Heading into summer road trip season, there’s no better time to get off the radar and away from the big cities. We’re talking about the small towns rich in nature, culture and history. Lindsay Taub counts down the top 11 towns of the West Coast.
Look a little deeper from the Rockies to the Pacific Northwest, these towns all have some special things in common and it’s not just their beauty. Most are without big box stores and chain restaurants, and almost all seem to send smoke signals to attract outdoorsy, active, and independent spirits. The Wild West is still close to its roots – from the adventurers who discovered, the miners who called them home and to the bordellos that kept them in business.
With populations of anywhere from 2,000 to about 100,000, discover the top 11 small towns of the American West:
#1 Astoria, Oregon
Getting there: Fly into Portland International Airport (PDX); from there it’s a 1.5 to 2 hour drive to Astoria.
Named after America’s first millionaire and legendary fur trader, John Jacob Astor, it is the oldest settlement west of the Rockies. Conceived as a fur trading outpost in the early 1800s, it’s located on the south banks of the Columbia River just 20 minutes from the Pacific Ocean. It’s beauty and charm drew in the likes of Lewis and Clark during their expedition and still commemorates the western end of the Lewis and Clark trail.
Today the historic fishing town is going through a kind of renaissance with craft breweries popping up along the “North Coast Craft Beer Trail,” a charming downtown filled with lively cafes and boutiques, a fantastic market, stylish hotels and emerging culinary scene.
While there, visit the Fort George Brewery which offers a range of lagers, stouts, and innovative ales like Wasabi Ginger Ale. Play shuffle board on the brewery floor and if you’re lucky you can catch live music.
Another must-stop: Astoria Brewing Company. It will soon be relocating to the iconic Andrew & Steve’s building in downtown with the expansion of four 15-barrel fermenters, increasing brewing capacity two-fold.
Where to stay: For the views, history, and romantic flair, stay at the The Cannery Pier Hotel. Built on the site of the former Union Fish Cannery, extends 600 feet over the Columbia River and features a full-service day spa and an authentic Finnish sauna. Each room has a fireplace, hardwood floors and private balcony overlooking the river.
For a more modern and minimalist stay, choose The Commodore. Opening its doors in 2009, it has an Ace Hotel-like atmosphere with a cool lobby and adjoining coffee shop in the heart of downtown. The rooms are trendy, relatively minimalist and many are cabin style with a shared bath. Constructed in the 1920s and closed since 1965, its new owners found the property left exactly as it was, but it remains a mystery as to what exactly happened. The owners preserved the architectural integrity of the building apparently down to the door knobs.
Side trip: Cannon Beach
Home to the famed Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach is a great day trip just 30 minutes south of Astoria. The area features art galleries, great restaurants, a cooking school, luxury resorts and outdoorsy fun from hiking and surfing to paragliding and zip lining. The best place to capture the iconic natural beauty of the Oregon Coast is from afar at Ecola Point.