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Helpful Hints for the Beach #4: How To Build A Sandcastle

Updated: May 26

Building a sandcastle is more than just a beach activity—it's a summer tradition that brings the family together and creates perfect photo moments. With the right tools, techniques and a bit of creativity, you and yours can create a sandy structure that stands out on the shore. Whether you're in Destin, Santa Rosa Beach, Perdido Key, or Gulf Shores, here’s how you can build an unforgettable sandcastle using the sugar white sand you will find there.

two girls flatten out a section of beach to build a sandcastle in Perdido Key
Choose a flat spot for your foundation.

Good Sandcastles Start With A Good Location

To make sure that your sandcastle stands on its own, be sure to build it in the right spot. The first step in building a sandcastle is choosing the right location. Regardless of which type of sandcastle you build, you will need access to dry sand and water. You will also need a firm and flat location to build from. Look for a spot on the beach where the sand is nearly flat and slightly damp but not too wet. This consistency will help your sandcastle hold its shape better.

two girls fill a beach pale with soft white sand in Destin
Use loose dry sand as your base. Wet sand will stick to the mold.

Gather Your Sandcastle Tools

To build a magnificent sandcastle, you'll need the right tools. Some essential items to consider include:

  • Bucket and Shovel: These classic tools are a must-have for creating the base and shaping your sandcastle.

  • Small Spade or Scoop: Perfect for carving out details and intricate designs.

  • Decorative Molds: Add flair to your sandcastle with molds in various shapes like turrets, windows, and doors.

  • Watering Can or Spray Bottle: Water is key to keeping your sandcastle together, so having a way to moisten the sand is crucial.

filling a bucket of sand with a little water from the Gulf of Mexico
Add a little water to the dry sand in order to firm up the mixture.

The Sandcastle Recipe

Much like concrete, mortar and other building materials: you need to start with a dry base.

  • Begin by filling your bucket or mold with loose, dry sand and packing it down. Be sure to fill every part of the mold or bucket so that your sandcastle looks (nearly) like you want.

  • Once the sand is packed in tightly, gather water in a small bucket or watering can and pour the water in slowly.

  • Allow the water to soak into the bottom layers of the dry sand and pack the top a little more to help solidify the sand and water. Don't overfill mold with water or allow the sand to get overly saturated. Doing so will cause the sand to become loose and heavy.

  • When you've wet the sand and packed it down, move the bucket or mold to your build site.

  • Quickly flip the mold over allowing the sand in the mold to stand inside while you lightly pat the top.

  • Allow the mold to sit for about five seconds before slowly lifting it straight up and away from the newly minted sandcastle.

  • As mentioned above, the sand in Destin, Santa Rosa Beach, Perdido Key and Gulf Shores is extremely fine. So, don't sweat over toppled steeples or battlements (the blocky things at the top of the castle) when the sand emerges from the mold. Expect some loss and focus more on making sure that you and yours are having a good time.

two girls build a sandcastle in Destin, Florida
Flip the bucket or mold upside down and pat the top gently before removing.

Sandcastles Are More Than Just Sand

Really cool sandcastles have decorations - made of things that are not sand. The beach is flush with cool stuff to throw onto your sandcastle to add decoration. Consider empty cocquina clam shells, driftwood sticks, broken sandollar pieces and feathers when deciding how to adorn your masterpiece. You can also use sticks or rocks to add embellishments or create flags for a finishing touch. Also, don't feel boxed in to your castle design. Use your tools to carve out details like towers, walls, and windows. Growing up, my father used to dig down to the wet sand and grab handfuls of it to drip along the top like whispy spires. Get creative with your design and experiment with different shapes and textures.

two girls filling a hole at the beach in Gulf Shores
Be sure to fill any holes you make, and pack the sand down tight.

Sandcastles: Leave No Trace

I've seens some pretty elaborate sandcastles on the beach over the years. Whether you spend an hour or an afternoon on your sandcastle, the time will not be wasted if you have a good time. But, regardless of the time it takes to make a sandcastle the tide will reclaim the sand, or the kid who has been eyeing your sandcastle all day will come and smash it when you go back to your home or condo. Keep that in mind before you begin, and then remember to put the beach the way you found it when you are done. That means, fill in any holes, motes, or trenches you made during the sandcastles construction. There are a few reasons to fill in holes on the beach: the most important two are for safety and sea turtles. Lifeguards travel the beach all day to ensure that beachgoers are safe. In the event of an emergency a lifeguard may need to run or drive their ATV along the coastline to the scene of a person in need. Holes and ATVs or running feet do not mix. On more than one occasion a lifeguard has been injured trying to get to a person in need of rescue because of a toppled ATV (large hole) or a sprained ankle (small hole). But holes are also trecherous for local wildlife like seaturtles. Sea turtle nesting season runs from March through October in Destin, Santa Rosa Beach, Perdido Key and Gulf Shores. During these months, turtles crawl out of the water and onto the beach to lay eggs, bury the eggs, and return to the water. Finding sea turtles caught in holes left unfilled is a pretty gnarly thing to walk up on first thing in the morning. So, be sure to fill in any holes you dig.

a young girl washes beach sand off of her beach toys in Destin, Florida.
Remove any sand from your toys before leaving the beach.

Sandcastles Are A Beach Tradition

Before the tide rolls in and washes your creation away, be sure to snap some photos to remember it by. Sandcastles make cool backdrops for group photos and add a beachy aesthetic to your photos. Some of our guests build at least one sandcastle a year and have made it a tradition for their annual beach trip. Whether you're in Destin, Santa Rosa Beach, Perdido Key, or Gulf Shores, building a sandcastle is a fun and relaxing activity that all ages can enjoy. So, grab your tools, head to the beach, and have some fun building a sandcastle.

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