Position: 45°53’04″N 123°57’51″W
Dubbed one of America’s best beach towns, and one of the world’s 100 best beaches by National Geographic, Cannon Beach is Oregon’s most recognised seascape. Haystack Rock dominates the view out to the Pacific Ocean, dwarfing the waves crashing around its base. Low tide seemingly stretches out forever towards the horizon, while high tide laps right up to the sea walls these days.
We had rolled out of bed determined to make the most of our rental car’s last day. It was a Monday and by 09:00 the I-5 bridge heading south across the Columbia River was already clear. The forecast called for clouds at the coast, along with temperatures in the 40s (single digits C). Winding out Route 26 towards Banks and the foothills of the Coastal Range, the low clouds broke apart casting sunshine onto patches of mist clinging to the Douglas Firs on the hillsides.
By the time we reached the summit pass, the sky was clear and brilliant blue. I love it when the weather forecast is wrong. Especially when you’re heading to the beach. The first order of business after parking the car was coffee. Insomnia Coffee, a couple of blocks from the sand, serves fine lattes and a doorstop sized bacon scone iced with maple frosting. In the shadow of giant redwoods, this hearty piece of local fare filled a lumberjack sized hole I didn’t think I had. Carol bailed on it after a couple of bites, but it more than sustained me for the next couple hours during our six-mile stroll.
Out by the surf, we were flooded with memories. It was here that Emma almost drowned as a toddler. Caught by a rogue wave she tumbled in the surf until I plucked her out and shook her dry. The whole experience lasted about 5 seconds, but seemed longer at the time. Annie, our late golden lab, loved the beach and naturally the water. She and Carol and Carol’s Subaru all learned first-hand the consequences of drinking seawater. The car never smelled the same and Annie was constrained to a leash ever after. Marlon never explained the cause and effect to her, but haughtily lauded his untethered freedom instead.
Cannon Beach is as close to a pedigreed place as you get in Oregon. William Clark, of Lewis and Clark, cut a deal for whale blubber on the beach in January 1806. He named the river there Ehkoli (a Chinook word for whale), anglicized later as Ecola. Forty years later a cannon from the schooner Shark, sunk off the Columbia Bar, washed up on the beach and inspired the name change to Cannon Beach in 1922. Alaska’s Good Friday earthquake in 1964 kicked up a tsunami that flooded the town and took out a bridge on U.S. 101. The highway was rebuilt further uphill and no longer passed through the town. To attract tourists a sandcastle building competition was organised. The next one is on June 10, 2023. Come down and check it out.
Winter may be the best time to visit, though. It is quiet and finding an open table in the pub is easy. Storms are frequent, but the unsettled weather only adds to the atmosphere. If you’re riding a bike to California, traffic is minimal. Just take a change of clothes and a waterproof pannier.
In this video you’ll be treated to some fantastic drone shots over Haystack Rock. You may be mesmerized by the surf rolling in like we were. Sending our little aerial camera out to sea seemed risky, but the video was well worth it. Enjoy.