My current digital camera—the photographic tech-geek in my beloved collection of classic film cameras—is a Canon S410 PowerShot ($290 street price, www.canonusa.com), which is a wonderful little four-megapixel camera with a 3x zoom and easy-to-use interface. It has very few crannies where sand can work its way in, and while I wouldn't roll it around in dry sand, I certainly wouldn't hesitate to take it to the beach. In fact, I do most every day, when I walk my beagles.
In general, though, while a camera such as the S410 is sand-resistant, it's not technically sandproof. And I doubt anything is, even the Olympus Stylus MP 500 ($340 street price, www.olympusamerica.com), a camera that's billed as "weather-resistant." However, that tag does mean it's built with special seals to keep out water and hopefully deter other debris, making it a good choice for rough use.
But there's a simpler solution. Buy any camera you wish, then spend $30 more and get an Aquapac Aqua-410 (www.aquapac.net). It's a flexible waterproof case that will hold most any small digital camera, and effectively protect it against dust and sand as well as a spill into the drink. A great thing, really, and an essential accessory for anyone whose camera may find itself in harm's way.
More cameras reviewed in Outside's 2004 Buyer's Guide .