December 7, 2023 in Oregon

From Native Lands to Tourist Destination: The Transformation of Cannon Beach, Oregon

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Early Native American Settlement

The Cannon Beach area was originally inhabited by Native American tribes including the Tillamook, Clatsop, and Nehalem. The Tillamook were the largest and most dominant tribe in the region, with over 20 villages between the Nestucca River and Seaside. They lived in large cedar plank houses and primarily sustained themselves through fishing, hunting, and gathering.

The Clatsop tribe inhabited the coast near the mouth of the Columbia River. Like the Tillamook, they fished for salmon and other seafood. The Nehalem tribe lived along the Nehalem River to the south. They were known for their woven baskets and hunting prowess.

These tribes lived off the plentiful natural resources of the Oregon coast for centuries before European settlers arrived. Their legacy remains today in local place names like Tillamook Head and Nehalem Bay.

European Exploration

The history of European exploration in the Cannon Beach area dates back to the 16th century. Spanish explorers sailing along the Northwest Pacific coast, led by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, may have been the first Europeans to see this stretch of the Oregon shoreline in 1543. However, it wasn’t until 1778 that Europeans first made landfall near present-day Cannon Beach, when the English naval officer Captain James Cook came ashore at nearby Tillamook Head.

The next significant exploration of the region came with the Lewis and Clark Expedition from 1804-1806. Though the expedition did not reach the immediate vicinity of Cannon Beach, the journey helped open up the Pacific Northwest to future American settlement and commerce.

It was also during this period in the early 19th century that European fur traders working for the Hudson’s Bay Company began traveling through the area and establishing small outposts and trading relationships with Native American tribes. While not directly settling in Cannon Beach itself, these fur traders charted parts of the region and provided some of the earliest written accounts of the lands along the northern Oregon coast.

Settlement and Early Growth

Cannon Beach was first home to the Clatsop Native American tribe, who had inhabited the coast for centuries. The first European explorers came to the region in the late 1700s. Permanent European settlement of Cannon Beach didn’t begin until the late 1800s.

In 1882, mail service was established in the Elk Creek area. Postal maps listed the Elk Creek post office in Clatsop county as early as 1891. Around this time, the logging industry began establishing itself along the coast, bringing more settlers. John G. Cannon, a lawyer from Portland, was one of those early settlers who came to log the area.

In 1894, Cannon built the first beachfront cabin, platted the town site, and gave it the name Ecola, which means “whale” in the Clatsop language. That same year, train service connected the Oregon coastal towns, allowing people and supplies to come from Portland and Astoria. This spurred further growth in the newly established town.

Soon after, in 1896, the town’s named was changed to Cannon Beach after its founder and first resident, John G. Cannon. The town continued to grow as more cabins and buildings went up. By 1910, there were 34 homes in Cannon Beach. Tourism also began during this time, with visitors coming to enjoy the spectacular beach and coastal scenery.


Cannon Beach was officially incorporated as a city on June 26, 1893. Prior to that, it was known as Elk Creek and mainly consisted of the Elk Creek Post Office and a few homes.

The push for incorporation began in the late 1880s, led by residents who wanted more structure and services for the growing community. One major motivation was establishing a local government that could facilitate projects like building roads, organizing emergency services, and bringing utilities like electricity and running water to the area.

In the lead up to incorporation, there was debate among residents about the best path forward. Some pushed for joining the nearby Clatsop County while others advocated for forming an independent city. The independent city proposal won out based on a vote of 39 in favor and 7 against.

Once incorporated, Cannon Beach elected G.W Reed as its first mayor and quickly began tackling civic improvements. Within a few years, the city opened its first elementary schoolhouse and brought telephone service to the region. Over time, more infrastructure and amenities followed, laying the foundations for Cannon Beach to become the popular tourist destination it is today.

Landmarks and Attractions

Cannon Beach is home to beautiful sandy beaches, dramatic rock formations, and lush state parks that draw visitors from around the world. The most iconic landmark is Haystack Rock, a 235-foot sea stack just off the beach that emerges from the ocean at low tide. This massive monolith is frequented by nesting seabirds like Tufted Puffins and is covered in bright green, yellow, and orange sea stars and anemones.

Another popular sight is Ecola State Park located just north of Cannon Beach. Miles of hiking trails wind through old-growth forests, leading past streams, sea cliffs, and panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. Major trailheads start from Ecola Point, Indian Beach, and Tillamook Head. From these trails, you can access secluded coves and beaches that make ideal spots for picnicking, beachcombing, photography, and whale watching.

Other notable landmarks in Cannon Beach include Midtown shops and galleries that line Hemlock Street, the Cannon Beach History Center and Museum, the Cannon Beach Chocolate Cafe, moss-covered trees in Tolovana Beach State Park, and Pelican Brewing Company’s seaside brewpub on the beach. With its abundance of natural scenery and small-town charm, Cannon Beach offers no shortage of sights and experiences for visitors to enjoy.


Cannon Beach has developed into a popular tourist destination known for its natural beauty, art galleries, and long sandy beach. Tourism began to grow in the early 20th century as the beach became more accessible. In 1913, Oswald West, Governor of Oregon, pushed for the creation of Oregon’s first public highway, bringing more automobile tourists to Cannon Beach.

The completion of U.S. Route 101 in the 1930s further opened up the Oregon Coast to tourism. Cannon Beach saw many motor courts built during this time to accommodate road trippers. Tourism continued to expand in the post-war period. The growing popularity of the beach led to the construction of more lodging, restaurants, and shops.

Major landmarks brought more tourists to Cannon Beach. Haystack Rock, a 235-foot sea stack, has become one of the most iconic landmarks on the Oregon Coast and frequently appears in photographs and postcards. The formation of Ecola State Park just north of Cannon Beach in the 1960s preserved 9 miles of coastal wilderness and gave visitors ample hiking trails and beach access.

Today, Cannon Beach sees over 750,000 visitors annually. While it maintains its small beach town charm, Cannon Beach has a thriving tourism industry. Numerous hotels, vacation rentals, restaurants, and boutique shops cater to tourists. The city hosts popular annual events like the Cannon Beach Sandcastle Contest and Stormy Weather Arts Festival. Cannon Beach has cemented its status as one of the premier destinations on the Oregon Coast.

Art Community

Cannon Beach has long drawn artists inspired by its natural coastal beauty. The iconic Haystack Rock, expansive beaches, and rugged headlands have been captured in paintings, photography, and other media for over a century.

In the early 1900s, American Impressionists like Charles Melville Pepper and Childe Hassam visited and painted scenes of Cannon Beach. Their paintings portrayed the interplay of light, color, and atmosphere along the Oregon Coast. This allure continues to attract artists today.

The beach community is home to many art galleries that showcase local talent. Galleries like Bronze Coast Gallery, Cannon Beach Gallery, Haystack Gallery, and others provide venues for painters, sculptors, jewelry makers, and more to exhibit their creations. The Cannon Beach Arts Association founded in 1984 promotes and supports local artists.

Annual events add to the artistic ambiance. The Cannon Beach Sandcastle Contest brings impressive temporary masterpieces. The Plein Air Paint Out and Quick Draw events feature artists painting and sketching scenes around town. Cultural events like the Cannon Beach Summer Concert Series, Stormy Weather Arts Festival, and Sandcastle Day also foster artistic flair.

With its inspiring vistas, supportive community, and charming coastal venues, Cannon Beach has rightfully earned its reputation as an artistic haven. The natural beauty of this Oregon Coast gem continues to nourish creativity nearly a century after the first painters arrived.

Recent Developments

Over the past couple of decades, Cannon Beach has continued to grow as a popular tourist destination while retaining its small-town charm. Some notable recent events and developments include:

  • In 1997, Cannon Beach was named one of the “100 Best Art Towns in America” by John Villani. Its thriving art galleries, coastal beauty, and creative community continue to attract artists and art lovers.
  • The Cannon Beach Chamber of Commerce building was rebuilt in 2002 after the previous building was destroyed in an electrical fire. The new building helped centralize tourism information and business resources.
  • A 7.8 earthquake struck off the Oregon coast in 2003, causing some localized damage in Cannon Beach. However, most infrastructure withstood the quake due to seismic upgrades in prior decades.
  • In 2005, oceanfront lands that were formerly owned by the Arch Cape Water District were transferred to the City of Cannon Beach, helping preserve 4 miles of undeveloped coastline.
  • The City completed a 20-year visioning process in 2012 to develop a comprehensive plan guiding future policies around land use, transportation, economic development and other areas.
  • In 2016, the City Council passed an ordinance limiting vacation rental licenses in order to balance tourism interests with livability for residents. Short-term rentals continue to be a hot topic.
  • The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has impacted tourism and businesses over the past couple years, though Cannon Beach has fared relatively well compared to other travel destinations.
  • Looking ahead, priorities for the City include environmental sustainability, resilient infrastructure, housing affordability and maintaining a vibrant local economy amid growth.

Economy and Industry

Cannon Beach has a strong tourism-based economy, with travel and recreation being major sources of revenue and employment. The town’s scenic coastline, art galleries, boutique shops, and fine dining establishments make it a popular destination for relaxation and cultural enrichment.

Specific economic sectors that thrive in Cannon Beach include:


  • Hotels, vacation rentals, B&Bs, and campgrounds cater to the nearly 750,000 annual visitors to the town. Popular lodging establishments include The Ocean Lodge, Hallmark Resort, and Cannon Beach Hotel.
  • Restaurants range from casual cafes to upscale, farm-to-table dining. Popular spots include Sleepy Monk Coffee, The Wayfarer, and Newmans at 988.
  • Recreation outfits like Cannon Beach Surf offer lessons and equipment rentals for surfing, paddleboarding, and more. Haystack Rock is a top attraction.
  • Numerous art galleries, shops, and boutiques line Hemlock Street downtown, selling artwork, crafts, apparel, and souvenirs.

Real Estate

  • Cannon Beach real estate is highly desirable and properties sell for premium prices, especially oceanfront homes. Vacation rentals are also lucrative.
  • Support services like construction, landscaping, maintenance, and property management thrive due to real estate demand.

Natural Resources

  • commercial fishing brings in crab, shrimp, tuna, salmon and other seafood. Chartered fishing excursions are also available.
  • Timber is still harvested from the surrounding forests, although not at historical levels. Value-added wood products are also made locally.

So in summary, tourism, real estate, and natural resources drive the economy, with hospitality and the arts being particularly significant. Cannon Beach has successfully built an economy around its natural assets and charm.

Culture and Community

Cannon Beach today is known for its laid-back, artistic vibe and close-knit community. Though it started as a small logging and fishing village, it has transformed into a destination for artists, nature lovers, and those looking to escape big city life.

The town has maintained its quaint, small-town charm even as it has grown into a popular tourist destination. Historic buildings along Hemlock Street give a glimpse into the past, while galleries, boutiques, and restaurants line the streets. Locals are proud of the town’s natural beauty and slow pace of life.

Residents describe Cannon Beach as having a “live and let live” attitude. There is little division between locals and tourists, who mingle at events, shops, and restaurants. A strong sense of community has developed from the remote location and reliance of residents on one another. Neighbors look out for each other, often multigenerational families living in the area.

The natural setting and inspiration it provides are a large part of what shapes the community. Artists and nature enthusiasts from across the country have been drawn to Cannon Beach’s rugged coastline, finding inspiration in the crashing waves, windswept trees, and sea stacks just offshore. Locals share a reverence for nature and a commitment to preserving the area’s beauty.

While Cannon Beach has become more upscale, it retains a laid-back, bohemian vibe. Residents and businesses alike are focused on creativity, environmentalism, and community. The small-town feel brings a sense of belonging to residents and visitors alike.

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