On the coast of Oregon lies a hidden gem, a place so stunning in its geography but so tranquil in its environment that it is a must visit for any true West Coast traveller!
We discovered the oasis that is Cannon Beach when our Vancouver friends invited us to spend New Year’s Eve with them in Oregon. Knowing absolutely nothing about this seaside town a 600 km drive from Vancouver we agreed to get involved in the road trip as we knew there would be a great party at the end of it!
Getting To Cannon Beach
After an overnight stop off in Seattle to take advantage of the US’s super cheap (relative to Canada) shopping at Seattle Premium Outlets, Alderwood Mall & Bellevue Square, we put the pedal to the metal and headed down the I5 through Washington to the Oregon border where the mighty Columbia river separates the 2 states. We quickly realised the flaw in our plan to stop for lunch in Longview when we discovered that the town might have an attractive sounding name for tourists but was actually more of an industrial wasteland which you would want to escape as quickly as possible…so we did, over a very dubious steep, narrow and old bridge called the Lewis and Clark Bridge.
The final leg of the inbound journey along highways 30 to Astoria and 101 to Cannon Beach was relatively slow given that these highways are only single lane roads and Astoria has about 10 miles of 20mph speed limits!! Why you may reasonably ask? You probably want to give yourself 2 hours to cover the 75 miles from Longview to Cannon Beach.
With a mixed group of 14 people and 4 dogs of varying obedience (Helena was greeted by a big lick to the face by one pooch) we stayed in 2 separate houses close to the beach which were surprisingly inexpensive.
The “mothership” house had 4 bedrooms, an all-important 8 man hot tub with a view of the ocean, sufficient entertainment space to hold a New Year’s party, a large flat screen TV for playing MTV and a table long enough for a beer pong tournament – the locals did not like the rookie Brit taking the title! We paid around $400 a night for the whole place.
The “overflow” non-dog dominated house slept 6 (2 bedrooms), was nicely furnished with a gas fire, had 2 bathrooms and an outdoor bbq. It was $130 a night for the house in January and was super quiet. This would be a great place to stay in summer with a family.
Cannon Beach is geographically stunning and the ambience relaxing. The town planning has been carefully managed to create a kind of charming chocolate box feel with pretty low rise wooden architecture which is in contrast to some of its seaside neighbour towns.
The highlight for us was simply a walk along the beach on a sunny day. The views of the 235ft Haystack Rock were simply phenomenal as the water crashed around it creating a hazy, almost mysterious, effect. The memory card on the camera was quickly filled up (see below). We were told the stack is accessible at low tide in the summer, but you need to be careful at high tide as your boots may get covered by the onrushing waves!
The Pacific Ocean also offer visitors the chance to try their hand at surfing, although given the size of the 20ft winter waves it was something us novices chose not to chance!
The town is also recognised as being one of the Northwest’s best art towns, and every June the town hosts a famous sand castle building contest.
Where to Eat
On our first night in Cannon Beach we ate at Lumberyard Bar and Grill. The wooden décor inside is visually impressive. The food was decent without being outstanding. The Northwest Fish Tacos were a tasty choice!
After our long 3 hour walk on the beach we stumbled upon the super friendly and homely Seasons Café where the staff served up some delicious eggs benedict with proper hash browns and unlimited coffee.
The Scenic Drive Home
Nursing the excesses of New Year and facing a 600km drive along the less than friendly Interstate, we decided to take the scenic route home along the coastal highway 101.
This involved crossing the spectacular Astoria – Medgar Bridge which is about 5km long and very windy, but has stunning views of the estuary and surrounding mountains.
On our route north we also stopped off at Cape Disappointment State Park whose name is definitely ironic!
After that followed 50km of scenic coastal driving along twisty highway roads where every corner was a photo opportunity. We eventually lost the scenery at Raymond (no need to stop) before heading up to Aberdeen (commercial). We did have one brief stop at a viewpoint just outside Aberdeen but the sound of hunters shooting left us running back to the car!
A great road trip to a beautiful and relaxing beach town; Cannon Beach is definitely a great place to enjoy with friends and family all year round.
Vancouver is a geographically stunning city where the coastal mountains of British Columbia meet the Pacific Ocean. The city is blessed with many beautiful natural sandy beaches which offer a great place to relax during the warmer summer months. One of the city’s most famous beaches (for reasons which will become clear as you read on) is Wreck Beach which is situated about 25 minutes’ drive from Downtown Vancouver on the University of British Columbia (UBC) peninsula.
Situated on the headland where the giant UBC campus sprawls, this place has a reputation for being Vancouver’s only clothing is optional beach. The Wreck Beach Preservation Society has more information if you want to know a little more about the naked truth.
Wreck Beach offers a great spot to watch the sunset given that it is the most westerly point in mainland Vancouver and has a spectacular backdrop provided by the mountains of Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast
The beach offers some of the cleanest sea water to swim in around Vancouver given its distance from the ports and exposure to the currents / tides. Just be ready to brave a sea where the mercury reaches a maximum of 16 degrees in September!
The beach has a certain chilled and relaxed vibe, promoted by its liberal occupants!
Watch Out for….
Finding the entrance to Wreck Beach can be a challenge given that it’s somewhere on the huge UBC campus and the beach itself is about 200m below the level of the road! For those of you who are bright enough to print out a map, it’s actually located at the bottom of trails 3, 4 or 6 just off NW Marine Drive.
It can also be a challenge finding somewhere to park given the popularity of the spot on a warm’s summer’s evening. With all street parking taken we eventually stumbled upon a UBC car park which costs $6 for as long as you like after 5pm.
The next obstacle to our treasure hunt was to navigate the 300 (slight exaggeration but who’s counting when you’re gasping for air) steps down to the beach. Top tip, leave the cool box at home and bring a rucksack, you will appreciate it on the upward return leg especially if you’re heading home in the dark with lots of other sunset seekers!
This beach has a reputation as a party place – this was confirmed when we observed 15 guys dressed in mankinis doing all sorts of circus tricks. As a result the 6 police officers walking in military formation checking cool boxes for illegal liquor was not unexpected.
The beach has a policy of optional clothing – try to stick to beach etiquette which is signposted as you enter the site!
Facilities – there is a small food cart at the top of the steps, but nothing at the beach front 200m below. As for the washroom, lets just hope you have had all your injections recently…these portaloos are NOT recommended under any circumstances!
Don’t forget your camera to capture the spectacular sunset, but be careful what you snap!