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While Portland and Oregon’s other top cities have plenty to offer, the state has many small towns that offer lots of charms and postcard-perfect landscapes. Visitors can enjoy backdrops that include everything from rugged coastlines with soaring sea stacks to snow-capped mountains. These small towns in Oregon are all worth putting on your must-visit list.
Founded in 1811, Astoria was the first American settlement west of the Rockies, and Oregon’s oldest town. It’s also one of the prettiest as well as being famous among movie buffs as the setting of the 1985 hit film “The Goonies,” and fans will find lots of spots to relive some of their favorite scenes, including the Clatsop County Jail which is now the Oregon Film Museum. History buffs can also explore the Captain George Flavel House Museum, the very site where Mikey’s father worked as a curator in “The Goonies.” The hilly streets here are filled with historic architecture, set along the Columbia River, which brings plenty of opportunities for water sports. It’s a great place for foodies and there are plenty of places to enjoy a cold craft brew too.
The tiny village of Yachats lies at the foot of Cape Perpetua on the northern Oregon coast, a popular spot for watching whales that migrate through, exploring tidal pools, and hiking the area’s scenic trails. It’s become famous for Thor’s Well, a gaping sinkhole and natural wonder in the sea that never seems to fill despite the continuous water that drains into it. The “well” is especially impressive at high tide, or during storms when waves violently wash over the rocks before falling back through the hole. Whatever you do, don’t forget your camera as there are practically an endless number of photo-ops throughout the area.
Located in the Columbia River Gorge east of Portland, Hood River is surrounded by spectacular scenery while providing a wealth of outdoor adventure. Stay here and you’ll have easy access to some of the state’s most stunning waterfalls in the gorge, scenic hiking trails, vineyards and access to outstanding windsurfing on the river – in fact, this is considered the country’s windsurfing capital. Right in town, you’ll find plenty of great places to stay along with plenty of enticing local coffee shops and eateries.
Located on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains along the edge of Oregon’s high desert area, Sisters is a small town that gets lots of sunshine and has the Deschutes National Forest at its doorstep. It’s an ideal town for those looking to get active among beautiful mountain scenery, providing easy access to skiing, whitewater rafting, mountain biking, hiking and backpacking, with the eye-popping Three Sisters being the centerpiece. In town, you’ll find early 19th-century facades and storefronts, now home to boutiques, art galleries and restaurants.
McMinnville is the perfect base for those looking to explore Oregon wine country, located right in the heart of the Pinot Noir-producing Willamette Valley. The historic town is a delight itself, with its tree-lined streets hosting unique shops and boutiques, farm-to-table restaurants, coffee shops, and kitschy antiquaries punctuated with wine tasting rooms. It even hosts a space museum with a waterslide. Voted among the best main streets in America, the downtown core also hosts a wide range of events and community celebrations, from weekly farmer’s markets to the annual UFO Festival.
Located in eastern Oregon, Baker City was one of the milestones along the Oregon Trail and is home to the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center with exhibits that reveal the hardships those early pioneers faced. The town has a charming historic district that includes the Geiser Grand Hotel and its 1889 Saloon – even if you don’t plan to stay it’s worth popping in to view the stained-glass skylight, crystal chandeliers, and mahogany woodwork. To learn more about the town’s history, visit the Baker Heritage Museum and go back in time with a ride on the narrow-gauge steam train.
Nicknamed the “Garden City,” Silverton is home to a beautiful 80-acre botanical park with nearly two dozen specialty gardens, miles of walking paths and even a secret garden that’s hidden on the property, but it may best be known for Silver Falls State Park, home to 10 waterfalls ranging in height from nearly 30 feet to 178 feet. The town was planned in 1854 around a large Oregon White Oak tree, a meeting spot along the Santiam trail for local Native Americans. Today it’s filled with colorful murals with Silver Creek running through offering a picturesque backdrop for dining with many cafes and restaurants featuring decks that extend over the water.
One of the most beautiful towns along the Oregon coast, Cannon Beach offers some of the most breathtaking scenery, with lush surrounding forests and spectacular golden beaches where just offshore sea stacks are thrashed by the waves. The highlight is the main beach with its 235-foot-tall Haystack Rock providing a nesting ground for sea birds, including puffins. Just a couple of miles north is Ecola Park, with scenic hiking trails winding through old-growth rain forest providing views of the Pacific, along with grassy cliffs overlooking the coast for picnicking. The town itself is a bustling tourist destination with upscale restaurants, gift shops and art galleries.
Manzanita is an adorable seaside town with seven miles of sandy beach along with a couple of bookstores, fabulous dining options that include casual and fine eateries, quaint boutiques, and a gourmet grocer. There’s also a spa for massages and outstanding fishing on the Nehalem River. It’s the place to go for magnificent scenery and a quiet, laid-back getaway.
Nestled in the dunes, Gearhart is a small beach town with no traffic lights, located just a few miles north of the popular town of Seaside. The wide streets are ideal for exploring on two wheels and offer everything from an art gallery to antique stores, coffee shops, and restaurants, while open, grassy fields along the shore overlook the Pacific. Many are drawn to its sandy beach for strolls, digging for razor clams and watching for whales.
The Dalles sits at the eastern entrance to the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area on the sunny side of the Cascades near the Deschutes River. It offers lots of opportunities for recreation, including paddling, fishing, hiking and biking, as well as wineries and fruit farms for enjoying its many tasty products. If you’re into history, The Dalles has a rich past that can be explored at the Fort Dalles Museum, housed in the Surgeon’s Quarters, the only remaining officer’s house of the 1856 Fort Dalles military complex. On display are antique vehicles, pioneer memorabilia, Native American artifacts, historic photographs, and more. The murals covering the downtown buildings are focused on the town’s history, ranging from pioneers to petroglyphs.
A tiny beach town on Oregon’s southern coast, Bandon is known as the “Cranberry Capital of the West Coast,” attracting vacationers since the mid-19th-century. It offers all of the usual activities on the sand and water along with hiking, antiquing and golfing. It’s renowned for the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort which sits atop the bluffs overlooking the Pacific, frequently ranked among the country’s top courses. Wildlife is abundant, with orca whales occasionally spotted in the estuary, gray whales migrating along the shore, while osprey, geese, and bald eagles hang out in the salt marsh just east of downtown. The 10-square-block historic business district along the riverfront offers some great shops with lots of cranberry based items, and plenty of outstanding eateries too.
Located in Oregon’s wine country, Carlton is a formerly rough logging town that is all about country charms and wine today. It has over 20 tasting rooms filling its three-block area, interspersed with cheesemongers and artisan chocolatiers. Surrounded by vine-laced hills, it’s especially picturesque.
Located in Southern Oregon, Jacksonville is a scenic small town and National Historic Landmark that was birthed in the mid-19th-century after the discovery of gold deposits nearby. Today, tourists come to enjoy its appealing historic aesthetic that makes simply wandering the sidewalks enjoyable. Along the way, there are a variety of fun shops, parks for picnicking, and enticing eateries to take advantage of too. Every year in mid-June begins the three-month-long Britt Music & Arts Festival with multiple performances hosted in its outdoor amphitheater surrounded by towering pines.
Located in eastern Oregon, Joseph is a popular base for exploring the Wallowa Mountains, with the dramatic peaks providing a magnificent backdrop to the town that’s known as the “Little Switzerland of America.” Visitors can enjoy everything from hiking the trails in Eagle Cap Wilderness to fishing and paddling on Wallowa Lake. The town makes a great base for it all with hotels, shops for picking up your gear, restaurants, and the Wallowa County Farmers Market. History enthusiasts will want to make time to check out the Wallowa County Museum too.