A trip to Cannon Beach, Oregon is like venturing back in time to what the typical American town would have been like in the 1960‘s. While many towns throughout North America have lost their sense of identity with massive overdevelopment, non-stop strip malls, fast-food joints, and endless disconnected suburbs, the town of Cannon Beach purposely chose to retain its original unique identity: a small town in the midst of a temperate rain forest bordering some of the world’s most spectacular ocean scenery.
According to the 2010 Census, Cannon Beach has a population of only 1,690 inhabitants. It is located 80 miles west of Portland and 27 miles south of Astoria. From Portland Airport it is about a 2 hour drive. If you don’t want the hassle of driving nor the expense, then take the tram from Portland Airport to the Amtrak Station in downtown Portland, and then take the bus. It’s only a 1.5 hour trip and the cost is very reasonable (only $17 in 2013). In reality, you won’t need a car when you get to Cannon Beach as the entire town is walkable, especially if you stay at a hotel near the downtown area.
Cannon Beach is built literally on the Pacific Ocean. With 9 miles of beachfront, this town is surrounded by ocean, forests, and rivers. Hemlock Street is the main road through Cannon Beach, running from the northern end of town to the southern (Tolovana Park). The nearby towns of Seaside (7 miles away) and Astoria (27 miles away) are both reached via Highway 101 or by a bus shuttle service from downtown Cannon Beach (located in front of the Visitor’s Centre at the corner of 2nd and Spruce). The latter option is not only environmentally friendly, but will also save you money: in 2013 the cost to take the shuttle bus to Seaside was $1 and to Astoria was $4. Both Seaside and Astoria are fun day trips and easily accessible.
The warmest months to visit Cannon Beach are July, August, and September, and the coolest months are December, January, and February. Being situated on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, the weather here can be quite unpredictable. Thankfully when storms hit this area, they move inland very quickly. This town is surrounded by temperate rain forests so it does rain throughout the year, which keeps the trees emerald-green and the air fresh and invigorating. Thanks to the continual flow of fresh ocean air into this vast open area, you will find that your body’s energy levels will be much higher here than in most other places. More than likely this air is saturated with negative ions, which can give you a greater feeling of well-being and relaxation.
The first non-native visitor to this area was Captain William Clark who was part of the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1806. Clark and his team were in search of whale blubber and oil, when they ventured onto a cliff in what is now Ecola State Park and spotted the coast line near present-day Cannon Beach. Clark recorded his impressions of that area by writing in his journal: “[I saw] … the grandest and most pleasing prospects which my eyes ever surveyed, in front of a boundless Ocean…”. No settlements took hold, however, as the expedition moved onwards, leaving Cannon Beach in continued isolation. Then in 1846, the U.S. Navy schooner Shark sank while trying to sail out of a dangerous section of the Columbia River. One of the ship’s cannons washed ashore at Arch Cape (south of Cannon Beach), and then disappeared. It was rediscovered in 1898, and in 1922 this event became the inspiration to name the small settlement Cannon Beach. That original cannon is now on display at the city’s museum. Cannons from the Shark wreck continue to wash ashore as two more did in 2008.
The Downtown Area – Places to Visit
When you walk along Hemlock Street in downtown Cannon Beach you will think that you are in a town lost in time. Its basic design has not changed since the 1960’s: one main street with shops on both sides, easily accessible by walking. None of the buildings are higher than two stories, and all are made from wood, fashionably designed to blend in so as to create a sense of peace and tranquility. No need to hurry, as life here is at a calm and leisurely pace. For such a small town the variety of shops is surprising, offering everything from home-made chocolate to high-end home decor. Interspersed amongst the shops are quaint restaurants, bistros, and elegant art galleries. Without a doubt, this town has something to offer everyone.
For chocolate and candy lovers, visit Bruce’s Candy Kitchen, in business since 1963. Half the store is where they make the chocolate and candy, and the other half is where they sell it. Try their huge assortment of award-winning salt water taffy featuring every imaginable flavor from root beer to raspberry. For unique jewelry for both men and women, visit the Cannon Beach Treasure Company. It has a vast collection of authentic and replicated gold, copper, and silver coins, made primarily into rings and necklaces. These treasure coins are from different periods of mankind’s history: ancient Greece and Rome, the Knights Templer Crusades (into the Holy Land), the days when Spanish galleons laden with treasure from South America crossed the Atlantic en route to Spain (many ships of which sunk off the Florida Keys), Medieval England, the American Civil War, and the days of the Last Samurai (Japan). It’s your opportunity to own a unique piece of ancient history. For men, the rings worn by the Knights Templer or the coins recovered from sunken pirate treasure will be of particular interest. They are definitely conversation pieces!
Another interesting place to visit is the Cannon Beach Distillery near Seasons Cafe. This distillery specializes in small-batch, artisan spirits such as bourbon, rye, American whisky, gin, and rum. High quality ingredients are used to ensure that you are buying the best products possible, making them ideal to give as gifts, especially to friends, co-workers, or business clients. The owner, Mike Selberg, prides himself on making products that you won’t find anywhere else; for example, the IL Keyote spirit is distilled from the agave plant and the Donion Shanks Amber Rum uses blackstrap molasses as its base. For a nice cocktail, try either of them with orange juice and Perrier. There is a tasting room where you can sample the products before you buy them. Mike is available to answer any of your questions. Once you have tried his craft spirits, you won’t want to drink anything else! Cannon Beach Distillery is symbolic of what makes Oregon such a great place to visit: natural high-quality products that are made locally.
For a large selection of wines from both Oregon and Washington state, visit The Wine Shack. You will be quite impressed with their huge selection, especially of Pinor Noir. Try their Puffin Pinor Noir or the Puffin Red Blend. On a Saturday or Sunday afternoon visit the upstairs tasting room. It’s a great opportunity to sample the many excellent wines from this region as well as meet the locals.
If you appreciate original art, visit the DragonFire Gallery. It has 3,000 square feet of exhibit space featuring over 100 artists. You can find everything from paintings to hand-blown glass here. The glass flowers are very beautiful and are designed for your home and garden. For other fine pieces of hand-blown glass make sure to visit Icefire Glassworks (south of the downtown area in midtown). The craftsmanship of this gallery is truly superb. You can even watch the glass being melted in the furnace and transformed into a work of art.
Near the shopping district is the Cannon Beach Farmers Market. Stroll through the market with its wide array of local produce, cheeses, bread, baked goods, meats, and seafood. They even have edible flowers and specialty foods for sale.
For an evening of amusement and culture, attend the Coaster Theatre Playhouse. Instead of going to the cinema, people here go to the theatre (for live performances on a stage). The creativity and quality of the performances is truly outstanding with different performances throughout the year. For example, in April 2013, Jules Verne’s famous classic novel, “Around the World in 80 Days” was featured. It was adapted for the stage by Mark Brown. This comedy adventure play was a great success, no easy feat when you consider that 7 actors had to play 39 different characters and travel to 7 different continents! How such a small town can produce and support high quality performances throughout the year is truly unbelievable.
Recreation (Natural Beauty)
Cannon Beach abounds in natural beauty. It’s an integral part of what makes this town so special. Everywhere you walk the ocean is nearby. You can cycle, skimboard, swim, hike, surf, and even ride horseback on the beach. You can literally walk from one end of the beach at Ecola State Park to Tolovana Park, a distance of about 9 miles. Everywhere you look, you will see the famous Haystack Rock, a huge monolithic rock 235 feet high, easily accessible at low tide. Two other huge rocks known as The Needles are nearby. These rocks rise straight out of the ocean, but are far smaller in size than Haystack Rock. When you see photographs of the Oregon Coast, Haystack Rock is usually featured, making it one of Oregon’s most famous landmarks. Over 2,000 seabirds nest here every year, birds such as the Tufted Puffin, Western Gull, Black Oystercatcher, and Cormorant. At low tide the base of Haystack Rock has numerous tidal pools teeming with marine life such as starfish and crabs. Given its importance to the local ecosystem, it has been designated a National Wildlife Refuge and Marine Garden. This entire area is of particular interest to birdwatchers and photographers.
Far in the distance is another point of interest: “Terrible Tilly”, Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, rising 100 feet from the ocean. The lighthouse dates back to 1881 and is fully exposed to the brutal storm weather that can hit the coast. The pounding of massive waves upon this lighthouse is an amazing sight. It was closed down in 1957 due to the high cost of maintenance. This historic landmark is best viewed from Ecola State Park.
Ecola State Park is only two miles north of downtown Cannon Beach. You can reach it via highway or by walking along the beach. This park is densely forested with Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock and has several hiking trails many of which give you incredible views of the dramatic Oregon coastline. Many of these viewpoints will also give you sightings of whale migrations during the summer and winter months. At the north end of the park is Indian Beach, a secluded stretch of sand which has become a favorite place for surfers and kayakers. It’s also a great place for a picnic or just to relax and enjoy the spectacular scenery all around you!
Another park to visit is Oswald West State Park, about 10 miles south of Cannon Beach on Highway 101. It’s famous for its scenery and incredibly large trees. Visit half-moon shaped Short Sands Beach and discover what makes this area so special: a beautiful tranquil cove surrounded by a majestic rain forest. Many people come here to windsurf, swim, surf, or to go boogie boarding (also known as bodyboarding). You will notice people swimming, but the water is cold. Use a wetsuit if possible. This park is about 2,500 acres in size and is well worth the visit.
For lovers of history, visit Hug Point State Park, a few miles south of Cannon Beach. Parts of this park contain the old highway known as “Hug Point”, dating back to 1880. You can actually see the highway used by stagecoaches. The highway was literally carved out of the rock. It was the only means of traveling down the coast and was in use up until the early 1930’s. What an adventure this must have been for travelers as this road was built along the ocean, which meant that waves would have continually battered the road and flooded it at high tide. You can actually see tracks in the rock from the many stagecoaches and cars that traveled this highway.
Food & Beverages
The range of food that is available here is quite extensive. There is something here for everyone. If you want breakfast or lunch, go to The Lazy Susan Cafe. The John’s Breakfast is quite unique: poached eggs on fried potatoes. Not only is it tasty, but it’s gluten-free. For lunch, definitely visit Seasons Cafe. They have a wide range of sandwiches and salads as well as daily specials such as fish tacos. As an added bonus, anything on the menu can be made gluten-free. If you like beer or ale, then go to Bill’s Tavern Brew House. They serve both lunch and dinner. All of their Bill’s Brews are made on site from local ingredients. They even have beer to go in 1/2 gallon jugs!
For late evening dining and entertainment, consider the Lumberyard Rotisserie & Grill restaurant located at the north end of the downtown area. Its wooden ceiling and open fireplace give the place a very warm and casual atmosphere. For a truly unique dining experience spend an evening at the EVOO Cannon Beach Cooking School. Chefs prepare your meals right in front of you while demonstrating how everything is made. You’ll have great food and wine with entertainment provided free-of-charge. You can even attend cooking courses such as learning how to make artisan bread.
For a tasty snack or light lunch, go to the Cannon Beach Bakery. It has a wide range of muffins, cinnamon buns, pastries, and breads. The bakery also serves soup and sandwiches made with its well-known Haystack Bread.
If your hotel room has a kitchenette, you can buy groceries downtown at Mariner Market. For a larger selection of food, take a day trip to Seaside and go to Safeway.
If you like seafood, then you must go to Mo’s restaurant located at the southern end of Cannon Beach in Tolovana Park. Not only is the food exceptional, but so is the view of the beach and ocean. Ask for a seat near the window and marvel at the proximity of the waves pounding on the beach. Few restaurants in the world have such a commanding view of the ocean! Mo’s is famous throughout Oregon for its clam chowder and all of its seafood dishes are tasty and very well priced. It’s a great place to take friends and family.
Accommodation – Where to Stay
Cannon Beach has become a popular tourist destination, so finding suitable accommodation is thankfully quite easy. For moderately priced lodgings consider Haystack Lodgings, offering an assortment of six different inns all centrally located near the downtown area. Two of its inns are the Blue Gull Inn and the Inn at Haystack Rock. Both are within easy walking distance of the downtown area and are close to the beach. Each room has a kitchenette with a dining room, and a fireplace. With so little commercial development throughout this entire area, you will be surprised how quiet it becomes during the evening. The only sound you will hear is the waves crashing onto the beach in the distance. If you are seeking rest or relaxation, then you will find it here. You won’t want to leave!
Another moderately priced lodging is Land’s End at Cannon Beach, a two-story wooden hotel located in the downtown area along the beach. Its location is incredible, as you have easy access to the ocean. There is a kitchenette and fireplace in every room, and some of the studios have ocean views. As an added bonus, visit the outdoor heated whirlpool hot tub, open all-year round.
For luxurious surroundings, consider staying at the Stephanie Inn, ranked as the #1 hotel in Oregon by U.S. News Travel. According to Conde Nast’s travel web site: “This is the nicest ocean retreat on the West Coast.” Stephanie Inn is located outside the downtown area with great views of the ocean, especially Haystack Rock and the huge beachfront. Shuttle service to the downtown area is available. Each room has a fireplace and whirlpool tub and there is an on-site dining room well known for its excellent high-quality cuisine. If you enjoy wine, make sure to attend the inn’s wine tasting events where you can sample many of Oregon’s top wines and meet other guests. Truly a wonderful way to spend your afternoon!
There is no shortage of things to do in Cannon Beach, as there are numerous events planned throughout the year. In early May there is the annual Spring Unveiling Weekend where art galleries throughout the town unveil new works of art. You have the opportunity to meet the artists and attend art workshops as well as receptions. In early June there is the annual Sandcastle Festival. You can easily participate in this fun-packed day, as both professional and amateur artists sculpt incredible works of art in sand on the beach. At roughly the same time is the Muscle Beach Cruz event at the nearby town of Seaside (only 7 miles away). It hosts a large display of “muscle cars”: American-made cars built between 1960 and 1978. On July 4th Cannon Beach hosts its annual Independence Day parade with concerts and celebrations all day long. In September there is the annual Cannon Beach Cottage Tour where you have the chance to visit over 50 authentic beach cottages some of which date back to the early 1920’s. Set aside the entire day as the tour includes a luncheon, lecture, and reception.
In October there is the Annual Dog Show on the Beach. It’s a dog festival featuring every kind of dog available, the proceeds of which benefit the local animal shelter. During the first weekend of November there is the annual Stormy Weather Arts Festival. This event lasts the entire weekend and gives you the chance to tour many of the town’s galleries and meet local artists.
In spite of so many events throughout the year, the best known and the most popular event to attend is the annual Savor Cannon Beach Wine and Culinary Festival. It is usually held in early March every year, and is basically a 4-day party with wine tasting events in many of the town’s art galleries, restaurants, and retail shops. About 40 Northwest wineries participate offering a large variety of different wines, and many of the town’s restaurants host special dinners. This event is a great way to celebrate the arrival of spring!
No matter what the weather is like, the town of Cannon Beach is dedicated to making your stay as enjoyable as possible. It’s a truly remarkable town to visit. The local government, especially its city planners and business owners are to be commended for ensuring that Cannon Beach remains a walkable town with a village-like atmosphere and strong sense of community. The only complaint that you will have is on the day of your departure: you won’t want to leave. Take comfort, however, in the fact that you will soon return, and thankfully this town will still be the same as it was when you left! For a truly relaxing and memorable trip, definitely make a trek to Cannon Beach, Oregon. It’s a place that you will never forget!
About the author:
Eric Alexander Hamilton lives in Vancouver, Canada. He loves travelling and has lived in several cities such as Paris, London, and Zurich. His passions in life are photography and writing, particularly about travel, self-help and spiritual topics. To him, writing and photography are a natural match, as witnessed in his web site, www.lifedestiny.com. With each passing day, he is trying to follow the advice of the famous American writer, Jack London:, who said: “The proper function of man is to live, not to exist.” It’s advice we should all follow.