Imperial Beach Sun & Sea Festival VC_CaliforniaCastles_Module_ImperialBeachSunandSeaFestival_Supplied_display-castle-(9)_1280x640_1
Courtesy of Jeanette Shambaugh

JULY

Imperial Beach Sun & Sea Festival

Built to last, most of the world’s great castles have stood for hundreds of years. But the sandcastles crafted at the annual Imperial Beach Sun & Sea Festival, 14 miles south of San Diego, may only last as long as the next high tide. While they’re around, however, these castles are absolutely magnificent. 

In a pressure-packed five-hour building period, top sandcastle artists sculpt structures that you absolutely need to see to believe, complete with staircases, ramparts, and flying buttresses. The design planning can take months for these ephemeral palaces and other eye-popping designs. But competitors have noted that plenty depends on conditions the day of the event. “Everything makes a difference,” explained competitor Leonard Gonzales Jr. in one interview. “The different kinds of sand, the sun conditions—there are just so many variables.”

While pro builders get the limelight, kids, families, and business teams also compete, often planning training together in advance of the big day. But all you really need is sand, water, and plenty of imagination to create your own castle straight out of Game of Thrones.