In 1894, mail carrier George Luce rounded up his neighbors and a couple of horses, and pulled from the sea what would become the namesake for present day Cannon Beach. They dragged the cannon to what was the post office in Arch Cape, five miles south of present day Cannon Beach.
The smooth bore cast iron cannon was a design made by the Scottish for the British Royal Navy, though this one was aboard the ill-fated U.S.S. Shark. She was a topsail schooner that had already lived a full life at sea, but in the turbulent toss of the Columbia River Bar to the north, she broke apart.
Discoveries such as this relic weren’t uncommon in early America, but they were in 2008, when a father and daughter came across two rocks with rust on them just south of Cannon Beach. As if reaffirming the legacy, those rocks were cannons, both likely from the U.S.S. Shark.
Present day Cannon Beach is still a place of miraculous finds. From top to bottom, the coastal town of 1,700 is a studio for artists, a rolling pin for bakers, a seaside redoubt for Oregonians and a star in the seafood culinary scene. Every June, sand architects come out to create a massive display of sand sculptures that take the shape of Oregon icons such as the Timberline Lodge or gigantic sprawling squids. For culture and leisure on the Oregon Coast, there is nothing comparable.
The allure of the town of Cannon Beach is a siren’s song. Any visit to the Oregon Coast begins on the beach. As spring gives way to summer, temperatures increase and rain decreases, leaving behind stunning views of such monoliths as Haystack Rock.
No ordinary rock, the 240-foot-high spectacle is best observed at low tide and up close. For passersby, it is a hulking dark mass lodged in sand. In close quarters, Haystack Rock’s colorful garden comes to life. Starfish, crabs, sea anemones, puffins and terns are some of its residents. Members of a new nonprofit—Haystack Rock Awareness Program—educate adults and kids about its vast ecosystem.
One overlooked aspect for many beach-goers is that the Oregon Coast is one long and fairly uninterrupted running and walking trail that can be tailored to anyone’s needs—run closer to the water for a denser feel underfoot or farther
up the tidal zone for a softer sandy course. From the Ocean Lodge in Cannon Beach, take off south around midmorning for receding tides, then double back north for a longer run.
Cannon Beach resorts accommodate many types of visitors. There is the Ocean Lodge and Stephanie Inn for upscale lodging with cozy fireplace suites. There is the Tolovana Inn and the venerable Surfsand Resort, also well situated for beach activity. You’ll also find a stunning portfolio of rental homes for families and pets through Cannon Beach Vacation Rentals.
After a full day on the beach, wash the sand from where it hides and head to downtown’s arts and culinary scene for the evening. You can get pleasantly lost and found in dozens of galleries. There is White Bird, George Vetter Foto Art and the Oregon Gallery, sculptures at Bronze Coast Gallery and a refreshing perspective from Modern Villa Gallery, to name a few. If you’re in town on the weekend of May 4-6, get to the galleries for the Spring Unveiling, where artists debut new works and talk about them.
Find something on the lighter side for dinner on your first night, because tomorrow’s meal is a big one.
Try the Dungeness-stuffed portobello or the crawfish étouffé, a specialty of Cajun-trained chef John Sowa at the renowned Sweet Basil’s Café. The cold and hot tapas menus weave Creole classics and Pacific bounty in this tucked away kitchen at the north end of Hemlock.
If there’s fire in your belly, or you’re craving a nightcap, hit the old Driftwood Inn for a drink and a slurp of oysters.
The early morning on coastal Oregon is ideal for exploration. Take a reconnaissance hike along the beach before the masses awake to find the next cannon. Bring along a small point and shoot or a phone with a camera, as morning light is often the bluest for capturing photo memories.
Cool mornings on the coast also make ideal conditions for cafés and bakeries in town. Head to Bella Espresso, a café italiano on the main drag of North Hemlock, or Waves of Grain on South Hemlock, where you’ll find such delights as Tillamook cheese biscuits and fruit streusel muffins.
If you’re in town for Cannon Beach’s Sandcastle Day in the low tides of June, you’ll notice that the beach has been converted into a large parking lot for sandcastle gawkers. A spectacle itself, this sand festival brings in more than 500 cars to park on the beach as their owners stroll among the dozens of sand sculptures.
Somewhere beyond the cars are rows of stunning creations. There are builders, artists, architects, plain ol’ families and passionate sand sculptors in the mix. They all come together for a day to compete for bragging rights. The contestants get started in the early morning, but many don’t finish their opus until early afternoon. The process is a treat.
If you’ve spent enough time on your feet, Cannon Beach Spa has a remedy or two for that. This off-Hemlock quiet reserve is a small day-spa with foot treatments, massage and hydrotherapy, all finishing nicely with gourmet chocolates from the adjacent chocolate café.
Take the rest of the afternoon to throw open the doors and windows and kick back with a good book or go where gravity pulls you—Bill’s Tavern for a locally crafted brew.
The best way to describe EVOO is a dinner show, where dinner and the chefs are the show. Before the night is over, you will have eaten a four-course meal with wine pairings, laughed with chef Bob Neroni and learned more about cooking than anything you’ve read.
Bob was classically trained at the Culinary Institute of America in New York. His wife, Lenore Emery, taught cooking classes in many environments. Together, they put on a delicious show with such dishes as chaimen-rubbed tenderloin of beef with potato lentil hash, house-cured pickled cucumbers, tomato jam, and desserts such as ricotta cheese cake with warm apricots and caramel, topped with pignoli brittle.
If it hasn’t already, the law of averages kicks in with light rain on the coast. But that’s perfect for a vigorous hike at Ecola State Park, just north of town. It goes without saying—bring your camera wherever you go in photo-friendly Cannon Beach. There are end-of-the-world vistas and ancient trails to hike. Ecola comes from the Chinook word for whale. It was in 1804 that Capt. William Clark left Fort Clatsop to search for the beached whale that local Chinooks were chattering about. The Discovery Corps was growing tired of eating dog. In what is Ecola State Park today, Clark found a 105-foot whale stripped of its blubber and the colony of Chinooks who had deftly carved it. He negotiated for pieces of the bounty and then named the nearby stream, Ecola Creek.
To play your own Capt. Clark, look for a small dirt trail south of the parking lot and see where it takes you. The trail is narrow, often slippery and takes fifteen minutes to descend. Your discovery will be as virginal as that of Lewis and Clark on the Oregon Trail.
You can’t leave the coast without seafood gotten the old fashioned way. Now it’s time to pack the car and drive fifteen minutes south to Nehalem Bay to throw a crab pot or two. Just a short drive down Highway 101, you’ll come to Kelly’s Brighton Marina. You can rent everything you need and get the inside scoop on where the monsters are biting. The best months for netting big crabs end in ‘er,’ though Nehalem Bay is teeming with crabs year-round. If you’re not a patient fisherman, crabbing is for you—a net thrown (with no particular skill) produces crustaceans. Lots of them.
Bring your liveliest catch back to the marina, and Kelly will boil and pack them for your return trip. A hero’s welcome awaits anyone toting Dungeness crab from the coast. You may even be so inspired from your cooking class at EVOO that your crab becomes part of an impressive Neroni-like recipe of Dungeness crab and scallop ravioli over tomato zucchini-strip pasta with herb garlic pesto.
Cannon Beach Vacation Rentals
Sweet Basil’s Cafe
Bill’s Tavern and Brewhouse
Newman’s at 988
The Irish Table
Hike Ecola State Park
Hunt for sand dollars