Cannon Beach is a popular day-trip or weekend getaway from Portland, for locals and tourists alike. It’s about 80 miles from downtown Portland, and has actively worked to maintain a small town feel. The town itself is right on the Pacific Ocean and is littered with cute shops, cafes and restaurants – not to mention hotels and rental homes – making it a cozy coastal escape in any weather. It’s a wealthy community, so you may find cheap accommodations hard to come by in the summer, but in winter you shouldn’t have any trouble. And don’t assume that just because it’s gray or cloudy that people won’t be enjoying a coastal town – this is Oregon, after all, and if we always stayed indoors when it was rainy we’d almost never go outside.
The original name for the town was Ecola, but it was changed to match the adjacent beach in the 1920s. The actual beach got its name because a cannon from a wrecked US Navy ship washed ashore in 1846; the cannon itself is now on display in the Cannon Beach museum, while a replica is mounted along Highway 101.
One of the more famous images of the Oregon coast comes from near downtown Cannon Beach – it’s Haystack Rock. It’s over 230 feet tall, making it the third-tallest “sea stack” on earth. During low tide, you can walk all the way out to Haystack Rock and investigate the sea life in the tidal pools around it. The smaller rock formations near Haystack Rock are called “The Needles.” The whole area around the rock is part of the Tolovana Beach State Recreation Site, and between May and September there are often volunteer guides out and about to help you identify the various creatures which call Haystack Rock home. Just don’t try to pry anything off the rocks – they’re protected, and it’s prohibited.
Because Oregon’s beaches are all publicly owned, you are free to wander up and down the coast anywhere you’d like. And if you like the freedom of unrestricted beach access, you can mutter a thank-you to former governor Tom McCall. Many Oregonians do.
Back in Cannon Beach, you’ll want to try to get a room at one of the hotels which overlooks the ocean to enjoy an Oregon coast sunset. And any time you don’t spend on the actual beach, you’ll spend wandering in and out of Cannon Beach’s downtown area. In addition to the usual shop and restaurant fare, you’ll find that many area artists sell their work in small galleries. The emphasis is on small businesses, and even the grocery stores seem very “mom and pop.” Big chain stores have been discouraged from marring the downtown area, which enhances Cannon Beach’s appeal.