Exploring Ontario’s Cobourg Beach Sandcastle Festival

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It’s already been established many times over that Canada travel is absolutely full of wonderful experiences. However, art-loving travelers might want to put one of Ontario’s most popular annual festivals – the Cobourg Beach Sandcastle Festival – on their calendar for next year. Guest contributor and Toronto resident, Kirsten Gallagher, is here to tell us about all about this fun, seaside event.

Cobourg’s Sandcastle Festival
Now, that’s one giant sand sculpture!

Visitors to Canada often head to the big cities: Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal. While these cities have a lot to offer, sometimes it’s refreshing to catch your breath in a smaller town with a slower pace. Cobourg, Ontario is just one of these places. It’s a little over an hour east of Toronto, on Lake Ontario. During the summertime, Cobourg makes for a wonderful weekend trip because of its lovely beach and lively festivals. This year, Cobourg hosted its 12th annual Sandcastle Festival.

Cobourg’s Sandcastle Festival
The festival is located on one very beautiful beach. Make sure to take part in some activities such as paragliding or surfing!

Since its debut, the Cobourg Sandcastle Festival has drawn thousands of people. The beach becomes a veritable maze of sandy sculptures which onlookers weave through both during and after the hours-long creative process. Entries are not only limited to sandcastles: inspiration is drawn from nautical tales, wildlife, architecture, and pop culture among a plethora of other things. This year marks Canada’s 150th anniversary and so I saw several representations of Canadiana including a remarkably lifelike beaver giving us a thumbs up.

Cobourg’s Sandcastle Festival
Happy birthday, Canada!

The competitors range in terms of age and skill level. There are families participating with their kids, enthusiastic amateurs having a go at it, local businesses getting together for team building, and those with much more experience designated as “Master Sculptors,” who have obviously been honing their craft for a number of years. This year the cadre of Master Sculptors came from all over the province of Ontario, Quebec and Michigan. From one such pair of expert hands came my personal favorite entry: a large face, looking appropriately shocked, as it is impacted by a fist (ka-pow!).

Cobourg’s Sandcastle Festival
A lot of work goes into the sculptures’ details.

This year participants fought the weather. Recent rainfall had caused the water level to rise, leaving less beach to work with, and the threat of more was a constant concern for participants and spectators alike. It appeared that several promising entries had been abandoned, sadly, due to the encroaching water. Nevertheless, the Sandcastle Festival attracted enough locals and residents from nearby towns like Port Hope (a lovely spot for antique shoppers) to fill the beach and keep the atmosphere boisterous.

Cobourg’s Sandcastle Festival
Artists at work.

Not only can visitors to Cobourg take in the Sandcastle Festival, they can also peruse the Sidewalk Sale also taking place that weekend. There are surprisingly good deals to be had on King Street, Cobourg’s downtown thoroughfare. Although a small town, Cobourg has a number of charming boutiques such as Skye’s Clothing Boutique (29 King St W), which sells stylish attire with flair.

Cobourg’s Sandcastle Festival
You can find some great deals on the sidewalk sales.

On Saturday morning, it’s possible to visit the Cobourg Farmer’s Market (located behind Victoria Hall, 55 King St W) and pick up the usual seasonal fruit and vegetables, as well as homemade treats (the butter tarts are a revelation). To get your hit of caffeine, there are multiple coffee shops nearby. The Human Bean (80 King St W) is a local staple with a cozy, bookish feel and across the street, the newer Rustic Bean (91 King St W) gives off more of an indie vibe.

Cobourg’s Sandcastle Festival
The area is a great place for a multi-generational trip!

A short drive or train ride from Toronto, Cobourg Ontario is a growing tourist destination and the weekend of the Sandcastle Festival is a terrific time for a visit. Visitors can explore the downtown, take in the festival, and enjoy the beach as they please. A swim in this pristine part of Lake Ontario is a must. The water is clean and cool, and it’s waist-deep until you’re a fair distance from the shore (a good thing for nervous swimmers or people with grandkids in tow). I’ve traveled all over the world and I have to say that Cobourg’s beach is still one of my favorites.

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