Sand Castle Contests Up and Down the California Coast

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

Southern California

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Photo: Courtesy of Visit California

Sun & Sea Festival

July 16

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

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Photo: Courtesy of San Clemente Ocean Festival

San Clemente Ocean Festival

July 17

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

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Photo: Courtesy of Manhattan Beach Sand Castle Design Contest

California Artisan Manhattan Beach Sand Castle Design Contest

August 7

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

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Photo: Courtesy of Corona del Mar Sand Castle Contest

Corona del Mar Sand Castle Contest

October 2

Now in its 60th year, the annual sand castle contest at Big Corona State Beach offers the opportunity for both creative expression and cash prizes. Each year has a theme; 2022’s theme is California Dreamin’. Sign up as a team in advance.  

More info: facebook.com/CDMSandcastleContest/

Northern California

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Photo: Courtesy of Point Reyes Annual Sand Sculpture Contest

Point Reyes Annual Sand Sculpture Contest

August 27

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

Sandcastle Contest_sandcastles_800x450_credit Visit Carmel
Photo: Courtesy of Visit Carmel

The Great Sand Castle Contest

September 17

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

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Photo: Courtesy of SantaCruz.org

Capitola Beach Festival

September 24-25

This annual family-friendly festival with a plethora of activities includes a popular sand sculpture contest, held on the Saturday of the festival. Kids, adults and groups can all try their luck at taking home the grand prize. 

More info: capitolabeachfestival.com

sandcastle classic_sandcastles_800x450_credit Sandcastle Classic
Photo: Courtesy of Sandcastle Classic

Sandcastle Classic

October 22

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

Looking for more things to do in the area?

Visit our What to Do in Northern California page!

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