9 Cutest Small Towns on the West Coast
Even if you weren't a Gilmore Girls fan, you know the allure of a quaint village—the friendly local vibe, the shops on Main Street, the cozy inn you dream of owning one day. These 9 towns along the West Coast provide all this and more.
Just sixteen miles north of California, this storybook town in Southern Oregon's mountains is best known for its world-class hiking and rafting and the lauded Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which takes place every year, May through October. Spend an afternoon exploring downtown Ashland lined with one-off artisanal shops--we love Zoey's Cafe for its all-natural ice-cream--and standout restaurants like Amuse and Caldera Tap House; get a table on the spacious deck overlooking the river. For cocktails (like the Oregon Mule, made with Wild Roots Pear Vodka) the 1925 Ashland Springs Hotel is a must, especially after a creekside stroll through 100-acre Lithia Park.
Pacific City, Oregon
Every inch of Oregon beach is open to the public (thanks, Governor Tom McCall), but this particular patch of sand is one of our favorites, with its hike-able six-story Cape Kiwanda dune and 327-foot Haystack rock. The waterfront Pelican Brewing is a go-to for its Tsunami stout and the Grateful Bread Bakery has some of the fluffiest biscuits we've ever tasted. For active types, there's great kayaking on the Little Nestucca River with Nestucca Adventures.
Hood River, Oregon
Windsurfers come from across the globe to this blustery town on the Columbia River, the headquarters of outdoor gear company Dakine, in the shadow of Mt. Hood. All-ages will get a kick out of the scenic Mt. Hood Railroad, which wends its way 22 miles through apple and peach orchards. After the ride, head to the riverside Full Sail Brewing, where the beer cheese soup is made with their own Session black lager.
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Reese Witherspoon used to have a house in this art gallery-filled hamlet—and you know the gal from Tennessee is discerning when it comes to small town charm. Take a gratis tour of the olive groves (and pick up some lemongrass verbena olive oil soap) at Ojai Olive Company; make the quick half-a-mile hike to Rose Valley Falls; and tuck into rosemary and lemon grilled golden trout in the leafy outdoor garden at Suzanne's Cuisine. As for where to stay, the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa gets our vote for its Mission-style design, gorgeous pool and Kuyam mud cleanse at the spa.
Misty oceanside cliffs give Mendocino a certain cool, all-year-round. Spot grey whales and their calves surfacing each spring and winter from the 1909 Point Cabrillo Light Station; explore the tidepools tucked in hidden coves beyond a redwood tree forest at Jughandle State Reserve; and sign up for a guided horseback ride along the beach with Ross Ranch.
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Perhaps the most 'grammable site in Inverness is the Cypress Tree Tunnel, at Point Reyes National Seashore, which looks like something out of Narnia sprung to life. But it's only the beginning of hundreds of swoon-worthy views in postcard-perfect Inverness, where you can kayak past harbor seals at Drakes Estero and shuck the freshest oysters in the west from Tomales Bay Oyster Company.
Germany may be an entire continent and ocean away, yet this hamlet in the Cascade Mountains looks straight out of Bavaria, thanks to a 1962 project which remodeled the once-struggling logging town into a fairytale Bavarian alpline village. Oktoberfest is huge here, but come any time of year to see the Leavenworth Reindeer Farm (you can feed the animals and, yes, take as many selfies with them as you like) and to visit the quirky Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum, which showcases around 6,000 nut openers.
Lummi Island, Washington
Foodies flock to Lummi Island, just a five minute ferry ride from Bellingham, to eat at The Willows Inn, arguably one of America's best restaurants. Here, Chef Blaine Wetzel has perfected a seasonal changing tasting menu of, say, geoduck kabobs and sea urchin in fermented broth. If you happen to be visiting May through June, make a beeline for Full Bloom Farm, a two-acre expanse filled of peonies, with a year-round farm stand where you can stock up on fresh produce. When you need a break from the food, there's hiking, boating, crabbing, and top-notch whale watching.
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Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, Washington
All the orcas jockeying in the harbor can't be wrong: this town is one of the San Juan archipelago's finest. Walk the organic purple fields at Pelindaba Lavender Farm, where you can harvest your own bunches in the cutting garden; visit 70-odd alpacas munching grass on the grounds at Krystal Acres; and tuck into a smoked CoHo salmon and fresh chevre sandwich on housemade bread at San Juan Island Cheese.
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