Things to do in Cannon Beach
A visit to the Oregon Coast is on many peoples’ bucket lists, due to its wild and rugged coastline, unusual rock formations, dramatic views and rainforest terrain waiting to be explored. The weather is often (but not always) wistfully overcast, with fog looming in the distance, creating a mystical and almost ethereal atmosphere – making it truly a unique part of the United States to visit.
When my family and I were planning our trip to the Pacific Northwest, which began with a family vacation to Seattle to see cousins, I knew that this was my chance to finally explore a bit of the Oregon Coast (and, ultimately, Cannon Beach). I’ve been to Oregon before, but not to the Pacific coast – where the sea runs crashing into those curious rocks, the cliffs overlooking the vast beaches.
As we were visiting both Seattle and Portland, and staying north, I decided a road trip through the northern part of the Oregon Coast made the most sense. We had 1 night to spend on the coast – which town would it be?
After much research, it became clear that our stop would be made in Cannon Beach, the adorable and funky Oregon town by the sea, complete with its picturesque main street, good restaurants, art galleries, craft breweries, boutiques, and fun shops for the kids. We loved everything about Cannon Beach and would go back in a heartbeat. Below is our guide to things to do in Cannon Beach
Things to do in Cannon Beach
Firstly, to give a little more background on Cannon Beach, it’s tiny, with a population of less than 2,000. It’s most recognized for being the home of Haystack Rock, the 235-foot tall rock that jets out of the sea, and one of the most iconic parts of the entire Oregon Coast. The beach is scenic and dreamy, and famous for being in the movies The Goonies, Twilight and Point Break.
As much as the setting of Haystack Rock and the beach are a draw to Cannon Beach, it’s the quaint little village that attracts people as well. The architecture is mainly clapboard style, homes are impeccably cared for, flowers abound, and main street is out of the movies.
Contrary to popular opinion, in the summer months the village does get sun. Out of the two days we were there, we had one sunny day, and one overcast day. The water is very cold, so we never really “beached it up” in our bathing suits, but that’s all subjective. We’re from New York. Westerners may think of it as the perfect beach town!
Onto favorite things to do in Cannon Beach…
You can’t visit Cannon Beach without checking out Haystack Rock, the huge rock formation that looks like a haystack. It is said that millions of years ago, lava flowed through what is now the Oregon Coast, creating the unusual landscape and terrain. Haystack Rock is a towering site to be seen, dramatic any time of day.
Make sure to check the tidal charts upon your visit, as you will want to walk out onto the beach and see it up close when it is low tide. Haystack Rock is not just a site to be seen from the distance, but an amazing area to explore near the rock itself, for there are tidepools and marine gardens full of starfish, anemone, crabs and many other sea creatures. My girls had a blast exploring the area.
One thing to note is that Haystack Rock is part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge and is protected. No creature or material may be removed within 300 yards of the rock, and climbing is strictly forbidden. Another important thing to know is that if you’re a Puffins lover, the Tufted Puffins can be viewed here between the months of April and June.
Enjoy the Beach
Besides checking out Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach is a beautiful shoreline, and can make for a nice beach day on a sunny day. The water is freezing, however, as well as rough, so my kids never went swimming. My brother did – just so he could say he did – and confirmed the freezing factor!
On a foggy or overcast day, when it may be too cold to sit, the beach makes for a gorgeous walk. Or sit with a good book in blankets and enjoy it that way, as we saw many people doing. At night, it is tradition to make a campfire, and many hotels sell campfire “kits”, complete with wood and smores. You can see little fires up and down the shoreline, and in general it’s just a really cool site to see.
Stroll Cannon Beach Village and surrounding area
Cannon Beach is one of the most picturesque villages I’ve been to, I really had no idea prior to visiting how much I’d fall in love with it! Yes, it is touristy, but for a reason. The town has that classic seaside main street feel, but in an Oregon way, meaning in a rugged, mellow kind of way. The architecture is mostly clapboard style – which I love – and in summer the flowers are in full bloom.
There are many cute and funky boutiques to dip into, old-fashioned candy shops for the kids, ice cream stores, and art galleries. Cannon Beach is known for its art galleries…it definitely has an artsy, albeit upscale artsy, vibe. Main street is called North Hemlock Street – stroll up and down it. But also walk all around town into the side streets to see the homes, and take the coastal path along the ocean. There is so much beauty to be explored in this quaint and beautiful town.
Visit Ecola State Park
This is an absolute must-do when visiting Cannon Beach, for Ecola State Park has the best views of the shoreline and its rocks. Located in the northern part of town, a short drive from downtown and $5 to enter, visiting Ecola State Park is easy and cheap. The ascent up to the top is part of the experience, as you drive though rainforest full of tall trees all around you, the sea quietly off in the distance.
Drive first to Ecola Point, where you have the dramatic views of the shoreline and headlands, and then to Indian Beach, which has phenomenal views as well. In both parts of the park, there are trails for walking and hiking, and picnic areas. I can’t say enough about this park – enjoy the views on a sunny day, or an atmospheric and overcast one, and you will not be disappointed.
Enjoy good food
Cannon Beach has some great restaurants, ranging from casual to fine dining, good brunch spots, breweries, pubs, breakfast diners and coffee and pastry joints. We decided to eat dinner at Pelican Brewing Company because we wanted to try some good Oregon craft beer, plus it was the type of food we were in the mood for – not too fancy, but yummy burgers, salads and apps, to name a few things. The space is big and lively, and we really enjoyed our meal. And the beer? We had some tastings before ordering a bunch and they were all fantastic.
Most of the restaurants are located on Hemlock Street. Take your pick, just make sure to either make a reservation or get there ahead of the time you want to eat. Cannon Beach is happening, and so is the food scene.
Those are my top picks for things to do in Cannon Beach. If you have any you’d like to add, please leave in the comments below.