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Gettin’ Down ’n’ Gritty: Texas Sandcastle Festivals

At South Padre Island last year, “Amazin’ Walter” McDonald posed before Sand Castle Days’ centerpiece sculpture.

Giant fingers reach upward from the sand toward a lad cowering among beanstalk leaves eight feet up in the air. A soldier lies face down in the sand, surrounded by tombstones of fellow fighters from 20th-Century wars. A green-tailed mermaid slithers toward you—wearing plastic sunglasses. A machine straight out of science fiction churns out waves—of sand.

Have you walked into a fairy tale? Fantasyland? Yes and no. This is the amazing world of sand-sculpture contests, perhaps the ultimate occupation for the young-at-heart. Barring spring break, sandcastle festivals are surely the biggest and best beach parties around. But unlike spring break, they’re laidback and welcoming to young, old, and everyone in between.

Texas claims three sandcastle festivals, conveniently spaced among the seasons and among the islands that line our 400-mile-long Gulf Coast. Port Aransas starts the fun off this month, with its annual Texas SandFest (April 2-4). Galveston picks up the shovel in June, with the one-day AIA SandCastle Competition (June 5). Autumn-at-the-beach brings South Padre’s annual Sand Castle Days (October 21-24).

In other words, you can pick your season or even your island. Add to that jaw-dropping artworks that can make you exclaim with wonder or glee. What’s not to like?

April

The 8th Annual Texas Sand Sculpture Festival (also called the Texas SandFest) takes place in Port Aransas Apr. 2-4, 2004. Admission: Free. Parking on the beach (nominal charge). Most people come on Sat-Sun; the sculptures are finished by noon on Sun.; awards are presented at around 5 p.m. The sculptures are left on the beach and slowly erode over time. Texas SandFest: www.texassandfest.com; 361/749-2500. Write to the Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce, 421 W. Cotter, Port Aransas 78373; 800/452-6278; www.portaransas.org. (Also see "Isle Be Seeing You," Texas Highways, Oct. 2003)

June

The 18th Annual AIA SandCastle Competition takes place at East Beach in Galveston June 5, 2004 (always the 1st Sat. in June). Admission: Free. Parking: At East Beach; $5 per car. Write to 3000 Richmond, Ste. 500, Houston 77098; 713/520-0155; www.notaam.org.

October

The 17th Annual Sand Castle Days takes place at South Padre Island (SPI) Oct. 21-24, 2004, at the South Padre Island Sheraton. The hotel is visible rising in the distance to your right as you cross Queen Isabella Causeway. Admission: Free. Free parking in hotel lots (driving on SPI beach is prohibited except north of town). Most people come on Sat-Sun; awards are presented on Sat. afternoon, but the sculptures are left in place to erode over time. Write to the SPI Convention and Visitors Bureau, 600 Padre Blvd., SPI 78597; 800-SOPADRE; www.sopadre.com or www.sandcastledays.com. (Also see "Let's Padre!" Texas Highways, Oct. 2002)

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