If you’ve always loved going to a sea glass beach to go beachcombing, you’ll understand exactly why these chemically-weathered, multi-colored pieces of glass are being collected and coveted.
And if you’ve been looking for genuine sea glass, mermaid’s tears, sea pearls, drift glass, sea gems, or beach glass, you don’t have to look too far. Some US beaches produce gorgeous, naturally frosted glass that you can collect and use for decor or jewelry.
What Is Sea Glass?
Before you go sea glass hunting, you should know how to spot them. So what are these bits of glass made of? Do they naturally occur? Do they appear seasonally? Here’s what you need to know:
- Sea glass takes 30 to 50 years to form. The glass came from broken bottles, glassware, shipwrecks, and other glass-turned-trash. They roll and tumble in the ocean, removing the sharp edges with every movement of the waves until they become smooth and frosted.
- Sea glass vs. beach glass. Sea glass and beach glass are used interchangeably since they look alike, but they’re actually different.
- Sea glass is found on beaches (along bodies of water). They’re physically and chemically weathered by the current or the waves.
- Beach glass is found in freshwater (rivers, shorelines, bays, in the Great Lakes) and often have a different pH balance. Beach glass looks and feels smoother.
- Frosted appearance. The frosted appearance of both sea glass and beach glass is a result of decades-long tumbling underwater. When you put sea glass and beach glass side by side, you’ll notice that beach glass has a less frosted appearance.
- Less sea glass is probably a good thing. There is less and less sea glass found every year. For sea glass collectors, this may be a bad thing, but for everyone else, this is actually a win. Many people believe this happening as a result of anti-littering efforts and laws across the country.
- Different colors of sea glass. Brown, green, and white are common sea glass colors because these come from discarded glass bottles. Red, orange, and turquoise are VERY rare. Interested in selling the sea glass you’ve found? Check out this rarity chart to discover how in-demand your newfound treasure is.
There are several festivals in the country every year. For example, The North American Sea Glass Association has an annual festival. Keep updated with similar events; bookmark the Beachcombing Magazine calendar.
12 Best US Beaches for Sea Glass Collecting
So what are the best beaches for sea glass collecting in the US? This list should help you decide which sea glass beach you should go to as well as everything you need to know about each beach?
Note: Difficulty level refers to how hard it is to find sea glass with 0 referring to beaches covered in sea glass through 10 (where you have to hunt for sea glass)
- Location: Fort Bragg, California
- Difficulty: 7. There is still a lot of sea glass around. You wouldn’t need to hunt.
Glass Beach is adjacent to MacKerricher State Park and is one of three beaches in Fort Bragg that were official dumpsites in the 1940s.
This beach (previously known as Site Three) and Site Two are located at the end of the path via Elm Street and Glass Beach Drive. Site One is a bit farther but still accessible by foot.
Glass Beach used to be covered in 7-foot depth of glass, but this is no longer the case today. You’d have to visit Sites One and Two if you’re after more sea glass.
You are not allowed to take sea glass from Glass Beach though. Unfortunately, people still pocket some if no one’s looking and this has depleted the beach of its renowned full-of-glass look.
- Location: La Jolla, California
- Difficulty: 8. The beach isn’t covered with sea glass, but the waves always bring back some pieces. You can also snorkel and scuba dive for your hunt.
There are plenty of shells on this beach, hence the name, but Shell Beach also has plenty of sea glass.
This location is a very memorable one. It’s less crowded than La Jolla Cove, and yet you can see Seal Rock and Children’s Pool Beach, which are spots where harbor seals like to hang out.
If you don’t have time to hunt sea glass, pass by the shops along the boardwalk where you can buy jewelry and other trinkets made of sea glass.
Shell Beach is at the south end of Ellen Browning Scripps Park. There is a staircase from the park going down to the sand.
You’d have to climb over several big boulders. If you see them covered in sea moss, be careful because those are slippery.
- Location: Davenport, California
- Difficulty: 10. Sea glass hunting on this beach is not for the faint of heart.
Davenport Beach is right where San Vicente Creek flows toward the ocean, hence its other name San Vicente Beach.
During low tide, you might find some sea glass on the shore.
But sea glass hunting in Davenport Beach doesn’t involve a casual stroll on a beach.
Sea glass hunters know it’s an extreme sport, and come here prepared, some even wearing wet suits. The spot where the prettiest “nuggets” (what locals call the sea glass) or “boulders” (larger pieces) wash up is called “The Pit,” where there’s never dry sand; just the ocean crashing into a cliff.
The very waves crashing and shaping the sea glass are the same ones slamming into these divers, resulting in bruises, broken bones, and sometimes death.
- Location: Summerland, California
- Difficulty: 4. Sea glass can be found sporadically, but interesting colors of frosted amber, olive green, and aqua blue have been found here.
If you’ve always imagined sea glass hunting as a relaxing, long beach walk, then the mile-long stretch of Summerland Beach. The sea glass here is younger/newer, which means you’d have to return them where you got them.
Incidentally, the community of Summerland is near the site of the annual Santa Barbara Sea Glass & Ocean Arts Festival
To access this beach, make your way to Lookout Park, park your car, and walk down a paved trail to Summerland Beach.
- Location: Ele’ele, Kauai, Hawaii
- Difficulty: 5. The beach is normally covered with sea glass but may be wiped away by the tide. It gets replenished soon enough, though.
What makes Glass Beach in Kauai an interesting stop is the characteristics of the sea glass found here. They’re smaller and a bit more uniform in size compared to frosted glass found on other beaches.
Apparently, there’s an unusual geological structure near the beach known as the Swiss Cheese Shoreline, which is made up of lava rocks with plenty of holes. Auto glass and bottles dumped in this area are smashed against these rocks by the harsh waves, creating the sea glass covering the black sand.
Swimming here isn’t really recommended since the area has been an industrial one for decades. It isn’t officially illegal to take sea glass, but try to restrain yourself out of respect for the locals.
Locals prefer you don’t take a ton of sea glass from Kauai Beach, but it isn’t officially illegal.
You can find Kauai’s Sea Glass Beach near an industrial area of Hanapepe Bay close to Port Allen Harbor in Ele’ele on Kauai. Two giant gas tanks could serve as your landmark.
If you’re already in Kauai and have time to beach-hop, make sure to check out other beaches in Kauai.
- Location: Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park, Boston, Massachusetts
- Difficulty: 3. You’d need to ride a ferry from Long Wharf or to private watercraft at the island’s marina to reach the place.
Spectacle Island has only recently been open to the public, but it used to be a quarantine hospital, a horse rendering site, and ultimately a city landfill. Because of this, the island is covered in frosted sea glass of all colors mixed with trinkets like old teacup handles, pottery, and more.
The park management expressly forbids removing any sea glass or pottery from this beach, so bring a camera to preserve your sea glass hunting experience.
Spectacle Island is part of the Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park, a ferry ride away from Boston.
If you’re in other parts of Massachusetts, check out other sea glass locations such as:
- Craigville Beach (near Martha’s Vineyard)
- Nantasket Beach (in Hull)
- Race Point Beach and Skaket Beach (on Cape Cod)
Or just check out other beaches in Massachusetts.
- Location: Bar Harbor, Maine
- Difficulty: 6. The beach isn’t covered in sea glass, so you’d need to dig into sand or wait for low tide.
The gorgeous Sand Beach is nestled between mountains and rocky shores, with 290 yards long of sandy shoreline where you can find sea glass. This area is known for its rare pale pink sea glass.
Sand Beach is on the east side of Mount Desert Island inside Acadia National Park. Make your way to the entrance of the park in Bar Harbor and drive on Park Loop Road.
And if you have more time to explore the state, don’t miss these 10 must-see lakes in Maine.
- Location: Grant Park, South Milwaukee, Wisconsin
- Difficulty: 7. Getting to the beach isn’t as straightforward, and you’d have to hunt for sea glass by the rocky shore.
Considered one of Milwaukee’s best-kept secrets, Grant Park Beach is known for its abundance of sea glass.
In contrast to most of the other sea glass beaches on this list. Grant Park Beach is a lakeside beach, and that makes a surprising difference in the texture of sea glass produced; the sea glass here is smoother than usual.
Grant Park Beach is at the south end of Grant Park, accessed via Grant Park Drive or E Oak Creek Parkway.
- Location: Lincoln City, Oregon
- Difficulty: 7. Low tide is the best time to hunt for sea glass on the muddy, rocky shore.
Lincoln City isn’t a place for swimming and it’s too cold to even wear swim attire. But the 8 miles of beach is a go-to of beachcombers for sea glass, fossils, and at times pieces of agate.
If you’re not up for sea glass hunting, visit the area from October through May during the annual Finders Keepers Festival, where almost 3,000 handcrafted glass floats made by local artisans are scattered all over the place.
You can keep any glass float you find during your hunt, and you can register it by phone or in person to get a Certificate of Authenticity.
Public access to this beach is at the end of NW 15th Street, Lincoln City, Oregon.
- Location: Sanibel Island, Florida
- Difficulty: 7. It can be tricky to find sea glass because seashells cover the shore.
Bowman’s Beach is more popular for its shore birds and seashells, but you’d be able to find sea glass hidden under those white seashells as well.
Since this area is the most secluded beach on the island with no modern buildings, Bowman’s Beach is perfect if you want to go sea glass hunting in peace.
Other sea glass spots in Florida include Siesta Key (a barrier island off Florida’s west coast), Jensen Beach on Hutchinson Island, and Coral Cove Park on Jupiter Island.
- Location: Mentor, Ohio
- Difficulty: 6. Small pieces can be found along the shoreline and possibly on driftwood near the shore.
Right on the shores of Lake Erie, the beach at Headlands Beach State Park is a nice beach with a part maintained for swimmers and a part left rocky, rough, and rugged for beachcombers.
The best time to look is after a storm. Put on your beach shoes and stroll along the rocky part of the beach to find nuggets of green, white, and brown sea glass, and maybe the occasional cobalt or cornflower blue piece.
- Location: Bogue Banks Island, North Carolina
- Difficulty: 6. Centuries-old sea glass wash up on the shores, especially after a storm.
Emerald Isle is a small beach town offering 12 miles of shoreline and fantastic views of the Atlantic Ocean on one side and Bogue Inlet on the other.
Sea glass hunting on this beach is popular, but you can also find other treasures like seashells and shark teeth.
There are at least 10 public access points to the beach on Emerald Isle, each with convenient facilities.
In general, North Carolina beaches that are facing the Graveyard of the Atlantic have sea glass and other random treasures washing up on their shores all the time.
Sea Glass Beach Hunting Tips
Here are some reminders for those trying to hunt for sea glass at the beach:
- Almost all sandy beaches have no sea glass. Stick to rocky beaches.
- Beaches known for their waves produce more sea glass than calm beaches.
- Be prepared: bring a small rake/poop scooper so you could sift through sand and a bag for your treasures.
- Beaches near industrial areas (or those that used to be near factories, plants, and similar businesses) may have sea glass present. If you’re near one, there’s nothing bad about checking them out (as long as they’re not private property).
- And lastly, if the sea glass you find still has sharp edges, this means they’re still “young” and need years more to mature. Bring them back to the shore for others to find in the future.
Is it illegal to remove sea glass?
All beaches within the jurisdiction of state parks have made it illegal to take sea glass from the beaches, with heavy fines if caught.
If you’re visiting islands or secluded beaches and you feel like it is legal to get sea glass, know that in general, getting sea glass is not permitted to preserve the beach’s sea glass supply and its beauty.
Too many tourists taking “just a few pieces” of sea glass depletes the beach of the sea glass and leaves nothing for the next tourists to enjoy. So if possible, just hunt, pick, marvel, and take pictures of your treasures. Then, throw them back where you picked them.
If you’re just looking to beach-hop and go on a hike with awesome beach views instead, don’t miss this post.