The amazing thing about the West Coast is that it is still mostly wild, open, and astoundingly beautiful country, where you can drive for miles and miles and have the scenery all to yourself.
Unlike many Oregon coast towns, Cannon Beach (pop. 1,690) is hidden from the highway, but it’s one place you won’t want to miss. Though it’s little more than a stone’s throw south of boisterous Seaside, Cannon Beach has long been known as an artists’ colony, and while it has grown considerably in recent years thanks to its popularity as a weekend escape from Portland, it retains a peaceful, rustic atmosphere.
Every summer, Cannon Beach hosts one of the largest and most enjoyable sand castle competitions on the West Coast, with some 10,000 spectators and as many as 1,000 participants turning out with their buckets and spades. In terms of traditional tourist attractions, there’s not a lot to do, but Cannon Beach is an unbeatable place in which to stop and unwind, or to take long walks along the nine-mile strand and then retreat indoors to the many good galleries, cafés, and restaurants. For breakfast or brunch, fill up on eggs Benedict at The Lazy Susan Cafe (126 N. Hemlock St., 503/436-2816, closed Tues.); it also serves a stupendous array of ice cream at its “scoop shop” up the street. Another great, casual gourmet place to eat is Ecola Seafoods (208 N. Spruce St., 503/436-9130), a market and restaurant selling and serving locally caught fish and shellfish—including tempura-battered Chinook salmon, grilled halibut, smoked mussels, and an excellent $5 chowder.
Reasonably priced rooms near the beach and town can be found at the oceanfront Sea Sprite at Haystack Rock (280 S. Nebesna St., 503/436-2266, $99 and up).
South of Cannon Beach, the beach loop runs along a spectacular grouping of volcanic basalt plugs, notably 235-foot-high Haystack Rock. Elsewhere along the Oregon coast, there are at least two more geological outcrops called Haystack Rock, a bigger one off Cape Kiwanda and another down near Bandon.