Kayakers in Lake Pend Oreille in Sandpoint, Idaho.

The Best Small Towns In The Pacific Northwest To Chill Out In 2024

The Pacific Northwest (PNW) region, the northwestern portion of the US, is bounded by the coastal Pacific from Washington to Oregon and the mountain ranges in Idaho. Home to dramatic coastlines, snow-capped peaks, national parks, and rain forests, its small towns with historic hearts flaunt thriving arts and culinary adventures imposed by the region's natural grandeur. From wine tasting to whale watching and coffee culture, it is impossible to chill out without the taste of the PNW engulfing all your senses.

Release your own free spirit and taste the freshest seafood in the quirky town of Oysterville on a stroll along the Willapa Bay shoreline, along oysters in tidepools, and among baby seals by their mamas, with bald eagles diving for their own fresh catch. Once destroyed by a fire, Bandon flaunts surreal sunsets and yearns for true expression, both of which traits inspire you to savor each moment in day-to-day life. Just a taste of the PNW coastal life in one of these PNW towns will have you chilling for days, bursting with impressions.

Bandon, Oregon

Aerial drone shot of coastal homes and beach in Bandon, Oregon
Aerial drone shot of coastal homes and beach in Bandon, Oregon.

Once destroyed by a fire, today, Bandon flaunts only the fiery sunsets, extinguished by the marine layer nightly. Visitors can enjoy this surreal diffusion along the wooden boardwalk on a stroll overlooking the rock-studded Bandon Beach or take it in right from the warm sands. Never crowded, it's easy to find a serene slice to lounge on, hit the cool oceanic waters with a rod, a boat, or yourself, and inscribe your footsteps into the sands in search of a keepsake of this little PNW corner. Home to charming shops, galleries, and the world-famous Bandon Dunes Golf Resort with the best links in the country, Bandon, the "Cranberry Capital of Oregon," hits something on every traveler's bucket list at the heart of Oregon's South Coast.

Yearning for a true expression of everything, just a taste of this coastal life inspires you to savor each moment, from the Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint to the seafood at Lord Bennett's Sand. The waterfront paints stories of the past and present with its historic Coquille River Lighthouse and the painted creatures of the Washed Ashore Gallery & Volunteer Workshop. Flaunting thriving agriculture and a love for baking, a delectable pie or pastry with morning java like at Bandon Coffee Cafe, among many others, will get you paddling a kayak on the Wild Rivers Coast or exploring the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge just to the north.

Guemes Island, Washington

A scenic sea view near Guemes Island, Washington.
A scenic sea view near Guemes Island, Washington.

The 5,505-acre Guemes Island, one of the smaller inhabited islands of the San Juan archipelago, chills mid-ocean between Victoria, Canada, and Washington. Just a speck of the state's illustrious shoreline, with only around 550 residents breathing the freshest sea air, it welcomes travelers via a quick, eight-minute ferry-in from Anacortes to taste the island life. Home to beaches and trails, like the popular Guemes Mountain Trailhead, Guemes Island Resort is a great host and guide to make the most of your journey.

Among the many nature reserves, like Peach Preserve, over Guemes' three-quarters of undeveloped space, don't miss the Island Labyrinth or a selfie from the top of the stairs descending to a public beach. From the serene shores of the Indian Village to Kelly's Point Overlook and Guemes Island Rocks, all capture unique perspectives of the island scenery and local wildlife. The Guemes Island General Store sells fresh produce, foods, and drinks, while the resort offers lakefront cabins, yurts, and rental homes, with guest access to saunas, boat rentals, massages, and the island's stone beach.

North Bend, Washington

Aerial view of the stunning landscape around North Bend, Washington
Aerial view of the stunning landscape around North Bend, Washington.

North Bend, an underappreciated town in the shadowy grandeur of the Central Cascade Range, is an enviable mix of quaint and vibrant to chill out for every taste. Saturated in history and the colors of nature, it welcomes visitors to experience the scenes in the cult classic "Twin Peaks." Tinged with Hollywood fame, old-timey and nostalgic, Flaunting an obvious geographic advantage, where a variety of landscapes highlight its natural allure, will fill up your Instagram feed. From a morning at Huxdotter Coffee, North Bend offers lively entertainment through local breweries and eateries to unwind after an adventurous day.

Visitors can explore its natural dimension and, along the way, discover rich indigenous heritage and the longevity of life in Snoqualmie Valley. With something for every level, like meandering hikes through lush forests or ascending Mt. Si, don't miss the breathtaking Twin Falls and Rattlesnake Ledge. In the winter, locals enjoy hitting the foothills with downhill skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing, while North Bend Premium Outlets gears up for adventures in every season. Share impressions at dinner at Tweede's Cafe or clink frosty mugs of the Pacific Northwest's finest craft beer at Mt. Si Tavern.

Oysterville, Washington

A beautiful church in Oysterville, Washington
A beautiful church in Oysterville, Washington. Editorial credit: CL Shebley / Shutterstock.com.

Nestled along the north end of the 45-mile Long Beach Peninsula, this is the best town to chill out if you enjoy quirky vibes, oysters, or trying new things. In the mid-1800s, Chief Klickeas of the Chinook Indian tribe introduced Robert Hamilton Epsy and Isaac Alonzo Clark to oystering, and the rest is, well, history. With oysters sold as far as San Francisco, this tiny town in immense natural embrace is proudly part of the world's top-producing oyster regions. Straight from a Norman Rockwell painting, Oysterville's profound beauty is a photographer's and sightseer's dream come alive. The historic village downtown features impeccable homes from the 1800s with manicured gardens.

From dreamy seaside walks around tide pools with oysters to wildlife encounters and beachy time, Oysterville is never crowded, and the experiences are life-changing. Just take a stroll along the shores of Willapa Bay, ebbing to its own tide, with bald eagles diving for small fish and comic baby seals by their mamas, snacking on fresh catch. Enjoy ultra-fresh seafood yourself from a bayside eatery or take a fishing charter to Ilwaco on the south end of the peninsula to cook up over a beach fire against the sweeping sunset. Oysterville Sea Farm sells PNW's finest fresh-from-the-sea Dungeness crab, salmon, and Albacore tuna.

Pacific City, Oregon

Pacific City, Oregon, seen from Cape Kiwanda
View of Pacific City, Oregon, seen from Cape Kiwanda.

Spanning the Nestucca River, which flows through coastal forests nearby, Pacific City remains largely untouched by tourism. Offering easy access via Highway 101, it is a real gem with striking views of the coastline and the awe-inspiring open ocean vistas behind its name. The small beach town enjoys a slow lifestyle, replete with cute businesses like the Grateful Bread, a fantastic themed bakery to start the day right. Just north, Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area is a popular beachfront with great surf and wind for kite flying and hang-gliding, as well as picnic areas, fishing, and hiking trails. For thrills, charge at Cape Kiwanda Sand Dune in a buggy.

Visitors can stay at the riverside Woods County Campground and, steps away, stock up for a picnic at Chester's Markets. Otherwise, go with one of the lovely oceanfront cabin rentals or stay at the lavish Headland Coastal Lodge & Spa, which affords views of Haystack Rock on Cannon Beach and offers daytime pampering. Just south, the vast Bob Straub State Park offers more trails, serene beaches, and access to the Pacific Wayside Crest for the breathtaking sunset. Afterward, Pelican Brewing is an iconic beachside taproom with house beer and a restaurant menu, including pizza, pasta, seafood, and brunch.

Port Angeles, Washington

Port Angeles Wharf early morning light
Port Angeles Wharf in early morning light.

In the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains, Port Angeles, where magic, comfort, and entertainment meet at the crossroads of the undulating sea and peaky vistas, is your cozy mountain retreat. A portal into the bewitching Olympic National Park, one of the US's largest and most popular national treasures, it defines the Evergreen State's rugged wilderness and adventures of a lifetime. From the Olympic Discovery Trail: Adventure Route Trailhead just west to Lake Angeles Trailhead just south, try and find a more scenic place to chill than Ediz Hook. Jutting into the ocean like a golf club, its rocky beach affords the best wildlife and mountain views in serene surroundings. Elevate Outdoors offers kayaking tours, or elevate your own adventures at Lincoln Park, a popular hangout with a fishing pond, dog park, BMX track, ball field, and disc golf.

Maybe you're seeking a relaxing escape at central Hollywood Beach to unwind on the Olympic Peninsula. Well, the harbor town has friendly seaside pursuits and outdoor fun for every level, like a ferry line and the Feiro Marine Life Center, a small aquarium focused on local marine life with interactive exhibits and three touch tanks. The 38-acre Olympic National Park Visitor Center features educational exhibits, nature trails, backpacking information, and a kids' room. Right next to the scenic pier with its perfect 360 views of the ocean and the city, the apt Next Door Gastropub is a-bustling with cozy digs and outdoor seating to catch the sunset over elevated American bar bites and craft beers. However, with easy access to Hoh Rainforest and the red sands of Ruby Beach, it would be sinful to miss these iconic sites in between chills.

Sandpoint, Idaho

city beach in downtown Sandpoint, Idaho
Tourists and local Idahoans enjoy a sunny summer day at the crowded city beach in downtown Sandpoint, Idaho. Editorial credit: Kirk Fisher / Shutterstock.com.

Nestled along the magnificent Lake Pend Oreille in between three mountain ranges, Sandpoint justifies its accolade as the “most beautiful town in America,” as per USA Today and Rand McNally. Taking pride as both “place” and “pace" in its geographical advantage—a mighty beautiful place—the locals like to stay outside year-round and welcome visitors to enjoy Idaho’s largest natural lake at the foot of Schweitzer Mountain. This epic ski and board resort is one of the state's first, largest by area, and second by visits to Sun Valley. Flaunting world-class culinary establishments, the historic downtown packs art and entertainment with a full event calendar in the small mountain town appeal to experience the authentic, not-a-resort vibe.

Surrounded by hiking areas, the wealth of outdoor activities varies from the easy Pine Street Woods to the blufftop Mickinnick Trail Head 13, overlooking the saturated cerulean waters. Families enjoy the laid-back vibes of Sandpoint City Beach Park with its sandy lakeside beach, placid waters, and picturesque setting. The Pend d'Oreille Bay Trail meanders along the lake north to the popular waterfront Sandpoint Elks Golf Course. Chill out at the acclaimed local library or with your friend at the unique dog park along the jutting pier, which hosts rails, driving lanes, and the dog beach winter walk. Whether you're craving Second Avenue Pizza or the family-owned Joel's for Mexican, do not miss the iconic Panhandle Cone & Coffee for ice cream, baked goods, and espresso drinks for dessert.

Unwind on the Olympic Peninsula in Port Angeles, along the Central Oregon Coastline in Bandon, or on island time in Guemes Island, a San Juans gem, or how about the mountains? In the shadowy grandeur of the Central Cascade Range, North Bend flaunts the scenery in the cult classic "Twin Peaks." Discover Sandpoint's historic downtown on a summer getaway along the magnificent Lake Pend Oreille, the state's largest, in between three mountain ranges, or a winter escape at the foot of Schweitzer Mountain, an epic state's largest ski and board resort.

Olympic National Park, one of the US's largest and most popular national treasures, defines the Evergreen State's rugged wilderness. Topping the bucket list for an adventurous getaway, the friendly harbor town of Port Angeles, next to this bewitching national park, flaunts the chill-worthy Hollywood Beach, a popular ferry line between Canada and the US, and the Feiro Marine Life Center with three touch tanks.

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