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Cannon Beach is a charming town nestled along the Oregon coast, known best for its iconic sea stacks that have made its beach one of the most famous in the United States. But while its beach is inarguably stunning, the town itself is so much more than that- filled with epic hikes, adorable beach shacks, and Pacific Northwest adventures, just waiting to be had around every corner.
So pack up the car for an Oregon coast road trip and get ready to try your hand at these 11 incredible things to do in Cannon Beach, Oregon.
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Table of Contents
What is Cannon Beach?
How do I get to Cannon Beach?
Things to Do in Cannon Beach
When should I visit Cannon Beach?
What should I pack for Cannon Beach?
Where should I stay when visiting Cannon Beach?
Pssst… are you planning a northern Oregon coast road trip? Buckle up- it’s seriously one of the most magical spots on the planet. We have a few more posts you may want to check out:
We also have a ton on of content about Oregon (what can I say, I love my neighboring state!), which you can check out here.
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What is Cannon Beach?
Cannon Beach is a teeny town, with a population just under 1,500, in northern Oregon and is famous for one thing- the 235-foot tall Haystack Rock, a basalt sea stack that rises dramatically from its sandy shores (creatively, the town’s beach is also called Cannon Beach). Haystack Rock has earned Cannon Beach all kinds of accolades, including being named one of the 21 best beaches in the world AND one of the world’s 100 most beautiful places by National Geographic.
That being said, the town truly has a lot more to offer than just the sandy stretch in front of Haystack Rock, with carefully curated art galleries, some awesome breweries, and far more cultural events than most other towns of this size.
And, despite the popularity of Cannon Beach, it’s retained its quaint beach town vibes, unlike some other towns along the Oregon Coast *gives the side eye to Seaside, a neighboring town to Cannon Beach, packed with lots of touristy souvenir shops and run-down arcades.*
Quaint beach town vibes, however, come with a bit more limited resources, like a dearth of diversity of restaurants or grocery stores (i.e., you’ll need to drive about half an hour to the nearest Walmart). So don’t forget to pack your toothbrush!
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How do I get to Cannon Beach?
Cannon Beach is located along the northern Oregon coast, just under an hour and a half from Portland or about four hours fromSeattle.
If you plan on flying in, I’d recommend coming into Portland, so you have less of a drive and, if you have time, you can explore the charming neighborhoods of Portland (all the good food and beer!). Since Portland has a pretty small airport, airfare can be a bit steep; to snag the best airfare, I swear by Skyscanner (you can set flight alerts, compare rates, and even occasionally score some pretty great flight and hotel deals).
It’s relatively easy to get from Portland to Cannon Beach via public transit (even with a route that requires no transfers and takes a little over two hours!), but I’d still strongly recommend renting a car instead. The Oregon coast is full of cute little towns and beautiful, tucked-away state parks and having a car will enable you to explore it all!
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Things to Do in Cannon Beach
Now that we have the logistics out of the way, let’s talk about all the awesome things to do in Cannon Beach.
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1. Go puffin watching
Since most folks come to the town for its famous beach, let’s first talk about all things that involve hitting the sand, like, for example, scouting for puffins! Before visiting Oregon, I had only heard of puffins living in places like Iceland or Alaska and had no idea they were found as far south as Baja California and yup, even Haystack Rock.
There’s a colony of puffins that takes up residence on the grassy north face of the sea stack each spring (usually from April through July) to lay eggs and raise their young. What’s really neat about this is that puffins usually prefer to nest on rocky islands with bits of grass to hide their nests, which tend to be waaaaay offshore and thus, not easily accessible to you and me.
But if you visit Cannon Beach at low-tide, you can literally walk right up to Haystack Rock. The puffins found here are “tufted puffins” and are particularly dapper-looking, if you ask me, with bright yellow “tufts” of feathers above their eyes (imagine a puffin version of Eugene Levy).
From May through Labor Day, you can get a better look at them by attending a free program put on by the Haystack Rock Awareness Program (or HRAP), an awesome group of volunteers that provide scopes to help see those rad puffin eyebrows a little bit better and educational programs so you can learn all about Cannon Beach’s cutest feathered residents. You can align your visit to Haystack with one of their programs (see their schedule here), which always aligns with low tide (see a tide chart here).
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2. Try your hand at tidepooling
If you’re planning to visit Cannon Beach during low-tide, you should also set aside some time for tidepooling. What’s tidepooling, you may ask? Well, friends, tidepooling is the act of exploring small pools of seawater left behind during low tide and observing their marine life inhabitants, like anemones, seastars, sea slugs, crabs, and other cool sea critters. Some of the best tidepools are right in front of Haystack Rock.
While you’re on the beach, keep a look out for the people in the red jackets- those fine folks are again our friends at HRAP, who show up at every low-tide from mid-February through mid-October, to enthusiastically educate visitors about wildlife that lives in the intertidal zones. If you’re really into tidepooling, you can sign up to do a private 90-minute tour with HRAP- the cost is $35 a person, which helps support this awesome organization.
Friendly reminder to not touch or remove any sea creatures you see in the tidepools- that ochre sea star wouldn’t come and kidnap you from your home, so let’s treat ‘em with the same respect!
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3. Beach hop
While we’re on the subject of beaches, there’s a LOT more cool beaches in and around Cannon Beach, in addition to just the eponymous one. Some other beaches worth checking out:
Indian Beach is located inside the stunning Ecola State Park ($5 day use fee), just north of Cannon Beach, with plenty of surfers and picturesque seastacks. It’s so idyllic, in fact, that it’s been featured in quite a few movies, including the beloved “The Goonies” and “Twilight” (as a stand-in for First Beach in Olympic National Park). I mean, if it’s good enough for “The Goonies”, it’s good enough for me!
Crescent Beach is accessible only by a moderately challenging 1.5 mile hike through the lush coastal forests of Ecola and is definitely the place to go if you want a beach all to yourself. When my husband, Justin, and I visited, we had this under-the-radar gem all to ourselves for about half an hour!
Hug Point State Recreation Site offers one of the most unique stretches of coastline in the area, with sandstone caves, a waterfall you can play in, and some rad tidepools during low-tide.
Short Sands Beach (also known as Shorty’s), located 10 minutes south of Cannon Beach in Oswald West State Park, is one of the most popular areas on the Oregon Coast for boogie-boarding and surfing. While Short Sands doesn’t have the dramatic sea stacks of some of its neighbors, it’s nestled within a cove (with the very fun, pirate-y name “Smuggler’s Cove”), created by basalt and sandstone cliffs, providing those Pacific Northwest vibes your body craves.
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4. Watch surfers or try surfing
Did you notice above that I mentioned surfers? That’s right, there’s quite a few brave souls who don wetsuits and paddle into the chilly Pacific waters (some even do this in the winter!) with hopes of catching some gnarly waves.
If you, like me, are a baby about cold water, it’s plenty fun to just sit back and watch those heartier folks take on the waves- the two best places to see them are Indian Beach and Short Sands Beach.
Or how about trying out surfing yourself? Cannon Beach Surf offers lessons every day of the year (weather permitting), for beginner through advanced surfers. There’s even an option to pair your surf lesson with a vinyasa yoga class beforehand!
And if you’re concerned that the yoga class won’t warm you up sufficiently for the cold waters of Oregon, not to worry- your rental of a wetsuit, booties, and gloves are all included in your class fee, which will surely keep you nice and toasty… right?
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5. Have a beach campfire
I’m saving my favorite thing to actually do on the sand for last- have a campfire! There’s something that’s so euphoric about having a campfire on the beach: soaking in the heat of a campfire, warming the sand around your toes, with the cool ocean breeze on your face- plus, the taste of s’mores never hurts!
While sand acts as an excellent fire retardant, fires on Cannon Beach are not allowed during the height of the Pacific Northwest’s wildfire season (usually late July through early September), so be sure to check local fire restrictions before lighting up (or call Cannon Beach’s Police Department at 503-436-2811).
Even if it’s not wildfire season, be sure to build your firepit away from any brush or trees that may be susceptible to catching fire. Follow responsible fire habits and don’t forget your marshmallows!
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6. Brewery hop
Okay, I think we’ve spent enough time on the beach, right? Well, let’s switch gears a bit and go check out Cannon Beach’s brewery scene. For a tiny town, it’s positively bursting with great breweries- two, in fact.
Pelican Brewing is an Oregon coast stalwart, with several locations along the coastline. Pelican generally does not stray too far from conventional beer styles, focusing on the classics, like IPAs (this is the Pacific Northwest, after all), stouts, and lagers. Additionally, they also offer a full menu for lunch and dinner, dishing out upscale bar and comfort food.
Word to the wise- it seems like all visitors to Cannon Beach are basically contractually obligated to stop at Pelican during their stay, so this brewery is seemingly always extremely crowded. Unless you don’t mind waiting a bit for a table, I’d recommend showing up when they first open (who doesn’t love a breakfast beer?).
I usually don’t play favorites with breweries, but, I gotta say, I’m a BIG fan of Public Coast. This charming little brewery has some funky and unique brews (think: fruit punch sours and peanut butter and jelly stouts), the BEST made-to-order basket of fries, and plenty of adirondack chairs on its patio to relax in.
If you REALLY want to brewery hop, the neighboring town, Seaside (you know, that one that I threw shade at in the beginning of the article?) also has a couple breweries that are worth checking out as well, including Sisu Brewing Company and Seaside Brewery.
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7. Go whale watching
One final wildlife adventure suggestion for you while you’re in Cannon Beach- keep your eyes peeled for whales. The Oregon coast is a fantastic place to spot them, specifically gray whales, although you might get lucky and see some humpbacks or orcas.
Whale watching is a popular activity on the coast all year- during the summer, you’re more likely to see gray whales feeding closer to shore, but in the wintertime (mid-December to mid-January) and springtime (mid-March through May), a huge amount of them (20,000!) migrate from Alaska to Baja Mexico and back again. If you’re visiting during their migration, you have a pretty good chance of catching a glimpse (sometimes up to 30 whales per hour!)- usually by seeing their spouts or, if you’re lucky, a splash of their tail- from a high vantage point.
The best spot to get some elevation and sneak a glimpse of them is the main parking lot of Ecola State Park; there’s some picnic tables that are perfect to serve as your whale watching perch.
Alternatively, getting a room with a balcony at one of the oceanfront hotels will also help provider a higher vantage point (and, let’s be honest, be swanky af)- some options are the Hallmark Resort and Spa (right in front of Haystack Rock), Tolovana Inn, or the Ocean Lodge.
Regardless of where your whale watching homebase is located, it may be a good idea to bring along some binoculars to help you get a better view (plus, binoculars have the added benefit of giving you that *distinguished sailor* look).
8. Explore the town
Make sure to save some time to browse around the adorable shops, tucked away in beach cottages, lining the town’s streets. Most of the stores are located along three blocks of Hemlock and Spruce Street, just a short walk east of the beach. Some of my favorites are Bruce’s Candy Kitchen, a family-owned shop that makes some killer dark chocolate Oreos; Cannon Beach Book Co. (I’m a sucker for locally owned bookstores); Archimedes Gallery for Pacific Northwest artwork; and Sesame and Lilies, for some carefully curated home decor.
9. Get cultured
For a teeny town, Cannon Beach has a thriving art scene, home to over 15 galleries (most located within a couple blocks of the “downtown” strip), which mostly feature local artists from the Pacific Northwest. Some cool options to check out are Icefire Glassworks, a blown glass studio where you might even get to see the artists in action, or DragonFire Gallery, whose vibrant walls and quirky vibes make the space feel like a work of art in and of itself.
Beyond its galleries, Cannon Beach plays host to several art festivals each year, like the Earth and Ocean Festival each September, which celebrates artwork that explores the natural beauty of the Oregon coast and the Stormy Weather Arts Festival each November, with gallery walks and live music.
The town even has its very own playhouse, the Coaster Theatre Playhouse, who puts on everything from Shakespeare adaptations in a nearby park in summer, to the beloved classic “A Christmas Carol” during the holiday season. So between all of your beach lounging and coastal exploring in Cannon Beach, try to squeeze a little bit of culture in as well!
10. Go hiking
Now that we’ve sufficiently stuffed ourselves with fries, dark chocolate Oreos, and microbrews, it’s time to stretch our legs a bit on a hike or two. Cannon Beach and the surrounding areas have some incredible parks with miles and miles of trails, winding through dense coastal forests and along craggy shorelines and dramatic cliffs– hitting the trails is a great way to get some unique views of the Oregon coast, as well as beat some of the crowds.
Ecola State Park has some awesome hikes, like the 4.3 mile hike to Indian Beach, snaking through a forest of towering spruce trees, with peekaboo glimpses of the Pacific Ocean, or the challenging 12.2 mile Tillamook Head trail, with breathtaking views of sea stacks and the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse.
Oswald West State also has some great options, like the 4.6 mile Cape Falcon Trail, which provides stunning views of Short Sand Beach below (and would be a great vantage point to watch surfers or even whales!) or Elk Flats Trail, a 2.9 mile hike, which provides several viewpoints along the way, from on top of a cliff down into a cove of turquoise water called “Devil’s Cauldron” (you know places with names like that are always rad) to the shores of Short Sand Beach.
Word of warning- the trails here are full of roots, just waiting to trip you, and often quite muddy. I’d strongly recommend bringing along a pair of hiking boots (like these for women and these for men) for your trip to offer better support and protect your feet (did I mention there’s also a fair amount of snakes along the trails? So… protection from them too).
11. Explore nearby towns
Okay, okay, so this one is cheating a little, but it wouldn’t be a visit to Cannon Beach without exploring some of the cute coastal towns nearby.
My absolute favorite is Manzanita, a small artsy town, packed with more cute decor and clothing shops, yoga studios, and locally-owned restaurants than any other city with a population of 393 residents. Nehalem and Rockaway Beach each have some cool stores, stocked with antiques and locally-crafted home goods (Wild Coast Goods is SO awesome- plus they have an adorable store pup, which is the key to my heart).
Really, the Oregon coast is just a series of small towns, each with their own distinct personalities and charm- don’t miss cruising down the 101 and exploring along the way!
When should I visit Cannon Beach?
If sunny skies are what you’re after, the best time to visit Cannon Beach and the surrounding area is July through September. Even in the summer, note that the northern Oregon coast isn’t exactly known for wear-your-bikini-and-frolick-in-the-water weather- while it can get up to the upper 70s or 80s on clear sunny days, it’s not uncommon to have summer days where you’ll be reaching for your sweater (or your raincoat). So, regardless if you visit during the summer months, be sure to bring along some warm layers.
Most visitors overlook visiting in the winter and springtime, given the weather tends to be quite rainy and foggy- however, I’d argue this is an oversight. The Pacific Northwest’s scenery can look its most dramatic in overcast weather, it never gets too chilly along the coastline, and you won’t have to brave the hectic crowds (or inflated prices) of the summer. Throw on a raincoat and soak in all those PNW vibes.
What should I pack for Cannon Beach?
I trust you have the socks and underwear part of your packing list figured out, but here’s a few things to bring along that will make your trip a bit better:
Camp chairs: You’re gonna need something to sit in to enjoy those beach views or cozy up to your warm campfire, right? Justin and I honestly have a couple of crappy camp chairs we bought from Home Depot years ago, but since they’re so uncomfortable and we use them almost every weekend, I plan on upgrading to something like this chair.
Cooler: If you’re roadtripping to Cannon Beach from home, I’d always recommend bringing a cooler along. It’s great for throwing some beer (perhaps from Public Coast?) and hot dogs to enjoy for a picnic on the beach or around your fire, plus there’s SO many cute mom-and-pop shops, stands, and farms along the coastline- you never know what kind of yummy goods you’ll pick up along the way.
Raincoat: With all the moisture and wind from the ocean, the weather along the Oregon coast can be pretty unpredictable, even in the summertime. Bring along a rainjacket (like this one for women and this one for men)- not only will it keep you dry in a surprise downpour, but you can always throw it on as an extra layer if the temperature drops unexpectedly.
Water bottle: If you plan on going on any hikes, bringing along plenty of water to keep you hydrated is a must. To be good to the planet and to cut down on wasting money on bottled water, Justin and I both have giant Nalgene bottles that we take everywhere, from international trips to hiking excursions and, yup, even the Oregon coastline.
Hiking boots: As mentioned above, the trails here are full of uneven terrain and things seemingly designed to trip my klutzy self. Don’t be that guy who goes hiking in slip-on Vans and bring along a pair of actual hiking boots (like these for women or these for men).
Offline maps: While coverage in Cannon Beach is great, cell signal along the Oregon coast can be quite spotty. I’d recommend downloading offline maps for the area in the Google Maps app before heading there to make sure you don’t get lost along the way.
Where should I stay when visiting Cannon Beach?
For being such a small town, Cannon Beach has several great accommodations (that can be surprisingly affordable!) to choose from. That being said, Cannon Beach is a SUPER popular destination, especially in the summer, so the earlier you make reservations, the better! Some options to consider during your stay:
Hallmark Resort and Spa: This place is as close to Haystack Rock as you can possibly get, is pet-friendly (in 50% of its rooms), AND offers hot cookies at check-in. What’s not to love?
Inn at Cannon Beach: Like an upscale summer camp for adults, complete with a big ol’ firepit. Plus free breakfast!
The Ocean Lodge: An awesome location within walking distance of Cannon Beach’s downtown, fireplace in every room, and MORE home-baked cookies. Yes, please.
If you’re more of a camper (either tent or RVer), the good news is there’s plenty of camping at Cannon Beach. The bad news? The campgrounds are a bit on the pricey side, running from about $50 a night for an RV site up to over $80, depending on the season, whether you’re visiting on a weekend or holiday, and the campground.
If you want to stay in Cannon Beach itself, I’d recommend staying at Cannon Beach RV Resort, which is conveniently located (it’s walking distance from Pelican Brewery!), offers an indoor pool and hot tub AND full hookups, and is one of the most affordable options around (ranging from $49 in the winter to $64 in the summer).
If you don’t mind a bit of a drive, Nehalem Bay State Park would be my pick, with partial hookups and a dump station, within a quick walk to a beach, and is a bit easier on the wallet ($31 a night). Campgrounds in this area book up WAY in advance (sometimes six or more months, especially for the summer), so be sure to book your site as soon as you know you’re headed that way.
I hope you have a great time exploring Cannon Beach and all of the things to do in this magical area of the Oregon coast. Any hidden gems that I missed or trails I need to hit next time I’m there? Let me know in the comments below!
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