Kentucky Derby of Crustaceans: the Garibaldi Crab Races Skip to content

Tillamook Coast Life Blog

Kentucky Derby of Crustaceans: the Garibaldi Crab Races

With the call of a bugle, the competitors get ready at the gate.

Pop! goes the starter’s gun, and—they’re off! Six pink Dungeness crabs, clawing and crawling their way as fast as they can to the finish line. Behind each crustacean, their sponsors cheer, cajole and counsel each crab on to a win at the Garibaldi Crab Races.

Though they started as a way for locals to get together during the rainy days of winter, the Garibaldi Crab Races are now into their third decade and have matured into so much more than just a distraction from the cold. With the spirit of tongue-in-cheek fun, the Garibaldi community welcomes people from all over the world to this annual event. Competitors have the chance to sponsor a racing crab or to taste delicacies made from crab caught along the Tillamook Coast.

Throughout the two-day event, 500 crabs compete in more than 100 heats, giving everyone a chance to join in on the fun. And the awards are an added bonus, with championship prizes ranging from donated deep sea fishing trips to gift cards, to kids bikes.

There are special race heats just for kid competitors, and races specifically designated for visiting and local contestants. 

For the humans, it’s a lighthearted day. For the crabs, it’s a high-stakes event!

“We cook up the losers throughout the day,” Kelly Barnett, owner of The Spot seafood market, told Oregon Coast Today in 2018. “The winners get all the glory—and then they get cooked as well.”

It’s an exciting afternoon of drinks (look for local beers and wines being served on-site, so you can make a day of it), tasty seafood and lots of cheering! As the website says, you’re not allowed to touch the crabs, but “bribery, sweet talking and yelling are encouraged!”.

If this whole business sounds wild to you, you’re not alone!

Crabs certainly aren’t the first animal that comes to mind when we think about athleticism (not so many rippling muscles under those shells…). But, crab racing is a fun family event that has some traction outside Tillamook County. Hermit crabs are the usual competitors (there’s even a National Hermit Crab Racing Association, based in Florida) but in Oregon, the Dungeness crabs are prolific—and delicious—so they’re our pick, year after year.

All proceeds from this Lions Club event go towards providing hearing aids and prescription glasses to those in need throughout Tillamook County. The Lions Club is an international nonprofit empowering volunteers to serve their communities, and the local chapter hosts other annual Coast events as well.

While you’re in Garibaldi, you can stop by some of the other famous sites in town. There are some great family-friendly activities to check out, such as the Garibaldi Maritime Museum, where you can learn about the adventures of famous ship captain Robert Gray and see some historic sailing vessels. You can also head outside if the weather’s not bad and take a kayak out on the bay! Garibaldi is an amazing little town.

If you’ve got a competitive spirit and love a little friendly rivalry, come out to the Garibaldi Crab Races in March!  Learn more.

This post was originally published in February, 2016 and updated in May, 2018.

A Picture of Dena Weigel Bell
Dena Weigel Bell
Dena Weigel Bell began traveling in college on two cultural history study abroad programs and hasn't wanted to stop yet. After 10 years working in corporate marketing departments, her wanderlust had her seeking out ways to combine her love of writing and travel, which led to becoming a freelance writer. Dena lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and daughter, where their combined travel bucket list grows exponentially with each new day.