written by Christina Robinette | photos by Cameron Zegers
Cannon Beach in the winter offers new ways to experience a classic Oregon Coast destination. Thousands of visitors from around the world travel to Cannon Beach for views of the iconic haystack rock, its fresh coastal cuisine and its art galleries that showcase international masters alongside local artists. Art, wine and waves mix easily here. So, too, do sweatshirts and dogs.
Day 1: Pancakes, pinot noir and petite brie
We emerge from Highway 101 in Cannon Beach at mid-morning to a steady rain that has teased out brightly-colored umbrellas. My husband has forgotten his umbrella and darts into the main street grocery for one as I lift the hood on my raincoat and head for our first destination.
The Pig ‘N Pancake is the roadside diner from your childhood. Plates of hotcakes whisk by our cozy table, as we sipped good coffee. I opt for a vegetarian omelet while my husband dived deeper into the menu for the coastal twist on eggs benedict with Dungeness crab.
A post-Pig walk through the village draws us to a colorful courtyard. Cannon Beach seems to be perpetually in bloom with hydrangeas, hanging baskets full of poppies and ornamental grasses dancing on the breeze. January is the quiet season, but there is still plenty of activity.
Off of the courtyard is Provisions 124 Market, the perfect place to build a picnic basket or linger for an afternoon wine tasting. The market carries an award-winning pinot noir, Puffin, which complements slices of Olympic Provisions salami and Rivers Edge smoked chèvre from Three Ring Farm near Corvallis.
A little farther up the road is EVOO. Chef Bob Neroni was busily prepping for a dinner performance. Neroni and his wife, Lenore, welcome twenty-two guests to their kitchen stage each weekend for a meal reflecting local, seasonal ingredients and the best of their onsite orchard. Pan-seared, spicy, lime-marinated duck breast and chocolate ginger-cinnamon soufflé were on the playbill tonight. Neroni’s performances concentrate on technique. “I’d rather teach people how to make a good risotto than focus on complex ingredients that may be hard to find.” Reservations are mandatory.
The rain subsided as we grabbed slices to go at Fultano’s pizza to take along with us to the beach. As we took our first steps on the sand, the dark clouds split to reveal a sliver of sunset behind the haystack. Hot pepperoni mixed nicely with the cold air and the roar of the churning tide.
Day 2: Bold, blue and authentic
Cannon Beach has an auspicious existence in the art world for a town named for a bit of beach debris. A US Navy schooner hit land as it crossed the Columbia bar in 1846, losing a cannon that eventually washed up just north of Arch Cape. The cannon inspired the name of the community that has become known in the art world for excellent galleries and eager buyers.
At DragonFire gallery, color jumps from the walls. “What we sell best is bold and saturated,” said owner Eeva Lantela. Lantela and her partner started DragonFire as a paint-your-own ceramics studio but gradually realized their customers wanted to enjoy art rather than make it themselves. There is paint, fiber, metal, sculpture and wearable art. An exhibit of hand-painted guitars caught my eye. The colors were vivid, the media ambitious and the dynamic nature assured me that there would be something new to see each visit.
By contrast, Modern Villa is like being dropped into a cool, clear pool. White walls, clean lines and oils in various expressions of blue rest easily on the eyes. You want to whisper here so as not to disturb the air. Anchored by Oregon artists David J. Marshall and Sarah Goodnough, the feeling is perpetual summer in turquoise, cornflower and royal. My husband and I hovered over the glass sculptures of waves frozen in time. Bellingham, Washington artist, David Wight, called them tidal waves, which is a bit alarming perhaps for a coastal community. They glow on white, turning pedestals, lit from beneath.
Our final art stop of the day was Northwest By Northwest. Gallery director, Joyce Lincoln, showed us one of the largest selections of Georgia Gerber sculptures on the West Coast. Gerber’s bronze, zaftig rabbits and other woodland creatures play in the center of the room, and are surrounded by the master landscape photography of Christopher Burkett. “Those colors are real. There is no digital enhancement,” Lincoln explained. Former president Jimmy Carter and musician Graham Nash are fans of Burkett, but plenty of tourists buy from the gallery as well. Lincoln echoes a sentiment we’ve heard at other galleries—people love to buy art on vacation. Oregon’s sales-tax-free status doesn’t hurt, either.
We ended the evening with a meal at The Irish Table, a gustatory work of art.
Day 3: Quiet season sanctuary
After a couple of days of rain, we were excited to see a mix of clouds and sun as we left our rented cottage for Ecola State Park. When the sun shines on the Oregon Coast, there is no more breathtaking spectrum of greens.
We began our hike at the head of the Clatsop Loop Trail, an easy three miles, just a few minutes’ drive from the center of the village. Our boots crunched on wet gravel, and we disappeared under a canopy of spruce, cedar and hemlock. We inhaled deeply, listened intently and watched the forest unfold. This was the gift of the quiet season in Cannon Beach as the trail felt like sanctuary. Near the halfway point, soaked from mist and with our boots covered in mud, we opted for the additional mile-and-a-half to view Tillamook Rock Lighthouse. Decommissioned in 1957, it’s now privately owned but continues to take the full force of impressive coastal storms from its basalt rock perch a mile offshore.
The chill of the fading day turned us back on the trail, and we headed to the village for hamburgers and beers on the front deck of Driftwood Restaurant and Lounge. The fire feature table warmed our faces and we enjoyed the fading afternoon sunshine at our backs. Sadly it was time to pack up and go, but not before a bit of Mayan hot chocolate for the road.
Visitors encounter a wall of chocolate from around the world at The Chocolate Café. Tim Krupa is a retired chiropractor who rented his space to several unsuccessful tenants before indulging his cocoa passion. “I needed to find a business based on a well-established addiction,” said Krupa. Having traveled extensively through France and Belgium, Krupa was eager to share his knowledge, but my untrained palate struggled to differentiate the smoky Indonesian chocolate from the fruitier Tanzania cocoa. With cinnamon-infused drinks in hand, we thanked Krupa and made our way through the village one last time.