Oregon Coast for Kids: Seaside and Cannon Beach

On an April solo trip to Oregon, I drove a short 90 minutes northwest from Portland to the coast, in particular to two beach destinations I know my family would absolutely love: Seaside and Cannon Beach. My time in each location was fleeting — I had only enough time to get a general overview of these popular summer vacation spots. It was also bittersweet, as I wish I could have shared the wide, sandy beaches, kid-friendly accommodations, educational attractions, and pretty sunsets with my family!

Here are some of the highlights of my brief stay in the area — places and people I’d recommend for your family’s trip, and attractions I’d visit with my own family if I have the good fortune to return to the pretty Oregon coast, especially in the summer months:

Seaside

Shilo Inn: My home base in Seaside — Northwest Oregon’s popular oceanfront destination for more than a century — was the Shilo Inn, located right on the main drag (Broadway) and overlooking the “Turnaround,” where cars can pull around a traffic circle to view vast expanse of beachfront. Now, the Shilo Inn is by no means a luxury property; it’s a moderate hotel that frankly could use a bit of a face lift. However, you really can’t beat its central location right on top of the Promenade — a 1.5-mile-long, paved pedestrian walkway that stretches north to south alongside the beach. And it offers spacious, family-friendly accommodations: two queen-sized beds with a full kitchen (refrigerator, stove, microwave, dishwasher), which is fabulous for budget-conscious families who might want to make breakfast or store picnic fixings in the room. Other hotel amenities include an indoor swimming pool, small workout room, on-site restaurant/lounge and free wi-fi.

Shilo Inn Seaside Oregon

Full kitchen in an oceanfront executive suite at the Shilo Inn.

Breakfast bar with a king-sized bed in an oceanfront suite (two queen beds are also available with full kitchen).

Breakfast bar with a king-sized bed in an oceanfront suite (two queen beds are also available with full kitchen).

Swingset on the beach in front of the Shilo Inn.

Swing set on the beach in front of the Shilo Inn.

seaside oregon turnaround

Plenty of benches at the “Turnaround” and along the “Prom” for taking in the ocean views.

Seaside Aquarium: Just three blocks from the Shilo Inn, also on the Promendade facing the ocean, is the historic Seaside Aquarium. The oldest privately owned aquarium on the West Coast opened its doors in 1937 (75 years ago!) and has been delighting visitors ever since. A main draw is the handful of seals who frolic in an open tank near the aquarium’s entrance; in fact, you can watch the seals play without paying admission to the main aquarium area. Still, the moderate entry fee ($8 adults; $4 kids) is worth the price, especially if you have budding marine biologists (or it’s a rainy day, and you’re looking for indoor entertainment). Octopus, eels and a variety of fish make their home here; staff is on hand to answer questions at the touch tank, where you might feel a sea anenome, starfish or sea urchin.

The Seaside Aquarium is housed in a building on the "Prom" that dates back to 1924.

The Seaside Aquarium is housed in a building on the “Prom” that dates back to 1924.

giant squid seaside aquarium

Giant squid at the Seaside Aquarium.

Funky looking fish at the Seaside Aquarium.

Funky looking fish at the Seaside Aquarium.

Bike rentals: When I visited Seaside, thunderclouds loomed and the wind blew too hard for me to borrow a beach cruiser from the Prom Bike & Hobby Shop. But I love the idea of borrowing a two-wheeled, fat-tired bicycle to pedal around town or on the sand; Prom Bike also has side-by-side, four-wheeled, canopy-top surreys and three-wheeled, low-rider “funcycles.”

Broadway: This is the main street running east-west through town (perpendicular to the ocean), where you’ll find casual, family-friendly restaurants and plenty of ice cream, fudge and taffy shops. Just a block from the beach, Funland Entertainment Center is filled with video games and old favorites like Skee-ball, bumper cars, air hockey and more.

NW Women’s Surf Camp: I met surf-camp owner Lexie Hallahan for coffee and pastry at tasty Auntie M’s Bakery in Seaside, where she shared with me her philosophy for creating a safe nurturing environment for women to learn to surf or enhance their skills in the waves. Indeed, her women-only camps sound so empowering and transformative! Also cool: Lexie and her team offer private and group surf lessons for all ages throughout the summer. As long as your child has advanced-beginner swimming skills, he or she can learn how to get up on a board in the Oregon surf. For a slightly tamer, but no less fun, experience, you might also consider private or group stand-up paddling lessons on mellow Cullaby Lake, north of Seaside. Enthusiastic and passionate about water sports, Lexie is a brilliant ambassador for surfing and I wouldn’t hesitate to have the friendly athlete teach my children.

Cannon Beach

Haystack Rock: Hovering more than 235 feet above the expansive Cannon Beach (nine miles long), Haystack Rock is one of Oregon’s most recognized natural features. The giant monolith is home to nesting seabirds and a wild variety of  marine life in the tidepools at its base. The Friends of Haystack Rock, through its Haystack Rock Awareness Program, staff the area around the rock, and are on hand to answer questions about the geology, ecology and wildlife in the area. These paid staff and knowledgeable volunteers are at the rock in wind and rain (as I was!), encouraging visitors to step on the sand, not living coral, and pointing out the most colorful creatures that attached themselves to the rocky reefs and swam in the tidepool. They’ll also help you look through spotting scopes at the birds sitting high up on the rock and gently educate how to prevent damage to the fragile environment. I highly, highly recommend taking children — big and small – to this magnificent area. I was so blown away by the myriad of marine life in the tidepools, I explored for well over an hour… and I had no kids in tow!

Sea stars and sea anemones in the tidepools; the area is designated a National Wildlife Refuge and Marine Garden.

Sea stars and sea anemones in the tidepools; the area is designated a National Wildlife Refuge and Marine Garden.

All ages love to explore the tidepools at the base of Haystack Rock.

All ages love to explore the tidepools at the base of Haystack Rock.

The "educational trailer" of the Haystack Rock Awareness Program - staffed even on a rainy spring day!

The “educational trailer” of the Haystack Rock Awareness Program – staffed even on a rainy spring day!

You can't miss Haystack Rock - a massive monolith on the vast expanse of Cannon Beach.

You can’t miss Haystack Rock – a massive monolith on the vast expanse of Cannon Beach.

Waves of Grain Bakery: On my way out of Cannon Beach —  just a 12-minute drive away, but decidedly less commercial and developed than Seaside — I popped in the Waves of Grain Bakery for a muffin and hot coffee (remember, I was exploring in the rain!). In the cozy little house, just a block from the beach, I sat sipping my hot drink, wishing I had more time to hang out on the Oregon Coast. I found it rugged and evocative, entertaining and scenic — filled not only with plenty for families to do, but also providing a naturally beautiful setting to do it all in!

Sunset in Seaside.

Sunset in Seaside.

Thanks to Travel Oregon for hosting my brief trip to your beautiful state. I’ll be back!

For more family summer vacation ideas, check out the round-up on Taking the Kids.

8 Comments on "Oregon Coast for Kids: Seaside and Cannon Beach"

  1. Aside from being a very kid friendly destination, the beauty of this trip is it being very educational. The kids would love this.

  2. What an awesome experience. I have been to Oregon once but on a more work related trip. Will start to plan on my next trip there. This certainly helps clarify on things to get in to.

  3. Gorgeous!! I love that they have an educational trailer at the beach.

  4. That beach looks stunning. Admittedly, I only learned that Oregon had such breathtaking beaches a few years ago after seeing pictures a friend took….it definitely looks like I need to plan a trip there!

  5. Wow, Oregon is looking better and better all the time! It’s the only state on the Northwest I haven’t been too. I can’t wait to go one day!

  6. Oregon is on my list. Beautiful pictures, and the pictures you took of the hotel don’t make it look like it needs a facelift at all! (You should see my kitchen.)

  7. Looks great! I think we need a round-the-US trip after our round-the-world trip is over.

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