The Pacific Northwest is famous for its natural beauty. There are stunning mountain ranges, volcanoes that tower over cities, evergreen trees galore, and glacial-cut lakes. The scenery across the region is breathtaking.
But what are the most beautiful places in the Pacific Northwest? We picked out cities across Washington, Oregon, and Idaho that showcase the Northwest’s beauty at its best. For each city, we describe a perfect day trip to see the best the Pacific Northwest has to offer.
The Most Beautiful Cities in the Pacific Northwest
Here are the most beautiful cities in the Pacific Northwest showcasing towns in the mountains, on the coast, near rivers, and on islands. With this list of cities in hand, you’re on your way to creating a dream vacation in the Northwest!
- Cannon Beach
- Port Townsend
- Hood River
- Friday Harbor
1. Cannon Beach
- Type of City: Coastal town
- Population: 1,489
- Best Way to Spend a Day: Visiting Haystack Rock and walking the beach
16 million years ago, Haystack Rock was connected to the coast of Oregon. Millions of years of erosion have separated it from land and left Haystack Rock stranded in a tidal zone. The sight of a 235-foot-tall rock reaching out of the ocean would be breathtaking anywhere, but the beautiful sandy beaches and rolling hills colliding with the ocean make Cannon Beach one of the most special settings not just in the Pacific Northwest, but the world.
The perfect day in Cannon Beach is simply walking the beach and enjoying the stunning beach. Sure, there are incredible hikes around the town and it has a delightful downtown with restaurants, coffee shops, breweries, and shops, but nothing beats just relaxing and enjoying the views of Haystack Rock and its surroundings.
2. Port Townsend
- Type of City: Coastal town
- Population: 10,148
- Best Way to Spend a Day: Day trip to Olympic National Forest
Port Townsend sits on Puget Sound directly across from Whidbey Island. The city was a boomtown late in the 19th century, which is reflected in its historic downtown that’s rich in Victorian architecture. The core of Port Townsend has seen its ups and downs, but today it’s full of wonderful shops and restaurants. Port Townsend is as vibrant as ever.
The location of Port Townsend gives it incredible views in almost every direction. Across Puget Sound there are views of Whidbey Island and Mount Baker, which is a 10,781-foot-tall volcano. To the southeast, Port Townsend sits near the foothills of the Olympic Mountains.
The best way to spend a day in Port Townsend is venturing out to Olympic National Park. Believe it or not, but interior of the Olympic Peninsula is a rainforest! One of the best places to take in the natural beauty of Olympic National Park is Hurricane Ridge, which is a 65-mile drive from Port Townsend. First and foremost, Hurricane Ridge is just a beautiful viewpoint to take in the rugged beauty of the Olympic Mountains. However, there are also plenty of trails to explore.
3. Hood River
- Type of City: City on the Columbia River
- Population: 8,313
- Best Way to Spend a Day: Take the Fruit River Loop
Hood River sits just 30 miles from Mount Hood, a 11,249-foot-tall volcano. The view of Mount Hood from the city alone could make it one of the most beautiful cities in the Pacific Northwest, but Hood River has so much more going for it.
You see, about 15,000 years ago the largest-known floods in the past two million years ravaged the Pacific Northwest. They’re known as the Missoula Floods and saw a discharge 13 times the Amazon River flood down from modern-day Eastern Washington, Idaho, and Montana into the Pacific Ocean.
These floods reshaped the geography of the Pacific Northwest in radical ways. Near the Hood River, they created a series of gorges in tributaries. Today, the area near Hood River has the largest concentration of waterfalls in the world.
Hood River is absolutely spoiled with incredible things to do. It’s one of the best kite-surfing areas in the world (watching them while sitting at a restaurant in town is a joy), there are incredible hiking and biking trails just miles away, and nearby Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is one of the best views you’ll ever take in.
Yet, our perfect day is the Hood River Fruit Loop. The loop will take you to rural farm and flower stands as well as breweries, wineries, and other areas of interest. Its 35 miles long and we’ve embedded it below. Beyond supporting local businesses and trying fresh produce, you’ll also take in spectacular views of Mount Hood.
4. Friday Harbor
- Type of City: Remote island town
- Population: 2,562
- Best Way to Spend a Day: Buzz around the island on a rental
In a list feautring nothing but scenic locations, the San Juan Islands likely win the title of “most scenic.” Located in Puget Sound between Bellingham and Victoria, British Columbia, the San Juans are a nature lover’s dream.
Pods of orca whales roam the seas near the islands while the waters closer to shore provide some of the best kayaking you’ll find in the Pacific Northwest. The Puget Sound moderates island temperatures, keeping average highs in January to 47 degrees Fahrenheit while August days average a high of 73 degrees with little to no humidity. The rainfall on the islands is also less than half of what you’ll find in Seattle.
The best way to spend a day in Friday Harbor is by renting a fun scooter or car and zipping around the island. Roads along the island’s edge provide scenic views of Puget Sound. If you’re a thrill seeker, the windy roads and cliff sides will also get your heart-pumping.
(Don’t worry though, traffic is light and there’s nothing dangerous if you’re driving safely)
- Type of City: Lake town in summer and mountain resort in winter
- Population: 8,639
- Best Way to Spend a Day: Boating in the summer and skiing in winter
Couer d’Alene attracts much of the attention, but there are a number of beautiful towns situated on lakes in Northern Idaho. Sandpoint is located on Lake Pend Oreille, which stretches for 43 miles. It’s a deep-water lake that reaches an astonishing 1,152 feet at its deepest point.
As you can imagine, in the summer the town centers around water activities. If you’re into fishing, Pend Oreille has trout, perch, crappie, bluegill, northern pike, kokanee salmon, and bass in addition to invasive species like the walleye. Recreational water activities like camping along the lake and water skiing are also popular.
However, once winter hits Sandpoint becomes a hub for the nearby Schweitzer Ski Resort. Schweitzer has 92 runs in total with a mixture of half being advanced (black and double black diamonds), 40% intermediate, and 10% beginner runs. While the ski runs are lauded for being amongst the best in the Northwest, it’s the view of Schweitzer that makes the Sandpoint area one of the most beautiful cities in the Pacific Northwest. As you’re skiing there’s a full panorama of Lake Pend Oreille in front of you. Trust me when I say pictures don’t do the experience justice.
- Type of City: Inland city with access to rivers, lakes, and mountains
- Population: 107,305
- Best Way to Spend a Day: Rafting, floating, biking, rock climbing, and enjoying the outdoors
If you love being active in the outdoors, Bend might be your dream town.
- The city’s downtown features Whitewater Park, a space where people kayak, surf, and float through rapids near the city center.
- Bend is renowned for having some of the best biking trails in the world. If you love mountain biking, you’ll find plenty of trails within miles of the city
- Beautiful lakes like Elk Lake and Lake Hosmer are just a short drive from Bend in Deschutes National Forest.
- Bend is often credited for being the birthplace of rock climbing at its famed Smith Rock.
- Once winter time hits, Mount Bachelor Ski Resort is just 22 miles outside of town.
I could go on, but the point is Bend has more access to recreational opportunities than just about any town in the Pacific Northwest. However, while it’s great for getting outdoors, Bend’s city-life is also a major attraction. In recent years Bend’s restaurant scene has exploded with new additions. From amazing Italian to high-end Asian cuisine, Bend is now a dining destination that’s also renowned for its breweries as well.