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

By Susan C. Kim
August 26, 2005
Gayle Christopher

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

Other starry-eyed residents claim similar stories, although manyhave been drawn to this coastal town since childhood. A Portlandnative, Duane Johnson played at his uncle's cabin in C.B. (aslocals call it) every summer, eventually settling here with hiswife to raise their children. Art galleries, boutiques, wine shops,and even a new cooking school line Hemlock Street, which makes up acompact, pedestrian-friendly downtown. In C.B., as in any othersmall town, "Everyone knows each other's business," says JohnWilliams, president of the Cannon Beach Historical Society and pastmayor. "You will not be anonymous here." Residents feel stronglyabout preserving the intimate atmosphere. Cedar shingles sheetnearly every Arts and Crafts or saltbox-style structure. Concernsregarding overdevelopment evidence the town's love-haterelationship with its main industry: tourism. Nearly two-thirds ofthe 1,500 residents consist of out-of-towners who own second homes,and many more hope to find their own slice of heaven on theseshores. However, C.B.'s natural boundaries maintain its toy-boxsize. Ecola State Park gives the town its northern border. Timbercompanies own the steep, tree-covered hills to the east. South oftown, Highway 101 precludes further development. To the west, ofcourse, is the ocean.

For the most part, Cannon Beach remains noncommercialized. Nofast-food chains exist within city limits. Most locals drive ninemiles north to Seaside for large grocery stores―and forentertainment. "The sidewalks roll up at 5:30 p.m. sharp," says oneentranced visitor who decided to stay permanently. Another local,24-year-old Kirsti Vedenoja, finds a beach bonfire with friends theperfect entertainment after surfing Indian Beach or a busy nightworking at Gower St. bistro.

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