Cannon Beach, Oregon
In the northwest corner of Oregon lies Cannon Beach, which has been attracting visitors since 1806 when Captain William Clark (of Lewis & Clark fame) dropped by to purchase 300 pounds of whale blubber from local Indians. Named for a cannon that washed ashore from the shipwrecked USS Shark in 1846, Cannon Beach offers visitors an abundance of activities to enjoy. Its postcard attraction is Haystack Rock, a massive 235-foot-tall chunk that sits on the beach behind the downtown area. It's reputedly the world's third-largest freestanding monolith (after Australia's Ayers Rock and Atlanta's Stone Mountain), and visitors can climb up to the barnacle line -- the top of the rock is a protected National Wildlife Refuge.
Cannon Beach is a quaint, refined seaside village -- wild and crazy spring breakers opt for Seaside, 8 miles north. Principal pastimes in these parts consist of beachcombing, riding 3-wheelers along the sand, tide pooling, whale watching and lazily walking beside the surf or through the heavily forested state parks just north (Ecola State Park) and south (Oswald West State Park) of town. Located 80 miles west of Portland, Cannon Beach has recently become a popular spot for second homes. This may elevate the price of real estate, but it also sustains a year-round theater company and a substantial number of boutiques, bookstores, gourmet food shops and low-key, quality restaurants.
This being the Great Northwest, the rugged coastal scenery is indeed beautiful but the rugged coastal weather, iffy. Most yearly rainfall takes place between November and March, and during peak sun season -- July through September -- temperatures seldom hit 80 F. Each year the beach's biggest event is Sandcastle Day, which is held in early June (lowest tide determines exact date). Oregon's oldest sandcastle competition is limited to the first 150 who sign up, but thousands of others attend just to watch. The yearly calendar of events also includes the Puffin Kite Festival in April and the Stormy Weather Arts Festival in soggy November. For information regarding these events and anything else going on, check out the Cannon Beach Visitors Information Center Web site.
Cannon Beach Hotel
Situated a few long strides from Haystack Rock and a short stroll from galleries and cafes, the Cannon Beach Hotel was built in 1910 as a boarding house for loggers but has since been tastefully modernized. Classy contemporary furnishings in all nine guestrooms are accented with original local art as well as armoires concealing large TVs and VCRs. Four rooms have gas fireplaces, four have Jacuzzis and several offer ocean views. Breakfast has a French flair - baskets of homemade baked goods, fruit and beverages are delivered to guestrooms along with the morning paper. As the innkeepers state, "well-mannered children are welcome." If this hotel is booked, arrangements may be made for you to stay at one of the nearby sister spaces - either the 13-unit Courtyard or the four-unit, handcrafted Hearthstone Inn.
Best Luxurious Hotel
Although the Stephanie Inn is located on the Cannon Beach oceanfront within eyeshot of Haystack Rock, the ambience is more New England-elegant than Pacific Coast-untamed. Opened in 1993, the inn is named after the daughter of owner Steve Martin (no, not that Steve Martin), and all 46 guestrooms and 4 carriage houses are named after female family members, friends or prominent Oregon women. Most rooms have a Jacuzzi, fireplace, VCR (with free tapes available) and a deck overlooking the sea, and the lobby, with its inviting fireplace, is the focal point of socializing. Room rates include a full country breakfast buffet and cocktail hour where local wine and munchies are served. The 4-course prix dinner in the dining room is a tough ticket for non-guests. The Stephanie Inn presents itself as a relaxed and refined setting for romantic getaways. To ensure it stays that way, guests can't bring pets or children younger than 12, smoke or feed the seagulls.
Best Family Hotel
For oceanfront hotels close to the Cannon Beach commercial strip, the Surfsand Resort is as family-and pet-friendly as they come. Most of the 1 and 2-bedroom units have fireplaces and balconies with ocean and Haystack Rock views. Seventeen of the hotel's 82 rooms have in-room Jacuzzi tubs big enough for 2 as well as fully equipped kitchen suites that accommodate up to 4. If the ocean's too cold, kids can take a dip in the heated pool or organize a game of pick-up basketball. Year-round events include Family Night at the Movies held on Fridays (with free popcorn) and a kid's craft or activity hour on Saturdays that is followed by an ice cream social. Sunday evening wienie roasts are held Memorial Day through Labor Day, and during whale migration seasons (mid-December to early February in the south and from early to mid-spring in the north), hotel staff members offer guided trips to the best whale-watching spots.
Best Budget Accommodation
Hidden Villa Motel
For proximity to the beach, affordable rates, understated charm and northwestern hospitality, the Hidden Villa is a fantastic find. All 6 newly renovated pine cabins have a full-sized bed, cable TV, full kitchen and walls adorned with homegrown art. It's a block from Haystack Rock and not far from other Cannon Beach enterprises.
Food & Drink
Bill's Tavern & Brewhouse
Bill's opened in 1932 as a saloon for hard-drinking loggers and evolved -- along with Cannon Beach -- into a comfortable hangout for tourists, artists and locals. In 1997 it began using mostly local ingredients to craft Bill's Beers in huge vats in a second-floor brewing area. Options include light Clearcut Lager, ultra-fruity Blackberry Lager, and Curiously Strong (said to put hair on your chest), to name a few. Bill's also serves Bud and Bud Lite. The jukebox is filled with northwestern eclectic tunes (jazz, blues, folk, rock, grunge) and the menu offers better-than-average bar fare with garden burgers, oysters and prawns among the choices.
Best Waterfront Atmosphere
This north coast institution founded by boisterous town character Mohava Marie Niemi has fed locals, tourists, barnstorming politicians (Robert Kennedy, to name one) and on-location movie stars (Paul Newman, Henry Fonda) for more than 50 years. The Cannon Beach Mo's is situated in the south end of town on the cusp of Tolovana Park in a driftwood-encrusted structure. Views of ocean rock formations and sunsets are outstanding. Count on encountering big crowds attracted by the view and reasonably priced meals. The menu includes full dinners of halibut, salmon, Oregon oysters (from Mo's own oyster farm), ribs and other assorted entrees. Wash down dinner with a glass of locally brewed Mo Ale.
Best Local Seafood
Owner/chef John Nelson was raised locally in a family of Scandinavian fisherman. He buys as much seafood as possible - salmon, black rockfish, lingcod, etc. - from his neighbor, a fisherman with a resale license. His oysters come from nearby Willapa Bay in Washington. A cozy downtown spot decorated with seafood murals and navigational charts, Kalyspo features fresh local seafood in styles ranging from Asian (bowl of noodles topped with Petrale sole, sesame-studded razor clams with a wasabi vinaigrette) to Scandinavian (pan-fried rex sole in a light-cream shrimp sauce, pickle salmon appetizer). The selective and affordable wine list emphasizes whites from Alsace that go well with seafood. Save room for desserts baked by Nelson's wife, Jennifer, whose specialties include Swedish creme topped with local huckleberries and gingerbread and served with brandy caramel sauce.
Best Family Restaurant
Pizza a'fetta is an unpretentious spot with a strong local following and a national reputation - Pizza Today Magazine lists it in the top 50 independent pizza restaurants in America. Although the menu offers 3-meal-sized salads and seasonal pasta (October through February) or soup (September through May), pizza, by the slice or pie, is king. Pies are made with light and yeasty, hand-tossed "peasant" crust. Sixteen types are available -- Thai chicken, 3 seafood pizzas, 5 veggie pizzas, a cheese-free variety and Pizza del Mese (Pie of the Month). Or create your own. Beverages include microbrews and wine from Italy and Oregon. When the weather's nice, eat outside in the adjacent courtyard.
Best Kid Stuff
Sea Ranch Stables
The best and most Western way to see the Cannon Beach seascape is on the back of a trusty trail horse. The "horses for the entire family" at Sea Ranch Stables splash through the surf on two guided one-hour rides. One trail moseys south from the stable to Haystack Rock, the other north to Cove Beach by way of Chapman Point. Sea Ranch offers night rides 3 times a week and, at very low tides, 2-hour rides out to Silver Point. Riders must be at least 7 years old, and reservations must be made in person at the stable behind the Sea Ranch RV Park.
Best Day Trip
Ecola State Park
Ecola State Park is full of the dense forests (mostly sitka and western hemlock), mountain views and misty seascapes that lure visitors to the Pacific Northwest. "Ecola" means whale in the Chinook language, and gray whales migrate by in March, orcas pass through in May and sea lions frolic on the rocks from mid-April through June (bring binoculars). The 9-mile stretch of rugged Oregon coastline is loaded with forested hiking trails, one of which leads to Indian Creek and Indian Beach, a surfer's paradise. From there the trail climbs to Indian Point, a prime spot for viewing the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse (a.k.a. "Terrible Tillie") which sits on a wind-buffeted rock 1-mile out to sea. If you like the looks of Tillie, arrangements can be made for you to stay there -- forever. Decommissioned as a lighthouse in 1957, it is now called Eternity at Sea Columbarium and serves as a public mausoleum for cremated remains. Within Ecola, however, no overnight camping is permitted, but picnic areas with barbecues are available.
Best Evening Activity
Coaster Theater Playhouse
The Coaster Theater Playhouse is similar to repertory theaters that exist in just about every resort town - except this playhouse operates year-round. The theater occupies a rustic, early 1920s building that originally housed a skating rink and part-time silent movie theater. In the mid-1960s it was renovated into a full-time venue for musicals, dramas, comedies, whodunits, concerts and art shows. An ensemble of talented local actors known as the Stephen A. Diehl Production Company presents 7 productions a year, currently including "Steel Magnolias," Agatha Christie's classic "The Mousetrap," Neil Simon's "Laughter on the 23rd Floor" and "A Tuna Christmas."
Best Shopping Trip
Cannon Beach Art Galleries
Downtown Cannon Beach has 20-plus galleries and enough artistic ambience to make it into the book "The 100 Best Small Art Towns in America" at number 55. Despite skyrocketing real estate prices, many artists manage to own their own gallery or studio and most are situated on or just off the Hemlock Street main drag. Get oriented with the art scene at the Cannon Beach Arts Association Gallery. This is a nonprofit space founded in 1986 to "replenish and enhance the vitality of the arts in Cannon Beach" and spotlights local and regional artists. North by Northwest similarly focuses on arts and crafts by Pacific Northwest artists and specializes in regional art glass. Independent galleries include the Jeffrey Hull Gallery that features paintings and prints of Pacific seascapes. Sharon Amber Fine Jewelry displays gold and platinum jewelry adorned with gems and beach pebbles and Steidel's Art carries bold original paintings and prints by Bill Steidel.