Cape Kiwanda and the beach at Pacific City are unique among locations on the Oregon coast for several reasons. And each of those unique attributes makes an excellent subject for photography.
First, unlike the volcanic rock that forms most headlands on the coast, Cape Kiwanda is largely sandstone. As typical of that soft rock, it gets eroded by water and wind into pleasing formations.
Second, Haystack Rock, a volcanic remnant, is the sole sea stack jutting out of the ocean in this stretch of the coast. The similarly named Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach is more well known, but this one is bigger and is one of the largest monoliths in the world.
Third, there is an active fishing fleet based in Pacific City but because there is no safe harbor the fishermen use small, flat-bottomed dories and launch them right from the sandy beach.
Surf crashing on the sandstone bluffs makes for dramatic landscape photography. Try to time your visit for an incoming tide with a good swell to get the best wave action. To get these photos requires climbing up the tall sand dune on the north end of the beach. It’s a steep climb in loose sand, so a bit strenuous when carrying photo gear. Please do not be tempted to get right to the edge of the bluffs for a better photo angle or a daring selfie. The cliffs are fragile, crumbling and slippery, and can be very dangerous. Six people have died here in the past couple of years when they fell into the turbulent waters below. Be smart, stay safe and enjoy the fantastic view.
Haystack Rock is best photographed with a receding low tide so that the rock is reflected in the shallow water over hard-packed sand. Sunsets will silhouette the big rock; dawn light and sunrise can also work quite nicely here. You may want to walk south on the beach a ways so you can compose a photo that includes both Haystack Rock and Cape Kiwanda.
The fishermen launch their dories early in the morning on the north end of the beach, towards the sand dune. In the afternoon they come roaring in, timing their approach with the waves and gunning the engines in order to run the boats as far up on the beach as possible.
It’s legal to drive on the beach at Pacific City, but if you want to give it a try make sure you know how to drive on sand and don’t get caught by a rising tide! The local towing company does quite a business here.
Cape Kiwanda is at the south end of the Three Capes Scenic Route, which makes a great day trip or even a week-long explore between Lincoln City and Tillamook. Campers will enjoy Cape Lookout State Park a few miles north of Pacific City. The campground has sites for both basic tent camping and full hook-ups for RVers, and there are yurts for rent. Lodging is available in Pacific City, right across the street from the beach, at the Inn at Cape Kiwanda. Pelican Pub offers an oceanfront view and fresh-caught seafood paired with one of their award-winning ales.
If you have any tips to share about visiting and photographing this part of the Oregon Coast, please include them in a Comment below.