That Special Place

Everyone has places that evoke certain emotions or memories - places they want to go back to, places they will never go again.

I was turned off to Philly when my tour bus in high school drove through the ghetto on the way to downtown. All I have to say is whoa. About 10 seconds after the guide pointed out Temple University I had crossed them off my prospective college list.

Sorrento, a small town on the Mediterranean coast in Italy, south of Napoli, is a place I only spent a few hours but will always have fond memories of - the beach, the food, wow...

Las Vegas...don't get me started on Las Vegas. If I never set foot in that town again I'll be happy. And no, it has nothing to do with gambling, alcohol, or strippers - it's just a pit of hell.

I love Vancouver, British Columbia for the marina, the food, the natural surroundings - all of this despite getting a window broken in my car the first time I was there. That's saying a lot for the city.

We all have these places, whether we spent days in the place or merely were passing through. The places we talk about to our friends when our eyes suddenly start focusing just a little bit distant, reliving the smells, sights, and textures of our memories. They are never the same for everybody - Vegas can be my hell but it might be someone else's Nirvana.

So today's post is about a place I hold dear: Cannon Beach, Oregon.

Cannon Beach is a small town on the northern Oregon coast, pretty much straight West of Portland. It's about 70 miles on a mostly two-lane highway through the coast range and if I'm lucky with traffic I can get there in less than an hour and a half. It's one of those typical beach towns which has little industry to speak of other than tourism, which comes mainly from Portlanders getting out of town for the weekend.

That is to say, going during the week is best, because you have the town almost all to yourselves.
There is one main street through the town, filled with little artsy place, restaurants and cafes, tiny inns and bed and breakfasts, and a couple larger hotels. Everything is walking distance to the wide, soft, sandy beach. For those of you who have never been to the Oregon coast, it really does have some of the best sand I have ever experienced. It's very finely ground from millenia of being ground by the Pacific waters - which, I must say, are ice-freaking-cold - and is great between your toes. You know, unlike those pebbles they call sand in Hawaii...but they have warm water, so I'll forgive them.

The main attraction is something we call Haystack Rock. It's right off the beach, a short walk from the "downtown" area. And while it looks very cool, the reality is it's just a big rock that happens to look like a haystack (although, you might never say that unless someone told you it did). It's also a haven for birds - like puffins, which I had no idea we even had until last week - and the base of the rock is full of tidepools, replete with a menagerie of starfish, mussels, sea anenomes, and tiny, tiny fish.

The beach itself is miles long and wider than the length of a football field, so it's not one of those skinny ones like in Hawaii or Florida. (Again, cold water...) There is plenty of room for people to spread out, even on the busiest of weekends - not that they do...if you take the time to walk a quarter mile either way from the main beach access points you will have the beach to yourself.

Like with all parts of the Oregon coast, the weather can be spotty. It's hopeless to plan something dependent on the weather more than a day or two in advance because chances are it will end up foggy and a possibly a tad wet (more on that later). However, unlike a lot of the coastal towns Cannon Beach rarely is super windy, which can make some areas on our beautiful coast miserable.

If you drive out from Portland, get up early. That ensures you get a parking spot, which is really the main reason. We usually leave by 8am if we are driving out - if you leave at 10 you won't get there until noon and parking will be just about impossible.

There are quite a few places for food, but honestly very few of them are any good. Mo's is there, at the south end of town, and we used to eat there every time we went. They are known for their chowder and various other seafoods, but to be real honest I can't stand their food anymore. It might be a product of my tastes changing and becoming more refined - I can blame that chowder place in Pike Place Market in Seattle - or they could just be going downhill.

We've eaten at just about every place in town and while none of the eateries are horrible, or even bad, they sure aren't worth a special trip - or the cost that goes along with a meal at the beach.

Cannon Beach is the home of Sleepy Monk Coffee, a small roaster that also has it's own store. This place I like, but interestingly enough I think other places that use their coffee actually make better mochas and the like with it (kind of like Stumptown in Portland).

The main place is Waves of Grain Bakery. We always park at the Tolovana Wayside parking lot, which has beach access (and where Mo's sits on the beach). Usually our first stop - you know, after using the facilities post-drive - is to walk the two blocks here, get a mocha, and see what they have in the case for fresh goodies. The coffee is good and usually there isn't much of a wait (though we were 10 deep last week), plus the bakery has a nice variety of cookies, tarts, breads, and all the fun stuff you find in a bakery.

Besides, isn't that half the fun of going to the beach - eating junk food? It always has been part of my beach experiences since I was little, mainly ice cream, caramel corn, and saltwater taffy. However, little boy tastes grow up - now I need complicated pastries and high quality caffeine, preferably with chocolate mixed in to both.

Waves of Grain is not the best bakery in the world, but it's absolutely the best one in Cannon Beach and it's better than the vast majority of what's out there.

So, you might be thinking, what do I like about it so much? The weather is iffy, the sights aren't super great, the food is only so-so....how is this a special place?

Well, to be honest, it's difficult to quantify. Part of it is the location. The quickest places to get to on the coast are here and Seaside, and since we don't want to be around a bunch of kids, Seaside is bad. Convenience is a good thing - and the drive is nice, going through the Cascade mountains and forests.

But it can't be all about the places and convenience and things like that - more of it is about the experiences you have, the people you are with and what you do and remember about the place.

Cannon Beach was the first beach trip my wife and I took. It's the place where we have taken Ruby for long walks on the beach (though not at sunset, that's cold). It's the place we have walked hand-in-hand talking about all things - big things like our futures, our dreams, and small things like what movie we want to watch next. It's that place where the rest of the world doesn't matter, at least for a few hours. For someone who carries a phone with email so people can get in touch with me all the time, it's nice to just ignore it for awhile to enjoy some quiet time with my beautiful wife in a beautiful setting.

We've walked the beach countless times, looking back inland at some of the amazing houses that line the coast, filled with windows for magnificent sunset views, and picked out our favorites. We've criticized others, noting what changes we would make to make it more suitable to our tastes. You know, if we had that kind of scratch.

And we stop at the rock and look around the tide pools every time when the tide is out, even though they are usually the same. Why? Because you never know when you will see something different or figure out something new (Oregon has puffins?!).

Cannon Beach is also where I proposed to my wife over five years ago. I couldn't think of anywhere else more appropriate, given our love for beaches and all the good times we had had there.

I had planned the little trip for a couple weeks, which, if you remember from above, is not a smart thing to do for the Oregon coast. And no, I wasn't going to shift my plans because of the weather. I was hoping it would be a surprise (which, of course, it wasn't - she figured it out :) ), but we walked out towards the north end of the beach, in the foggy, damp afternoon, and I proposed, she said yes, all that good stuff.

It's just one of the many great memories we have of this small town, and it's one of the millions of reasons we keep going back, and will continue to go back, probably forever.

See, that special place doesn't have to be perfect. The food doesn't have to be perfect, the surroundings don't have to be perfect, the weather doesn't have to be perfect - though all of that could help to be sure - it just has to give you a good feeling, raise your spirits, bring a smile to your mouth. It has to give you that faraway look in your eyes when you talk about it, the one that lets your listener know you are reliving past good memories as you speak.

For me - for us - Cannon Beach is that place.

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