12 Top-Rated Small Towns on the Oregon Coast

Written by Brad Lane

Often located near the many estuaries that feed into the Pacific Ocean, the small towns and coastal cities along the Oregon coast provide a unique appeal inspired by their saltwater surroundings. Whether it's fishing in Gold Beach, whale watching in Depoe Bay, or enjoying the natural wonders on display in Pacific City, the common attraction that ties all these Oregon beach towns together is the stunning sunsets at the end of the day. While sticking to one place for multiple days is a fun approach for discovering off-the-beaten-path, fun things to do, another recommended method is choosing multiple places to visit and enjoying a little taste of everything each community has to offer. Explore your options with our list of the best small towns along the Oregon Coast.

1. Cannon Beach

Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach

Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Located less than two hours from Portland by vehicle, Cannon Beach is one of the most popular small cities on the coast. Its popularity doesn't just have to do with its proximity to Portland though; the area's stunning scenery does well to attract tourists from across the world. The centerpiece attraction of Cannon Beach is the staggering Haystack Rock, found just offshore. Surrounding Haystack Rock to the north and south, a white- sand beach invites sunbathing, sandcastle building, and often good conditions to fly a kite. Extending from the beach, Ecola State Park to the north and Oswald West State Park to the south encourage headland exploration.

For in-town attractions, Cannon Beach delivers with a variety of lodging, camping, eateries, and places to shop. Reservations for a night's stay in Cannon Beach should be booked ahead of time, particularly if you are planning to visit any weekend during the summer season. Some places worth checking out ahead of time include The Ocean Lodge or the family-friendly Surfsand Resort, both located beachside with views of Haystack Rock.

2. Newport

Yaquina Bay Bridge in Newport

Yaquina Bay Bridge in Newport | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Attracting families, tourists, and beachgoers throughout the year (particularly in the summer), Newport is a popular city on the central coast with many fun things to do. Nye Beach is always a great first stop in Newport, with its collection of eclectic galleries, shops, and restaurants. The world-renowned Oregon Coast Aquarium can also be found near the waters of Yaquina Bay, as well as the architecturally impressive Yaquina Bay Bridge. To the north, Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, including the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, are oceanside images ripped straight from a postcard. Near Yaquina Bay, the Hallmark Resort is one of the best resorts on the Oregon Coast.

3. Pacific City

Haystack Rock in Pacific City

Haystack Rock in Pacific City | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Sitting at the southern end of the Three Capes Scenic Route and one of the top attractions of the Oregon coast, Pacific City offers everything and more you'd want from a coastal town experience. With restaurants overlooking the water; whales spotted from the shore; and a very accessible beach, which accommodates nearly all travelers, Pacific City is filled with many fun things to do. Other popular avenues of enjoyment in Pacific City include tide pooling, surfing in the cove, and enjoying a bonfire on the beach.

A popular coastal fishing town, Pacific City is unique in its ability to facilitate passage in and out of the ocean for flat-bottomed dory boats right from the beach. An absolute must-see and must-do excursion is exploring the sandstone Cape Kiwanda, which defines the northern border of the city. To extend your stay in Pacific City (highly recommended), the Surf & Sand Inn provides great rates, comfortable rooms, and quick access to the beach.

4. Bandon

Bandon Harbor, adjacent to Bandon Olde Towne

Bandon Harbor, adjacent to Bandon Olde Towne | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

For a great home base on Oregon's southern coast, Bandon provides a wide array of cultural and recreational attractions throughout the year. From the stunning sea stack beaches to the lively collection of shops and restaurants in Olde Towne, Bandon meets the needs of the whole family when it comes to fun things to do. The scenic Coquille Point and Kronenberg County Park on the ocean's edge of Bandon provides one of those views that you think just can't get any better, until you travel to the beach farther south to witness Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint. For maximum enjoyment of Bandon, Windermere on the Beach provides first-class service and oceanfront views.

5. Astoria

The view from the Astoria riverfront

The view from the Astoria riverfront | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Encompassing the far northwest corner of Oregon and the Oregon coast, bordered by the Pacific Ocean and Columbia River, Astoria is an enchanting city with a long history tied to the region. Founded more than 200 years ago, Astoria was built by fur trappers, logging operations, and the fishing industry, and today thrives on the cultural capital found throughout the streets. With an abundance of restaurants, museums, and local shops backdropped by stunning Pacific Northwest scenery, Astoria provides many reasons to visit and stay awhile.

Popular downtown attractions include the Astoria Riverfront Trolley, the Columbia River Maritime Museum, and the Captain George Flavel Home Museum. The Astoria Column is also well worth a visit, including the 360-degree view it provides from the top. On the west side of Young's Bay in Astoria, places like Fort Stevens State Park and Lewis and Clark National Historical Site add further natural attraction and history to explore, including one of the best campgrounds on the Oregon coast. For first-class accommodations with stunning views, hotels in Astoria like the Hotel Elliott and the Cannery Pier Hotel are centrally located and designed with style.

6. Seaside

Seaside Turnaround

Seaside Turnaround | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Located 20 miles south of Astoria on the northern coast, Seaside holds the esteemed reputation of being one of the first resort destinations of the region. Much of what has attracted visitors and tourists to Seaside over the last century still stands today, including the 1920s Seaside Promenade and historic Seaside Aquarium. The sand and surf of Seaside is a main draw, and on sunny summer weekends, you can expect crowds of people enjoying the wide and accommodating stretch of shoreline, one of the best beaches on the Oregon coast. For a fun overnight experience and hotel stay in Seaside, places like Lanai at the Cove and Inn at the Shore are both near the ocean.

7. Depoe Bay

Western edge of Depoe Bay

Western edge of Depoe Bay | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Well regarded as the whale watching capital of the Oregon coast, the western edge of Depoe Bay is defined by a beautiful cliffside seascape that is perfect for spotting whale spouts. Alongside this great vantage point, whales are a common attraction thanks to the resident pod of grey whales, which call Depoe Bay home from March through December. The state-run Whale Watch Center in Depoe Bay is also a great spot to spend the day watching for whales and learning more about these magnificent ocean mammals. Whale-watching tours and fishing expeditions can be chartered out of the world's smallest harbor in Depoe Bay.

The streets of Depoe Bay are lined with restaurants, shops, and galleries, which make for a great break between whale watching pursuits. For one of the best resorts on the Oregon coast, the Whale Cove Inn on the south side of town overlooks Whale Cove from its sprawling back porch, with daily views of whales, sea lions, and a variety of birds included with the nightly rate. Surrounding Depoe Bay to the north and south, places like Boiler Bay, Fogarty Creek, and Devil's Punchbowl provide plenty more to explore.

8. Florence

Florence Old Town

Florence Old Town | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Florence itself doesn't lie directly on the coast, rather it can be found upriver on the banks of the Siuslaw River before it dumps into the ocean. For any visit, especially one that involves shopping and dining, the city's Old Town district should be the first place to check out. Many of the dining establishments in Old Town claim to have the best seafood specialty dishes on the coast. Florence makes a great base with places like Ocean Breeze Motel offering affordable rates, and places like Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area to the south and Heceta Head Lighthouse to the north encouraging longer visits.

9. Gold Beach

The wreck of the Mary D. Hume in Gold Beach

The wreck of the Mary D. Hume in Gold Beach | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

On the south bank of the Rogue River on Oregon's southern coast, Gold Beach is where the mountains meet the sea, and fun things to do are never hard to find. Between the waters of the Pacific Ocean and the wild shores of the Rogue River, Gold Beach is a coastal fishing town with opportunities to land salmon, cod, tuna, and much more. Charter companies are easy to find in Gold Beach and are happy to help get you out on the water. Upon entering Gold Beach from the north, be sure to check out the Mary D. Hume shipwreck in the Port of Gold Beach, including the adjacent interpretive information.

Inland and surrounding the city, the Siskiyou Mountains provide a stunning backdrop and even more to explore. The long stretch of beach adjoining the city is also a great place to spend the day beachcombing, tide pooling, or simply soaking up the sun. Head far enough south on the beach, and visitors will run into Cape Sebastian Scenic Corridor and its network of trails. A fun place to stay within Gold Beach is the Pacific Reef Hotel, which features rocking chairs and a stunning view, as well as an attached restaurant serving up fresh seafood dishes daily.

10. Rockaway Beach

Rockaway Beach

Rockaway Beach

On Oregon's northern coast, just south of Cannon Beach, Rockaway Beach is a small city with more than seven miles of uninterrupted shoreline to explore. It's this long patch of stunning oceanside scenery that draws tourists to this city of just over 1,000 people — and it's the friendly community that makes for a comfortable stay. Local restaurants, unique shops, and community events line the sidewalks and streets of Rockaway Beach, and activities like tide pool searching, beachcombing, and fishing are popular near the water. The Surfside Resort is a favorite beachside hotel to spend the night, and surrounding attractions like Nehalem Bay State Park to the south encourage a longer stay.

11. Yachats

Neighborhood of Yachats

Neighborhood of Yachats | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Living up to its moniker as the "Gem of the Oregon Coast," Yachats is a small coastal city surrounded by awe-inspiring and unique ocean scenery. Extremely pedestrian and cyclist friendly, different trails like the 804 Trail and Amanda's Trail head north and south from the city to highlight the dramatic nature of the basalt shoreline and relentless ocean waves. Farther south, Yachats is also a gateway city to Cape Perpetua Scenic Area, where visitors can find one of the best south-facing views on the Oregon coast. For rooms with a view, both the Adobe Resort and Fireside Motel are located next to a rocky shoreline that always puts on a unique tidal show.

12. Manzanita

Aerial view of Manzanita

Aerial view of Manzanita

For a great coastal getaway without the crowds, Manzanita encourages visitors to enjoy the beach however they like. Manzanita is a bit more sleepy than other towns on the coast, and this adds to the appeal if you are looking for a place to rest and relax. Despite a relatively low population (less than 1,000 people), Manzanita provides plenty of cultural attractions including live music, which can often be heard flowing through the streets. Manzanita also provides a well-stocked market and plenty of places to spend the night, including the welcoming The Inn at Manzanita. If you happen to be visiting in September, especially if you are a dog owner, be sure to check out the annual Muttzanita Dog and Beach Festival.

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Places to Stay on the Oregon Coast: With a long list of things to do on the Oregon coast, it's almost impossible to experience a fraction of all the fun in a single day. Luckily, lining the coast from north to south are many great places to spend the night close to the shore. For outdoor enthusiasts, the many campgrounds on the Oregon coast cater to all types of camping styles. For a little more pampering during your visit, the best beach resorts on the Oregon coast can melt stress away like seawater dripping from sea stacks.

City Attractions: Once you decide which small town to visit, it helps to have an idea of how you want to spend your time. Our Top-Attractions in Astoria article gives a great overview of all the fun to be had when visiting this northwestern city. Same goes for our Seaside article, which covers some of the fan favorites and other off-the-beaten-path attractions. For inland adventures, the cities of Portland, Salem, and Eugene offer land-based activities well worth visiting.

Other Adventures in Oregon: Spanning numerous scenic landscapes and environments, Oregon is stacked with many fun things to do. Whether you are looking for some of the best hiking trails or campgrounds, or perhaps some of the best weekend trips, our articles can have you heading in the right direction. Add to the mix some of the best waterfalls and hot springs in Oregon, and you can fill more than a few summers with fun things to do.

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