I went in a straight line until I found a pretty large sandy area and started by covering a section of sand over with dirt. I then dug out all the sand underneath the dirt and made myself a tiny base.
During the day I'd go up and lay more dirt over the sand, then at night I'd go into this vast cavern with 10 ovens and dig out/cook stack after stack of sand. I'd also dig off a layer or two of dirt in order to give me more dirt with which to cover over the top.
When I hit one water edge where the land fell off rather quickly I made a huge glass underwater wall. This looks fantastic. At the bottom I built it so that the water comes in under the glass and forms a little pond so that I can just jump into the water and walk under the glass to get out.
This huge open cavern has become a massive town center sporting a railroad hub, a huge automated grain farm and the ongoing sand mining operation that tends to supply many of the players on the server with a nearly infinite supply of glass.
Above ground it's just trees an dirt as far as anyone knows. One tiny tower allows railcars from "town" to spiral down underground, but otherwise you'd think you were in the wilderness.
It's no longer sand, but it doesn't look any worse than any other dirt beach, it protects the beaches near town by supplying glass for anyone who needs it and it created space for a really nice base. win/win/win