6 best small towns on the Pacific coast to visit in 2024

Exploring the Pacific Coast of the United States is definitely a bucket list item! Stretching from the lush forests of Washington to the sun-drenched beaches of Southern California, this spectacular coastline offers everything from epic scenic drives along rugged cliffs to mountain ranges and even areas of deserts and dunes. The Pacific Coast is also home to some of the country’s cutest small towns. From the storybook setting of California’s Carmel-by-the-Sea to the artistic and creative allure of Oregon’s charming Astoria and the Victorian elegance of Washington’s Port Townsend, these cities invite exploration in 2024.

Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

Crowds enjoy California's Pacific coast at dog-friendly Carmel Beach, at Carmel by the Sea.
People enjoy California’s Pacific coast at dog-friendly Carmel Beach, at Carmel by the Sea.

Commonly referred to simply as ‘Carmel’, the attractive Californian town of Carmel-by-the-Sea is a must on any Pacific Coast itinerary. Popular for its beautiful natural scenery and quaint village feel, Carmel makes for a picturesque escape on the Monterey Peninsula. It’s just a few minutes’ drive south of the city of Monterey itself, making it easy to combine as a day trip or a weekend getaway. The city’s white-sand beaches, especially Carmel Beach at the foot of Ocean Avenue, are a big draw and are perfect for sunbathing, surfing and scenic walks, with the famous Pebble Beach Golf Links just to the north.

Among the city’s most enchanting features are its many “storybook cottages” and the historic Carmel Mission, founded in 1771. Visitors can get a glimpse into the state’s colonial past at the Basilica Museum, one of California’s most beautiful missions. The year 2024 is a great year to visit with popular events like the Carmel International Film Festival, held every October and attracting filmmakers and cinephiles from all over the world for screenings, panel discussions and, yes, even celebrity sightings. The Carmel Bach Festival, held in July this year, is a great excuse for classical music lovers to visit.

Port Townsend, Washington

Aerial view of Port Townsend, Washington.
Aerial view of Port Townsend, Washington.

Port Townsend, Washington is a charming historic town located on the northeastern tip of the Olympic Peninsula, near Seattle. This cute town has exceptionally well-preserved Victorian architecture and a rich maritime heritage, especially around the downtown area. Designated a National Historic District, downtown Port Townsend features many graceful old buildings that now house vibrant shops, galleries and eateries, making it perfect for leisurely strolls and shopping.

The city’s waterfront attractions include the historic seaport and the Northwest Maritime Center, an educational center that offers scenic boat tours and cruises, as well as kayaking adventures along the scenic Sound. The Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival, scheduled for September 2024, is a great time to plan a visit and celebrate the area’s boatbuilding heritage with demonstrations, races and workshops. The Port Townsend Film Festival also takes place in September and showcases independent films and documentaries. Nature lovers will appreciate Fort Worden State Park, just outside downtown and famous for its panoramic views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Cascade Range, as well as nearby Olympic National Park.

Astoria, Oregon

    Boat pier near the Riverwalk Inn in Astoria, Oregon.
Boat pier near the Riverwalk Inn in Astoria, Oregon. Editorial credit: Victoria Ditkovsky /

In Oregon, Astoria is considered a gem among the state’s cutest small towns. Located at the mouth of the Columbia River where it flows into the Pacific Ocean, Astoria is the oldest American settlement west of the Rockies and was founded in 1811 by a wealthy fur trader from New York. A sense of this rich past can be seen in the city’s well-preserved Victorian homes and commercial buildings, located in the Astoria Downtown Historic District. The city’s fascinating history can be explored at the Columbia River Maritime Museum with its extensive exhibits on the region’s maritime heritage, including the perilous journey of the river bar, known as the “Cemetery of the Pacific.”

Another historic site you should definitely visit is the Astoria Column, which sits atop Coxcomb Hill. This monumental tower features a hand-painted spiral frieze that rises to provide panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. For an authentic experience of Astoria’s past, take a tour of the Flavel House Museum, a beautifully restored Queen Anne-style mansion that reflects the opulence of the late 1800s. Fun things to do in Astoria in 2024 include the always fun Astoria Regatta, held in August, and the Great Columbia Crossing in October, a fun event that challenges participants to a 6.2-mile walk or run on the iconic Astoria-Megler Bridge, the longest in North America. continuous truss bridge.

Ojai, California

Street view of post office in Ojai California
Street view of post office in Ojai, California.

Back in California, Ojai is something of an oasis in the hills of Ventura County, between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. Known for its somewhat bohemian, relaxed atmosphere, Ojai attracts visitors looking for a quiet retreat from the hustle and bustle of city life. This feeling is not ended by its location in the Topatopa Mountains, which provides a picturesque backdrop and playground for outdoor enthusiasts with its hiking, biking and horseback riding adventures, some of the best of which can be found in nearby Los Padres National Forest. .

Attractions in the city include the Ojai Art Center, the oldest non-profit art center in California with its selection of exhibitions, plays and musical performances, as well as the popular Ojai Music Festival, taking place in June 2024. Another highlight of Ojai is the thriving wellness community, with several spas and retreat centers like Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, which offers treatments using local ingredients and traditional techniques (oh, and golf too!).

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach, Oregon
The spectacular beach of Cannon Beach, Oregon.

Cannon Beach is the quintessential Oregon coastal town. Located 75 miles west of Portland, this spectacular stretch of the Pacific coast is famous for Haystack Rock, an immense sea stack that rises 230 feet above the edge of the coastline. This beautiful natural monument is not only a focal point for visitors, but also provides an important habitat for marine life and breeding seabirds (so bring those binoculars!). Be sure to include the trails in Ecola State Park in your travel plans.

Cannon Beach is especially popular among artists and art lovers, with numerous galleries showcasing local and regional creatives. You can also learn more about the region at the Cannon Beach History Center and Museum. Popular events in 2024 include the three-day Stormy Weather Arts Festival held in November; the quirky, family-friendly Sandcastle Contest that takes place in June; and the Savor Cannon Beach Wine & Culinary Festival, a foodie celebration held in October with gourmet dinners, cooking demonstrations and tastings.

Mendocino, California

The coastal village of Mendocino, California
The coastal village of Mendocino, California.

Mendocino is a popular place to visit in Northern California for its beautiful rugged cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, as well as its attractive Victorian-era architecture. It’s a great starting point to explore Mendocino Headlands State Park, which surrounds the city on three sides with miles of trails that offer spectacular ocean views. Some of the best trails lead to remote beaches and tide pools and promise to be popular whale-watching spots during the spring and fall 2024 migration seasons.

Interested in art? Mendocino is a center of creativity, with the Mendocino Art Center, founded by artists in the 1950s, still offering workshops, exhibitions and artist residencies. In July 2024, the Mendocino Music Festival will celebrate its 38th season with performances from classical and jazz to opera and bluegrass, all set against the picturesque backdrop of the Pacific Ocean. Another notable event is the Mendocino Film Festival, scheduled for June 2024.

The last word

As travel plans for 2024 are made, consider venturing beyond the usual tourist destinations and discovering some of the many charming small towns on America’s Pacific coast. Each of these destinations offers a mix of nature, history and culture, with a healthy dose of culinary delights to enhance the appeal. From the charming streets of Mendocino to the historic waterfront of Astoria, these six cutest towns on the Pacific Coast are waiting to be explored.