Sand Castle Days
South Padre Island, Texas
Few things transport us back to childhood like building sand castles. So it comes as no surprise that there is a festival that celebrates the art. On the beach of South Padre Island, Sand Castle Days has been going strong for 25 years.
Believe it or not, there are professional sand castle artists. The festival kicks off with all of the professional artists — or Masters of Sand — working together to create a single piece of work: the Sponsors Sculpture.
There is nothing like watching a master artist at work; and although sand is a different medium than most artists use, the skill of these sculptors is unmistakable.
“The sculptors build their dreams in sand, and watching the process of creating these works of art is fascinating,” said Mary Hancock, special event manager at the South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Groups can even form their own teams on Saturday and enter the amateur competition as a team-building exercise.”
After the Sponsors Sculpture is completed, the contest begins as sculptors from around the world compete in the Masters of Sand Competition right before spectators’ eyes.
An amateur competition attracts several hundred people on the Saturday of the festival, so artistic groups can get their hands dirty and build a sculpture together. Sand-castle-building lessons over the course of the festival can teach novices some of the techniques involved in the process.
In addition to the competition, you can buy handicrafts from local vendors, listen to live music, fly a kite or just sit in your chair and watch the world go by.
Crab and Wine Days
For 10 days in January, folks in Mendocino, celebrate the New Year with Crab and Wine Days, a festival highlighting the bounty of the land and sea. Just 10 miles south of Fort Bragg down state Highway 1 in northern California, this idyllic little town was built on a headland jutting out into the Pacific Ocean, making it the perfect place to relax and enjoy wine and crab.
The festival was rated one of America’s Top 10 Seafood and Wine Festivals by Coastal Living Magazine, and with the diversity of events all throughout the area, it is easy to see why. Wineries host wine tastings and serve appetizers made with fresh Dungeness crab.
Participating wineries include Zina Hyde Cunningham, Meyer Cellars, McNab Ridge Winery, Rivino Wineries and Phillips Hill.
The Crabcake Cook-off pits the best chefs and winemakers in the area in a contest judged by celebrity judges. What’s the best part of the cook-off? Each chef competing makes 500 crab cakes, and the winemakers bring plenty of bottles of wine, which means there is enough for everyone to try.
The festival also boasts a number of private evening dinners at local restaurants and inns that are sponsored by winemakers and chefs who put their delicious creations on display. Other activities associated with the festival are whale-watching excursions, crab fishing and scenic train rides on the curiously named Skunk Train, with crab and wine tastings on board.
Oregon Shorebird Festival
Between their breeding and wintering grounds, migrating shorebirds stop to rest and eat at the estuaries of Bandon and Coos Bays in Charleston. The Cape Arago Audubon Society created the Oregon Shorebird Festival so birders from across the world could visit and enjoy this wonderful migration, and August will mark the festival’s 27th year.
“Shorebirds are fascinating birds,” said Dawn Grafe, visitor services manager at the Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge. “They are specially adapted to make their living off of that narrow line where land and water meet. They are some of the longest migrators, and they present a challenge in identification, which lures in many intermediate and even expert birders.”
Birders of all skill levels can enjoy guided water- and land-based trips in the Bandon Marsh Wildlife Refuge, Millicoma Marsh and the greater Coos Bay area.
According to Grafe, some of the most popular and rare birds that can be found are the black-bellied plover, the semipalmated plover, the snowy plover, the black oystercatcher, the western sandpiper, the least sandpiper, Baird’s sandpiper, the short-billed dowitcher, the whimbrel, the wandering tattler, the ruddy turnstone, the black turnstone and the red-necked phalarope.
The education and programs don’t stop when the sun goes down, as evening activities include presentations from noted authors, scholars and naturalists.
The festival is smaller than some other birding festivals, accommodating 60 to 100 birders, which gives festivalgoers a better opportunity to interact with trip leaders, guest speakers and other festival attendees.