Family Fun

Build an Award-Winning Sand Castle at This Iconic NYC Event

Grab some buckets and head to Coney!

Photo courtesy of Coney Island Sand Sculpting Contest/Facebook

If you’ve ever helped your kid pack a bucketful of sand, dump it upside down, and knock the top, you’re pretty much ready for the big time. Head to Coney Island this Saturday to compete against the world’s best sand sculptors at the 29th annual Coney Island Sand Sculpting Contest. Sure, the pros create hyper-detailed, life-size mermaids, roller coasters, and global landmarks. But you’ve got heart, pluck—and a cute kid or two!

coney island
Photo courtesy of Coney Island Sand Sculpting Contest/Facebook

My family stumbled on this tradition in 2013 when we went to Coney for a spin on the Wonder Wheel. Checking out the action in the sand, I accidentally bumped into the registration table. “Are you participating today?” the woman seated there asked me. Turns out, anyone can enter. For free. Oh, yes, we were participating. We were directed to our own huge mound of premoistened sand with a numbered flag and got to work.

Photo courtesy of Patty Onderko

Without a single shovel, bucket, or rake, we had to improvise. We bumped into some friends and convinced them to help us. We used our hats and discarded slushie cups to transport sand. We used sticks for the “detail work.” We were not intimidated by the fancy brushes, trowels, and tools of our competitors! In the end, we created…the world’s largest, lumpiest, most abstract ice cream sundae! We did not win. While not everyone appreciated our art, some generous onlookers and judges gave our sand sculpture quizzical stares, which was a win enough for us.

Arrive at the boardwalk (between West 10th and 12th Streets) at noon to claim your pile of sand.

5 Things to Do Nearby Once You Get the Sand Out of Your Pants

  1. Try the famous pizza pies at Totonno’s which somehow have a deliciously thin, crusty bottom and a heavenly, pillowy crust. Miraculous!
  2. Compare them to the extra-doughy square slices (only get the squares) at L & B Spumoni Gardens.
  3. Or eschew pizza altogether in favor of fried clams at our favorite boardwalk dive.
  4. See curated street art and soak up some sun at Coney Island Art Walls, an outdoor gallery on the beach.
  5. Check out the artistic history of sideshow acts with modern-day fire-breathers and snake charmers at the Coney Island Circus Sideshow.

Need more weekend inspiration? Download our mobile app.