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Overview of an Oregon Heritage Excellence Award

An Oregon Heritage Excellence Awards recognize individuals, organizations, and projects for outstanding heritage efforts. The nomination process is an opportunity to honor work that goes above and beyond expectations, serves as a model for future work, and inspires others. Special consideration is given to the development of new ideas, approaches, and innovations. Definition provided by

Cannon Beach receives a Heritage Tradition award for the annual Sandcastle Contest.

Sandcastle Contest Criteria 


Born out of tragedy in 1964, Cannon Beach’s Sandcastle Contest celebrates its 50th Anniversary in 2014.   As the first and oldest contest of its kind in Oregon, the Cannon Beach Sandcastle Contest attracts thousands of tourists to the Oregon Coast each year.  This annual event promotes the very finest elements of Oregon’s heritage: a unique and long-standing commitment to its public beaches, the majestic beauty of the Oregon coast and the resilient “can do” attitude of its citizens.  Together, these combine to enrich the Oregon coastal experience for visitors from around the world.

Organization Background

Sponsored by the Cannon Beach Chamber of Commerce, the Cannon Beach Sandcastle Contest is held each year during the month of June. While most annual events are held on a specific date or weekend, the date for the Cannon Beach Sandcastle Contest is determined primarily by the tide schedule.   Because the event occurs on the beach, it is held on the Saturday in June with the most favorable tides.   

The Cannon Beach Chamber of Commerce promotes the economic development of business in Cannon Beach and the Oregon coast as a year round destination. This includes a commitment to extend a friendly welcome to visitors and enhance the quality of life in the community. The Chamber is a 501 C (6) non-profit organization that holds three events per year: The Cannon Beach Sandcastle Contest, The Stormy Weather Arts Festival, and Haystack Holidays. In addition to these events, the Chamber conducts a variety of workshops, members-only events, and functions related to the community at large. Most recently, the Chamber has been engaged in region-wide promotions with other area Chambers, Travel Oregon, and the Oregon Coast Visitors Association.

The primary target markets of the Cannon Beach Chamber of Commerce are the Portland and Seattle metro areas. In recent years, this geographic area has expanded to include Boise, Vancouver, BC and Northern California.  International markets include Canada, Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand.  

Historically, the Cannon Beach Sandcastle Contest has attracted “day trippers” from the greater Portland area. These visitors are typically young families, with a couple of children who make the 90 minute drive to Cannon Beach.  As the contest has grown over the decades, older visitors who originally came to the Sandcastle Contest are now bringing their younger family members to participate in this event. This trend reconfirms the significance of the Cannon Beach Sandcastle Contest as an Oregon family tradition.

Event History

The origin of The Cannon Beach Sandcastle Contest came from the aftermath of a tragic event. In March of 1964, the United States experienced one of the biggest earthquakes ever recorded.  Known as the “Good Friday Earthquake”, the 9.2 magnitude quake originated in Prince William Sound, Alaska, 75 miles outside of Anchorage.  This mega-quake generated a large tsunami and on March 27th, 1964, the tsunami hit Cannon Beach with such strength and velocity that it destroyed the town’s main bridge, effectively stranding all of the residents.

In the aftermath of the tsunami, Cannon Beach had a problem. How could the town bring its residents back together and restore its bruised spirit?  And at the same time, how could Cannon Beach help to reassure tourists that it was once again safe to visit the Oregon coast? 

These questions were on the minds of four Cannon Beach residents; Margaret Atherson, Billie Grant, Bill Kitterman, and Marion Crowell.  This group of locals came up with the idea for the new event when Cannon Beach experienced extremely low tides during the months immediately following the tsunami. Reporters and tourists flocked to the coast to witness the low tide phenomenon. Wanting to capitalize on the welcomed boost in tourism, they formed a committee to create an event to be held on their beloved beach.

In August of 1964, the Cannon Beach Sandcastle Contest tradition was born. Originally meant to be an event for local families, the Cannon Beach Sandcastle Contest soon attracted tourists from across the Pacific Northwest.  From its humble beginnings in 1964, the Cannon Beach Sandcastle Contest now attracts 10,000-15,000 visitors to the Oregon coast annually.