A high time at low tide

Nov 14 2011 - 1:25pm

Images

Oregon’s Cannon Beach is about 200 miles south of Seattle on the Oregon Coast. Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach is a monolithic rock adjacent to the beach. TIde pools around the rock are home to many intertidal animals, including starfish and sea anemones. The rock is also a nesting site for many sea birds.

MIKE SIEGEL/Seattle Times
Courtney and Connor Johnston, from Astoria, Ore., explore the tide pools at Haystack Rock during a recent low tide.
Oregon’s Cannon Beach is about 200 miles south of Seattle on the Oregon Coast. Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach is a monolithic rock adjacent to the beach. TIde pools around the rock are home to many intertidal animals, including starfish and sea anemones. The rock is also a nesting site for many sea birds.

MIKE SIEGEL/Seattle Times
Courtney and Connor Johnston, from Astoria, Ore., explore the tide pools at Haystack Rock during a recent low tide.

CANNON BEACH, Ore. -- If someone were to write a book about the weather in Cannon Beach, it would be part mystery, part thriller, part summer romance.

A fleece vest and scarf were all I needed on a recent brisk afternoon as I sat on the Oregon beach, snacking on fresh crab and white wine.

Twelve hours later, the rain was coming down in slanted sheets. I took cover inside Sleepy Monk Coffee Roasters, where a sign on the door warned against high winds. No one bothered taking off their hats and parkas.

"Storms on the Oregon Coast are often broken into chapters," says veteran photographer George Vetter, who chronicles daily life in Cannon Beach (www. cannon-beach.net).

"You have a wave of rain, clouds and wind, then there's a break when the sun breaks through."

Fierce winds. Crashing waves. Heavy rains. How- ever harsh the weather might seem this time of year, his advice is to be patient.

"Stay here for a day or two, and chances are you'll see some dramatic scenery."

Trade in the shorts and flip flops for rubber boots and rain gear, and an offseason weekend in Cannon Beach in northwest Oregon will reward you in other ways. Hotel prices drop. Parking lots empty out. Baristas and shopkeepers have time to talk.

"In winter, it's a different town," says Ryan Dewey, owner of Cannon Beach Hardware and Public House, a combination hardware store and pub. "Nice and sleepy and quiet."

Dramatic ocean scenery, forested hiking trails and village-like neighborhoods stocked with boutiques, bookstores and art galleries can draw as many as 10,000 visitors to town on a summer day.

Shopkeepers, as happy as they are to have the business, look forward to the fall when they can ease back into catering to a year-round population of just 1,700.

It's one reason pharmacists Deborah and Gordon Oakes make the four-hour drive from Seattle two or three times a year, always at least once in fall or winter.

"We wait out the storms in a cozy room with a great fireplace," said Deborah. When it lets up, "we do a lot of walking. We have all our rain gear, so it really doesn't matter to us what the weather is."

Their hotel of choice: The Ocean Lodge, beachfront in Tolovana, a quiet neighborhood at the southern end of a four-mile stretch of public beach facing Cannon Beach's 235-foot landmark Haystack Rock.

The lodge welcomes visitors with a wood-burning fireplace in the lobby, a library stocked with books and games, and oceanfront suites starting at $269 in October -- compared to $349 in June.

Even though my own digs were more modest -- a $159-a-night studio efficiency at Sea Sprite, a 7-unit weathered cedar-shingled complex -- we shared the same ocean view.

Just as important for blustery days, it was a short walk from the Waves of Grain bakery inside a cozy cedar-shake cottage a block from the beach.

Tide pools

Catch it on a good day, and Cannon Beach in fall and winter can almost feel like summer.

I met the Oakeses while they were flying a string of kites in rainbow colors, one shaped like a snake, another like a twirling drumstick. Couples pushed strollers across hard-packed sand. A group of boys rode by on low-slung beach bikes.

Low tide offered the chance to walk out to Haystack Rock, where purple and orange sea stars clung to the barnacle- and mussel-covered base.

Tide-pool viewing will be especially good this winter after high waves wash away a heavy load of sand that piled up in summer, says marine biologist Cindy Bryden, a staffer with the city's Haystack Rock Awareness Project.

Locals say some of their best work is inspired by winter storms, including a surprise snowfall last February. Vetter notes that the fog that often hides Haystack Rock and the Tillamook Lighthouse from view in summer lifts in winter and makes the seascape and winter sunsets more dramatic.

Vetter's photos and the artwork of others fill galleries tucked into New England-style bungalows along downtown's North Hemlock Street. A rain plan might include a few hours of shopping along Hemlock, followed by a coffee at Bella Espresso or browsing in the Cannon Beach Book Co.

When it's time for lunch, summer visitors gravitate to the sidewalk tables at Ecola Seafoods or the deck at Bill's Tavern and Brew House for blackberry beer and oyster sandwiches.

For stormy-weather ambience, I liked a cluster of newcomers in the area of Cannon Beach known as Midtown, between downtown and Tolovana.

Talk of the town

At the Lush Wine Bar, comfortable couches and small tables invite late-night lingering over gourmet nibbles paired with Oregon and Washington wines.

Three big-screen TVs draw a beer-and-popcorn crowd into Cannon Beach Hardware & Public House for barbecue sandwiches and Monday night football.

The latest talk of the town is the tiny, two-room Irish Table. Sleepy Monk owners Jane and Victor Harding (she's Scottish, he's Irish) came up with the idea after a storm two years ago knocked out power and water and ruined 200 bags of coffee beans stored in a backroom.

"We thought about why we're using this prime space for storing coffee beans," Jane recalls.

The couple recruited new partners, Crystal Corbin, a former chef at Cannon Beach's Stephanie Inn, and Corbin's husband, Sean. Their plan: Close the coffeehouse each afternoon, dig out the linens and turn the space into a 42-seat restaurant complete with china and candlelight.

How would shepherd's pie and chicken pasties go over in a beach town known for oysters and crab?

I joined a line of 20 people waiting to get in on a recent Friday. Five minutes after the doors opened, every table was filled.

The worse the weather, the better for business, it seemed. Call it a perfect storm.

IF YOU GO

Cannon Beach is 200 miles south of Seattle on the northern Oregon Coast.

LODGING: Winter storm-watching is best from an oceanfront room. The Stephanie Inn (www.stephanieinn.com) is the top luxury choice for many, but there are many other options. Three suggestions, depending on your budget:

* The Ocean Lodge, next door to the Stephanie Inn, in quiet Tolovana. Oceanfront suites and studios with fireplaces start at $269 through March 8. A three-nights-for-the-price-of-two offer brings the rate to $189 a night through June 14 (available Sunday-Thursday). www.theoceanlodge.com or 888-777-4047.

* Seasprite at Haystack Rock, next door to the Stephanie Inn. Oceanfront studios, suites and cottages, all with kitchens. Rates start at $159. 866-828-1050 or www.seasprite.com.

* Webb's Scenic Surf. Family budget option at the north end of downtown. Fourteen oceanfront rooms with kitchens, some with fireplaces. Winter rates start at $114. 800-374-9322 or www.webbsscenicsurf.com.

TRAVELER'S TIPS:

* Many restaurants are closed on Wednesdays.

* Be ready to get wet in winter: Rainfall averages 10 inches per month in December and January (versus an inch on average in July).

MORE INFORMATION:

* Cannon Beach Chamber of Commerce: 503-436-2623 or www.cannonbeach.org Also see www.cannon-beach.net and www.visittheoregoncoast.com.

* Cannon Beach was named for a cannon that washed ashore from a shipwrecked schooner in 1846. Learn more at the free Cannon Beach History Center and Museum, www.cbhistory.org.

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