historic victorian buildings in Port Townsend, Washington

These Small Towns in the Pacific Northwest Have the Best Historic Districts

The Pacific Northwest is a magical place of immense natural beauty. From spectacular seascapes and rugged beaches to dense rainforests and mighty mountain peaks, Cascadia is home to some of the most beautiful spots in the US.

The Pacific Northwest is an unofficial North American geographic region that traditionally includes the US states of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho and the Canadian province of British Columbia. The boundaries are typically drawn in those northern states and provinces by the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Rocky Mountains to the east (though some may draw the boundaries differently). The temperate oceanic climate has four mild seasons, with heavy snowfall at higher elevations.

There are several small towns in the Pacific Northwest with remarkable historic districts. Historic districts are designated areas within a city or town where there’s an effort to preserve landmarks and period architecture. These districts have building restrictions and require property owners to get approval from local planning bodies before making any changes to the exterior of their properties. The ideal result is well maintained “time capsule” districts that can make for quarters with rich character. If you’re planning a trip in the near future, considering a move or just curious, hop aboard our trolley and we’ll take you on a tour of these delightful neighborhoods to explore not only the historical districts but also at some additional unique attractions these towns have to offer. 

Port Townsend

View of downtown Water Street in Port Townsend Historic District
View of downtown Water Street in Port Townsend Historic District, via 365 Focus Photography / Shutterstock.com

The coastal town of Port Townsend has a population of around 10,000 and is roughly 55 miles from Seattle. Located on the northeastern tip of the Olympic Peninsula. Besides its ocean views, the town is known for its late 1800s housing boom and the stunning architecture that came out of that period. Their historic district has many Victorian-era homes and buildings and serves as one of the best examples of 19th century port towns on the west coast. Some have described the homes from this period as “expensive doll houses” with their gabled roofs and towers and their intricate woodwork. The Port Townsend Public Library and the Bell Tower are two gorgeous landmarks worth seeing. 

The town plays host to some enjoyable festivals throughout the year, including their music, art, film, and boat festivals. The Northwest Maritime Center is another attraction for sea lovers and is best explored in the summer. One can also book boat tours or rent paddle boats at the Center. Then there’s Olympic National Park, where one can get back in touch with nature. Notable highlights include the Hoh Rain Forest and Ruby Beach.

Astoria, Oregon

Cars on the street in downtown Astoria
Cars on the street in downtown Astoria, via Enrico Powell / Shutterstock.com

Located on the Columbia River, just inland from the Pacific and roughly 96 miles from Portland, lies the town of Astoria. It’s the oldest town in the state and is home to around 10,000 inhabitants. Downtown Astoria is full of maritime history and well-preserved architecture. Known for their historic riverfront with a mix of Victorian and Edwardian-era buildings, from the 19th and 20th centuries. There’s also the iconic landmark, Astoria-Megler Bridge, which in addition to its esthetics, is also the longest continuous truss bridge in North America. 

Known as a food lover's haven, Astoria has a lot to offer in the way of breweries, seafood, and their popular food carts. Be sure to visit Pier 39 and stop by Coffee Girl, in the old Bumble Bee cannery building, for one of the best views of the river. While you’re there, visit the fish market. 

Coupeville, Washington

The Admiralty Head Light is a deactivated aid to navigation located on Whidbey Island near Coupeville, Washington, on the grounds of Fort Casey State Park
The Admiralty Head Light is a deactivated aid to navigation located on Whidbey Island near Coupeville, Washington, on the grounds of Fort Casey State Park, via Grindstone Media Group / Shutterstock.com

The main filming location for the 1998 film Practical Magic, the island town of Coupeville, has a lot to offer. Located on Whidbey Island, Coupville is a tiny town of about 1,900 that is approximately 70 miles from Seattle. Some notable historical landmarks in the town include the Coupeville Historic Waterfront, Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, and the Island County Historical Society Museum. In the summer months, one can catch the Whidbey Summer sailboat race. 

The second oldest town in the state, Coupeville is known for its historic district. Built in 1905 the Wharf in Penn Cover is worth checking out not just for the historic builds but all the quaint shops and restaurants. Frasers Gourmet Hideaway, in the area, is a local favorite known for its seafood. 

Jacksonville, Oregon

Historic districts in Jacksonville, Oregon
Historic districts in Jacksonville, Oregon, via Underawesternsky / Shutterstock.com

Jacksonville, a town of roughly 2,800, is a National Historic Landmark in southern Oregon. With gold-rush-era buildings from the mid-19th century, this place is a history buff's delight. Located only 5 miles from Medford, be sure to see historical landmarks like the Beekman Bank and the Jacksonville Museum. The town also has wine tasting rooms, a historic cemetery and is host to the Britt Music & Arts Festival. Nearby Pomodori Bistro and Wine Bar is a nice little Italian restaurant at the edge of the historic district, in Medford. Don’t miss the narrated historical tour of the town, by Trolley Tours.  

The Dalles, Oregon

View along E 2nd Street in The Dalles Oregon with the Granada Theatre
View along E 2nd Street in The Dalles Oregon with the Granada Theatre, via Ian Dewar Photography / Shutterstock.com

Located on the shores of the Columbia River and the Deschutes River is The Dalles. It’s a town of around 15,000 residents that is located around 84 miles from Portland. If you’re looking to experience some history in Oregon, The Dalles is the place to do it. There are self-guided walking tours of the historic buildings and some excellent museums. Of course, there are the outdoor activities of the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area with opportunities to see nature while hiking, biking, or enjoying water sports. However, the Forte Dallas Museum and Anderson Homestead is the place to experience history. The museum was founded in 1905 and is full of Native American artifacts and pioneer memorabilia. Don’t miss the officer’s house, the only remaining one in the area. Finish off the day at Cousin’s Restaurant and Saloon for some delicious downhome cooking and a throwback to another era. 

Pendleton, Oregon

Historic district in Pendleton, Oregon
Historic district in Pendleton, Oregon, via Brycia James / iStock.com

A town of around 17,000 in eastern Oregon, Pendleton is one of the best towns to experience Native American and Pioneer Cowboy history. The historic downtown of Pendleton displays Western-style architecture with late 19th century brick buildings. Some of the historical landmarks include Pendleton Underground Tours and Pendleton Woolen Mills. The 2-hour Underground Tour is a cool way to experience the era with the prohibition card rooms, the famous “Cozy Rooms” for naughtier cowboys, the Chinese living quarters, the jail, and the opium den. Your day won’t be complete without a stop at Hamley’s Steakhouse and Saloon for a great Western atmosphere and a good steak. Don’t forget the world-famous Pendleton Round-Up Rodeo and the nearby Umatilla National Forest.

Snohomish, Washington

Street view of historic downtown Snohomish's main street
Street view of historic downtown Snohomish's main street, via Colleen Michaels / Shutterstock.com

On the National Register of Historic Places is the town of Snohomish. The small town of approximately 10,000 is about 30 miles from Seattle. It’s a town full of charm and history. Known for its antique shops. There’s Antique Station in Victoria Village, which is as cute a little shop as it gets and Star Center Antique Mall which has a large selection of treasures on three floors. The town has late 19th and early 20th century Victorian and Craftsman-style homes. Be sure to visit the Blackman House Museum to have a better sense of the period. Some unique attractions include the annual Kla-Ha-Ya Days Festival and nearby Pilchuck Glass school. The Repp restaurant is housed in a period building and offers Northwest fare and excellent cocktails. 

Hood River, Oregon

Columbia Gorge Hotel and Spa, historic landmark on the river
Columbia Gorge Hotel and Spa, historic landmark on the river in Hood River, Oregon

The picturesque town of Hood River is bounded by Mount Hood to the south and Columbia River to the north. The downtown is lined with historic buildings, and there’s the charm of Victorian and Craftsman-style homes from the early 20th century. Historical landmarks include the Columbia Gorge Hotel, a Mission-style hotel built in 1921. The Hood River Country History Museum which has preserved the heritage of the town and region. Some will value their historic quilt collection. There’s plenty to see and do outdoors, including boating and water sports on the river, but there’s also some first-rate shopping downtown from art stores to the farmers market to the authentic Apple Valley Country Store. For some of the best beer in the area, stop into Pfriem Family Brewers and enjoy some of their Belgian-inspired creations.

Historic Towns of the Pacific Northwest

I still remember my first trip to the Pacific Northwest as a young man. The dense forestry, Pacific views, the mountains, wildlife, and storybook towns were beyond my expectations. It inspired me to later take my wife to Vancouver and Victoria Island for two weeks on our honeymoon. Not the warm tropical place most would choose for a honeymoon, but Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada, like the rest of the Pacific Northwest, is some of the most stunning nature you’ll see anywhere. But the rich history and well maintained historical districts of these small towns are "the icing on the cake." Hopefully, this tour has inspired your next visit to the Pacific Northwest! 

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