In coastal towns with constant gazes toward the busy summer season, there are few conventions that draw repeating masses of locals and visitors alike, quite like the annual Chocolate on the Beach Festival. The four-day experience beginning on February 27 gathers vendors from all over the Pacific Northwest to celebrate the love of chocolate. Spanning 13 miles from Moclips to Ocean City, the Festival sets itself apart from most other conventions in Grays Harbor by uniting multiple coastal towns in the name of sweets. Each year, the event takes on a new theme, and this year, visitors will experience The Magic of Chocolate.
The origins of the Festival date back to 2008, when a small group of chocolate lovers set out to raise funds for The Museum of the North Beach. The success of that first year propelled the Festival on a path to eventually become an independent entity in 2012 and has only grown each year since. Chocolate on the Beach has continued its tradition of giving back by donating $38,000 back into the community over the course of its existence. Sunday, March 1, is Public Safety Day, allowing free admission for professionals in public safety, including first responders, dispatchers, law enforcement and active or retired military.
“Half of the Board is involved with the fire department,” Stephanie Allestad, coordinator of the Chocolate on the Beach Festival, explains, “so this is just our way of saying ‘Thank you.’”
Although the Festival experience offers seemingly endless things to see and do, affordability is always a priority for event organizers. Admission to the Festival is considerably inexpensive and includes access to the vendor building on Saturday and Sunday at Pacific Beach Elementary. The vendor building will again feature several Grays Harbor County favorites such as Dog Master’s of Cosmopolis, Elegantly Dope Body and Soap Co. of Hoquiam, Kate & Co. Awesome Chair Massage of Pacific Beach, Nice Nuts of Aberdeen, Vagabond & Happenstance of Hoquiam, and Fancy Accent Tea Company of Westport.
All 28 vendor spaces were booked to capacity in September—record timing for the event that usually fills up around January, a true testament to the symbiosis between the Festival and its vendors. The Chocolate on the Beach Festival has also developed a solid partnership with PDX Superheroes Coalition, a group based out of Portland comprised of expertly-costumed volunteers who set out to brighten the days of those they visit. 2019’s “Out of this World” theme inspired the PDX Superheroes to show up in full sci-fi cosplay from Star Wars to Guardians of the Galaxy, including a towering Groot on stilts. With the new Magic of Chocolate motif in mind, the group is expected to bring characters and creatures of fairytales and myth to life. The dressing up shouldn’t just be left to the professionals, though. Costumes according to theme are strongly encouraged, and attendees are welcome to enter a costume contest on Sunday. Additionally, selfie stations are set up throughout the festival, so there are plenty of opportunities to capture the perfect photo in a magical ensemble.
While Chocolate on the Beach welcomes many next-level chocolatiers, Allestad wants to make it clear that the festival thinks outside the proverbial box of chocolates. “It’s about chocolate, but it’s also about chocolate in formats you’d never think of,” says Allestad. “Kambalamba Slimes created Cocoa Puffs slime that feels and smells just like Cocoa Puffs. Purdy Organics makes bread and butter pickles using a chocolate brine. It makes a great relish.”
Even Allestad, The Chocolate Lady herself, gets in on the action creating inventive chocolate recipes. Her own demo on Friday at 2:00 p.m. is titled “The Magic of Brittle.” “One of the brittles that I make is with chocolate tequila liqueur and pepitas.”
The Chocolate Lady’s mouthwatering class is not the only educational opportunity of the weekend. There are a several demonstrations, covering a range of topics from “Honey Bee 101” to “Magical Chocolate Slime Making.” Brother Bliss of Blissful Wunders will also return with a demo titled “From Bean to Truffle,” promising to teach attendees “how to make actual chocolate to produce your own truffles.”
Each year, a multi-division recipe contest brings culinary artists of all ages and skill levels together to compete for ultimate chocolate bragging rights. Categories include Desserts, Baked Goods, Sweets, Savory, and Best of Theme. Submissions are judged on originality, taste and presentation. Even local businesses get involved in the friendly competition. While Ocean Crest Resort’s culinarians took home top wins in the Professional Desserts, Sweets and Savory categories in 2019, Amy Jablonski of Amy’s Decadent Chocolates won the Professionals Best of Theme title. The Festival also holds a Battle of the Bean, a rivalry for local coffee stands to come up with the best chocolate caffeinated beverage, and a Chocolate Cocktail Throwdown for local mixologists to rise to a choco-challenge of their own.
All chocolate lovers along the Washington coast can look forward to the Chocolate on the Beach Festival as an annual celebration of the best treats the Northwest has to offer. But even more important than the chocolate itself is the consistency with which the Festival’s tenacious organizers have brought sprawling communities together for the sake of fun, education, and a little bit of magic.
Get your tickets and more information at the Chocolate on the Beach Festival website.