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Elevating fun to an art form

Sun and sand often add up to summer fun and with a couple of sandcastle building contests on the horizon, it can also lead to awards and bragging rights.

If you are looking for an easy day trip to the beach and the chance to get in on the competition, mark the calendar for Aug. 25 and Sept. 21, and enjoy these free events.

On Aug. 25 pack up the family and head to Drakes Beach at Point Reyes, for the annual Sand Sculpture Contest.

This living room in the sand was a top award winner previously, among the most detailed at a past Carmel competition.
The community event has categories for children (14 and younger), families, adult individuals and adult groups. Prizes will go to the top three entries in each category and there will also be special prizes for those sand sculpture entries that use the most recycled plastic as part of the creation. You can’t bring anything with you to use as decorations for whatever design comes to mind but you can use materials that you find on Drakes Beach that day. Competitors are asked not to pick plants or pull rocks or gravel from the cliffs and are advised to build above the high tide line.

Typically hosted on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, the contest has been moved up a week for this year. Competitors register at the Ken Patrick Visitor Center at Point Reyes National Seashore. This will mark the 38th annual event with prizes donated by Point Reyes National Seashore Association. The fun starts at 9 a.m. and there will be judging at noon, with awarding of prizes scheduled later on at 3:30 p.m.

Officials offer a little advice: Parking is limited and contestants will add to the crowd; those planning to attend are asked to carpool. No dogs are allowed and there is no lifeguard on duty at the beach. Participants and those just wanting to see the contest in person can bring a picnic and enjoy a day at the beach.

This entry would even be appropriate for this year’s sandcastle competition in Carmel, being hosted on ‘Peace Day’ – Sept. 21 – with this turtle sculpture boasting the well-known peace sign.
Also, the Point Reyes National Seashore Association bookstore adjacent to the Visitor Center will be open Aug. 25 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. with sales of food, beverages and books.

Meanwhile, the annual Great Sandcastle Contest at Carmel Beach is set for Sept. 21, hosted on the beach between 10th and 12th avenues.

“It is a community event that puts everybody on the same page,” said Margi Perotti, community activities coordinator for the City of Carmel-by-the-Sea. “It doesn’t matter if you are a professional or two 11-year-olds.”

All have an equal shot of winning, and there are prizes in multiple categories in this fun, family-focused event.

“This is the famous great sandcastle contest,” Perotti said, noting there is always a big crowd and many people that return each year to compete.

“We have people that schedule vacations with the grandkids to be here,” she said.

There is also a theme, though it can be somewhat obscure. Last year’s overall theme was ‘Lines in the Sand’ and this year will be the 55th annual hosting of the event, scheduled from 8 a.m. until 12:30 p.m.

Judging is another fun part, said Perotti, as bribes are allowed.

“They cannot be monetary,” she explained, adding that bribes to help sway the judges’ decision aren’t encouraged but they also aren’t necessarily discouraged, either.

Traditional sandcastles also often make their way into the competition in Carmel, although there is virtually no limit to how creative you can be with your entries.
Examples of past bribes have included tacos, some alcoholic beverages and hamburgers, to name a few. In fact, Perotti said, one year a competitor crafted a sand sculpture ‘lounge’ for the judges to sit in and enjoy eating and drinking their bribes.

The judges include four employees of the City of Carmel along with four members of the nearby Monterey Bay chapter of the American Institute of Architects, with whom the city jointly hosts the sandcastle competition.

More information is available by contacting the Community Activities Department via phone at 831-620-2020 or going to or

A registration table for the competition will be set up on the sand at 11th Street and competitors can get there early on Sept. 21, ahead of the 8 a.m. start time to build, said Perotti.

“Go down and get your chunk of sand,” she advised.

There are usually a couple of hundred people involved in the building of the sandcastles/sand sculptures to be judged in the contest.

The ‘Golden Shovel’ Award is among the most coveted, while there is also a ‘Sour Grapes’ award, typically set aside for a grumpy or unhappy competitor – or, perhaps, one that didn’t have a good enough bribe. Best Theme, Best Bribe and Best Kids entry are other awards.

Bringing a whale to the beach, this was one of the entries for a past sandcastle competition hosted in Carmel.
“Every kid gets a plaque,” added Perotti, with the ‘I Participated…’ style plaques presented to the youngsters by the judges while they are perusing the entries.

For the Golden Shovel, a plastic sand shovel is spray painted and then turned over to young artists for some added embellishments.

“The decoration is done by children at the local library, they add sea shells, glitter,” Perotti explained.

With a fun atmosphere, the chance to get as creative as you want with sandcastles – or anything you can figure out how to sculpt with sand – the day is one that offers up the opportunity for plenty of memories.

“It’s just silly, fun entertainment,” Perotti said.

If you don’t want to build but want to see some outstanding sandcastles, head to Ocean Beach in San Francisco on Oct. 26, to watch the day unfold. The annual LEAP Sandcastle Contest serves as a fundraiser for bringing the arts to students in elementary and middle schools throughout the Bay Area. Teams – with registration already complete – bring together elementary school students with architects and designers, engineers and contractors to build their best sand sculpture. The competition sees over 20 schools and 300 sponsors take part. The event runs from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and more information is available at

Some judges partake of food and drink – provided as bribes – as they sit and relax in a sand sculpted lounge on the beach at Carmel.