Sandcastles, typically, are not built for longevity; they are the perfect metaphor for a thing constructed that will not last. Yet, in Imperial Beach, sandcastles have survived the test of time. Founded in 1887, the nation’s southwestern-most city was not incorporated until 1956, and not long after became synonymous with sand sculpting.
In March of 1887, many of the two thousand laborers working on the Hotel Del Coronado project set up camp south towards the border and river mouth. The workers built shelters and complemented their diet with clams dug and fish. Many of the workers stayed in the area after the completion of the Del, built permanent homes, and the town grew. Imperial Beach grew into the 20th century as a blue-collar vacation town.
Within four years of its incorporation in 1956, Imperial Beach’s leaders organized the Sun and Sea Festival. For that first festival in 1960, planners incorporated a sandcastle competition and in 1980, Imperial Beach became the host for the U.S. Open Sandcastle Competition that ran there for 32 years.
Then the tide rose and the waves came; volunteers dwindled and costs were prohibitive following 2008-2009, and by 2011 the city had to pull the plug on the event. But within a year, the Port of San Diego began the I.B. Kid’s Fest that incorporated a sand-sculpting event. The festival has expanded its family-friendly (no alcohol) footprint by increasing the Farmers Market and International Food Fair while adding a kid-only zone at Dunes Park.
This year, the fun begins Friday morning with the Mayor’s Pier Swim and Paddle along with a three-mile walk/run, starting at the pier at 8 a.m., and then the Mayor’s Breakfast at 10 a.m. The sand sculpting area will be off-limits until Saturday, though there will be an exhibition sandcastle on display.