All people who walk slowly down the beach, hunched over, peering down at the ground are not looking for shells. These days, many beachcombers are looking for sea glass. Defined as glass that has been tumbled by natural wave action to the point where there are no sharply-defined edges and all surfaces exhibit a frosted or etched appearance, sea glass is created when debris from glass objects end up in the ocean, breaks into pieces, and is smoothed by the action of waves and sand.
In the days before environmental laws prohibited such actions, some of this glass came from trash dumped off ships. In other cases, the source of debris was old garbage dumps located near the ocean. Over the years, wind and rainstorms caused trash to migrate toward the shore, tumbling until it disintegrated, leaving behind only the more durable glass. In areas where perfect geography, wave action, and wind combined, sea glass deposits grew deep and were left undisturbed, since the glass was still regarded as useless trash.
Gradually, people began to notice the beauty of this delicately etched glass. They marveled at colors ranging from frosty white to deep turquoise, cobalt blue, and even blood red. Initially collected as pretty baubles to be displayed in a glass bowl, jewelry makers eventually began creating pieces from the unique material. Today sea glass is in such demand that it is growing scarce; many of the beaches that had contained thick beds have been thoroughly picked over. However, the following beaches still offer beachcombers a good selection of quality sea glass:
Bar Island – Bar Harbor, Maine
Bar island is a tidal island in Bar Harbor, Maine that is located directly north of the West Street town pier (look for Bridge Street on the north side of West Street to gain access). Glass found on the island has a tendency to collect at the high tide line. Check for the local times of low tide and plan to stay no more than one hour before and after low tide.
Rosario Beach, Fidalgo Island, Washington State
Sea glass on this beach is typically mingled with agates, shells, tumbled pebbles, and driftwood, so beachcombers may need to look closely, but 6-15 jewelry grade pieces can normally be found in less that two hours. To find Rosario Beach, going north on Highway 20, turn left about 1/3 mile past Deception Pass Bridge and follow the signs.
Fort Bragg, Mendocino County, California
For many years the people in this town dumped their trash over the bluffs and onto a strip of beach owned by the Union Lumber Company. Locals simply called it “The Dumps.” In 1967, city leaders closed the area and various cleanup programs were begun, but by that time, much of the glass had been washed down to the shore, becoming the small, smooth, colored pieces that coat the beach today. Although much of the material has been carted away by collectors, there is still a good deal left. A few years ago, this beach was taken over by the California State Park Department, which voiced concern over disappearing sea glass. Rumors soon began circulating that sea glass could no longer be taken. While it is true that the Parks Department discourages the collecting of sea glass, California beaches are public up to the mean high water mark, thus collecting cannot be banned. Current opinion seems to be that it is perfectly legal to collect glass on any of the beaches in Fort Bragg, although care must be taken not to trespass on surrounding private properties to get to any of the three collecting sites. Of these, the best known is Glass Beach, located inside McKerricher Park, which is said to holds the highest concentration of sea glass in the world. Although generally depleted of the larger specimens, great quantities of small pieces are abundant and larger pieces can still be found after storms churn the beach. The path to Glass Beach is located at the end of Elm St.
Seaside State Beach, Monterey, California
Located just northeast of Monterey, California, Seaside Beach is very long and is flanked by sand dunes and sand cliffs. On the main beach at high tide, sea glass is found in a narrow five-foot band just above the water line, as well as underwater near the shore. At low tide, much more of the glass is exposed on the beach. For better pickings, head north to the rocks, where sea glass can be found by the handsfull. Fort Ord Dunes State Park and Sand City lie along the same stretch of beach and are also good collecting sites.
Monterey State Beach, Monterey, California
Beginning next to Fisherman’s Wharf and continuing to the town of Seaside, Monterey State Beach is popular with beachcombers who often uncover sea glass. Pieces of vintage green are often discovered here, the source of which is an old beach dump site.
Glass Beach, Port Townsend, Washington
A 90-minute hike from North Beach (also not too shabby a site for sea glass), the area known locally as Glass Beach lies at the foot of a bluff that once served as the town dump. Although this particular shoreline is unmarked, collectors know they have arrived at the correct spot when they spot corroded auto parts jutting out of the sand.
Playa Media Luna, Isle Mujeres, Mexico
Collectors have reported finding two pails full in about two hours. There are numerous beaches on this small island, and any of them are likely to offer up sea glass treasures, but the best scavenging is found on the rocky northeast side of the island.
Antonio’s Beach to River Mouth Beach in Puntas, Rincon, Puerto Rico
Antonio’s Beach to River Mouth is a favorite place to hunt for sea glass. From the public parking lot at Antonio’s Beach adjacent to the new Punta del Mar Beach Resort development, head north to the river. Sea glass becomes more abundant nearer the river. On some days, it is not unusual to gather a plastic bag full of pretty pieces in less than an hour.
Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
From the capital building, descend via steps along the fort wall to Playa Ocho, or look around the public beaches down from La Perla (near the stadium and the Caribe Hilton). It is best to go right after high tide and look in the rockier areas on the edges of the beach. Pieces of all sizes and colors are easily found here.
Glass Beach, Kauai, Hawaii
Kauai’s Glass Beach isn’t mentioned in many guide books, mostly due to its location in the middle of an industrial zone not far from the popular tourist area of Poipu on the southern end of the island. To get there, take the Port Allen exit off the highway, then turn down a street past some warehouses, then follow a very rutted dirt road to the water. It’s worth the effort, for this beach is inches thick with sea glass of all colors – even the rare cobalt blues. But don’t get greedy; local law limits each person to a gallon of the shiny stuff per day.
Photo credits, in order of appeaarance: Patricia Scott Interiors (sea glass in brandy snifter); Barbara Weibel (Bar Island); Patricia Scott Interiors (sea glass in bowl); BillLovesMarcy (Glass Beach at Fort Bragg); brunkfordbraun (Cannery Row Beach); sarunas.b (Isla de Mueres); Richard Monteverde, Rincon, Puerto Rico.
Article by Barbara Weibel at Hole In The Donut Travels