Cannon Beach, Oregon

Photo: N. Preseault
Photo: N. Preseault

Do you consider yourself a beach bum? Do you spend as much time as possible baking in the sun to get a golden tan? Maybe not anymore. But that doesn’t mean you have to avoid the sand, as well. You just need to be more selective with your coastal destinations. One that should fit the bill quite nicely: Cannon Beach.

Cannon Beach is located 80 miles west of Portland on the rugged Oregon coast. It’s a popular weekend escape for people who live in the city and detour for those visiting the Willamette Valley’s wineries. The little town is filled with weathered cedar-shingled buildings, picket fences, and overflowing buckets of flowers. Art galleries and strategically placed benches dot Hemlock Street. Chain stores and restaurants haven’t found their way in between the locally owned cafés, bakeries, and surf shops. The beach can be seen from just about everywhere.

And what a beautiful beach it is. On one side, it’s surrounded by state parks, Douglas firs and Sitka spruces, and second homes set back in the dunes. The vast, choppy Pacific is on the other side. Dogs patrol the four-mile stretch of sand. The weather changes constantly—layers and an umbrella are always a good idea. And Haystack Rock sits in the middle of it all.


Haystack Rock graces almost every photo of Cannon Beach. The town’s iconic image is a 235-foot basalt rock that formed when lava flowed into the sea millions of years ago. The third-largest monolith in the world is now a marine sanctuary that is home to orange and purple starfish, sea anemones, and crabs. Tufted puffins and cormorants nest here. Rock pools form at low tide. And two smaller rocks, the Needles, sit off to the side.

After getting up close to observe the rock, walk along the seemingly endless beach that stretches from Arch Cape to Elk Creek. Use binoculars to see the Tillamook Head Lighthouse more than a mile offshore. Terrible Tilly, which was built in 1881, is exposed to the rough ocean on its own basalt rock. The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1957 and is now used as a columbarium. Hike through Ecola State Park for panoramic views of the coastline, migrating whales, and grazing elk. Practice for the upcoming sandcastle-building competition that draws thousands of people to the beach. Or brave the chilly water to go surfing or boogie boarding.

The beach day doesn’t end when the sun starts to set. First, return to your hotel, the beachfront Surfsand Resort. Your room’s deep soaking tub and gas fireplace should warm you up quickly. Walk to Ecola Seafoods for a cup of chowder, Willapa Bay oysters, and fried clam strips. Then return to the beach, where an attendant is just starting to build your fire. Marshmallows, chocolate bars, graham crackers, and roasting sticks sit in a sand pail off to the side. S’mores and a bottle of Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley make a perfect dessert—and end to the perfect beach day.


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