Every day reveals something new in Cannon Beach. Just ask Richard Gorsuch. Each day last year, rain or shine, the 69-year-old artist carried his easel up a coastal bluff and set about capturing on canvas the green-white Pacific waves breaking on the 235-foot-tall mound of volcanic rock that straddles the shoreline. The result: 365 different paintings of Haystack Rock.
For many, Cannon Beach, some 80 miles west of Portland, is the place for a summer sojourn. Bracketed by sea-splitting headlands and miles of wild sands, this town of 1,600 residents is a mix of upscale inns, funky motels, fine restaurants, chowder houses, and more than 20 art galleries and studios.
Homesteaded in the 1890s, Cannon Beach was first known as Elk Creek. When locals decided on a name change in 1922, they looked to a piece of flotsam that had washed ashore following the 1846 shipwreck of the U.S. Navy schooner Shark. You can see the actual cannon at the town's history center. For more local lore, take a walk over to Whale Park, where in 1806 Sacagawea and Captain William Clark of Corps of Discovery fame came to see a beached behemoth.
Downtown, you'll find nearly every form of studio art—painting, sculpture, custom furniture, blown glass—represented on, or an agate's throw from, Hemlock, the main street. Stop in at the DragonFire Interactive Studio, where you can paint your own pottery. Or experience the art of massage at the Cannon Beach Spa. The Coaster Theatre Playhouse, a former roller rink, has been showcasing local and regional talent for 31 years. The community calendar is chock-full of events and happenings—from Whale Watch Week in March to November's Stormy Weather Arts Festival.
Stimulate your appetite with a hot seafood salad at the tiny Lazy Susan Cafe or savor the exceptional prix fixe menu at the Stephanie Inn. Sweet treats, including 40 flavors of saltwater taffy, are served up at the Picnic Basket. When it's time to settle in like a mussel at low tide, your choices are plentiful—from the pet-friendly Ocean Lodge to the venerable cottages of the Blue Gull Inn.
However, it's the call of the sea that lures most visitors to Cannon Beach. If the curls are ripping and your wet suit is handy, you can get stoked on the gnarly surf. You can also go kayaking, horseback riding, fishing, and clamming. The kids can yelp at kelp while the grown-ups dart around the wide beach on recumbent tricycles (part preschool flashback, part La-Z-Boy) rented from Mike's Bike Shop.
Rising above all this flurry is stoic Haystack Rock. Volunteers with the Haystack Rock Awareness Program help to enlighten others about this sensitive habitat and the intertidal critters that call it home—crabs, sea anemones, nudibranchs. Also in evidence are cormorants, tufted puffins, and other shorebirds. Two miles out to sea is Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, which has been clinging to its unlikely perch since 1880.
Head to Ecola State Park, on the north shore, for dense coastal rain forest, panoramic views, and 10 miles of hiking trails. You might spot elk, peregrine falcons, or bald eagles. Come back in the spring and watch for gray whales as they go cruising by. Cannon Beach—365 paintings in 365 days, and no two are alike.
Photography by Ben Davidson
This article was first published in May 2004. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.
Local telephone numbers are area code 503. Pick up AAA's Oregon & Washington map and TourBook. For more information, contact the Cannon Beach Chamber of Commerce, 436-2623, www.cannonbeach.org.
Lazy Susan Cafe, 436-2816.
The Picnic Basket, 436-1470.
Stephanie Inn, (800) 633-3466, www.stephanie-inn.com.
THINGS TO SEE AND DO
Cannon Beach History Center, 436-9301, www.cannon-beach.net/cbhs.
Cannon Beach Spa, (888) 577-8772, www.cannonbeachspa.com.
Coaster Theatre Playhouse, 436-1242, www.coastertheatre.com.
DragonFire Interactive Studio, 436-1533, www.dragonfirestudio.com.
Ecola State Park, (800) 551-6949, www.oregonstateparks.org/park_188.php.
Mike's Bike Shop, 436-1266, www.mikesbike.com.