So You Want to Live in ... Cannon Beach, Oregon

Gayle Christopher
The art, natural beauty, and enigmatic charm of this Oregon town romances visitors into staying forever.

Cannon Beach's lure remains an inexplicable phenomenon. This pancake-flat coastline, pierced by an enormous sea stack, mesmerized explorers Lewis and Clark in 1806―and today's locals seem just as spellbound. "The first time I saw this beach, I stared at it for three hours straight. The wet sand reflected the sunset like a mirror, causing gold and ruby flames to engulf both land and sky," says David McMillon, a visitor-turned-resident. "It was hypnotizing. I knew that I could not leave this place."

Other starry-eyed residents claim similar stories, although many have been drawn to this coastal town since childhood. A Portland native, Duane Johnson played at his uncle's cabin in C.B. (as locals call it) every summer, eventually settling here with his wife to raise their children. Art galleries, boutiques, wine shops, and even a new cooking school line Hemlock Street, which makes up a compact, pedestrian-friendly downtown. In C.B., as in any other small town, "Everyone knows each other's business," says John Williams, president of the Cannon Beach Historical Society and past mayor. "You will not be anonymous here." Residents feel strongly about preserving the intimate atmosphere. Cedar shingles sheet nearly every Arts and Crafts or saltbox-style structure. Concerns regarding overdevelopment evidence the town's love-hate relationship with its main industry: tourism. Nearly two-thirds of the 1,500 residents consist of out-of-towners who own second homes, and many more hope to find their own slice of heaven on these shores. However, C.B.'s natural boundaries maintain its toy-box size. Ecola State Park gives the town its northern border. Timber companies own the steep, tree-covered hills to the east. South of town, Highway 101 precludes further development. To the west, of course, is the ocean.

For the most part, Cannon Beach remains noncommercialized. No fast-food chains exist within city limits. Most locals drive nine miles north to Seaside for large grocery stores―and for entertainment. "The sidewalks roll up at 5:30 p.m. sharp," says one entranced visitor who decided to stay permanently. Another local, 24-year-old Kirsti Vedenoja, finds a beach bonfire with friends the perfect entertainment after surfing Indian Beach or a busy night working at Gower St. bistro.

So no one lives in C.B. for throbbing nightlife; they can find that elsewhere. Instead, the coastal activities―hiking, kayaking, surfing, and strolling the beach―and the community warmth captivate people of all ages. As one resident puts it, "Cannon Beach romances you. It's good for the soul."

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