Coastline near Crescent City, California

The Best Small Beach Towns on the West Coast

There's something uniquely charming about small, laidback coastal communities, where time seems to slow down and the rhythmic sound of nearby waves helps relax the body and mind. We have some opinions on which ones are extra special, so we're sharing our favorite small beach towns on the west coast that are worthy of anyone’s must-visit list—with the help of our contributing travel writer, Charu Suri.


With summer in full swing, it’s likely that your mind is on the breezier side of life (ice-cream and cool beaches, perhaps?). Or maybe it’s time to take that vacation you’ve really been craving, and spend some quality time relaxing with your feet in the waves?

Thankfully, good old America never disappoints when it comes to its share of great beach towns to spend some time in—especially on the West Coast. 

1. Newport, Oregon

Newport Oregon

Yaquina Bay Bridge, Newport Oregon (via Discover Newport)

This city in Lincoln County boasts a very modest population of just over 10,000, which helps make it one of the most laid-back beach towns on the West Coast. It also has some lovely sights including the Yaquina Head Lighthouse with its French Fresnal lens. It’s the tallest lighthouse of its kind in Oregon and has starred in a few movies.

At Newport’s beaches, it isn't unusual if you spot grey whales and orcas that migrate along the coast in the spring and fall. As you walk along the beaches (we recommend Beverly, Yaquina, or Agate), you can even see some banded, translucent stones called agates that come in many shapes and colors and make for excellent souvenirs.

Newport Oregon City Guide

Yaquina Head Lighthouse, South Beach (via Discover Newport), outdoor firepit (via The Inn at Nye Beach) 

Stay: The Inn at Nye Beach is as cozy as it gets, with a sandy outdoor seating area for wave watching and the only oceanfront infinity spa on the Oregon Coast. Bonus, it’s eco-friendly with weekly wine socials.

 

2. Sausalito, California

Sausalito California City Guide

This well-heeled Marin County gem, just south of San Rafael, boasts superb views of the water as well as fresh produce and seafood—thanks to its proximity to several farms and farmers markets that regularly set up shop on the waterfront near Dunphy Park.

Apart from the beaches and restaurants, this town is home to a very special floating homes community, which has a history spanning over 100 years. Some were built out of tugboats; some out of vintage Pullman cars. In total there are around 425 in the County, with the biggest concentration in Sausalito. There are also plenty of wine tastings, numerous art galleries, and water sports (like stand-up paddleboarding). For more inspiration, visit the Sausalito Chamber of Commerce.

Sausalito California City Guide

Sausalito floating homes, Vina del Mar Park, fresh clams & pasta (via Poggio)

Eat: The Italian Poggio Trattoria consistently receives top marks and rave reviews for its handmade pasta and seafood.

 

3. Florence, Oregon

Florence Oregon Beach

This coastal city in Oregon has more activities than meets the eye—particularly of the outdoorsy type. Formerly inhabited by the Siuslaw tribe of Native Americans, this tranquil beach city has a quiet charm to it (considering only a little over 9,000 people live here), with a windy and lush Hobbit Trail that ends with a secluded beach that you can have pretty much to yourself if you time your visit right (the beach is also full of seashells!).

If you visit this town, don’t miss the Sea Lion Caves, considered the largest sea cave in the country, where you can spot (and definitely hear!) cubs sunbathing on the rocks. For more inspiration, visit Go-Oregon.

Florence Oregon City Guide

Heceta Head Lighthouse, Sea Lion Caves, Mo's Restaurant

Eat: Mo’s Seafood and Chowder has a long history, with the original restaurant having started in Newport, Rhode Island, and the founder, Mo Niemi, bringing it the Oregon Coast in 1978. Locals and visitors alike love the clam chowder.

 

4. Port Townsend, Washington

Port Townsend Washington aerial view

Located in the Quimper Peninsula in northern Washington State, Port Townsend is known for its many Victorian-era buildings and for having a great, safe harbor. In fact, it was speculated at the turn of the century that the city would be the largest harbor on the Western Shore of the United States: hence it’s moniker, “City of Dreams.”

Port Townsend also has a very artistic side to it, with monthly art walks and poetry presses, including the Copper Canyon Press. There are many beaches here, with one of the most popular located at Fort Worden State Park—an old army base surrounded by the picturesque Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges.

 Port Townsend Washington City Guide

Downtown Port Townsend, Wilson Point Lighthouse, strawberry gazpacho (via Finistère)

Eat: Started by Deborah Taylor—the former executive sous chef of Seattle’s most award-winning restaurant—Finistère offers beautifully plated dishes created from seasonal Pacific Northwest ingredients. We recommend the ever-changing chef’s tasting menu.

 

5. Carmel-By-The-Sea, California

Carmel California Beach

This charming town is often referred to simply as “Carmel” and offers great restaurants, gardens, beaches, and cafes, many of which are dog-friendly.

You’d be hard-pressed to visit Carmel without falling in love with the artistic side of the city, with its many art galleries. A number of writers and poets also live here because of Carmel’s rich beauty. With a population of just over 3,700, it’s very manageable to see the sights by foot—like the Carmel Mission and the city's rugged coastline, which are both stunning must-sees.

 

Carmel California City Guide

Carmel Mission, charming shopping area, guestroom balcony with views (via Carmel Valley Ranch)

Stay: If you love the woods and luxurious surroundings, stay at Carmel Valley Ranch, which is close to wineries, and features suites that boast outdoor terrace tubs. Plus, the hotel makes its own honey on site—what a great souvenir!

 

6. Crescent City, California

Crescent City Beach

This relatively low-key gem in Del Norte County is named after its crescent-shaped stretch of sandy beach. It’s also known for its giant redwoods (the site of the Redwood National Park headquarters) and is home to a vintage lighthouse at Battery Point (listed on the National Register of Historic Places).

In addition to Crescent Beach, travelers can enjoy Enderts Beach, Kellogg, Pebble Beach (a long string of connected coves) and Point St. George.

 

Crescent City California City Guide

Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park, Battery Point Lighthouse, view from gondola (via SkyTrail)

Play: Don’t miss the unique SkyTrail gondolas—just a short, scenic drive through the neighboring Jedidiah Smith State Park—for a ride up the mountain in a cable car among the soaring treetops with incredible panoramas of the forest and Pacific Ocean.

 


Charu Suri has been exploring our planet for as long as she can remember. As a globetrotting travel journalist, Charu’s work regularly appears in Vogue, Condé Nast Traveler, The New York Times, WSJ, and Architectural Digest. She also manages to find the time to be an award-winning jazz musician and super mom. Keep up with Charu Suri (if you can) on Instagram and Twitter.


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