Take a hike to enjoy spectacular views at Ecola State Park. Credit: Camille Gullickson
As a resident of Oregon for almost 15 years, I’ve spent a lot of time exploring the popular towns along the coast with my family, including our favorite: Cannon Beach. We’ve spent two fun-filled spring breaks and a summer vacation there. Whenever we go, we are blown away by the area and can’t wait to return.
Cannon Beach, a manageable drive from Seattle, is a small city on Oregon’s north coast that features a long sandy beach with tide pools, sweeping views, a charming downtown, fun historical excursions and hikes through the mossy rain forest.
Read on for 10 fun activities to do with kids in and nearby this gem of a beach town.
1. Explore tide pools near iconic Haystack Rock.
This activity is likely to pop up on all “must-do” lists because Haystack Rock is one of Oregon’s most recognizable landmarks. Yet, in addition to providing great photo opportunities, the area around Haystack Rock also features some easily accessible tide pools and provides critical habitat for nesting seabirds. Depending on when you visit, volunteers with the Haystack Rock Awareness Program may be on-site to answer questions, host interpretive programs and steward the ecosystem.
2. Build a sandcastle or fly a kite at Tolovana Beach State Recreation Site.
Tolovana Beach State Recreation Site is located at the south end of Cannon Beach and boasts nice views of Haystack Rock (about a mile north) and a long sandy beach to enjoy. While some beaches on the Oregon coast can be windy, we’ve found this beach to be pleasant year round, and it’s a great destination for beachcombing, playing in the sand or surf, or flying your kite. If the beach isn’t enough of a playground for the younger kids, the site also has a play structure located on the north side of the parking lot.
3. Explore the caves, waterfall and stagecoach road at Hug Point State Recreation Site.
During our most recent trip to Cannon Beach we visited Hug Point State Recreation Site for the first time, and we wished we had found it sooner! We had a great time exploring the pretty little sandy beach, including visiting the small waterfall and the caves, and following the path along the point. But I didn’t realize until I got back home and did some research that the path we took was an old stagecoach road that was the only way you could traverse this stretch of coastline until the early 1900s. If you time your tides correctly, you can walk the old stagecoach road with the Pacific Ocean crashing below, or walk around the point to explore more beaches. It’s also a good spot for peering into tide pools, depending on the timing of your visit.
4. Hike through the rain forest and try boogie boarding at Oswald West State Park.
If you want a quintessential Oregon Coast experience, bring or rent a boogie board and head to Oswald West State Park. Take the park’s Short Sand Beach Trail (1.2 miles round trip) through the mossy coastal rain forest to spend the day catching the waves. (If, like me, you prefer to stay on dry land, there is a nice secluded beach at the end of the trail affording great views of the ocean.) Along the trail, you’ll have a great opportunity to introduce budding naturalists to the diversity of plants native to the temperate coastal rain forest ecosystem, including ferns, salmonberry, red cedar, western hemlock, Sitka spruce and others. Oswald West State Park also features miles of trails along the coastline if you’d like a more vigorous hike.
5. Take a hike to enjoy spectacular views at Ecola State Park.
Ecola State Park, another favorite in the Cannon Beach area, is just a short drive from the northern part of downtown and offers a lush network of trails through mature Sitka spruce forest to stunning panoramic views of the ocean and Haystack Rock. It’s always a good idea to check trail conditions ahead of time, because depending on the weather, there may be closures due to downed trees caused by windstorms or mudslides. When we visited, one of the short view trails was fully accessible, and we enjoyed a sunny stroll to take in unbelievable views.
6. Pay your respects to the Peter Iredale shipwreck at Fort Stevens State Park.
The wreck of the Peter Iredale, easily accessible within Fort Stevens State Park, near Astoria, is well worth the short (32-minute) drive from downtown Cannon Beach to experience. The Peter Iredale was a four-masted steel ship that wrecked in 1906 in the “Graveyard of the Pacific” — that’s the nickname for the dangerous waters at the mouth of the Columbia River. We timed our visit to take in the sunset and also enjoyed exploring the nearby sand dunes. Fort Stevens State Park is vast — 4,300 acres — with a large campground, lake and sandy beaches. I’d love to return to explore more of this wonderful state park.
7. Try zip-lining with High Life Adventures.
We have not yet been to High Life Adventures, but a good friend went recently with her older children (a tween and a teen) and had a great time. This park is also located north of Cannon Beach, closer to Astoria, about half an hour from town. The experience includes access to more than a mile of zip lines — through trees, over ponds, and around and over a lake — and one of the lines even lets you take a dip in the water! It’s fun for the whole family; tour length depends on participants, but is usually between one and two and a half hours.
8. Learn about America’s famous explorers at the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park and Fort Clatsop replica.
History comes alive at the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, where you can explore a replica of Fort Clatsop patterned after the 1805–1806 winter encampment of the Corps of Discovery expedition. The park, located in Astoria, has a fabulous interpretive center, ranger-led programs (including Junior Ranger), trails and nice picnic areas, and even educational demonstrations at the fort during peak visitation times. Pets are also welcome in the park and on the trails, which is nice if you are traveling with your canine companion.
9. Grab dinner and enjoy the beach town vibe in downtown Cannon Beach.
We love downtown Cannon Beach for its welcoming small seaside village vibe and because it is easy to explore on foot while popping into interesting galleries, shops and eateries. Many of the restaurants are dog-friendly, too, making it a great destination for a family trip with Fido. During our last visit, after strolling through town, we also enjoyed stopping at the little public park, where a pickup soccer game was happening and the local children were playing at the playground. There were even some food trucks on-site serving yummy food, too.
10. Savor the sunset at Whale Park near downtown Cannon Beach.
After a day of adventuring, as you are wandering around downtown, make sure you visit the bronze whale sculpture at Whale Park and (hopefully) catch a sunset. (I’m not sure what it is about this little stretch of public beach, located in the northwest corner of downtown near Ecola Creek, but I’ve experienced some of the best sunsets of my life there.) The sculpture represents a whale that Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery reportedly investigated in 1806 after it was beached. For a longer self-guided public art walking tour, visit the Cannon Beach Chamber of Commerce website, where you will find details about other accessible sculptures, including a seal by Northwest sculptor Georgia Gerber.
If you go ...
Getting there: Cannon Beach is located fairly close to several Pacific Northwest cities: it is about a three-hour-and-45-minute drive from Seattle; a three-hour drive from Eugene; and a one-hour-and-20-minute drive from Portland. While it is fun to visit year around, we prefer to go in spring, when it is a little more relaxed.
Where to stay: Our favorite lodging so far has been the family- and dog-friendly Inn at Cannon Beach, but we’ve also loved our stays at the Hallmark Resort in Newport and plan to try its sister property Hallmark Resort & Spa – Cannon Beach next time we are in the area.
Where to eat: A few family-style restaurants we’ve enjoyed recently in Cannon Beach include:
Ecola Seafood Restaurant & Market (208 N. Spruce St.) has good options for kids as well as adults. I loved the halibut and chips, and my son got a hamburger from the children’s menu.
Public Coast Brewing Co. (264 E. Third St.) has a nice, dog-friendly outdoor patio and options that will please the whole family.
Surfcrest Market & Pizza (3140 S. Hemlock St.), located right near Tolovana Beach State Recreation Site, is a great casual, budget option. The pizza was so generously sized that we had plenty of leftovers for lunch the following day, and the salads were very good, too.
Sea Level Bakery + Coffee (3116 S. Hemlock St.), is temporarily closed for a remodel, but you’ll want to check to see if it has reopened when you’re in town. Also near Tolovana Beach State Recreation Site, this spot serves up scrumptious baked-from-scratch goodies and excellent coffee, and is a good place to stop for a pick-me-up while you are exploring Tolovana or nearby Hug Point.
More beachy keen destinations for Seattle-area families to explore:
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2022 and has been updated for 2023.