The diversity of climate and geography is one of our favorite things about Oregon. In mere hours, you can travel from a thick, lush forest to an expansive desert to the east or the mighty Pacific Ocean to the west. This varied terrain makes it all the more enticing to explore our beautiful state and all the wonder it holds, which includes waterfalls, mountains, forests and lakes. Plus, there are dozens of charming towns dotting the landscape, perfectly positioned to take advantage of our state’s most prominent features and attractions.
To help you experience something new this summer, we’re exploring 11 small towns in Oregon, each appealing to specific interests and preferences. So whether you’re a history buff, a golfer, an outdoorsman, or a beach lover, there’s a small town in Oregon for you to visit!
For the History Buff: Jacksonville
Photo Courtesy of Tim Balfour via the Jacksonville Oregon Chamber of Commerce & Business Association
Situated in southern Oregon just outside of Medford, Jacksonville is a small town with roots in the Gold Rush era. The town was named after Jackson Creek, which winds through town and was the site of one of the first placer gold claims in the region in the 1800s, which led to the town’s designation as a National Historic District in 1966.
History buffs can explore Jacksonville’s neighborhoods lined with beautiful Victorian-era homes or take a stroll through the historic downtown, which contains a number of historic buildings, including the 1856 Beekman Bank and the former courthouse, which is now a museum. You’ll find a variety of architectural styles popular between the 1850s and 1880s, including Greek Revival, Italianate and Gothic Revival. During your tour of the city’s historic district, be sure to stop by the city’s first cemetery, established in 1860 — maybe you’ll even meet a few of Jacksonville’s former residents…
For the Beach Lover: Lincoln City
With so many charming beach towns lining the Oregon Coast, it’s hard to pick just one to visit this summer. But if you’ve never been south of Cannon Beach, you’re in for quite a treat. With an estimated population of just over 9,000, Lincoln City is a popular beach town, especially during the summer, when the population reaches over 30,000. The scenery alone is worth visiting for, but there’s so much to do here during your stay. Lincoln City is home to six historic districts, each offering a variety of shopping, dining and other attractions, including the Lincoln City Glass Center, Chinook Winds Casino Resort and Lincoln City Outlets. Take a stroll along the 7-mile walkable beach stretching from Roads End to the serene and scenic Siletz Bay.
After you see Lincoln City, consider making the 30-minute drive north to Pacific City, which has even more to see, taste and experience!
With a population just over 1,000, Joseph truly is a tiny town. Joseph has been nicknamed “Oregon’s Little Switzerland,” in part because of the town’s annual Alpenfest, which resembles an Oktoberfest celebration with even more yodeling and alphorn playing. Joseph boasts some of the most stunning scenery, visible from nearly every vantage point, as the valley is surrounded by the Wallowa Mountains reaching elevations of over 8,000 feet. Explore the area’s natural surroundings with a hike in the mountains or by hopping on board the Wallowa Lake Tramway, which takes you to the top of Mount Howard, providing breathtaking views of the mountains, the valley, and the gorgeous blue waters of Wallowa Lake. Don’t miss (although they would be hard to miss!) the many bronze sculptures scattered throughout the quaint downtown area.
For the Golfer: Sisters
Photo Courtesy of Black Butte Ranch
Promising lots of sunshine, mountain views, towering trees and an overall dry climate, Central Oregon is an exceptional place to go golfing. And thankfully, there is no shortage of courses to choose from, whether you’re a resident looking to pick up the sport as a hobby or an avid golfer traveling here for a golf getaway. Make Sisters your home base as you check off a few of these above-par Central Oregon courses off your bucket list.
Identified by the beautiful Three Sisters mountains, Sisters is a vibrant community with a nostalgic downtown area. Boutiques and specialty stores offer a variety of merchandise ranging from fine art and antiques to western wear and souvenirs. The exceptional Black Butte Ranch resort is a favorite Oregon destination. Awarded four stars by Golf Digest, the resort’s Big Meadow course challenges player’s skills and accuracy against a backdrop of stunning mountain views. Other year-round resort activities include tennis, biking, swimming and horseback riding. The nearby Deschutes National Forest accommodates hikers and backpackers with miles of winding trails and scenic vistas.
For the Wine Connoisseur: Newberg
Stretching from the Columbia River in the north to just beyond Eugene in the south, Oregon’s Willamette Valley has established itself as one of the most renowned wine regions in the world. It is home to over 500 wineries, encompassing over two-thirds of the state’s wineries. To help you navigate this wine-centric region, here are 18 of some of the best wineries in the Willamette Valley.
And to get the most out of your visit to the valley, consider making Newberg your home base for your wine tasting adventures. Aside from its proximity to wineries, Newberg has plenty of things to do, like seeing a movie at the historic Cameo Theatre or the 99W Drive-In, visiting Herbert Hoover Park, or simply exploring the charming downtown area. If your visit happens to fall on the first Friday of the month (except January and July), don’t miss the Newberg ARTwalk!
Situated at the confluence of Hood River and the Columbia River, the small town of Hood River is perfectly positioned for watersports of all kinds. Namely, the town is known as the “Windsurfing Capital of the World,” as dozens of colorful kites dot the sky above the Columbia River during the spring and summer. Whether you’re interested in kiteboarding or basically any type of outdoor recreation, Hood River is the place to be. With Mount Hood nearby, there are endless opportunities for winter sports like skiing and snowshoeing to warm-weather activities, like hiking, biking and camping. Use our guide to kiteboarding and our outdoor recreation guide to enhance your visit! And if you need to know where to stay in Hood River, we’ve got a visitor’s guide to Hood River, which includes several ideas for accommodations.
For the Waterfall Chaser: Silverton
Situated just east of Salem, Silverton is a small town known for its spectacular natural beauty. The crown jewel of Silverton is Silver Falls State Park, which is home to the Trail of Ten Falls, a 7.2-mile loop meandering through the forest and passing by several sparkling waterfalls. Silverton is also home to The Oregon Garden, an 80-acre botanical park with more than 20 specialty gardens. Architecture and design fanatics will love visiting The Gordon House, which is the only building in the state of Oregon designed by the renowned Frank Lloyd Wright. You may even want to plan your trip around the Homer Davenport Community Festival in August, which celebrates the work of Homer Davenport, a renowned editorial cartoonist who was born and raised in Silverton.
Positioned at the confluence of the North and South Forks of the Yamhill River in the Willamette Valley, McMinnville is a popular destination for wine lovers. Plus, McMinnville is an oasis for foodies, and has even garnered national attention for its thriving culinary scene. Several years back, McMinnville was named the “foodiest town” in the United States by Bon Appétit magazine, and the title still holds up. Some of the top-tier restaurants in McMinnville include Pura Vida Cocina, La Rambla, Community Plate, Bistro Maison, red hills kitchen and Thistle. But there’s more to do than just eat in McMinnville! The town is home to Wings and Waves Water Park, Joe Dancer Park, and the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, which is where Howard Hughes’ famed Spruce Goose resides.
Much like its name, Cottage Grove is reminiscent of another era. It is known as the “Covered Bridge Capital of the West,” as there are seven covered bridges throughout town. Considered the most famous out of the bridges, the Chambers Railroad Bridge is the only covered railroad bridge west of the Mississippi River. Admire the breathtaking hand-painted murals throughout Cottage Grove, learn about the area’s gold mining history at the Bohemia Gold Mining Museum or the Oregon Aviation Historical Society. Home to just over 10,000 residents, Cottage Grove has a picturesque downtown area packed with century-old buildings containing art galleries, boutiques and cafes. Wherever you go in Cottage Grove, you will be immersed in history and small-town charm!
For the Beer Lover: Bend
Sure, Portland and other cities in Oregon craft some pretty excellent beer. But there is arguably no better place for a beer lover to be than Bend. That’s because Bend has the highest microbrewery per capita in Oregon, giving the title of Beer City USA. In addition to the 22+ breweries in the city, there are even more to explore in neighboring beer-loving cities, including Redmond and Sunriver. Here are a handful of some of the best, to help you navigate the thriving beer scene in Central Oregon.
Beyond the brews, there is so much to do in Bend. You can shop and eat at the Old Mill District, raft down the Deschutes River, visit the High Desert Museum, explore the charming downtown, and so much more. For more ideas, check out our guide to things to do during the summer in Bend!
Nestled along the southern shore of Upper Klamath Lake, Klamath Falls is an oasis for outdoor enthusiasts, especially those who enjoy water sports. This town with a population just over 20,000 offers plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation, including golfing, canoeing, hiking, and more. The beautiful Klamath River runs through Klamath Falls, which has a charming historic downtown hosting shops, eateries, and other small businesses. Visitors and locals alike enjoy hiking along the OC&E Woods Line State Trail or along the Link River, taking in the area’s gorgeous scenery all the while. Plus, Crater Lake National Park is not far from Klamath Falls, making this an ideal place to rest before or after your trip to view this world-famous lake!
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Let us know which small town(s) in Oregon you’re eager to explore!