Article Overview: Best Things to Do at Cannon Beach
Undoubtedly the superstar of the Oregon coast, Cannon Beach is the world-renowned gem that most folks travel thousands of miles to see for themselves.
Recognized by National Geographic as one of 100 most beautiful places in the world in 2013, this was just the first of many accolades the leading lady of small town fame would receive in subsequent years.
So what exactly makes this small coastal city so famous? Not only is the natural beauty of this part of the coastline extraordinary, but the area offers visitors a whirlwind experience of beaches, shopping, restaurants, events, and outdoor recreation.
If you’ve never been to the Oregon coast, Cannon Beach is an excellent starting point to get your feet wet, so to speak. The area is highly developed, making all of the popular attractions easily accessible no matter the season.
To that end, let’s dive into the best things to do at Cannon Beach.
Best Things To Do Cannon Beach
Relax at Cannon Beach
Cannon Beach is surely the most recognizable beach in Oregon. Anchored by iconic Haystack Rock, the expansive, pristine stretch of sandy coastline melts into the rolling ocean beyond.
From the waves rise monumental sea stacks that serve as a dramatic backdrop few can resist. The most notorious of these sea stacks is Haystack Rock, which looms above the surf creating a jaw-dropping seascape.
Although popular and busy on weekends, this beach is plenty wide enough for everyone to get their own patch of sand to lay out on.
Explore Haystack Rock
Haystack Rock, the icon of the Oregon Coast, teems with oceanic life in the numerous tidepools found at its feet. A collection of these larger rocks are commonly known as The Needles, a nod to the metaphor “like finding a needle in a haystack.”
This rugged haypile-shaped rock is impressive, rising above the sea 235 feet. While climbing the rock is not permitted (let’s leave the slippery crags for the sure-footed birds!) exploring around the rock is encouraged.
It is especially worthwhile to poke around at low tide where some incredible tide pools emerge, shedding light on some of the mysterious creatures who lurk below the ocean.
All of the most common tide pool-loving sea life are bound to make an appearance in these miraculous pools, including small crabs, a rainbow of chunky sea stars, crusty barnacles, and maybe even a small octopus or jellyfish!
While you’re here, look up to get a glimpse of unique birds like the adorably quirky puffin, a colony of whom lives on Haystack Rock and other nearby sea stacks.
They’re hard to miss with their bright orange beaks! Visitors often report seal, sea lion, and whale sightings here, and your chances of finding neat shells or colorful agates in the sand are high.
Cannon Beach Sandcastle Contest (June 15, 2024)
No list of the best things to do at Cannon Beach is complete without mentioning the famous sandcastle contest that takes place every year.
A beloved week-long event that brings people from all over the state, the sand castle contest has become a local tradition.
The contest is simple and entry is free. Individuals or teams can gather to flex their sand-sculpting prowess as they have free-reign to design and build the most epic sandcastles they can muster.
Don’t make the mistake of assuming this Cannon Beach activity is reserved for kids, far from it. While this may seem like a silly pastime for kids on the surface, some of the sandcastles end up being true masterpieces of engineering and design!
The best part is that you don’t need to compete to enjoy the event. Stop by to simply observe these sand wizards as they conjure up their magic, molding sand and sea water into true works of art.
Oswald West State Park
Those in search of adventurous things to do at Cannon Beach shouldn’t miss the opportunity to visit Oswald West State Park.
This state park has many miles of hiking trails, a couple of small creeks, and a cozy beach to enjoy with two prominent headlands on either side. There are two trail options on both headlands, each just as thrilling as the other.
Elk Flats takes you across a small but impressive suspension bridge over the peaceful creek that splits the park in two. The trails wind you through twisted trunks and abundant undergrowth–but watch out for tree roots!
The roots of these old trees snake above ground, creating tripping hazards for hikers. The trail also gets extremely muddy during the winter and spring, but we have never seen it be impassable.
After about 3 miles you’ll find yourself standing on a narrow rock outcropping with ocean views for miles. Head back the way you came and, if you’re up for it, continue toward Cape Falcon for more hiking!
This trail is about equal to Elk Flats in length, but instead takes you out to a gorgeous grass-covered knoll perched above the rolling sea.
Between the two trails lies a wonderful little cove that feels so secret and is often uncrowded. The cove, called Smuggler’s Cove, is home to Short Sands Beach.
Take a quarter mile walk through an amazing old growth forest where you’ll find a picnic area and restrooms just ahead of the steps leading down to the sand.
Catch Sunset at Ecola State Park
Ecola is the Chinook word for whale. Lewis and Clark’s expedition led men this way to view a beached whale. The men went to barter for blubber and oil, but Clark found himself awestruck by the beauty, he wrote:
“From this point I beheld the grandest and most pleasing prospects which my eyes ever surveyed, in my frount a boundless Ocean . . . . the Seas brak with great force [and] gives this Coast a most romantic appearance.”
Boasting a dramatic 7-mile trail with unbeatable views of Haysack Rock, Ecola State Park is often considered one of the most beautiful state parks at the Oregon coast.
As such, paying a visit (especially at sunset) is one of the best things to do at the Oregon coast.
Hike Neahkahnie Mountain
Considered one of the best hikes at the Oregon Coast, the panoramic views from Neahkahnie Mountain are hard to beat.
You’ll gain only about 800 feet of elevation on this moderate hike. The footpath is clear and well defined, and the woods of spruce, alder, and fir you’ll wander through provide ample shade for hikers and wildlife alike on sunny days.
Once you reach the summit, stop before the craggy rock pile to take in views to the south of the famous coastline below (and snap a few pics for fun!).
Native wildflowers grow in abundance here during late spring, happy to soak in the sunshine on the treeless slop at the top. If you’re feeling adventurous, scramble up the rock pile to reach the “true” summit of Neahkahnie.
This adds some degree of fun for thrill seekers, but honestly the view from this vantage point isn’t much different than what you see below the rocks, so no worries if you prefer to stay on solid ground!
Tolovana Beach State Recreation Site
A visit to Tolovana Beach State Recreation Site is a great idea if you need a natural area to simply hang out in for the day.
Located at the southern end of Cannon Beach, this area offers expansive views of the Pacific Ocean and a long stretch of sandy beach that’s perfect for a walk or picnic.
Sunbathe, fly kites, or just enjoy the scenery around you as you stretch out on the sand. Spread a picnic blanket and enjoy one of the most relaxing things to do at Cannon Beach.
Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, take kayak or paddle boards out on the water.
A playground welcomes small children who may need to get some extra energy out, and there are great views of Haystack Rock to take in here.
Learn About Tillamook Rock Lighthouse
While visiting Cannon Beach, keep your eyes peeled toward the horizon and see if you can spot Tillamook Rock Lighthouse.
Sitting 133 feet above sea level on a monolithic rock outcropping with a tower 62 feet tall, this Oregon Coast lighthouse was nicknamed Terrible Tilly.
The reason? Turns out constructing a lighthouse on a rock outcropping in the middle of the sea is a real pain in the (you know what).
Located 1.2 miles from the shore, constructing this lighthouse was nothing short of an engineering feat. As such, anyone visiting Cannon Beach should make an effort to learn some history about it.
Tillamook Rock Lighthouse was in operation from 1881 to 1957. In 1934 a perilous storm caused massive damage and destroyed the light, and then in 1957 it was officially decommissioned.
The lighthouse was abandoned for 20 years before getting acquired by private hands. It was purchased by a gal named Mimi Morissette, who planned to turn the lighthouse into a columbarium (a place to store cremated remains — you can’t make this stuff up).
To nobody’s surprise, the business never really took off, so in 2022, Mimi put the lighthouse up for sale. That’s right, if you’re ever dreamed of owning a lighthouse at the Oregon coast and have $6.5M to spare, here’s your chance.
Further Reading: The 11 Iconic Lighthouses at the Oregon Coast
Hug Point State Recreation Site
Ocean-faring pioneers dubbed this small expanse of central Oregon’s coast Hug Point because they virtually had to “hug” the shore to reach the land.
In an effort to avoid wrecking on the dangerous rocks beneath the water’s surface, maybe these guys just needed an excuse to squeeze in a hug. In any case, the name stuck.
Hug Point is an easy-to-miss beach access point just 5 miles south of Cannon Beach, and is only accessible during low tides.
Check the tide charts and head out with plenty of time to explore the two small sea caves and waterfall on the point (best viewed during the rainy season).
Another draw to Hug Point is its cultural history: this beach was a common route for pioneers traveling on stagecoaches and wheel tracks in the rocks can be seen along the beach.
Shopping in Downtown Cannon Beach
Who says shopping can’t be a pastime in and of itself? Heck, my own mother considers this one of the best things to do in Cannon Beach.
When you’ve got some cash to burn there’s no better way to do it than wandering around the storefronts to find unique trinkets, gifts, and souvenirs.
Downtown Cannon Beach has an enormous amount of shops packed into its streets that you could surely spend days browsing.
We say the best plan of attack here is to head downtown and bounce from store to store, starting with whenever shops pique your interest.
John Yeon State Natural Site
A small secluded beach, this natural site is the best place to come when you need to take a breather from all of the running around you’ve been doing.
This beach is usually uncrowded, as most people tend to head straight to Cannon Beach itself instead. There are no real attractions here at this picture perfect beach–but maybe that’s exactly what you need.
Nothing more than some quiet time with the ocean breeze and the sound of the waves as you take some time away from the hustle and bustle to recharge your batteries.
All this to say, don’t miss a visit to John Yeon State Natural Site if you’re overwhelmed by the plethora of fun things to do at Cannon Beach.
Another fantastic place to escape for some solitude, the hike down to Crescent Beach can be a welcome reprieve in between high-energy activities.
This easy 3 mile hike will take you to a simple beach surrounded by the two famous headlands Ecola Point and Chapman Point.
Fun Fact: John Yeon (for whom the previously mentioned natural site was named after) preserved Chapman Point and all of its natural beauty from becoming a dance hall.
So go ahead and dance your way across the trail–it’s what ol’ John would have wanted! The trail itself truly is reason enough to celebrate with the fresh scent of pines and resident deer and elk roaming the understory.
But the beach you’ll wind up on is pure joy. At low tide there are caves and tunnels you can walk into, and even a small waterfall on the north cliffs of the beach.
Just north of Cannon Beach lies a smaller but no less impressive patch of sand to enjoy.
Chapman Beach butts up against the southern point of the John Yeon Natural Site and is a great place to stop if you’re heading to see the northernmost coastal towns (or just want a change from Cannon Beach itself).
Walk around Les Shirley Park and explore the nature trails there, or just head out onto the sand for some good old-fashioned beach time fun.
Pinky’s Kite Factory
When’s the last time you flew a kite?
Kite flying seems to be an afterthought at best. Shame, considering the blustery weather on Oregon’s coast is often the perfect place to launch a kite.
If you’re keen to partaking in this popular thing to do at Cannon Beach, swing by Pinky’s Kite Shop. The store offers a dizzying display of colorful kites that span the spectrum.
The assortment of shapes and sizes (some over 4 feet tall!) is mesmerizing, and trying to choose just one seems like an impossible task.
Anyone visiting Cannon Beach with kids will quickly learn that flying a kite is one of the best things to do at Cannon Beach for families.
Swing by a Bookshop while Visiting Cannon Beach
As a bookworm, I’ve definitely used a day at the beach as an excuse to buy myself a new book (or three).
Few things in life feel more magical than curling up on the sand with a spellbinding book, while the ocean rolls on in the background.
There are two independent bookshops in Cannon Beach that are worth a stop.
Cannon Beach Book Co. is a cozy shop with that authentic small-town feel. Aisles lined with tidy shelves of an assortment of books make this shop irresistible. The shop specializes in fiction, children’s books, and some region-specific tomes.
They also hold book signings for local authors and have a small selection of gift items like bookmarks, art supplies, and even reading glasses. Jupiter’s Books is another great Cannon Beach-based bookshop to visit.
Winding aisles of books in all sorts of intriguing genres lie waiting to be cracked open in one of their comfy chairs. Jupiter’s offers up a variety of rare and signed books that make excellent gifts (or great additions to your own personal library!).
Jupiter’s also has a great selection of gifts and souvenirs, including bookmarks, postcards, and literary-themed items. They even have a small selection of vinyl records for music lovers.
Bruce’s Candy Kitchen
“A Family Tradition since 1963” is the motto for Bruce’s Candy Kitchen, and nobody can argue with that.
Visitors and locals alike can get their sweet tooth satiated with a stop at this little candy shop in the heart of downtown Cannon Beach. As such, visiting this gem of a candy shop is one of the best things to do in Cannon Beach for sweet-tooths.
The bubble gum pink-and white-striped building looks like it’s straight out of a movie set. Even the huge variety of delicious treats inside are so perfectly crafted they could be mistaken for props!
Family owned and operated since its inception, the folks at Bruce’s Candy Kitchen know their stuff when it comes to the sweet world of confections.
Nearly all of their candy is handmade in-house, which is astonishing when you look around at the variety of candy available. From artisan chocolates to salt water taffy to caramel corn, Bruce’s passion for serving up delicious sweet treats is undeniable.
Where to Eat in Cannon Beach
When I was a kid on roadtrips with my family, it was always the unspoken rule that we planned every day around one thing: food. Sometimes going out to eat, talking about eating, then eating again were our prime activities for the entire day.
Hey, we love a good meal! Especially when we’re traveling and get the chance to try new restaurants serving food we may have never tried before.
Plus it’s just a fact that adventuring will really work up an appetite–you’ve gotta stay fueled! Cannon Beach has no shortage of restaurant, cafe, and quick bite options at the ready for hungry travelers.
Breakfast at Pig n’ Pancake
The favorite stop for many visitors is the family-style Pig n’ Pancake, a popular chain. Tuck into a hearty breakfast of eggs, hash browns, pancakes and more at this casual diner-style chain.
Pig n’ Pancake serves up pretty much anything you could dream of for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
For something with a bit of a fine dining feel (but not so fine you can’t rock your flip flops and Hawaiian shirt to dinner), check out Wayfarer restaurant and lounge.
Offering a classic American seafood dinner, this is the go-to spot for shrimp scampi, chowder, and mouthwatering Dungeness crab mac n cheese.
Open for breakfast and lunch as well, Wayfarer is sure to hit the spot any time of day. Lastly, if you’re looking for super casual, Pizza A’Fetta is our favorite pizza on the coast.
Thick crust, plenty of toppings surrounded by gooey, bubbling cheese, and generous portions are the hallmarks of this one-stop shop for all of your pizza dreams. They also have salads, soups, and appetizers to enjoy with a cold soda on tap.
Visiting Cannon Beach, Oregon (Post Overview)
In sum, here’s a list of the best things to do at Cannon Beach.
- Relax at Cannon Beach
- Enjoy Haystack Rock
- Cannon Beach Sandcastle Contest
- Oswald West State Park
- Catch sunset at Ecola State Park
- Neahkahnie Mountain
- Tolovana Beach State Recreation Site
- Learn About Tillamook Rock Lighthouse
- Hug Point State Recreation Site
- Shopping in Downtown Cannon Beach
- John Yeon State Natural Site
- Crescent Beach
- Chapman Beach
- Pinky’s Kite Factory
- Swing by a Bookshop while Visiting Cannon Beach
- Bruce’s Candy Kitchen
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