The wide swath of soft sand known as Cannon Beach is a perfect place for a family visit to the shore. If your family doesn’t include a dog you may want to borrow one to remind you of how much fun a good romp can be. Dogs under voice control are permitted off leash on the beach, and you’ll find many happy Rovers running at the surf’s edge.
The beach, dotted by enormous monoliths, and rich in marine and bird life offers endless possibilities for entertainment and relaxation. Regardless of the time of year, dress in layers and don’t forget the fleece and a windbreaker. You’ll almost always need one of the other before the day is done.
Before you go to Cannon Beach check the tide table and plan to begin your day with a walk at low tide when you can check out the abundance of dazzling sea creatures in the tide pools and at the base of those big rocks. At 235 feet Haystack Rock is the third largest monolith in the world and the highest of the giant boulders scattered like leftover bits of the craggy, heavily forested mountains that border the beach.
Low tide reveals the exotic sea life clinging to the base of those rocks: orange and purple sea stars that shimmer like jelly, barnacles and bivalves, all layered on each other. Step carefully around the tide pools left behind by the retreating sea and watch the bottle green sea urchins that look like hungry, pulsating daisies. Above the waterline, the rocks provide habitat to shorebirds. You can see the colorful puffins between April and July.
Now that you’ve worked up an appetite, head up the path through the wild roses and blackberries to Waves of Grain Bakery for a cup of their Sleepy Monk Coffee and a pastry. Be sure to get there by 9:30 if you want one of their popular sticky buns. Sleepy Monk, roasted locally by Victor and Jane Harding, is an organic and fair trade coffee that makes an unforgettable brew.
Cannon Beach is bracketed by a pair of Oregon State Parks where you can hike off your sticky bun. Just north of the town is Ecola State Park and the 2.5 mile Clatsop Loop, a historical interpretive trail that traces the route taken by Captain William Clark and some of the members of the Corps of Discovery in January 1806 when they made their way to the site to see a beached whale. Ten miles south of Cannon Beach you will find Oswald State Park and its hiking trails leading through old-growth forest to secluded mountainside beaches, a favorite of surfers. Both parks include picnic facilities.
There’s something for everyone in the family on a Cannon Beach afternoon. Shoppers will find clothing, gifts, gourmet and recreation items in shops along the streets of the compact town. I always stop at Ecola Seafoods Restaurant and Market to stock up on their canned tuna. It’s labeled with the name of the vessel on which it was caught, and when you open it you will find something more like a perfectly roasted tuna steak than anything Starkist ever put in a can. The friendly folks at Ecola Seafoods will even keep you supplied by mail order.
If a leisurely afternoon seems like a perfect opportunity to peruse an art gallery, you’ll have plenty to choose from. The great natural beauty of this place has been an artistic inspiration for many talented artists and you can see their works at Northwest by Northwest Gallery, Dragon Fire, Icefire, and other galleries around town.
If an afternoon on the beach beckons, there’s plenty of room for volleyball or football, and if your family includes kids be sure to bring a kite. Take a stroll along the beach and select a spot for an evening bonfire. If you’re lucky, you’ll find one with enormous driftwood tree trunks to sit on and a fire pit ringed by big rocks.
The Northwest foodie scene is well represented in Cannon Beach. Local fine dining options with laid back Oregon denim and fleece vibe include Newmans at 988 and Gower Street Bistro. If pizza is more your style, the local favorite is Pizza a Fetta. All three are located on Hemlock, Cannon Beach’s main street.
After dinner pack up the makings for s’mores and head back to that firepit. If you’re a fan of Oregon wines, the grownups can discuss whether a pinot noir should be paired with the chocolate bar, or a pinot gris would go better with the charred on the outside, melting on the inside marshmallows that the kids will be happy to roast.
If you have reserved one of the wide range of accommodations available in Cannon Beach, you can put the kids to bed and stay up working a jigsaw puzzle with those folks you call family, the one you are linked to by blood lines, or the one you have made for yourself of like minded friends. After a shared day at Cannon Beach, you’ll all have one more happy memory in your family album.
What and Where:
Waves of Grain Bakery (3116 S Hemlock St; 503-436-9600) CLOSED
Ecola State Park (Ecola Rd; 503-436-2844)
Oswald State Park (US 101, 10 miles S of Cannon Beach)
Ecola Seafoods Restaurant and Market (208 North Spruce St; 503-436-9130)
Northwest by Northwest Gallery (232 N. Spruce St; 800-494-0741)
Dragon Fire (123 S Hemlock St # 106; 503-436-1533)
Icefire (116 East Gower St; 888-423-3545)
Newmans at 988 (988 S Hemlock St; 503-436-1151)
Gower Street Bistro (1116 S Hemlock St; 503-436-2729) CLOSED
Pizza a Fetta (231 N Hemlock St # 109; 503-436-0333)
For more information: Cannon Beach Visitor Information: 503 436-2623
Getting There: Cannon Beach is 75 miles/1.5 hours west of Portland. Take Highway 26 to Highway 101.
Ann Hagemann is a freelance travel writer. She focuses on food and wine, life long learning, and luxury spas. Ann began traveling from her arm chair, reading M.F. K. Fisher and Calvin Trillin. She refined her palate with a course at Cordon Bleu and has visited many of the world’s great wine producing regions. She currently resides in Alexandria, Virginia. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.