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12 Best Cities in Oregon

Written by Brad Lane
Updated Oct 14, 2022

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Oregon's biggest cities offer a full taste of Pacific Northwest culture. These thriving cities combine vibrant communities with dazzling natural landscapes, providing the best of both worlds when it comes to entertainment and outdoor access. These fun places to visit also help define the Pacific Northwest's easygoing and open-minded essence.

Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland
Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The 150-mile Willamette Valley lies between Oregon's two most prominent mountain ranges and is home to many of the state's best cities. Portland is at the north end of the valley, serving as Oregon's biggest city and the cultural capital of the Cascadia region.

Other cities outside of the Willamette Valley are gateways to the Pacific coast and Oregon's high-desert region. This varied geography lends to adventures like rock climbing, white-water boating, and enjoying beautiful sunsets over the ocean.

Find your next reason to move to the state with our list of the best cities in Oregon.

1. Portland

Portland and Mount Hood in the distance
Portland and Mount Hood in the distance

Portland is the largest city in Oregon and the cultural capital of the Pacific Northwest. This esteemed city is brimming with art and culture in the northern part of the state. It's also brimming with outdoor space, including international rose gardens, massive public parks, and quick access to the Columbia River Gorge.

Several nicknames have come to define Portland, including Stumptown and The City of Roses. But what really defines the city is the passion and creativity of the community. Among all the top attractions of Portland, visitors are sure to see hordes of unique individuals bolstering the city's unofficial motto: "Keep Portland Weird."

Keeping Portland weird isn't about standing out in the crowd, though. It's about supporting the local businesses that line the downtown streets. Portland-based enterprises like Powell's Books and Voodoo Donuts exemplify these efforts. These local institutions receive national recognition while staying true to their Stumptown roots.

International Test Rose Garden
International Test Rose Garden | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

A few of the many outdoor space to check out include the International Test Rose Garden and the Portland Japanese Garden. Another point of outdoor interest includes the expansive Forest Park near the heart of the city. With over 5,000 acres to explore, Forest Park is one of the country's most extensive urban forests.

Things to do within a short drive of Portland are also almost infinite. Some of the best weekend trips from Portland include waterfall watching in the Columbia River Gorge and admiring sea stacks on the Oregon Coast. The mighty Mount Hood, the tallest mountain in Oregon, is also within a two-hour drive.

Accommodation: Top Places to Stay in Portland

2. Eugene

Eugene at dusk
Eugene at dusk

Eugene is an academic city on the southern end of the Willamette Valley, home to the University of Oregon. It's also Oregon's next biggest city outside of Portland, and it has a good mix of cultural attractions and outdoor appeal that blends well with a sunny forecast.

Healthy living and outdoor exercise are part of the Eugene mindset. The city is also known as TrackTown USA thanks to its collegiate track-and-field legacy, as well as being the birthplace of Nike. This endurance enthusiasm is put to good use on the miles of hiking and biking trails that surround the city.

The academic appeal of Eugene extends beyond the University of Oregon and other college campuses in the city. Places like the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art and the Eugene Science Center engage visitors to stop and think for a moment. Other cultural resources include Mount Pisgah Arboretum and the Museum of Natural and Cultural History.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Eugene

3. Bend

The Deschutes River in Bend
The Deschutes River in Bend

Bend is a quickly growing city in Central Oregon on the east side of the Cascade Mountains and bordering Oregon's high-desert region. The rapid development of Bend over the last decade is no surprise. With sunny weather and easy access to the outdoors, and a community that prides itself on artistic expression, Bend is a thriving center in Oregon.

The Deschutes River runs right through Bend, offering several ways to enjoy the water. The Bend Whitewater Park, near the Old Mill District, is one such avenue of enjoyment where tubes, boats, and surfers access the water. For those who like to stay dry, hiking and biking trails line the city's waterway.

Natural attraction extends beyond the city limits of Bend. The adventure-filled Deschutes National Forest abuts the city to the south and west. This dense acreage of mountains and forest is home to hot spots like Newberry National Volcanic Area and Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort. One of Oregon's best waterfalls, Tumalo Falls, is also in the forest at the city's backdoor.

Tumalo Falls
Tumalo Falls | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The high-desert region of Oregon is also accessible from Bend. One of the most notable spots to visit is Smith Rock State Park. This mecca for rock climbing and hiking is less than 30 miles north of the city.

The community that enjoys all the natural attractions also fuels an artistic and cultural tone on the streets. Several boutique stores mix with various art galleries to provide ample places to peruse between other Bend attractions and adventures.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Bend

4. Medford

Lower Table Rock, Medford
Lower Table Rock, Medford | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Southern Oregon is a real hot spot for fun and adventure. And the principal city of this region, Medford, is a gateway to everything the Rogue Valley offers. From outdoor adventures to the area's bountiful agricultural contributions, Medford's appeal spans every day and all four seasons.

The Rogue River defines much of the outdoor adventure and lifestyle of Medford. The waterway interlaces with the history of the city, as well as the legacy of the native cultures who still call it home. Fun ways to experience the Rogue River from Medford is on a Rogue Jet Boat Tour or picnicking on the shores of TouVelle State Park.

Another rewarding way to experience the Rogue River is by hiking to the top of either Lower or Upper Table Rock. These plateaued monoliths rise high above the river's western banks and give a spectacular view of the Rogue River valley. Both hikes stand tall as some of the best things to do while visiting Medford.

Medford is also a gateway to Crater Lake National Park. The shimmering blue waters of this inspiring caldera are a 90-mile drive from the city. With local places to stay and eat between exploring the crater's rim, Medford is an excellent base camp for exploring the national park.

Medford isn't the only city to visit in Southern Oregon. Fifteen miles south of Medford on Interstate 5, the smaller city of Ashland is also an inviting place to stay. This charming city is home to the world-renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Other top attractions in Ashland include the linear Lithia Park and a historic downtown district.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Medford

5. Corvallis

Corvallis
Corvallis

Corvallis is a bustling city surrounded by a fertile landscape in the mid-Willamette Valley of Central Oregon. And the sprawling campus of Oregon State University is the heartbeat of Corvallis culture.

Oregon State University has more than a 150-year history in the city. Today, this acclaimed institution caters to the community and students alike. Fun things to check out on campus include historic tours and energetic Beaver athletic events. The university also adds a youthful appeal to the city. The downtown streets on the weekend often attest to this spry spirit.

The city is also known for its lush agricultural surroundings. These fertile acres lend a fresh bite to the Corvallis food scene. Menus from local restaurants across the city often include fresh ingredients from nearby farms.

The landscape surrounding Corvallis also lends to big adventures. Classic hikes like Marys Peak ensure a healthy appetite come evening.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Corvallis

6. Coos Bay

Cape Arago State Park near Coos Bay
Cape Arago State Park near Coos Bay

Unlike the coast of California to the south, the Oregon Coast has very few big cities. The largest city on the Oregon Coast, Coos Bay, is home to under 20,000 residents. Despite and due to this relatively smaller population, the city provides a plethora of tourist activities while still retaining a sense of community.

The ocean is the top attraction of Coos Bay, and the city is a base camp for its rugged southern coast. Coos Bay provides several ways to enjoy the dramatic scene. Immediately to the north, the stunning Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area stretches up to Florence. This shifting playground features sand dunes over 500 feet tall.

Other oceanic attractions in Coos Bay include vistas of the historic Cape Arago Lighthouse. While this postcard lighthouse is no longer accessible to the public, the Cape Arago Highway offers excellent viewpoints. Along this route, state parks like Sunset Bay and Shore Acres provide pleasant places to stop and have a picnic.

Other top attractions of Coos Bay include candy factories, history museums, and beautiful public parks. Be sure to budget some time to visit the charming downtown district, where places like the Egyptian Theatre offer evening entertainment that pairs well with the area's many local restaurants.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Coos Bay

7. Salem

Oregon State Capitol in Salem
Oregon State Capitol in Salem | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Salem, the state capital of Oregon, is an easygoing university town on the Willamette River. The city is within the middle of the Willamette Valley, approximately halfway between Eugene and Portland. It stands out in the region as a unique place to visit, boasting its own array of cultural and natural attractions.

The Oregon State Capitol is an eye-catching attraction in Salem, including the iconic gilded Oregon Pioneer perched atop the stately building. On the capitol's grounds and interior, a beautiful collection of landscaping and murals paint a picture of the state's history.

Minto-Brown Island Park
Minto-Brown Island Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Other public spaces like Minto-Brown Island Park add a natural color to the palette of the city. This expansive public space has over 30 miles of trails that meander through wetlands, woodlands, and open prairie. At the north end of Minto-Brown, a beautiful pedestrian bridge connects to Riverfront City Park - another one of Salem's top attractions.

Art and culture are also on full display in Salem. From the campus of Willamette University to a bustling downtown corridor, Salem offers many ways to enjoy the city's nice weather. For evening entertainment in Salem, the Elsinore Theatre puts on quite the show.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Salem

8. Springfield

Springfield's McKenzie River
Springfield's McKenzie River

Springfield is in the south Willamette Valley and comprises half of the Eugene-Springfield Metropolitan Area. With over 60,000 residents, the city has several attractions for a mid-size city, coupled with a small-town sense of less busy streets and friendly faces.

Downtown Main Street should be the first stop on any trip to Springfield. Bookended by Second and Eighth Streets, this pedestrian-friendly corridor rings with history and art. Local bookstores and coffee shops in this part of town punctuate larger-than-life murals that add extra color to the neighborhood.

One such downtown mural depicts Springfield's most famous residents: the Simpsons family from American TV. Springfield claims to be the unofficial home of this iconic cartoon family. Another way to appreciate this homage includes life-size Simpson's sculptures at the Emerald Art Center.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Springfield

9. McMinnville

Aerial view of Joe Dancer Park in McMinnville, Oregon
Aerial view of Joe Dancer Park in McMinnville, Oregon

For those looking for a small-town vibe with mid-size city attractions, McMinnville in the Willamette Valley is worth visiting. This city of approximately 34,000 residents delivers cultural attractions and community appeal.

Anchoring the city is a historic downtown area dubbed "Oregon's Favorite Main Street." Maple trees line the sidewalks of this downtown area, lending a shady entrance to several eateries and art galleries. Strolling around this downtown area gives an essence tied to the city's history.

The verdant valley surrounding McMinnville also lends a lot of charm to the city. These scenic landscapes host several activities like road biking, hiking, and picnicking under a shade tree. The agricultural splendor of the region also lends to several tasteful experiences in the McMinnville countryside.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in McMinnville

10. Hillsboro, Beaverton & Gresham

Commonwealth Lake Park in Beaverton
Commonwealth Lake Park in Beaverton

The Portland metropolitan area includes several other surrounding cities. Three of the biggest cities in proximity are Hillsboro, Beaverton, and Gresham. To the north in Washington, the city of Vancouver also adds a significant population. These bustling cities don't receive the same name recognition as Portland. Still, each provides an attractive place to visit and stay awhile.

West of Portland, Hillsboro is home to big business headquarters like Intel and Nike. Outside of working hours, tourists and residents enjoy evening events like baseball games at Ron Tonkin Field. Other reasons to visit Hillsboro include the Hillsboro Farmers Market and the annual Washington County Fair.

Between Portland and Hillsboro, the city of Beaverton also attracts a lot of tourists and residents to the Portland metro. The location of Beaverton aids in enjoying the cultural splendors of Portland while avoiding some of the congestion. Hiking trails meander throughout these more open spaces at destinations like Cooper Mountain Nature Park.

And to the east of Portland, Gresham is home to over 110,000 residents. This bustling area of the Portland metro has an excellent selection of local shops and restaurants. The city also caters to bicycle traffic. Alongside abundant bike lanes, the 40-mile Springwater Corridor Trail connects Gresham to Portland.

11. Albany

Northwest Air and Art Festival, Albany
Northwest Air and Art Festival, Albany

Albany is a growing city in the Willamette Valley, 25 miles south of Salem and 45 miles north of Eugene. History rings from the streets of this sizable community with a population of approximately 54,000 residents. Four distinct historic districts contain over 700 antique homes and businesses, offering a vintage style with modern appeal.

When spending time downtown, be sure to visit Albany's Historic Carousel & Museum. This community-driven family attraction opened in 2017 and has provided countless rides with its individually-carved menagerie of animals. Each ride costs two dollars and comes with the chance to nab the brass ring.

Albany offers several other things to do outside of simply touring the historic streets and visiting local restaurants and shops. Other top attractions of Albany include regional museums, lake parks, and the unique Talking Gardens. And once a year, Albany hosts one of the best hot air balloon celebrations, the Northwest Air and Art Festival, which takes place in August.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Albany

12. Redmond

Smith Rock State Park, 10 miles north of Redmond
Smith Rock State Park, 10 miles north of Redmond

Redmond is a moderately sized city with a population of just over 31,000 residents. The city is on the east side of the Cascade Mountains and forms the northeast tip of a triangle with Bend and Sisters. Redmond is close to the high-desert region, and the city is perhaps best known for its quick access to spots like Smith Rock State Park and Redmond Caves.

Smith Rock, one of Oregon's best state parks, is less than a 10-minute drive north of Redmond. This mecca of rock climbing and hiking presents a dazzling scene, where the Crooked River carves through a stunning vertical environment. Redmond Caves, on the other hand, are closer to town and dive deep into the underground.

Other natural attractions easily accessible from Redmond include waterfalls, botanical gardens, and beautiful public parks. For one of the nicest places to stay near all the action, head for hotels like the recently renovated SCP Redmond Hotel near the heart of downtown.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Redmond

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