Valley County, has just over 4,000 residents, overlooking the rural lands from 5,021 feet in elevation. In the towering embrace of the pine-covered mountains reaching 9,000 feet, visitors enjoy its cozy downtown for leisurely browsing through shops, restaurants, and cafes with the local culture. Flocking to McCall in the summer and winter months, the outdoor enthusiasts rave about its nature for hiking, mountain biking, boating, fishing, and camping, becoming a hub for skiing and snowboarding in the winter. Find excellent slopes nearby at Brundage Mountain and Tamarack Resort, including 2,600 skiable acres with vertical drops up to 2,800 feet. Receiving the highest average snowfall in the state, McCall offers a white Christmas as well as the best snowmobiling and cross-country skiing.

Having made it to Architectural Digest’s list, the mountain lakeside town sits immersed in awe-inspiring nature with picturesque views, some 100 miles north of Boise. From boating to sailing and jet skiing, the beautiful lake waters are swimmable, while the Payette River is a world-class whitewater rafting destination. Boating fans enjoy kayaking and canoeing on the calm lake surface or in the rush of the river. Both adorable and breathtaking by the beautiful Payette Lake, with a charm as a former logging town feels, it feels like one big festival in the summer months with its Mardi Gras Parades, live music, comedy shows, art auctions, as well as family activities by the lake. The iconic Winter Carnival captivates 60,000 attendees with snow sculptures. 

Sequim, Washington

Chamber of Commerce and visitors center in Sequim, Washington
Chamber of Commerce and visitors center in Sequim, Washington. Image credit CL Shebley via Shutterstock.

Welcome to sunny Sequim, a picturesque town with an active arts community knee-deep in the quintessential PNW's natural beauty. Rightfully, the "Lavender Capital of North America" is adorned with fragrant lavender farms throughout the surrounding countryside. Truly an enchanting place to get inspired, its famous lavender fields and a feel of non-stop celebration attract families, nature lovers, and Instagram-opportunity that Sequim delivers like no other. Infused with floral scents, couples enjoy its bounty of romantic gestures on a weekend retreat or honeymoon, while the active find stunning outdoors at a picturesque backdrop through Sequim-Dungeness Valley. From Carrie Blake Park to Railroad Bridge Park and Sequim Bay at the side, Olympic Game Farm is a popular zoo just minutes north with happy animals living by the Olympic coast.

Within the surrounding lush Pacific Northwest forests, Sequim is surprisingly one of the driest places in western Washington, on the magnificent Olympic Peninsula. Visitors can explore the Dungeness Spit from town and the rest of the coast, while an hour away lies the Olympic rainforest, the US's largest temperate rainforest. Home to a vibrant downtown the region's cultural and commercial heart, visitors can celebrate the town's agricultural heritage over festivals, regular events, and a diverse culinary scene. Find plenty of adorable local shops and other small-town charms, like Jardin du Soleil Lavender Farm, along the meandering, pretty streets. When it is time to kick up your feet, the Juan de Fuca Cottages are a top-rated cozy retreat for any group's weekend escape, with gorgeous bay views.

Stanley, Idaho

Boats for recreation parked on a mountain lake in Stanley, Idaho
Boats for recreation parked on a mountain lake in Stanley, Idaho.

Stanley, a hidden gem secluded in the heart of Sawtooth National Recreation, is a popular picture-perfect town in the wild, thanks to and despite its remote location! Exuding welcoming charm, its handful of local businesses, restaurants, and lodges offer an intimate feel for couples and solitude lovers away from the bustling city in a friendly community of outdoorsmen. The unspoiled nature trails and pristine lakes all around lend an authentic feel to exploring and outdoor recreation. Stanley is an Idaho experience, hole to under 200, with places like the Mountain Village Resort, a cozy lodge, and a saloon nudging into the Salmon River with access for guests to the unforgettable Mountain Village hot springs.

Featuring mountains, parks, campgrounds, wildlife reserves, and ski hills, Stanley is a year-round retreat with a create-your-own adventure feel that encourages a healthy lifestyle and curious tourists. Don't miss staying up late on the weekend, not for drinks but to experience the draw of a dark sky community, so free of artificial light pollution, the heavens bedazzle with a vast ocean of stars at night, including the Milky Way! Contending for the official International Dark-Sky designation, Stanley is very close to those few places on Earth where the night sky appears as it did millennia ago. The in-town Mackay River Trips company offers professional guided tours along the Salmon River, fly-fishing excursions, and white-water rafting adventures for families to safely experience the rush. 

White Salmon, Washington

Table Mountain in Washington state's scenic Columbia River Gorge, White Salmon.
Table Mountain in Washington state's scenic Columbia River Gorge, White Salmon.

This idyllic town for outdoor enthusiasts nestles on a bluff overlooking the Columbia River, the majestic Mt. Hood, and the Hood River. Resting comfortably at an elevation of 550 feet, Washington’s Mt. Adams pokes its head just northeast. At the same time, the 3/4 of a mile of Columbia River frontage includes access to the Hood River Bridge from the city. The infamous Salmon River, aka the "River of No Return," is the focal point of the town, renowned for its world-class whitewater. Meanwhile, the Salmon Valley, origins in mining, lumber, and ranching, offers land adventures, including rafting and other river adventures between fishing, kayaking, or blissful floating. Gorge Base Camp and Hotel Iconica are popular stays for your taste and comfort level.

“The Land Where the Sun Meets the Rain” describes the mild climate on the dry side of the Cascade Mountain range, a recreation paradise for hiking, camping, and biking. This is the transition zone between the marine-influenced climate west of the Cascades and the dry continental or inter-mountain climate. The Columbia River Gorge acts as a funneling conduit for the differing air pressures, with reliable westerly summer winds through Stanley, the nation's premier windsurfing and kiteboarding mecca. The active also enjoy maintained trails through the Gifford Pinchot National Forests and, in the winter, easy access to downhill skiing at nearby Mt. Hood and cross country.

These picture-perfect PNW towns define charm deep within nature, offering visitors all the comforts and camping options to create their own weekend retreat. The immense immersive beauty of the PNW takes you deep into the gorgeous old, temperate rainforests in Forks and access from Sequim, the sensual Lavender capital.

The Pacific Northwest, the most diverse region in the US, defies traditional climate, where landforms command the weather, with places like Sunny Sequim or Forks, the rainiest place in the US, while McCall, which receives the highest average snowfall in the state, offers a white Christmas.

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