The Astoria Column monument rises up like a smoke stack.

Photo © Carl & Peggy Backes.

Last week, I promised, in spite of my inefficient decision-making skills, to offer you 18 of my favorite small American towns. As I told you then, I was partially inspired by two articles—Budget Travel’s 2012 list of “America’s coolest small towns” and Smithsonian’s 2012 list of “the 20 best small towns in America”—which, though curious, are both missing some of my favorite destinations.

So, here, without further ado, are the first three towns that I consider ideal for travelers—all of which can be found on or near the West Coast:

Astoria, Oregon

Situated near the mouth of the Columbia River, alongside the Washington-Oregon border, scenic Astoria has long been a favorite stop for travelers. It doesn’t hurt, after all, that it’s accessible via U.S. 101 and not far from the Pacific Ocean. Of course, while it might not be the idealized all-American town that’s portrayed in such films as The Goonies (1985) and Kindergarten Cop (1990), this historic seaport, with a population of roughly 9,480, offers diversions for cultural aficionados and outdoor enthusiasts alike. Founded in 1811, Astoria encompasses weathered Victorian homes, an assortment of restaurants, and various historical attractions, such as the impressive Columbia River Maritime Museum on the waterfront and the oft-photographed Astoria Column (pictured above). Of course, Astoria also serves as a wonderful base for outdoor pleasures, such as kayaking along the Columbia River, hiking and biking in nearby Fort Stevens State Park, and fishing off the Pacific coast.

For more information about Astoria, consult Hollyanna McCollom’s Moon Portland or Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae’s Moon Oregon. If you’re curious about Astoria’s outdoor diversions, you might also appreciate Tom Stienstra’s Moon Oregon Camping, Sean Patrick Hill’s Moon Oregon Hiking, and Craig Schuhmann’s Moon Oregon Fishing.

St. Helena, California

With a population of around 5,900, quaint St. Helena is an ideal place for a romantic weekend getaway, particularly because it’s nestled within Napa Valley, just north of wine-loving towns like Napa and Sonoma. While many visitors venture here to sample the area wineries, you’ll surely appreciate the town’s award-winning restaurants, assorted boutiques and art galleries, and indulgent havens like the Health Spa Napa Valley, a day resort featuring a relaxing pool, a state-of-the-art fitness center, and a slew of facials, massages, body treatments, and other pampering services. For more information about St. Helena, consult Moon California or Moon Northern California.

Bisbee, Arizona

Once considered one of the largest cities between the Midwest and the West Coast, Bisbee, a former copper-mining town, now has a population of just under 6,000. Despite the long-ago closure of its once-thriving mines, however, Bisbee is actually one of Arizona’s most charming towns, situated amid the Mule Mountains and predominately inhabited by artists, artisans, hippies, and retirees. For a taste of the Old West, most travelers head to Old Town, where you’ll find several shops, restaurants, and historic hotels. In addition, history buffs will relish a visit to the Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum, which explores and embraces the storied past of the so-called “Queen of the Copper Camps.” As a bonus, the famous town of Tombstone is only 24 miles northwest of Bisbee along AZ-80. For more information about Bisbee, consult Tim Hull’s Moon Tucson or Moon Arizona.

So, have you ever visited any of these towns? If so, do you agree with their inclusion on this list? And if not, why not?

In the meantime, stay tuned for my next post, which will highlight three more of my favorite small towns, spread across the Western and Midwestern regions of the United States.