Aerial view of Ashland in Oregon

9 Picture-Perfect Towns in the Pacific Northwest

There are countless ways to experience the picturesque Pacific Northwest in any season, from its Bavarian Alps-like skiing and snowy wonderlands to its vibrant summer landscapes. Sequim and Port Townsend boast an unbeatable Olympic Peninsula location for a summertime getaway, and don't miss the lakeside towns! Joseph, nestled among the clouds, and Cottage Grove, known as the 'All American City' with a storybook feel of covered bridges, offer two very distinct vibes.

A highlight for any Pacific road trip, Cannon Beach allows its raw, natural beauty to speak for itself. While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it is easy to find something that catches your eye in the PNW, like Sequim's lavender fields or perhaps the life-sized bronze sculptures in Joseph.

Ashland, Oregon

Street view in Ashland, Oregon
Street view in Ashland, Oregon, via Nature's Charm /

Selected among the top 10 “Best Towns in America" in Outside magazine, this artsy town really knows how to create a picture-perfect image of itself. Home to Southern Oregon University and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (March–October), Ashland is a cultural mecca, luring visitors with outdoor experiences and breathtaking vistas you would expect of the PNW! More than a Village Green, Lithia Park's 93-acre vision of emerald-tinged lawns and colorful landscapes is your ultimate nature break right downtown for a quick breather, family time, or exercise. Sharing its grounds for the renowned festival and everyday pursuits like tennis courts, picnic spots, and a playground, Lithia Park was designated among the top ten Great American Spaces by the American Planning Association!

You can follow the creek through undeveloped woodlands, past features like an elegant Japanese garden, two duck ponds, and a formal rose garden, with open spaces for picnics and woodsy trails that include groves of sycamore trees and the nearby White Rabbit Trail. From bandshells for live entertainment to a sand-pit volleyball court, Ashland hosts a wealth of summertime events in the park, such as the popular Park Nature Walks, while its trails extend into winding hikes through forested mountains. The best part is the feeling of having left town while still being just around the corner from the campus and the city's artsy culture, including the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach on the Oregon coast
Cannon Beach on the Oregon coast

Cannon Beach is an unmissable town in Oregon, renowned for its remarkable natural wonders and unique beauty. Just offshore, the imposing Haystack Rock is visible from the charming streets above and attracts visitors from around the world. This small beach town, set against the backdrop of a rock-studded beach, offers a quintessential experience for beach lovers, including activities like swimming, surfing, and fishing. Enjoy a scenic picnic with a view and explore the tide pools at the base of Haystack Rock at low tide, where anemones and sea stars abound, and waterfowl perch atop.

Cannon Beach, a popular summertime destination, boasts a downtown area filled with fine dining, art galleries, celebrated boutiques, and outdoor festivals. Named one of the best overall beaches in the Northwest, it features stunning views of the iconic rocky shoreline along its 4 miles of beautiful beach and other spectacular natural landscapes. Nearby Ecola State Park is a fall favorite for hikers and offers breathtaking overlooks like Hug Point or Tillamook Head Lighthouse, perfect for romantic photos. Crescent Beach, just to the north, is a secluded hike-in location from Ecola State Park, offering an expansive beach near Ecola Creek.

Cottage Grove, Oregon

Cottage Grove Historic District, Oregon.
Cottage Grove Historic District, Oregon. Image credit Ian Dewar Photography via Shutterstock

Nestled among vineyards and stunning woodlands, Cottage Grove exudes a storybook charm. Known for its historic covered bridges and natural attractions like Row River Nature Park and Dorena Lake, this small town is a haven for nature enthusiasts. Cottage Grove, an "All-America City," is ideal for summertime lakeside fun, offering a variety of outdoor activities such as hiking, picnics, and horseback riding. The town has been a filming location for famous movies like Buster Keaton's "The General," "Stand By Me," and "Animal House."

Start your day with a fully charged camera for an adventure through the great outdoors. From six covered bridges to over 20 outdoor murals, your day can end with a relaxing glass of wine at Saginaw Vineyard or mingling with locals at a Coast Fork Brewing event in the summer. Enjoy the tranquility of Cottage Grove's trails, including a bounty of waterfalls within five-mile hikes, and find relaxation on a hot day by some of the most stunning cascades in the area, like Wildwood Falls. Don't forget to visit Territorial Seed Company to buy a seedling, allowing you to grow a piece of Cottage Grove back home.

Fairhaven, Washington

A Fish and Chips Bus in Fairhaven, Washington.
A Fish and Chips Bus in Fairhaven, Washington.

Fairhaven, now part of Bellingham, is a blend of historic charm and modern attractions, with its origins dating back to 1883 under the influence of Dirty Dan Harris and other colorful figures. This former transport center and manufacturing hub, now a National Historic District, is also known as Bellingham's "Hippie Mecca," ranking highly in the Pacific Northwest per capita. The cobblestoned community, nestled quaintly against the shores of Bellingham Bay, is full of natural beauty and Victorian elegance. The heart of its unique spirit is the central Fairhaven Village Green, an eclectic space filled with boutiques and local eateries.

The Fairhaven Hotel, symbolic of the "Imperial City of Fairhaven," was a grand and modern establishment that hosted guests like Mark Twain and C.X. Larrabee, along with his wife, Frances Payne Larrabee. Reborn in 2018 as Fairhaven Towers, it follows its destruction in 1953 due to an electric fire. The Bellingham Railway Museum in Fairhaven highlights the town's role in connecting the Pacific Northwest, and 17 historic buildings still stand today! The annual 93-mile Ski to Sea Race ends in Fairhaven, while Boulevard Park offers waterfront trails with access to stunning bay views.

Friday Harbor, Washington

Customers at Friday Harbor Ice Cream Company.
Customers at Friday Harbor Ice Cream Company. Image credit The Image Party via Shutterstock

Home to just over 2,000 people, Friday Harbor is a spectacular island town on the largest and most popular island of the enchanting San Juan Islands archipelago. Basking in ocean serenity with breathtaking views, it boasts the vastness of the unreplicable San Juan Islands National Historical Park. Despite being a short hop from the mainland, located between Vancouver Island and northern Washington, it offers a wild feel, seemingly cut off from society, complemented by historical sights, museums, and galleries. This picturesque coastal town is a prime highlight of the island chain for visitors, featuring attractions like the Whale Museum, dedicated to marine life conservation in Puget Sound, and the island's own luscious vineyards.

Spend days exploring the headland treasures, such as the 1.3-mile hike along the shoreline trail with views of the Salish Sea, or bike out to Lime Kiln Point. The stunning Lime Kiln Point State Park provides a retreat amid the ocean, perfect for picnics with sunset views during the whale-watching season. Downtown Friday Harbor, a stroll-friendly and modern area in this remote corner of the Pacific Northwest, enjoys low tourist crowds and friendly locals, making it a great base for different, beautiful adventures each day. Visitors can explore charming galleries, boutiques, and eateries, and enjoy a glass of wine with loved ones at one of the wineries or the local San Juan Vineyard.

Joseph, Oregon

The charming town of Joseph, Oregon.
The charming town of Joseph, Oregon.

Joseph is not just a small town in a box canyon; it's a majesty nestled in the sparsely clouded atmosphere of the Wallowa range, its highest peak reaching 9,839 feet above sea level. Welcoming visitors with a large sign at the entrance that reads, “This town is like heaven to us, so don’t drive like hell through it,” Joseph offers a plethora of landmarks, from enchanting outdoor recreation to an entertainment-rich downtown. With just over 1,000 residents, it makes a bold statement in the PNW region. There's only one way in, and at the end of the road, you'll find yourself at the trailhead to the Eagle Cap Wilderness. This engulfing landscape offers perfect photo opportunities, especially on horseback, with numerous hiking, biking, and skiing trails nearby.

Nestled in the shadows of the spectacular Wallowa Mountain Range, Joseph enjoys low crowds along its downtown streets, set against breathtaking peaks, earning its moniker "Little Switzerland of America." From pristine alpine lakes to runoff rivers and breathtaking canyons, the town attracts outdoor enthusiasts, artists, and photographers. Take a self-guided Joseph Art Walk featuring a series of life-sized bronze sculptures perfect for selfies, and explore local crafts in boutiques, enjoy treats from Arrowhead Chocolates, and shop at a local market for a picnic by Wallowa Lake. You can recoup over dinner at La Laguna with mountain views and enjoy drinks at the top-rated Embers Brewhouse.

Leavenworth, Washington

People walking around in Leavenworth, Washington
People walking around in Leavenworth, Washington

Leavenworth's adoption of a Bavarian theme, which saved the town from becoming a ghost town within the scenic mountains, attracts visitors from afar to experience the Alps in Washington. Its memorable German flair, reminiscent of visiting overseas or stepping into a picture book, is evident as you stroll along the tree-lined streets in the picturesque environment of the Cascade Mountains. Located at the crossroads of two rivers at the border, Leavenworth is not only a grape-growing region known for apples and cherries but also the top national grower for organic pears. Imagine exploring the bountiful markets, indulging in pies at cafes, visiting U-pick orchards, and discovering wineries for picture-perfect experiences nearby.

Traditional in every sense, even the weather follows suit with warm summers, crisp shoulder seasons, and snowy winters. Ideally positioned to explore the picturesque countryside of the PNW, including Icicle Canyon, Plain, and Lake Wenatchee, there are miles of woodland trails, roads, and recreational opportunities like hiking, biking, climbing, and rafting just minutes from downtown’s shopping and dining. Under a blanket of snow in winter, Leavenworth transforms into a picture-perfect Christmastown with an authentic market full of traditional goodies and festivities, ideal for skiing and exploring. Packed with charm, Downtown Leavenworth allures shoppers with its friendly stops, fun attractions, and annual events featuring great food and beer, such as Oktoberfest.

Port Townsend, Washington

Port Townsend, Washington, from Puget Sound.
Port Townsend, Washington, from Puget Sound.

Just a two-hour drive or ferry ride from Seattle, Port Townsend is a haven for history enthusiasts, photographers, and beach lovers. As a former Victorian seaport on the Olympic Peninsula, it retains its big-hearted gestures against a backdrop of towering mountains and water. The grand historic buildings along the stately waterfront are perfect for strolls and people-watching. Boasting a burgeoning arts scene with live theater and music, abundant history, and a picturesque location between the Olympic Mountains and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Port Townsend is a real gem.

This once bustling seaport, known for its dazzling vistas, is a prized PNW destination among architecture aficionados and retirees, and it's also popular for trekking, yachting, and angling. With its mild weather and charming streetscape, the town romanticizes solitude, offering a blend of adventure and relaxation. Alluring to summertime visitors, it features a long, expansive beach stretch just minutes from downtown's range of cafes, restaurants, art galleries, and boutiques. Nearby, Fort Worden State Park offers two miles of saltwater shoreline, providing a variety of services and facilities for days filled with hiking, biking, kayaking, standup paddleboarding, and camping.

Sequim, Washington

Aerial View of John Wayne Marina in Sequim, Washington.
Aerial View of John Wayne Marina in Sequim, Washington.

This town on the Olympic Peninsula, often featured on screen, is best experienced firsthand, particularly when the scent of lavender fills the air before its purple hues catch your eye. With its optimal weather, Sequim invites you to explore the outdoors, from benches and trash cans painted in lavender to the surrounding lavender farms. Sequim is a sensory delight with quaint shops and diverse restaurants, while the Sequim Lavender Weekend in July offers a unique atmosphere when the lavender fields are in full bloom. The sight of gorgeous blooms, buzzing bees, and the soothing aroma creates a near utopian experience during this magical time of lavender blossoms.

Local farms open their fields to display lavender's vibrant hues and fragrant blooms, and there are many attractions to visit, like the Olympic Game Farm, known for its appearances in movies and TV shows, having worked with Walt Disney Studios for nearly 30 years. In the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains, sunny Sequim offers a feast for the eyes and photo opportunities like the Railroad Bridge Park with its historic railroad trestle, perfect for scenic strolls along the Dungeness River. The nearby Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge offers a picturesque escape into the heart of the Olympic Peninsula, home to the Dungeness Spit, renowned for birdwatching and coastal views.

The Takeaway

It's no wonder one of the PNW's taglines is "sip your way through the Pacific Northwest," being home to the Starbucks headquarters and numerous wineries. Each town in Washington and Oregon offers an unreplicable coastal ambiance: visit Cannon Beach for its iconic beachscapes; Fairhaven and Port Townsend for their Victorian charm; and Leavenworth and Ashland for their wineries.

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