Named after America's first millionaire, John Jacob Astor, Astoria sits at the 5-mile-wide mouth of the Columbia River and was the first US settlement west of the Mississippi. The city has a long seafaring history and has seen its old harbor, once home to poor artists and writers, attract fancy hotels and restaurants in recent years.
The state capital is a peaceful and homely university city that exudes a slightly conservative air and is a popular destination for conferences. Salem makes a good day trip from Portland, WA, as it's just an hour's drive south. Highlights include the state capitol itself and a few museums, along with a pleasant riverfront park complete with carousel.
The dynamic town of Hood River is one of the best windsurfing and kiteboarding destinations in the world. Strong river currents, prevailing westerly winds and a vast body of water provide the perfect conditions for these wind sports, attracting sometimes hundreds of photogenic enthusiasts who zip back and forth across the wide Columbia River.
At the heart of the region's wine industry lies busy and modern McMinnville, mostly charmless except for its historic, redbrick downtown district. Here you'll find art galleries, boutiques, wine-tasting rooms and fine restaurants. There are some attractive old buildings; see the tourist office for a pamphlet. The main regional attractions are the area's wineries, of course.
At the mouth of the Rogue River, Gold Beach got its start when the precious ore was discovered here in 1853. The mines didn't strike it rich compared to other places, but the town remained. Then in the early 20th century, salmon-rich waters caught the fancy of gentleman anglers such as Jack London and Zane Grey.
Proud to be the home of Oregon State University (OSU), Corvallis is a bustling, youthful city on the edge of the Willamette River, and is surrounded by miles of farms, orchards and vineyards. Downtown storefronts are filled with bakeries, bookstores and cafes, while the upscale riverfront area offers pleasant walking along with stylish restaurants and pubs.
Charming Cannon Beach is one of the most popular beach towns on the Oregon coast. Several premier hotels here cater to a fancier clientele, as do the town's many boutiques and art galleries. In summer the streets are ablaze with flowers. Lodging is expensive, and the streets are jammed: on a warm, sunny Saturday, you'll spend a good chunk of time just finding a parking spot.
More a sprawling modern beach resort than a serene seaside retreat, Lincoln City is a long series of commercial strips, motels, eateries and gift shops that front a fairly wide and lackluster stretch of sandy beach. Locals joke that their city is five towns brought together in 1965 by the fact they needed a sewer system.
Just 6 miles from the California border, Brookings is a balmy commercial town on the bay of the Chetco River. Tourists are drawn here for the world-class salmon and steelhead fishing upriver, while the coastline to the north is some of Oregon's most gorgeous. Winter temperatures hover around 60°F (15°C), making Brookings the state's 'banana belt' and a mecca for retirees.
The Dalles & Around
Located about 85 miles east of Portland, The Dalles features a decidedly different climate – much drier and sunnier. Though steadfastly unglamorous and down to earth (except for a few historic buildings), the city offers good outdoor recreation; there's decent camping and hiking, and fierce winds that are excellent for windsurfing and kiteboarding.
Eastern Oregon's largest city, 'wild and woolly' Pendleton is a handsome old town famous for its wool shirts and big-name rodeo. It has managed to retain its old-time atmosphere and cow-poking past, with large cowboy-boot sculptures on the sidewalks and lots of historic brick buildings downtown. The city nestles between steep hills along the Umatilla River.
The cute little town of Bandon sits at the bay of the Coquille River. Its Old Town district has been gentrified into a picturesque harborside location that offers pleasant strolling, window-shopping and sweets-tasting. The area's most noteworthy industry is cranberry farming, with neighboring bogs yielding a considerable percentage of the cranberry harvest in the US.