Down by the Seashore

Try a sand castle contest for that sand-between-your-toes vacation feeling

Photo by George Vetter/

After an Alaskan earthquake sent a tidal wave crashing down on the Oregon coast in 1964, Cannon Beach residents decided they needed a fun event to raise spirits and bring people back to the beach. Thus, the Cannon Beach Sand Castle Contest began, and 50 years later it has grown into a weekend-long, award-winning event that draws thousands out to enjoy the sun, the sea and — of course — the sand.

“It started out with very small roots, very casual, and it has evolved and grown over the years so that now here we find ourselves celebrating the 50th,” says Debbie Nelson, the chair of the Cannon Beach Chamber of Commerce. The annual contest just won the Oregon Heritage Tradition Award for an event of 50 years that represents the spirit of Oregon.

The fun starts 5 pm Friday, June 20, with a spaghetti, salad and chowder feed at the Chamber, 207 N. Spruce St. After dinner comes the show, with a parade to celebrate the 50th anniversary. “As a hometown girl here, I am just really happy to carry on the tradition,” Nelson says, remembering the parade when she was young. The main sand castle float can be seen in advance at this year’s Portland’s Starlight Parade May 31.

The next morning at 11 am Saturday, June 21, contestants will swarm the beach, often dressed in the event’s T-shirt or with a group theme, such as pirate costumes or funny hats, to start their sand creations. Masters, large groups, small groups, adults, teens and children compete with the sole instructions to have fun playing in the sand and making art with natural beach materials. “Just have fun and be creative, because that is the whole idea around it,” Nelson says. This year’s winners will receive a special 50th anniversary medallion and $1,200 to first, $800 to second and $400 to third place.

As the sun sets, people linger on the beach to enjoy music by local musicians and the warmth of a bonfire. On Sunday morning, June 22, the weekend will end with a 9 am fun run on the beach. You can register for $20 by calling 503-463-2623 or online at (registration fee covers T-shirt and event expenses).

Meanwhile in Lincoln City, mermaids, sand castles, dogs, chowder heads, pirate ships, tikis and plumbing fixtures decorate the town for the Siletz Bay Sand Castle Contest in the historic Taft District. About 100 entries will compete as groups, pairs, individuals and kids under 12 in one of the 10 categories starting at 1 pm Saturday, Aug. 9, and ending at 6 pm with the winners announced by the 20-odd judges on the dock. First-place winners leave with a $100 prize thanks to the Bay Area Merchants Association, while the top three children’s masterpieces win a beach bucket surprise.

“Our reputation is that we are a family-friendly fun event. I think that benefits our community because people recognize and remember us for that, a simple community that is just family-oriented and has fun things for everyone to do,” says event coordinator Mary Ann McGill.

To the thousand or so spectators that flock to the beach each year, McGill says have fun walking around, witnessing the fun and excitement, as well as enjoying the music and quirky entertainment, like tossing salt water taffy off the dock. The talent and creativity varies, from clever dog sculptures and a pair of dolphins riding a wave, to a toilet.

Stay after to take advantage of the abundant driftwood for fort building or roasting hot dogs and s’mores over a bonfire. Register the day of the event on the beach with a can of food per person for the Lincoln City Food Bank. For further questions call Mary Ann McGill: (541) 921-1828.