I peered over my camera and admired the indisputable beauty of the rocky coastline. It was an overcast day on the Oregon Coast—not unusual—and the fog seemed endless, reaching from the sky all the way down to the horizon. And except for the crashing waves and distant caws of seagulls, the beach was completely silent.
I was standing on the shores of Cannon Beach and it was nothing short of magical.
Garrett, my good friend and filmmaker extraordinaire, was chasing seagulls in front of Haystack Rock with his camera trying to “get the shot.” I stayed back on the beach and laughed.
There’s something utterly hilarious about watching a grown man chase birds on the beach at sunset.
We stocked his beat up Jetta with food supplies, camping gear and photography equipment, and with almost zero plan on the books, we hit the road in search of the best photography spots along the Oregon Coast.
Cannon Beach is the ultimate escape for nature lovers. As a quaint coastal town, it’s also an ideal destination for those looking for a bit of quiet and relaxation.
If you enjoy long walks on the beach and ocean-side bonfires, then Cannon Beach is the spot for you.
Hang on the Beach (if the Weather is Good)
There’s no doubt that the main attraction in Cannon Beach is the beach itself. Surrounded by jagged rocks and towering cliffs, Cannon Beach is a tranquil getaway along the Oregon coast.
But don’t expect to roll out your beach towel and sunbathe. The weather in Cannon Beach can best be described as moody, with ferocious windstorms, overcast skies and plenty of rain.
However, the pristine beauty of the beach alone will make you forget about tropical weather.
Bring a frisbee, walk the shoreline or look for marine life in the pools during low tide. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also go for a swim in the ocean (although I highly recommend wearing a wetsuit).
Photograph the Famous Haystack Rock
Situated in the middle of the ocean is the city’s most iconic landmark: Haystack Rock. Protruding 235 feet above sea level, Haystack Rock is considered to be the world’s third-largest monolith.
With the sky reflecting off the wet sand, Haystack Rock was made to be photographed. In fact, it’s one of the most photographed sights in the entire state of Oregon!
You can pretty much get a great angle of the rock from anywhere along the beach. Or, there are some spots along Gower and Hemlock Street that boast unobstructed views from higher up.
Have a Campfire on the Beach
Cannon Beach is one of only a few beaches in Oregon that allow campfires. So take advantage of it!
As the sun goes down, lay out a couple of blankets and whip out the marshmallows for a good old fashioned bonfire. There’s nothing more relaxing than ending your day listening to the roar of the crackling flames with a bottle of local Oregon lager in hand.
With the looming shadow of Haystack Rock in the distance, you’ll feel as if you have the entire beach to yourself. And if it’s a clear night, you’ll also have a great view of the stars from the beach.
Although the fire will keep you cozy, nights on the beach can still be chilly. I recommend bringing extra layers and bundling up to stay warm.
Spend the Day in Ecola State Park
Stretching nine miles down the Oregon coastline is Ecola State Park, one of my favorite places in Cannon Beach. The park is perched atop Tillamook Head and boasts some of the best views of the Pacific Ocean.
Head to the top of Ecola Point for panoramic views of Cresent Beach and the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse. If you’re looking for a longer hike, then trek the 2.5-mile Clatsop Loop Interpretive Trail, a route used members of Lewis and Clark during their two-year expedition.
You can also visit Indian Beach, a secluded sandy beach surrounded by black rocks and lush greenery. This beach is also a popular destination for surfers.
Grab a Beer at Pelican Brewery
It’s true, the Pacific Northwest is known for its incredible craft beer scene. Just order a beer a Pelican Brewery, and you’ll see what I mean.
Pelican Brewery started in Pacific City, Oregon, and eventually opened several tasting rooms around the state. Not only does the brewery in Cannon Beach have 20 rotating beers on tap, but they also serve delicious pub food to match. Try a few of my favorites, like the hoppy Beak Bender Pale Ale or the refreshing Five Fin Pilsner.
You can also ask the employees for a personal brewery tour to learn more about the beer that’s brewed on-site.
Hike to Devil’s Cauldron
This short hike brings you to what was probably my favorite spot to visit on this trip. Located just off the 101, it’s a half mile out and back with some of the best views we found.
Stunning seascapes, rocky coastline and photo ops galore.
Be careful here, as the cliffs are steep. There are safety ropes, and I advise you not to pass them unless you know what you’re doing.
Visit the Cannon Beach History Center and Museum
If it starts raining during your visit Cannon Beach (which it probably will), then I recommend spending a few hours in the Cannon Beach History Center and Museum. This small museum is packed with artifacts, stories and photographs detailing every inch of Cannon Beach history.
There are fascinating exhibits on Native Americans, Oregon’s first settlers, the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1806. In the shipwreck exhibit, you’ll also learn how Cannon Beach earned its harrowing nickname, “The Graveyard of the Pacific.”
See the Tide Pools at Hug Point
With sandy beaches, dark sea caves, and cascading waterfalls, Hug Point State Park is one of the most diverse parks along the Oregon coast. It’s just five miles south of Cannon Beach, and worth a pit stop during your visit.
Come during low tide, where you can explore the shallow tide pools and walk through the colossal rock caves. As you look in the pools, you’ll be able to spot starfish, barnacles and sea anemones. It’s also fun to collect sand dollars that have been scattered around the beach.
Saying Goodbye to Cannon Beach
After a memorable weekend on the coast, it was time to head back to the real world. We packed up our tents, loaded up the Jetta (who performed marvelously on the road trip) and started the journey back to Portland.
My flight with Spirit Airlines left in the evening, so we had a leisurely stroll back to Portland, ample time to say our “goodbye for now’s” and a few hours to reflect on the past weekend.
My trip to Cannon Beach was more than just a seaside vacation. In reality, I had just spent several days with one of my best buds exploring and photographing one of the most beautiful places on the planet. It doesn’t get better than that!
Cannon Beach Road Trip Logistics
How to Get From Portland to Cannon Beach
Getting into Portland is a cinch. Round-trip fares on Spirit are unbelievably affordable, which makes getting to and from Cannon Beach a breeze.
From Portland, you can reach Cannon Beach in as little as 90 minutes. Highway 26 is a straight shot from Portland directly to the coast. It’s the fastest route, but probably not the most scenic.
Instead, try Highway 6. This route adds an extra hour to the journey, but winds along the Wilson River. You’ll also get to see several waterfalls on the drive. If you’ve got the time, the extra hour is well worth it.
The third option is to take Highway 30 to Astoria and then US-101 south to Cannon Beach. The drive is slower and more relaxed than taking Highway 26 and offers beautiful views of the Columbia River.
Once you get to the town of Cannon Beach, you’ll see it’s small and charming, with several shops and restaurants dotted along North Hemlock Street. The beach, which is also called Cannon Beach, is located just a few steps from the town.
Cannon Beach Weather
The weather along the Oregon Coast is unpredictable, to say the least. We traveled in mid-June, and our first night was a scene straight out of a horror movie as dense fog and sticky rain engulfed the entire area. But the next day, we were surprisingly greeted with clear skies, warm weather and a spectacular sunset.
As you can see, the weather in Cannon Beach can be wildly variable.
But generally speaking, summer is the most comfortable time to visit the Oregon Coast. During this time, temperatures hover between 60 to 65 degrees F and there is relatively little rain. While summer is the warmest time to visit, it’s still common to have overcast and cloudy days from time to time.
Winter, on the other hand, is usually windy, wet and cold. You might get lucky with a few mild days, however, you should expect consistent rain showers. If you want to spend time outdoors on the beach, you’re better off going during a different time of year.
Cannon Beach Camping
If you plan on camping in Cannon Beach, you’ll have a variety of campgrounds to choose from.
As an Oregon native, Garrett knew a few good places for backcountry camping. He grew up in these parts, and upon arrival, we went to go visit the spots where he used to camp for free as a kid.
Unfortunately, we discovered that camping was no longer allowed in these areas, leaving us frantically searching for a new place to stay. We planned to camp for free, but as it turns out, in Cannon Beach, there’s just no such thing anymore.
That’s how we found Wright’s for Camping. This family-run campground located in the woods and is just a short 10-minute walk to the beach. Each of the 22 camping sites has a picnic table and fire ring, and there are bathrooms and laundry facilities on the property.
If you prefer to stay outside the city, then head few miles south to Nehalem Bay State Park. They’re open year-round and have tent sites as well as yurts for rent. The park also offers a ton of fun activities like hiking, horseback riding, and fishing.
While we lucked out and got a camping spot last minute, it’s still recommended to reserve early in advance. Most sites are booked out, especially during the summer high season.