Californians have long been fascinated with sand castles — those tricky fabrications of sand and water that can take hours to build and detail, only to vanish in an instant if an incoming tide, strong breeze or unwieldy kick takes them out.
What you may not know is some sand castle contests are deep-rooted traditions in a number of California beach communities, with some dating back 60 years or more. They draw in both professional sand sculptors and amateurs alike. We’ve rounded up some of the best must-go design competitions and bigger festivals featuring sand sculpture contests where you can see the magic unfold, or take part in the creating process yourself.
Featured Photo: Courtesy of Visit Carmel
Sun & Sea Festival
This is where some of the best professional sculpturists in the greater San Diego area come to play in the sand, and the result is a pretty fantastic display of beach art — stair-led castles, creepy sand critters and giant sea turtles. There’s also a Kids ‘N Kastles competition for kids 10 and younger.
More info: sunandseafestival.com
San Clemente Ocean Festival
A highlight of this two-day beach festival is a popular, family-friendly sand sculpting competition for teams up to 10 people each, in several categories: Castles and Things, Creatures, Family or Open on Sunday. Space is limited and the action starts early at 6:30am.
More info: oceanfestival.org
California Artisan Manhattan Beach Sand Castle Design Contest
As part of a multi-day surfing event taking place at several beaches throughout Los Angeles, the festival holds a free sand castle design contest for everything from a dribble to a castle to a giant sculpture. Prizes are awarded to winners in five categories.
More info: manhattanbeach.gov
Corona del Mar Sand Castle Contest
Point Reyes Annual Sand Sculpture Contest
Hosted by the National Park Service, this free community event welcomes sand sculptors of all ages and awards prizes to children, families and adults. There’s even a prize for the sculpture with the most recycled plastic included.
More info: nps.gov
The Great Sand Castle Contest
For more than six decades, this casual, all-are-welcome sand sculpture contest has drawn locals and visitors alike. Judges award prizes in a number of categories, from the coveted Golden Shovel, to the tongue-in-cheek Sour Grapes.
More info: carmelcalifornia.com
Capitola Beach Festival
Billed as Northern California’s largest sandcastle competition, this 40-year-strong event also serves as fundraiser for Leap Arts in Education, providing funding for arts programs in schools. Teams consist of bona fide architects, engineers and designers paired with school kids, but individuals can participate too, along with anyone who wants to get hands deep into helping create a community castle.
More info: leaparts.org/sandcastle