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8 Charming Small Towns to Visit (Safely) on the West Coast This Winter Season

November 23, 2020

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The west coast is full of quaint and charming small towns—and in the winter, the charm goes off the charts. Holiday themes, snow, and breath-taking scenery, these California, Oregon, and Washington small towns are the perfect road trip destinations this winter. 

Be cautious of social distancing, respect the local rules and regulations, and enjoy your wintry getaway. 


Mammoth Lakes

Mammoth Lakes is gorgeous as it is, but in the winter, it’s a snowy wonderland. A few hours east of San Francisco, the town of Mammoth Lakes is a haven for all winter lovers. Snowboarding, skiing, snowshoeing, and tubing are just a few of the activities that can be found on Mammoth Mountain. After you’re done hitting the mountain or taking a ride in the gondola, relax and soak in one of the many natural hot springs in the area (Wild Willy’s, Hilltop Hot Springs, and The Crab Cooker to name a few). And, of course, there’s a brewery and cozy restaurants in town when you get hungry or thirsty. 


Quite possibly the most quintessential Christmas town in California, Solvang is like something out of a holiday movie. Located just north of Santa Barbara, this Danish-inspired village is home to the annual Julefest—think insane amounts of Christmas decor, tree-lighting, caroling, and lots and lots of cheer. There are warm and welcoming bakeries, cafes, bars, and restaurants that are all open and ready to serve at a limited capacity. It’s the perfect town to feel like you’re truly celebrating the winter season. 


In the winter months, there is something tranquil and relaxing about the gorgeous coastal town of Carmel-by-the-Sea. Known as the ‘secret season,’ winter provides visitors with empty beaches, whale watching of migrating gray whales, award-winning restaurants, and great hotel rates. The whimsical village in downtown Carmel is home to antique shops, cafes, and restaurants. And for those that aren’t a big fan of the cold, no snow!



Snowy forests, snow-parks for skiers, boarders, and sledders, icy waterfalls, spas, and breweries. It sounds like a winter paradise, right? Turns out—it’s Sisters, Oregon. Located a short drive northeast from Bend, Sisters is a small town with quick access to the Hoodoo Ski Area and Mount Bachelor. The charming downtown area is home to great food, lots of craft beer, and plenty of lodging available (although capacity may currently be limited). 

Sisters, OregonPhoto Credit: Visit Bend


Tucked away in the far northeastern portion of the state, Joseph is often an overlooked gem of Oregon. Given its location, the small town of 1,100 people is already sleepy, so in the winter, it becomes especially quiet. But if you’re looking for insanely breathtaking views of the snow-capped Wallowa Mountains, peace, relaxation, and lots of wildlife—this is your town. Getting here isn’t easy, it’s a 5 hour and 30-minute drive from Portland, or 4 hours from Boise, but the trek is worth it. 

Joseph, OregonPhoto Credit: NRCS Oregon / Flickr


Astoria, Oregon is considered a coastal town, although it technically sits on the mouth of the Columbia River where it meets the Pacific. The town might be small but it’s full of character, history, and awesome architecture—being reminiscent of a ‘mini’ San Francisco. In the winter and holiday season, the adorable downtown is lit up with lights and full of holiday charm. Need to warm up? Grab a beer at of the town’s five breweries while listening to the sounds of sea lions hanging out on the banks of the river. 

Astoria, Oregon
Photo Credit: Astoria.OR.US



If there was ever a city that encaptured everything that is ‘Christmas’—it’s Leavenworth, Washington. The Bavarian-themed town with Alpine-style buildings and restaurants that serve German food and beer is located two hours east of Seattle in the Cascade Mountains. During the winter season, the entire town transforms into a magical Christmas-themed village that looks straight from a storybook. Enjoy the lights, local shops, and tree-lighting or get adventurous and go skiing or snowshoeing. 

Leavenworth, WashingtonPhoto Credit: u/Geriskury / Reddit


The charming town of Poulsbo, Washington is located west of Seattle on the Puget Sound. The Scandinavian city has amazing architecture, adorable shops, and is surrounded by incredible natural beauty. Walk the downtown main street and enjoy Norwegian baked goods at the bakery or pop into one of the waterfront cafes and warm up with a hot toddy. 

Written by Ashley Brewer for Knockaround.

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