sand sculpture festival_palette15

Every summer since 1996, Friends of the Dunes has sponsored the thoroughly enjoyable Sand Sculpture Festival, one of Humboldt County’s signature events, at the Manila Dunes Recreation Area.

The festival is many things in one. It’s a contest with real (although somewhat modest) prizes. It’s a fundraiser benefitting a worthwhile cause, namely Friends of the Dunes educational programs. It’s the community getting together for a day of fun on the beach. It’s an opportunity for self-expression, a chance to make a serious statement or a whimsical one, or one that’s both at the same time. For those who’d rather, it’s perfect for just enjoying the beach, admiring sculptures and having a good time. The event attracts a wide range of participants, from determined artists wrestling with one of the most ephemeral of media to toddlers and their mommies playing in the sand. The event also attracts a thousand or more viewers every year, and the sponsorship of dozens of local businesses.

sand sculpture festival2_palette15The festival is one of those wonderful rarities, a win-win situation with no downside. (Well, okay, I guess if you dropped a bucket on your bare foot, some people would consider that a downside. Or if one entire side of the leprechaun that you’ve been working on for two hours collapses just before the judges see it. Or — hmmm.) So alright, maybe there can be a teeny downside. The biggest one that comes to mind is that the event has become so popular that parking can be a challenge. But it’s still about as close to “it’s all good” as you’re likely to get in the real world, and you can always check out the Friends of the Dunes website to find out where to park, catch shuttles, or even join a group to ride your bike to the event.

Don’t be afraid to try your hand at building a sand sculpture — many of each year’s entrants have never done any sand sculpting beyond the sand castles of their childhood. Turns out you don’t need a lot of experience, and the basic techniques are easy to learn. There is a page of how-to tips on the Friends of the Dunes website, and a quick internet search will turn up a wealth of additional information about how it’s done. The key to a successful sand sculpture is compaction, and there are several techniques for achieving it. Shapes can be created by carving away compacted sand as well as by adding to it and building it up. Bits of seaweed, sea shells, and other items found on the beach that day can also be used, but picking any plants on the dunes is not permitted.

This year’s event is a milestone, the 20th Annual Friends of the Dunes Sand Sculpture Festival. It will be held on July 25 from 8am to 3pm. The best time for viewing sculptures is from noon to 3 p.m.

For directions and more information call 707-444-1397 or visit

– story by David Kaftal