Exploring small towns on Oregon’s coast is one of the best ways to truly appreciate the beauty of nature in the Pacific Northwest.
The southern half of the coast is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful places in the world. It’s easy to forget that you’re in Oregon when you’re walking on beaches one day, then hiking through ancient forests before heading on to craggy cliffs and mountains.
What’s more, the communities on the coast offer a unique perspective on life that can’t be found anywhere else. With slower-paced lifestyles and tight-knit neighborhoods, visitors will find that small-town Oregon is incredibly welcoming and full of personality.
From quaint coffee shops to picturesque water views, small-town Oregon will delight with unique coastal chic venues for shopping, dining, and more.
So whether looking for an adventure-filled weekend or just looking for a peaceful break from city living, here is my list of the best towns on the Oregon Coast that you should include on your destination list.
I should mention that, if this is your first trip to the Oregon Coast, you’ll really want to think about what you want your trip to be like. Before you follow me to these small towns and fall through the cracks, consider a trip to iconic places like Seaside or the other overrun tourist towns.
They’re still a lot of fun (as long as you get somewhere to stay way in advance).
5 Best Out-Of-The-Way Towns On Oregon’s Coast
1. Depoe Bay
Depoe Bay is a small fishing village with a population of just over 1,000 people. It’s located about midway between Cannon Beach and Newport and is known for being the whale-watching capital of Oregon.
In addition to whale watching, Depoe Bay is a great place to charter a fishing trip, go kayaking, or even surfing (yes, you can surf in Oregon).
The town gets its name from (shocker…) the bay the town is built around (also called Depoe Bay).
The serene harbor sits tucked away between two rocky headlands, giving it a cozy feel that’s perfect for kayaking or simply enjoying a peaceful stroll along the shoreline. There are also plenty of hiking trails that wind through old-growth forests and along craggy bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean—a must-see for any nature enthusiast.
Depoe Bay is also home to numerous wildlife species, including sea lions, whales, porpoises, and sea otters.
If you’re more of the indoorsy type, Depoe Bay still packs a punch when it comes to things to see. From its vibrant art scene—which includes galleries showcasing local artists as well as festivals celebrating everything from glassblowing to traditional wood carvings—to its wide variety of shops and restaurants offering up fresh seafood dishes and unique souvenirs, there’s always something new happening here.
So, no matter what you’re looking for, Depoe Bay is one of the best little towns around that has just a bit of everything that makes living in the PNW great!
Garibaldi is probably a town you haven’t heard of, even if you’ve spent time in Oregon.
Typically left off tourist maps, Garibaldi is a small town with a population of just over 700 people that is located about 30 miles north of Tillamook.
Visitors can enjoy charter fishing trips, explore Cape Meares State Park, or simply relax on one of the many beautiful beaches in town.
Garibaldi is located right at the entrance to Tillamook Bay and commands amazing views of both Nehalem Bay and the Pacific Ocean at large. On a clear day, you can even see Mount Saint Helens in Washington off in the distance. The breathtaking scenery makes it easy to understand why this little town has recently become such a popular tourist destination for those seeking relaxation and adventure.
The real question is why wasn’t it popular before?
Garibaldi also has the other activities that you expect in Oregon such as whale-watching day cruises, kayaking, and fishing charters.
One of the main things that it has that is often missing in other towns, however, is a charming downtown shopping area.
Garibaldi’s downtown area is filled with unique shops, art galleries, restaurants, and cafes that make up its vibrant culture. Here you can find everything from antiques to fresh seafood straight from local fishermen at Garibaldi Bay Market & Deli. The locals are always friendly and willing to give visitors tips on where to go and what to do during their stay in town—it truly feels like stepping back in time!
Manzanita is a small town with a population of just under 1,000 people (which seems to be a magic number on the coast…).
It’s located about 80 miles southwest of Portland and is known for its dramatic coastline and quaint downtown area. Visitors can enjoy hiking in Neahkahnie Mountain State Park, horseback riding on the beach, or simply exploring the many shops and galleries in town.
This small coastal town offers a peaceful escape with plenty of sights to explore and activities to enjoy. Today, let’s take a look at some of the reasons why Manzanita might be one of the best small towns on the Oregon Coast.
One of the most popular attractions in Manzanita is its beaches. Whether you’re looking for a place to relax and soak in some sun or you want to try your hand at some water sports, there’s something here for everyone. The soft white sand and scenic views make it easy to forget your troubles while spending time at these beautiful beaches. One thing is certain—you won’t be disappointed!
The Local Cuisine
Manzanita is home to many unique restaurants that offer delicious food that will please even the pickiest eaters. From fresh seafood dishes made with locally-sourced ingredients to classic comfort foods like burgers and fries, you can find it all here in Manzanita. For those who are looking for a more laid-back dining experience, there are also plenty of cafes offering hot coffee and light snacks during the day. And if you’re feeling adventurous, why not try one of the local seafood shacks? You won’t regret it!
At least, unless you get food poisoning as I did…but it was still delicious.
The Friendly People
One thing that makes Manzanita stand out from other towns on the Oregon coast is its friendly people. Whether you’re popping into a store or chatting with locals at one of the local pubs, you’ll always feel welcome in this close-knit community. You’d think that was par for the course in Oregon but the extreme political divisions have left many towns quite stand-offish. Which is not the case here!
4. Cannon Beach
Despite the popularity of Canon Beach, the town of Cannon Beach is a small town with a population of just under 1,700 people. It’s located about 80 miles west of Portland and is home to Haystack Rock, one of the most iconic landmarks on the Oregon Coast.
Since the town is mainly famous for the beach, you’ll want to spend a good chunk of your time there. Cannon Beach is a unique place with stunning natural attractions. It boasts miles of sand and surf, dramatic cliffs, haystack rocks, tide pools, and even an iconic sea stack called Haystack Rock. The beach itself is perfect for strolling along or playing in the waves.
While the area is often crawling with tourist during the busy season you can escape most people by either going when the weather isn’t quite as nice (we go when it’s actually raining) or by just walking a mile or so down the beach.
Nearby Ecola State Park is full of trails that lead through old-growth rainforests right down to the shoreline, allowing you to take in incredible views from both land and sea. There’s also plenty of wildlife here; if you keep your eyes peeled while hiking or exploring tide pools, you might spot sea stars, crabs, otters, or even gray whales!
If you want to explore further, popular activities in Canon Beach include fishing trips (for salmon or halibut), wine-tasting tours (at some of Oregon’s finest wineries), kayaking trips along the coastline (with stunning views), horseback riding (on beaches and trails), birdwatching (for local species such as bald eagles), and art galleries/museums (which feature local artists).
The town also hosts several festivals throughout the year—from music festivals in the summertime to snow-themed events during the winter months—so there’s always something going on no matter when you’re in Canon Beach!
5. Pacific City
Even though it’s the largest city to make it way on this list, Pacific City is really just a small town with a population just shy of 2,000 people.
It’s located about 90 miles southwest of Portland and is known for its scenic beauty and recreational opportunities. Visitors can enjoy fishing or crabbing off the pier, sandboarding down Sand Dunes Park, or hiking in Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area.
Even though it’s a small town, Pacific City has some big charm. Tucked away in the Tillamook County countryside, it’s home to some of the best beaches, restaurants, and outdoor activities the Oregon coast has to offer.
The Beach Scene
No trip to the Oregon coast would be complete without a visit to its stunning beaches. And Pacific City certainly does not disappoint! Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area is widely considered one of the most beautiful spots in all of Oregon.
Its sandstone cliffs are an iconic sight – though they can also be quite dangerous, so make sure to stay back if you plan on visiting…
You’re also within striking distance of Haystack Rock which lets you get a full dose of Canon Beach without actually getting a hotel there.
Pacific City is known for its delicious seafood offerings. Even my wife who doesn’t seafood can’t fault me when I stop by my favorite spot, Pelican Brewing, for some of their famous (like, actually famous) fish tacos.
For something a little different but equally tasty, try out Ben & Jeff’s Burgers & Tacos. It sounds a bit random but they’ve somehow mastered both!
Hiking through Cape Lookout State Park is always a great choice; with miles upon miles of trails meandering through lush forests alongside creeks and rivers, you’re sure to find plenty of scenic views along your journey.
Or if you prefer something more relaxing, try kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding around Netarts Bay – just watch out for seals who like to pop up every now and then! There are plenty more activities available as well; horseback riding, mountain biking, surfing…the list goes on!
Roadtripping The Oregon Coast
While any of the above towns are great options to spend a day or two if you’re going to road trip the Oregon Coast, I do have a few more things that I learned the hard way.
So, if you want your trip to be full of fun instead of stress, here are a few tips that will help you make it happen.
Figure Out Lodging Early.
No matter if you plan on camping or staying at hotels, you’ll want to get your plans ironed out several weeks (or even months) in advance.
We’ve had a couple of experiences when trying to take impromptu trips on the coast where we’ve had to decide between sleeping in our van or driving a couple of hours into the night to make it to the next hotel with availability.
There is literally beauty around every corner when hiking on the Oregon coast. Some of the best experiences will happen when you slow down and take the time to find the trails that no one else is doing.
If you’re in the Tillamook area, Munson Creek Falls is a great option to see some trees and a waterfall without pushing through crowds.
Prepare For Rain.
Despite living in the Pacific Northwest, we’ve been taken aback by the duration and severity of rainstorms on the Oregon coast. If you’re camping, have tarps. If you’re hiking, have rain shells.
The above towns really only scratched the surface of my favorite areas on the Oregon Coast as there are amazing towns spread all the way along the shoreline. Oregon’s Coast is quite touristy in most areas so, as long as you’re smart, you can go into just about any time and find something worth doing.
So what are you waiting for? There are 363 miles of Oregon Coastline out there for you to enjoy!