A perfect summer day for many families requires only a few ingredients: hours on a sandy beach; buckets and shovels; water to fill the moats; and an occasional ice cream cone to fuel the fun.
But this year, how about inspiring your mini sand architects with an epic version of their favorite activity? We've rounded up some of the best sand castle competitions in the Pacific Northwest and across the country to inspire your family's imaginations during your summer beach adventures, plus a short list of awesome Puget Sound sand events. We include places to stay, eat and play so that you can easily design a vacation around a sand castle weekend. (Note: Weather conditions may affect the timing of events; always check ahead.)
Skip to the first sand castle vacation or browse all:
Sand castle cool on Cannon Beach
Where: Cannon Beach, Ore.
Date: Saturday, June 21, 2014
School's out! Head for one of the Northwest's favorite family beaches for the 50th anniversary of the oldest sand castle competition in the Northwest. Masters teams will compete for cash, while other groups competes for medals and ribbons. (And yes, there's a children's division.) Sculpting starts at 11 a.m. Awards are given out by mid-to-late afternoon, and the sculptures generally wash out with the next tide. Don’t miss them before they go back to sea.
Tips: Parking is permitted on the beach during the event, but it is easier to walk from your rental home or hotel.
Stay: Wayside Inn (3339 S. Hemlock Street, Cannon Beach, rates from $129), a dog-friendly hotel just one block from Tolovana Beach State Park, offers standard rooms or suites, many with beach views, which will fit most families. The indoor pool is a welcome activity on a dreary day or after an active afternoon digging and playing on the beach.
Eat: Crepe Neptune (175 2nd St., Cannon Beach) has sweet and savory options. Can’t find one you love? The staff is happy to help you build your own. Bill's Tavern and Brewhouse (188 N. Hemlock St., Cannon Beach) offers burgers, fish and chips, salads and handcraft beers at reasonable prices.
Play: Cannon Beach is a laid-back beach town with plenty of nature to explore. Head to Hug Point State Park during low tide to explore sea caves, but make sure you leave before the tide rolls in. Ecola State Park offers gorgeous views, great hiking and a beautiful secluded beach (note: it was closed part of last summer, so check before you go).
Sand and wood sculpture awesomeness at Ocean Shores
Where: Ocean Shores, Wash.
Dates: June 27–29, 2014
Wood artists get their due at this Ocean Shores fest as well. Sand sculpting teams compete for over $7,000 in prizes and free sand sculpting lessons are taught by instructor Bert Adams for anyone looking to hone their sand sculpting skills and take part in the friends and family division. Free concerts and activities will be held at the Ocean Shores Convention Center. If you get tired of the beach, check out wood carvers and sculptors competing at the convention center. Bid on your favorite wood sculpture for the chance to take one home!
Stay: Polynesian Resort (615 Ocean Shores Blvd. N.W., Ocean Shores, rates from $82). This oceanfront hotel includes an indoor pool, private park with a basketball court, tetherball and picnic area, and a complimentary continental breakfast Monday through Saturday.
Eat: Bennett’s Fish Shack (105 W Chance A La Mer N.E., Ocean Shores) offers up crab cakes and fish and chips for the seafood lover, while Our Place (676 Ocean Shores Blvd. N.W., Ocean Shores) serves great breakfast and lunch items, including a cinnamon roll French toast.
Play: Pacific Paradise Family Fun Center is the place to go for mini golf, arcade games and air hockey while visiting Ocean Shores. Horse lovers can rent horses to take a ride along the beach and through the trails offered by the different outfitters.
S'mores and sand castles on Long Beach
Where: Long Beach, Wash.
Dates: July 16–20, 2014
Another anniversary year: Long Beach – known for its loooong sandy beach that's perfect for kite-flying – is celebrating its annual sand-sculpting competition's 30th. The competition kicks off on Friday with free sand-sculpting lessons, a beach bonfire and complimentary s’mores. The main competition happens on the beach on Saturday over the course of six hours. Meet sculptors on Third Street as they practice their skills starting on Wednesday, July 16.
Stay: Adrift Hotel (409 Sid Snyder Dr., Long Beach, rates from $110) is a kid- and pet-friendly oceanfront hotel with several different room size options. Loads of amenities like beach bikes, shuffleboard, organic tea and coffee, parking and Wi-Fi are included with your room rate. The in-house restaurant at the hotel, Pickled Fish, is one of the best in the area.
Eat: Cottage Bakery & Delicatessen (118 Pacific Ave. S., Long Beach) stocks picnic lunches, pastries and even gluten-free items to take with you on a hike or a day flying kites on the beach.
Play: Spend a day exploring Cape Disappointment Lighthouse and North Head Lighthouse in IIwaco. For the more adventurous, grab your wet suit and learn to surf in some of the warmest waters in the Pacific Northwest. The surf is generally calm enough for beginners, but can also challenge those looking for bigger waves.
A month-long exhibition on stunning Vancouver Island
Where: Parksville, B.C.
Dates: Competition July 12–13, 2014; exhibition July 14–August 17, 2014
Head to one of Vancouver Island's favorite sandy beaches between mid-July and mid-August to see the work of some very serious sand artists. The 32-year-old Parksville competition is an official qualifying event for the World Championship of Sand Sculpting. Sculptors from all over the world are allowed to spend 24 hours over three days to bring their creations to life using sand and water. Family-friendly activities will be held throughout the month, including Art in the Park on July 27, fireworks at dusk on August 9, and Kidfest on Sunday, August 10.
Stay: Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort & Conference Centre (1155 Resort Drive, Parksville, rates from $197) is a family-friendly beachfront resort with an indoor pool, onsite playground and two restaurants.
Eat: Old Country Market (2326 Alberni Highway, Coombs). While watching the resident goat munch the grass roof, nosh on items from this quirky spot; you'll find a deli, Italian restaurant and a bakery.
Play: Animal lovers won’t be able to get enough of the Butterfly Gardens and Parrot Refuge, while nature lovers shouldn’t miss a chance to hike through the Cathedral Grove. Those looking for a typical beach experience can head to Paradise Adventure Park for a round of mini golf and bumper boats.
Point Reyes' recycling-friendly sand competition
Where: Point Reyes National Seashore, Marin County, Calif.
Dates: August 31, 2014
What does recycling have to do with sand castle-building? At Point Reyes, the National Seashore Association and the National Park service work together to organize the sand-sculpting event. Held at Drake Beach, children, families, adult individuals and adult groups compete for three prizes in their respective categories, along with prizes for sculptures using the most recycled plastic in their piece. Free beach fire permits are available at the visitor center so families can make a full day of it with an early evening dinner on the beach or just a few s’mores as they celebrate their sand masterpieces.
Stay: Point Reyes Seashore Lodge (10021 Coastal Highway One, Olema, rates from $145), located at the gateway to Point Reyes National Seashore, is the perfect spot to set down your bags while enjoying the sand castle competition and exploring Marin County. Several room sizes and suites are available for families and breakfast is included in the price of your room.
Eat: Perry’s Deli (12301 Sir Francis Drake, Inverness, Calif.) is a great place to grab food for a picnic on the beach or hike in the woods.
Play: Hike the family-friendly paths through Muir Woods to gaze at 400- to 800-year-old trees as tall as 250 feet. Keep an eye out for deer, Pacific wrens, woodpeckers and river otters.
New Hampshire's premier sand sculpting event
Where: Hampton Beach, New Hampshire
Dates: June 18–21, 2014
The 14th Annual Master Sand Sculpting Competition isn’t your average sandy event. At this invitation-only competition, the public is free to roam and view the sculptures, but only those who have proven their skills and applied beforehand can create. The solo competition is held over three days with $15,000 in purse and entry awards going to the winners. Free lessons are available on Saturday from 1–3 p.m. for all aspiring sand masters, and the entire event comes to a close on Saturday night with fireworks.
Stay: Atlantic Breeze Suites, 429 Ocean Blvd, Hampton Beach, NH (rates start at $250). This four-story ocean front hotel is located in Hampton’s main beach center. Studios and one-bedroom suites offer families a variety of accommodations to fit their needs, while also including a kitchen so families can eat in to save a little money during their visit.
Eat: The Beach Plum (17 Ocean Blvd., North Hampton) will fill your bellies with giant lobster rolls, crab rolls, subs, chowder and ice cream.
Play: Water Country (2300 Lafayette Road, Portsmouth) will keep your family entertained in between sand events, with multiple tube and body slides. Don't miss the Double Dive Boggan -- side-by-side lanes will prove who is king or queen of the water slides.
4 Puget Sound sand-rific events
Sand in the City: Olympia, Wash., August 23-24, 2014
Sand in the City is a one-of-a-kind urban sand festival held in Olympia each year, now on the East Bay Plaza inside and outside of the Hands On Children's Museum. Highlights of this year's weekend festival include a first-ever master sand sculpting exhibition, where you can watch the masters carve throughout the weekend; as well as hands-on activities galore, including a petting zoo, a splash ball and a rock climbing wall. Activities outside the museum are free. You can also explore the newly expanded Hands On Children’s Museum (the region's largest) and its new half-acre Outdoor Discovery Center for a reduced rate at $5 per person (check out the new indoor helicopter exhibit!).
SandBlast Festival of the Arts: Duvall, Wash., July 19-20, 2014
A collaborative sand sculpture project is only one of the highlights of this annual arts festiival, held at Duvall's McCormick Park on the Snoqualmie River. World-renowned sand sculpture artist Kali Bradford will be working on the beach along with local sand carvers creating a unique sculpture that represents the theme of this year’s event. All volunteers of all ages welcome to pick up a shovel and help. Dozens of local Puget Sound artists and crafters will also demonstrate, display and sell their work.
Sandtastic: Everett, Wash. August 17
Twenty yards of sand will be trucked in to downtown Everett for this event sponsored by the Imagine Children's Museum: Kids can play or build in various sand pits or observe a master sand sculptor at work. There will also be live entertainment (comedians and jugglers), caricature artists, ballon artists, food vendors and a climbing wall. Everthing outside will be free; museum admission will apply for indoor visitors. Check Imagine Children's Museum's website for more info closer to the event.
Edmonds Sand Sculpting contest, Edmonds, Wash., August 12, 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Got a beginner sand architect on your hands? This is for them: Edmonds' wonderful Marina Beach Park will be the site of this fun, free, amateur contest open to all ages. Sign up at Marina Beach at 10 a.m. and build until noon you can start building! Judging will be at noon, with awards at 12:30 p.m.