From architects’ masterpieces on the Gulf to amazing amateur creations on the Olympic Peninsula, these are the best places to see the most impressive sandcastles and sand sculptures in the USA.
Long Beach, Washington
Rules for the annual SandSations Sandcastle Competition include an emphatic "All Teams Must Have Fun!!!" This event, at the foot of southwest Washington's Long Beach Peninsula, draws serious competitors but retains an endearing small-town flavor. A beach bonfire blazes, the Kiwanis Club provides free hot dogs, and the organizers of the Sand Flea Pet Parade vow, "Prizes and notoriety guaranteed!" sandsationslongbeach.com
Imperial Beach, California
Professional sand carvers (yes, such people exist) converge every year on Imperial Beach, just south of San Diego, for the U.S. Open Sandcastle Competition. Amateurs, including kids, also get to show off their sculpting skills. The festival pretty much takes over the little town. Live music and more than 140 vendors add to the carnival atmosphere; sandiego.org
Photo: Courtesy of Virginia Beach Neptune Festival
Virginia Beach, Virginia
The city says farewell to its summer season with one last beachfront bash, the Neptune Festival. The sprawling megaparty includes such disparate events as a surfing championship, a triathlon, a wine festival, fireworks―and the popular International Sandsculpting Championship. As at all big-time competitions, the creations in the professional division go way beyond simple castles, turning mere sand and water into true art; neptunefestival.com.
South Padre Island, Texas
Traveling pros known as "Masters of Sand" create museum-worthy sculptures during Sand Castle Days. On the same stretch of soft, white sand, hundreds of amateurs―some serious, some decidedly not―give free rein to their own creativity. Those who aspire to challenge the Masters may wish to arrive early for free sand castle lessons; sandcastledays.com.
Fort Myers Beach, Florida
"The World's Safest Beach" becomes a fantasyland during the amazing American Sandsculpting Championship Festival. (The local chamber of commerce promotes the "safest" claim because of the shallow water and lack of undertow.) Between the pros and various divisions of amateurs, somebody's doing imaginative things with sand every day of the weeklong festival; fortmyersbeach.org
Hampton Beach, New Hampshire
This invitation-only event for master sand sculptors produces exquisite works of art that seem too elaborate, too finely detailed to be made of mere water and sand. (Completed creations do get sprayed with a solution of water and glue to keep them standing for the week or so that they remain on display―illuminated for night viewing.) Local sand-shaper Greg Grady co-organizes the event and, with his "Grady Bunch," creates a large collection of sculptures saluting the event's sponsors; hamptonbeach.org
Havre-Aubert, Magdalen Islands, Quebec
The Concours de Châteaux de Sable features something you don't often see at big contests: actual sand castles rather than the fanciful people, beasts, and other sand sculptures that predominate elsewhere. Except in the "Free Style" division, each sculpture "must represent a castle." These edifices rise along the southern shore of Canada's little-known but lovely Magdalen Islands, which float in the middle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence; chateauxdesable.com
Cannon Beach, Oregon
Sandcastle Day began in 1964, partly as a way of helping the town recover from a tsunami the previous year. Everyone from kids to professionals competes in various divisions. Sculptors start right after the morning high tide, work frantically to turn their visions into reality in just a few hours, then watch their creations wash away with the next high tide. So goes life on the beach; cannonbeach.org
Point Reyes National Seashore, California
The participants in the strictly amateur Sand Sculpture Contest, typically held over Labor Day weekend, don't merely take inspiration from the ruggedly scenic surroundings. They take the surroundings themselves. Shells, seaweed, driftwood, and other decorative detritus often wind up incorporated into the sand structures. The sculpting takes place at Drakes Beach, about an hour north of San Francisco; nps.gov
What kind of beach castle would an architect build? Spectators find out at the AIA Sandcastle Competition. The 60-some competing teams consist of architects, designers, engineers, and contractors. The event takes place at East Beach on the tip of Galveston Island each June; aiasandcastle.com.