Oregon

The 9 Best Small Towns in Oregon for a PNW Escape

best small towns oregon
Bandon, Oregon // Photo: Haizhan Zheng, Getty Images

Oregon offers something for nearly everyone, from stunning beaches and mountains to a growing wine country to towns that exude seaside charm.

And if you’re into history, you’re in luck: Oregon is home to more ghost towns than any other state, leaving unique traces of its historic past to explore.

Whether you’re looking to enjoy the state’s stunning coastline, stroll through vineyards, visit tasting rooms, sample great local brews, or be in the heart of the mountains for skiing, hiking and other adventures, one of these small towns in Oregon will likely be the perfect place to base yourself for a stress-free getaway in the Pacific Northwest.

1. Astoria

oregon small towns astoria
Views of the Astoria-Megler Bridge and the Columbia River from Astoria. // Photo: Matt Alberts, Getty Images

One of Oregon’s most historic cities, Astoria is at the mouth of the Columbia River and is famous as the setting of the cult hit “The Goonies.” It’s served as the filming site for many other films, too, like “Kindergarten Cop” and the “Free Willy” movies. In the Oregon Film Museum, inside the old Clatsop County Jail, you can check out movie memorabilia and even step into the interactive sets.

The food and drink scene is booming, with bakeries, cafes, restaurants, and bars,  most of which are near each other in a walkable area of downtown.  Buoy Beer Co. provides a quintessential Astoria experience thanks to its location in a former cannery on the river with views of the sea lions. (It also has a great seafood-heavy menu.)

Astoria is rich in historical architecture as the first settlement on the U.S. west coast, filled with magnificent homes and buildings from the Victorian era along main street and spilling down the hills. Between the architecture, the water, and the surrounding mountains, it’s one of the most scenic towns in the U.S. Plus, the Columbia River offers the opportunity for a variety of activities, including fishing, sailing, and kayaking.

Be sure to visit the Astoria Column, rising 125 feet from Coxcomb Hill. If you’re willing to climb the 164 steps to the observation platform, you’ll get a stunning view of the ocean, river, and snow-capped volcanoes of the Cascade Mountain Range. Check out our full article about the best things to do in Astoria.

2. Cannon Beach

oregon small towns cannon beach
The town of Cannon Beach turns on its lights for the night. // Photo: Mark Smith, Getty Images

Cannon Beach is along the northern Oregon coast, one of the most breathtaking coastlines in the world – think driftwood-strewn beaches and boulders rising from the waves just offshore. A lux tourist destination that draws romance-seeking couples from across the globe, it’s home to fine dining restaurants like the Wayfarer, as well as art galleries, boutiques, and a wine tasting room.

The beach by Haystack Rock is the main draw. Haystack is the biggest of the monolithic rocks at 235 feet tall, and it’s not uncommon to see puffins around the base. The wide stretch of sand is popular for sandcastle building; in fact, it hosts a famous annual sandcastle contest. At low tide, comb the beach for sand dollars, and in the winter, be sure to keep an eye out for migrating whales.

If you want to hike, head to the scenic trails through old-growth rain forest at nearby Ecola Park. You’ll have views of the Pacific and the Tillamook Lighthouse as you hike, and the grassy cliffs over the coastline are the perfect spot for a picnic. Bring binoculars to watch the elk that enjoy feeding in the nearby meadows.

3. Yachats

oregon small towns yachats
Misty views from Yachats State Recreation Area. // Photo: Getty Images

Yachats is a tiny village at the base of Cape Perpetua a a few hours south of Cannon Beach. Known as the “Gem of the Oregon Coast,” you might miss it if you blink – which would be a shame, as it’s absolutely stunning. It has a population of less than 600, so if you want to meet some locals, go enjoy the fresh-caught fish, cold brews, and nightly live music at the Drift Inn Historic Cafe & Pub.

Art enthusiasts can explore the Touchstone Gallery, which represents 120 Oregon artists, showcasing their oil and watercolor paintings, glass works, jewelry, and sculptures. This is also a fabulous destination for exploring tide pools filled with colorful creatures like starfish and sea anemones, or watching for whales that swim near the shore in the springtime.

Yachats may best be known for Thor’s Well, an incredible natural wonder in the Pacific that never really fills despite the ocean’s water continuously draining into it. It’s best viewed during high tide or during a storm, when the waves violently crash on the rocks before receding back into the sea. Yachats is one the smallest small towns in Oregon, which makes it even more worth a visit.

4. Silverton

oregon small towns silverton
The Oregon Garden in Silverton // Photo: Anna Calvert, Getty Images

Located about 12 miles northeast of Salem, Silverton dates back to 1854 and is planned around a large Oregon White Oak tree that used to be a meeting spot on the Santiam trail for Native Americans. Today, it offers attractions like an 80-acre botanical park and murals focused on the town’s history and local heroes. It’s also the gateway to one of the state’s most beautiful parks, Silver Falls State Park, which has 10 waterfalls ranging in height from about 27 feet to 178 feet, viewed along a picturesque trail.

Nicknamed “Oregon’s Garden City,” its botanical garden includes nearly two dozen specialty gardens, miles of walking paths and even a secret hidden garden. Silver Creek, the same creek that runs through the state park, runs through downtown Silverton, so many of the restaurants and cafes have decks over the water. That includes Mac’s Place, the place to go for dining, drinking, and live music. Silverton is a great option when for when you need a low-key mental escape.

5. Bandon

Bandon’s dramatic oceanfront location makes it one of the icons of the Oregon Coast // Photo: Haizhan Zheng, Getty Images

The small seaside town of Bandon in southern Oregon is known as the “Cranberry Capital of the West Coast” – the town produces about 30 million pounds of cranberries a year. If you visit in September, you can stop by the Bandon Cranberry Festival and enjoy everything from creative cranberry food and drink to a street fair to the “Cranberry Queen” pageant.

Old Town Bandon is a 10-square-block historic business district on the Coquille River waterfront, filled with history, shops, eateries, art, and culture. The Bandon Fish Market is considered the top spot on the southern Oregon coast for fish ‘n chips, though it also offers creamy chowders, local bay shrimp, and Dungeness crab cocktails.

Wildlife is abundant here too, with tufted puffins, cormorants, and murres frequenting the waters just off Coquille Point, while osprey, bald eagles, and geese hang out in the saltwater marsh just east of downtown. You can often see gray whales migrating by, and orca whales are sometimes spotted in the estuary.

6. Sisters

oregon small towns sisters
The trio of mountains named the Three Sisters tower over the town of Sisters. // Photo: Joe Tobiason, Getty Images

The mountain town of Sisters is just east of the the three “sister” mountain peaks that give the town its name. It’s tucked between the Cascade Mountains and the high desert. Skiers need no introduction to this place, which is known less as one of the best small towns in Oregon and more as one of the West Coast’s best backcountry ski destinations. The town may be small, but you’ll love it’s “Wild West meets tree hugger” vibes.

Sisters not only provides a popular base for fishing, hiking, biking, skiing, and other outdoor adventures, but it’s home to America’s first beer spa, Hop in the Spa, where you can soak in beer-filled hot tubs while enjoying a local pint from the Deschutes Brewery. And yes, it’s as great as it sounds.

Every September, Sisters really comes to life with a weekend-long music event featuring everything from blues to bluegrass. If you’re here in mid-June, you can attend the Sisters’ rodeo, which includes a parade, bull rides, barrel races, and more. There’s a lot to do for such a tiny town.

7. Baker City

baker city historic district
The humble streets of the Baker Historic District. // Photo: Peeter Viisimaa, Getty Images

Rising out of the eastern Oregon desert, Baker City was birthed in 1865 thanks to the discovery of gold in the area. The productive mines brought great wealth, resulting in the many turn-of-the-20th-century buildings you’ll see today.

There’s plenty to see in it’s charming-but-rugged downtown district, including the Geiser Grand Hotel. Be sure to pop into its 1889 Saloon for a drink, although it’s worth a look just to see the stained-glass skylight, mahogany woodwork, and crystal chandeliers. You can tell it’s the kind of place a miner would dream of visiting once they struck it rich.

Just a short drive out of town is the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, which does a truly excellent job of telling the story of the Oregon Trail. It includes films, interactive displays, and artifacts that reveal the stress of the realities faced by those early pioneers. Visitors can also hop on the Sumpter Valley narrow-gauge steam train to travel through the heart of gold country and explore the Baker Heritage Museum. This is one of the best small towns in Oregon if you love history or the story of the Gold Rush.

8. Tillamook

Tillamook’s scenery is just as good as its cheese. // Photo: Getty Images

Tillamook County is known as the “Land of Cheese, Trees, and Ocean Breeze” – sounds pretty good, right? The “cheese” part is obviously what it’s best known for thanks to the Tillamook Creamery, renowned for producing some of the world’s best cheese. The factory tours, tastings, and delicious ice cream shop at the factory are more than enough reason to visit, but there are plenty of other things to do here, too.

You might go clamming in Tillamook Bay, where you can hike or bike or stroll along the four-mile-long sandbar to dig for mollusks. And just a short drive will bring you to the coast or to Munson Creek falls. It’s one of the state’s largest waterfalls and the tallest in the Coast Range, plunging for 319 feet and accessed via an easy half-mile trek.

In town, you’ll find an impressive collection of aviation- and war-related artifacts from World War II to the present day at the Tillamook Air Museum, along with a number of breweries, seafood shacks, and other eateries. If you’re craving Mexican, you’ll definitely want to try the tortas at The Crazy Torta & Seafood.

9. McMinnville

Fall colors in McMinnville. // Photo: Ann Browning, Getty Images

One of the best towns to base yourself for wine tasting, McMinnville is located in the heart of the Willamette Valley, famous for its pinot noir. Bring your bikes and cycle through the rolling hills and lush valleys, or to a winery-to-winery ride, making some leisurely stops along the way. There are a wealth of wineries and vineyards throughout the area to explore.

The downtown is charming and historic, home to walking trails in a picturesque park that makes the perfect spot for a spring picnic. Or dine on hearty meals paired with tasty craft brews at Grain Station Brew Works. There are art galleries and unique boutiques to browse, too. It’s the best small town in Oregon if you’re looking for a low-key wine-tasting weekend with friendly vintners eager to say hi.

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