A lot of people head to the West Coast for mountain vistas, sandy beaches, and unforgettable surf breaks, but if you're just making your way out west for big cities like Seattle and Los Angeles, then you're missing out on a lot.
Sure, West Coast cities have their undeniable charm, but to really get a feel for the region visit some of its small towns, which have a lot of the same amenities as the larger cities—beaches, great restaurants, and a lot of fun things to do—but without the traffic, hassle and stress, and with a whole lot of cuteness. Here are our choices for the cutest small towns on the West Coast.
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The Cutest West Coast Towns
1. Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
Positioned along the central California coast, Carmel-by-the-Sea is as quaint and charming as its name makes it out to be. The small city, which has a population of just over three thousand residents, is known for its breathtaking coastal scenery, which its name touts, as well as its unique laws. Residential home sizes are limited by zoning laws, and the city has also banned commercial development on the beach, chain restaurants, and billboards, which have allowed Carmel-by-the-Sea to retain its charming character.
"Carmel-by-the-Sea, is home to stunning natural landscapes, fascinating historical sites, and great retail opportunities," says travel writer Jenny Ly, the founder of Go Wanderly. "Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is a nearby attraction worth a visit, and [visitors should] save some time to see the ancient Carmel Mission."
The Carmel Mission was first built in the late 1700's, and served as the head of the Alta California missions, when the area was under the control of Spain.
2. Ashland, Oregon
Located just over the California border, Ashland, in southern Oregon, is one of the most charming destinations on the West Coast and attracts visitors every year to marvel at the city's natural beauty. Ashland is located in the foothills of the Siskiyou and Cascade mountain ranges, which makes the city a perfect destination for anyone who loves hiking. But the small city isn't just known for its stunning exteriors, it's also a hub for anyone interested in theater.
"This is the place for you if you enjoy a good show or adore literature or the theater," Ly says. "The Oregon Shakespeare Festival's hometown is Ashland. Contrary to what the name might imply, a range of plays, including new plays and classics like Great Expectations, are presented in one of the charming theaters in the town."
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3. Sequim, Washington
Charming small towns are, more often than not, overwhelmed with flowers and natural beauty. Sequim, Washington, located in the state's Olympic Peninsula, is no different, and is known as the lavender capital of the continent.
"[Sequim is] considered the lavender capital of North America, as it's a great spot to admire endless purple fields," says travel writer Amar Hussain, the founder of Only Wanderlust. "If you aim for the third weekend of July, you will also be able to take part in the Sequim Lavender Festival Weekend."
While the lavender is charming and helps to make the town one of the cutest on the West Coast, it's not the only attraction in Sequim. The town is located right on Sequim Bay, which connects to the Salish Sea, and is also in close proximity to Olympic National Park, making it an outdoor-lovers paradise.
4. Petersburg, Alaska
Unlike other southeastern Alaska towns, which can be overrun with visitors, Petersburg remains a quaint, cute town because it's not big enough to attract the large cruise ship crowds. The town, with a population of just over 3,000, is possible to reach by plane or by ferry service.
The small town also has deep Norwegian roots, and pays tribute to those roots through its events like the Little Norway Festival, and the many Norwegian flags, restaurants, and shops to be found throughout Petersburg.
"It is very Norwegian which is part of what makes it really cute," says Jennie Flaming, a travel writer at Ordinary Adventures. "It also has massive numbers of fishing boats, plenty of incredible fishing, hiking trails, whale watching, and trips to LeConte Glacier. It's a great off the beaten path town for outdoor enthusiasts, and it's also really cute with all the Norwegian buildings and flags."
5. Buellton, California
You don't have to be a wine-lover to enjoy a trip to Buellton, California, in Santa Barbara's wine country, but it sure does add to the experience.
"Buellton is the perfect off-the-beaten path located in Santa Barbara's wine country that has just the right amount of quirky details for someone looking to explore a cute, small town with a unique history," says Kathy Vreeland, the executive director of Discover Buellton. "With only a population of 5,000, visitors get to experience more intimate wine-tasting excursions where winemakers themselves will pour your wine and discuss behind-the-scenes work that goes into their vineyards."
The small city, with a population of just over 5,000, was one of the filming locations for the Academy Award-winning 2004 film "Sideways," about two men on a trip to the region, and a hotel where the movie was filmed even changed its name to the Sideways Inn to honor its link to Hollywood.
6. Cannon Beach, Oregon
There are few things more cute and charming in a municipality than a place that rallies around an object—in Cannon Beach, Oregon, the object that the community is so enamored by just happens to be a rock. It's not just any rock, Haystack Rock, located on the beach that gives the town its name, is 235 feet tall, and makes Cannon Beach such a unique spot out of all of the cute and charming towns along the Pacific Coast.
"Cannon Beach is a known spot to observe wildlife and for bird watching," Hussain says. "Seals and sea lions might be seen on the beach, and if you're lucky, you might even spot a gray whale during its biannual migration along the coast."
If you somehow don't feel like spending all of your time at the beach while visiting the small city, you can still experience its charm by touring through some of Cannon Beach's beloved cottages as part of its annual Cottage Tour.
7. Tomales Bay, California
Rather than a town itself, Tomales Bay is an inlet of the Pacific Ocean, stretching for 15 miles in California's coastal Marin County. The area of Tomales Bay is comprised of several small municipalities, but to get a true small-town feeling, stop by the town Tomales, which lies just to the east of the mouth of the bay.
"It is nestled right next to Point Reyes National Seashore, providing the most breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, and offers epic coastal hiking," says Kayla Glanville, the co-founder and CEO at travel app Upaway.
Spend a day perusing the town's main street, which has a number of restaurants, bakeries and shops, and many of the buildings feature commercial Victorian architecture, giving it a quaint feeling. The town retains its historic charm through many of its old buildings, like the small town's post office building, which dates back to 1854.
8. Leavenworth, Washington
For Midwesterners and people living on the East Coast, flying to the West Coast and flying to Europe would require heading in two separate directions, but if you take a trip to Leavenworth, Washington, a small village in the Cascade Mountains, it'll be hard to tell if you're out west or somewhere in Germany.
"Leavenworth's charming Bavarian village is lined with picturesque colorful shops, authentic German restaurants, and welcoming accommodations from spa hotels to mountain cabins," says Lauren LaBar, the co-founder and CEO at travel app Upaway. "Every holiday season the village is decorated with over a half million lights, and every fall Oktoberfest is celebrated to the fullest. This cute small town makes you feel like you're in the heart of Germany without an international flight."
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9. Florence, Oregon
Florence is a charming city along Oregon's central coast that sits at the mouth of the Siuslaw river, making the city an ideal destination for anyone who loves to be near the water. For such a cute city, it's oddly, and unfortunately, best known for one disgusting event in 1970, when local authorities used 20 cases of explosives to blow up a beached whale that had died.
While the name evokes gruesome imagery, the city's residents voted to name a new, cute park Exploding Whale Memorial Park in honor of the deceased whale, making the best out of a pretty nasty situation.
But not all of Florence's sites bring back memories of gory events, in fact, they make the small city, which has a population of more than 9,000, a pretty charming coastal place to visit. The nearby Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area even inspired science fiction writer Frank Herbert to write the iconic novel Dune.
"There are miles and miles of hiking trails in the [nearby] dunes," says Leslie Gilmour, the CEO of Outdoor Scott. "This small town and its surrounding area are ideal for outdoor activities in general. There is plenty of fishing and piers to catch crabs because it is right on the ocean."
10. Ferndale, California
Tucked into the redwoods of Northern California, Ferndale, is one of the most charming small cities on the West Coast. The quaint city has built up a reputation as an arts-lovers paradise, with an abundance of galleries and studios throughout the city, which only has an area of one square mile.
"There is no shortage of things to do in this city that's dedicated to the arts," says travel writer Rebecca Posey, the co-founder of Poseys Go Places. "Stroll through downtown to admire the architecture, listen to live music from a variety of venues, catch a show at the Repertory Theater or peruse around an art gallery."
When you're done looking at the art indoors, explore the city of Ferndale's Victorian Village, the many well-preserved Victorian-style homes that populate the small city, which has a population of just over 1,300.