How to build a perfect sandcastle and where to see the best sand art

Sandcastles are a fun beach activity for all ages — Photo courtesy of Fatcamera / Getty Images

Once upon a time, a dime store pail and shovel was all you needed for a day of play at the beach. For some of us, the joy of building a sandcastle is ingrained in our earliest childhood memory. Now you’re all grown up, and sand art has evolved too. You don’t need to be an artist to take your technique to the next level. A few simple tips and tools can turn something basic into a whimsical work of sand art.

Be intentional with water

To build a strong foundation, you’ll need wet sand, making water as essential as sand. Mix sand with water in roughly equal parts to create a sturdy paste that’s ready to mound and shape.

Use your hands

A plastic bucket is great for transporting water and for mixing, but keep in mind it’s nearly impossible to dump a bucket of wet sand without it sticking to the pail. It’s best to use your hands like a scoop to build your base. Many people find sand soothing to the touch (an added bonus).

Invest in a shovel

A small shovel may be the nostalgic favorite, but a sturdy garden shovel moves bigger quantities of sand more efficiently.

Use easy-to-find tools

Your kitchen drawer is a treasure trove of tools that can take sand art from simple to show-stopping. A plastic knife makes carving details like elaborate ridges and fancy pleats a breeze. You can use the bristles of a toothbrush to create patterns and swirls, and a cake spatula for smoothing. A drinking straw pokes holes that are uniform in size, and it can also be used to gently blow away excess sand hiding in nooks and crannies.

Enlist Mother Nature for decorative accents

For decorative accents, found objects such as driftwood, seaweed, stones and shells add natural panache to your sandcastle.

Need some inspiration? Consider visiting a sand art festival and watch seasoned amateurs and experts construct architectural wonders. From California to Rhode Island and from Texas to Florida, you’ll see sandcastle masterpieces that are sure to impress. Here’s a quick round-up of sand art festivals and competitions around the country.

Sugar Sand Festival, Clearwater Beach, Florida

Sand artists are drawn to the soft sand at Florida's Sugar Sand FestivalSand artists are drawn to the soft sand at Florida’s Sugar Sand Festival — Photo courtesy of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater

In a state known for its beaches, Clearwater Beach, Florida stands tall.

The sand is as white as snow and as soft as a cloud; sift it through your fingers and it feels like flour. An old-school pier and palm-lined promenade are perks.

Sugar Sand Festival is held each April at Pier 60. International sand artists are drawn to the opportunity to work with the area’s feathery-textured sand. The festival features an over 20,000-square-foot, walk-through exhibit space filled with fantastical creations. Street performers, fireworks and sand-sculpting classes add to the lively atmosphere.

Atlantis Rising International Sand Sculpture Competition, Westerly, Rhode Island

Atlantis Rising is one of New England's  top sand art eventsAtlantis Rising is one of New England’s top sand art events — Photo courtesy of Tandem

Westerly, Rhode Island, is a picturesque New England seaside town. Beautiful beaches are plentiful, and swimming, surfing and sailing are some of the most popular activities.

Atlantis Rising International Sand Sculpture Competition is held on a weekend in October at Misquamicut State Beach. On a clear day, the views go all the way to Block Island’s towering bluffs.

Sand artists from around the world are invited to build imaginative sand sculptures. There are food vendors, live music and entertainment at this lively event. It’s a festive way to say goodbye to New England’s short-lived summer season.

AIA Sandcastle Competition, Galveston, Texas

Teams of architects create sand sculpturesTeams of architects create sand sculptures — Photo courtesy of Visit Galveston

Galveston’s miles of sandy beach brush the Gulf of Mexico. One of its prettiest swaths is East Beach. In August, members of the Houston Chapter of the American Institute of Architects gather on a Saturday and build for five hours during the AIA Sandcastle Competition. The intense competition draws thousands of spectators who watch these talented teams build intricate structures as they vie for the coveted Golden Bucket award.

The finished works are guarded throughout the night, so beachgoers can enjoy these dazzling architectural marvels throughout the day on Sunday. Free sandcastle-building lessons sweeten the deal.

Sands Arts Festival, Tybee Island, Georgia

Students show the future of sand art at Tybee Island's Sands Arts FestivalStudents show the future of sand art at Tybee Island’s Sands Arts Festival — Photo courtesy of SCAD

Tybee Island is a barrier island near Savannah, Georgia, known for its wide, sandy beach and functioning lighthouse. Each spring, the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) hosts the one-day Sands Arts Festival near the Tybee Pier. Hundreds of the school’s talented students, representing a variety of majors, from industrial design to architecture, plus staff and alumni, conceive and construct a multitude of eye-catching works of sand art.

After the winners are announced, participants and spectators help to level the sculptures and restore the beach to its pre-festival condition.

Newport Beach Sandcastle Contest, Newport Beach, California

Newport Beach is a classic California setting for a sand art festivalNewport Beach is a classic California setting for a sand art festival — Photo courtesy of Ed Olen

Big Corona State Beach is a Southern California classic destination that looks lifted from an early Beach Boys’ album cover. It’s where the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce hosts the Newport Beach Sandcastle Contest each year in early autumn. Participants range from seasoned professionals to enthusiastic first–timers.

The festival has been taking place for over 60 years. In addition to whimsical sand structures built to wow, the event features live music, fresh food and games for kids.

Blue Water SandFest, Port Huron, Michigan

Michigan's Blue Water SandFest is on the shores of Lake HuronMichigan’s Blue Water SandFest is on the shores of Lake Huron — Photo courtesy of Katie Stepp

No need to be near an ocean to enjoy a sand art festival. Blue Water SandFest takes place on the shores of Lake Huron, Michigan, one of America’s Great Lakes. Over 500 tons of sand is brought in for sculptors to pound, pummel and carve.

This fun, three-day summer event includes a kid’s zone, a cornhole tournament, a beer garden and live music. All proceeds support the restoration of the Fort Gratiot Light Station, Michigan’s oldest lighthouse.

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