Low Tide at Cannon Beach, Oregon, Reveals an Undersea World

Starfish and kelp

Starfish and kelp are among the marine life you can see at low tide at Oregon’s Cannon Beach. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Preface: Around Haystack Rock, which dominates Cannon Beach on the Oregon coast, you can always spot interesting marine life in the tidal pools at low tide.

Check for tidal reports to find the best hours for spotting starfish, sea anemones, mussels, tiny fish, and kelp.

My visit in June of 2009 happened to coincide with a really low tide. Here’s the scoop.

June 24, was the lowest tide of 2009 at Oregon’s Cannon Beach, and my husband and I left our room-with-a-view at the Hallmark Resort and skipped breakfast to be at Haystack Rock for the 8:40 a.m. event. So did hundreds of other people—and their dogs. Masses of folks wandered around the tidal pools revealed by the receding water.

Kids explore the tidal pools around Haystack Rock on Cannon Beach ©Laurel Kallenbach

Kids explore the tidal pools around Haystack Rock on Cannon Beach ©Laurel Kallenbach


Luckily, Cannon Beach’s Friends of Haystack Rock—a nonprofit organization with an army of community volunteers (wearing red jackets or T-shirts)—are on hand to answer questions about various types of kelp and to point out marine creatures in the tidal pools that were created by the low tide.

A Friends of Haystack Rock volunteer tidal pool ecosystems. ©Laurel Kallenbach

A Friends of Haystack Rock volunteer explains the tidal pool ecosystems. ©Laurel Kallenbach

The group also helps raise awareness among visitors about these fragile ecosystems, and its volunteers keep an eye out to prevent people from damaging barnacles, muscles and starfish.

The Friends of Haystack Rock volunteers also loan out binoculars for identifying the many seabirds, including the fantastic tufted puffin who flit around the rock, where they build their nests.

Thanks to this preservation-minded group, visitors will be able to explore and study the undersea world for many years to come.

One of the best things about having nature interpreters on site is that you can learn so much more about all the species you’re seeing than if you were all by yourself. You can point to a bird soaring around Haystack Rock and one of these devoted volunteers will identify it as a pelagic cormorant or a pigeon guillemots or the Western gull.

Haystack rock, on Oregon's Cannon Beach ©Laurel Kallenbach

Haystack rock, on Oregon’s Cannon Beach ©Laurel Kallenbach

The colorful tidal pools—hidden mysteries of underwater life—are exposed only at low tide. This makes them all the more wondrous.

Sea anemones are among my favorites because I love how they look like underwater flowers with their delicate filaments waving in the water. If your shadow falls across an open anemone, it will react by retracting its little arms so that it looks like a tube. If you stand still, you might witness them slowly reopen like a sunflower in the morning sun.

Sea anemones ©Laurel Kallenbach

For more information about the Oregon coast, as well as the state’s other breathtaking sights, visit Travel Oregon.

Laurel Kallenbach, writer and editor

Originally published on June 25, 2009

A garden of starfish ©Laurel Kallenbach

A garden of starfish on the rocks of Cannon Beach Oregon. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Sustainable Suppers (and Breakfasts Too)

Though Cannon Beach on Oregon’s northern coast is a small town, it offers some wonderful, sustainable food.

The Sleepy Monk sells organic coffee roasted right on site in Cannon Beach.

The Sleepy Monk sells organic coffee roasted right on site in Cannon Beach.

To start the day, you can find terrific organic coffee at The Sleepy Monk, a coffee shop that’s open, alas, only on weekends. Fortunately, The Sleepy Monk supplies many of the local restaurants with their locally roasted beans, so you can drink a conscious cup any day of the week. I love the quirky ambiance and the Italian pottery.

Coastal Dining with Class

One of the best meals I’ve had in a long time was dinner at Cannon Beach’s oceanfront Wayfarer Restaurant & Lounge. This excellent restaurant, which overlooks Haystack Rock and the beach, specializes in Pacific Northwest coastal cuisine. Executive Chef Will Leroux emphasizes organic, locally harvested fruits and veggies and serves wild fish, most of it regionally caught.

Leroux is reportedly an avid fisherman, clam digger, and forager of wild berries and mushrooms, so he “gets” the connection between nature and the food he presents.

In late June, some of the Wayfarer’s enticing entrees included Northwest Razor Clams, Oregon-Forest Morel Mushroom Chicken (natural), and Cedar-Planked Wild Salmon. For starters, there was an organic arugula salad and local bay-shrimp cocktail. Oregon wines round out the menu.

The Wayfarer serves breakfast, lunch and dinner with ocean views. For breakfast, local berries accompany a wild mushroom omelette.

The Wayfarer serves breakfast, lunch and dinner with ocean views. For breakfast, local berries accompany a wild mushroom omelette.

Did I mention the sourdough bread served at dinners was to die for? Ours was served piping hot and I literally could not stop eating it! (The bread served as toast at breakfast was equally as wonderful.)

Pub Grub with Pizzazz

For casual dining, The Lumberyard Rotisserie and Grill is a fine choice. Its pub atmosphere is laid-back and it stocks an extensive selection of regional microbrews to complement your organic chicken, wild salmon, or all-natural pork and beef entrees. While we waited for our Halibut Burgers to arrive, my husband and I enjoyed looking at the photos of Cannon Beach in the 1910s that decorate the walls. When the burgers came to our table, we were far too absorbed in their flaky-fish goodness to pay attention to anything else.

For more information on Oregon’s coastal treasures, visit Travel Oregon.

P.S. What have been your most memorable meals when traveling?

Laurel Kallenbach, writer and editor