In a dump, used glass soda bottles are a toxic eyesore. But when rolled and softened by the waves, then spit out onto a shore, they become something extraordinary: colored pieces of stone.
It takes about 30 years for the ocean to break down glass into sea treasure, and not all beaches are capable of creating it, which is why a good sea glass beach is hard to find. The best options are usually near former dumping grounds, where there is consistent wave movement.
But seeking these beaches out is well worth the effort. Not only are they stunning in a completely surprising way, but they are a boon for treasure hunters. (Pro tip: Clear glass is the most common, as are brown and green. The most prized, rare glass is orange and red.)
Ready for your quest? Here are the best places in the world — from Japan to Northern California — where you'll find trash turned into extraordinary beach sea glass.
Fort Bragg, California
Beach: MacKerricher State Park Glass Beach
Note: Visitors aren't technically allowed to remove the glass from this beach since it’s part of California State Parks property.
The Fort Brag Sea Glass Story
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Fort Bragg, a charming town along California’s northern coast, is home to Glass Beach, which is adjacent to MacKerricher State Park. From 1906-1967, the site was used to dump cars, bottles, appliances and batteries.
What resulted years later was a shoreline blanketed with smooth, colored sea glass. From rags to riches, indeed!
Beach: Hanapepe Bay Glass Beach
Note: While you won't find this beach in most guidebooks, it's easy to find. Just head to the southwestern end of town near Port Allen and look for the large tanks of gasoline.
The Kauai Sea Glass Story
The coastline of Hawaii is packed with visual treasures ... but let's add one more, shall we?
Kauai’s Glass Beach, on the southern end of the island near Port Allen, is a bright spot in the industrial zone of Hanapepe Bay. The beach served as a trash dump for decades, but thanks to time and the magic of the ocean, it has re-emerged as a colorful jewel that's a paradise for collectors, crafters and photographers of sea glass.
Beach: Steklyashka Beach
Note: While going to Russia in the wintertime might not be your idea of a vacation, this is one of the more amazing times to see the beach, as the bright colors of sea glass pop against the sugary snow.
The Vladivostok Sea Glass Story
Over the course of decades, the constant rhythm of the waves transformed the dumping ground for a former porcelain factory into this shiny, jewel-strewn shore of Steklyashka Beach.
The beach, which borders the Sea of Japan, is now a specially protected zone, so guests can better enjoy its stunning kaleidoscope of glass pebbles. In addition to porcelain, visitors will also find the remnants of old vodka bottles.
Beach: Davenport Beach
Note: The best times for sea glass hunting are at low tide or after a rainstorm, and the north side of the beach provides the best finds. But even under ideal circumstances, finding treasure can be tricky; many go so far as to don a wetsuit to extract the goods directly from the sea.
Located just north of Santa Cruz is a small, sleepy beach town that is legendary among sea-glass collectors. In the 1970s, a massive flood sent containers of Lundberg Studio's blown-glass trimmings down the San Vicente Creek and into the sea to wash up on the shores here.
Though not as abundant as it once was, this sea glass remains some of the most beautiful in the world.
Ireland Island, Bermuda
Beaches: Sea Glass Beach and Black Bay Beach
Note: While Sea Glass and Black Bay beaches are certainly the best spots to find sea glass, Building Bay Beach is another ideal spot in St. George's. It’s hardly known to tourists, which ensures it’s yet to be plundered.
Most beaches in Bermuda have traces of sea glass sprinkled throughout. But only the most devoted hunters know where to reap the best bounty.
Sea Glass and Black Bay beaches, located near each other at the western end of Bermuda, are sure to please even the most discerning aficionados. While travelers must scrounge for scraps on others Bermuda shores, here they can find heaps of glass.
Port Townsend, Washington
Beach: Glass Beach
Note: To get to Glass Beach, you have to hike from North Beach Park along the water to McCurdy Point.
In the past, McCurdy Point was a prime place to dump trash, before environmentalists and real-estate developers stepped in.
Today, travelers to this glass beach just past the Point will find some of the highest quality beach sea glass around as well as shops that sell stunning creations made with it. The beach is also a prime spot for aspiring geologists looking to uncover semi-precious stones like basalt, quartz and jasper.
Beaches: Chemical Beach and North Beach
Note: At North Beach, travelers may also find uranium glass, which can be identified by using a UV flashlight.
The small harbor town of Seaham is home to not one, but two beaches chock full of colorful sea glass. Chemical Beach, which sits south of the harbor, housed Seaham Chemical Works from the 1860s until 1885. The plant dumped much of its waste into the sea, which over time was returned to the shore in a glimmering new form.
But it's North Beach that's the preferred spot for glass hunters. The quantities that wash up daily are abundant, and sometimes larger pieces can be found — a rarity for glass beaches.
Santa Barbara, California
Beach: Summerland Beach
Note: The truly devoted should head to the area on the second weekend of September when Santa Barbara hosts the Sea Glass & Ocean Arts Festival to showcase the works of extraordinary sea glass artists.
This stretch of shore along California’s spectacular central coast is fairly unpopulated, making it ideally suited to sea glass hunters.
Those looking for Summerland Beach should follow the signs to Loon Point, where a small path in the back of the parking lot leads down to the ocean. Just be sure to heed the low tide warning, as it is possible to get stuck in a cove when high tide starts coming in.
Beach: Spectacle Island
Note: Like Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, visitors are instructed to return what they find so that everyone who comes to visit can enjoy.
The Quincy Sea Glass Story
Few make pilgrimages to see former landfills — but an exception should be made for Spectacle Island. This island off the coast of Quincy to the south and Boston to the north previously served as a dumpsite and is home to trash that’s been refined into sea-shiny treasures.
Beachcombers come to explore discarded trinkets, toys and, of course, sea glass.
Long Island, New York
Beaches: Flying Point Beach and Bailie Beach
Note: While Flying Point Beach is by far the most popular for scouring, in nearby Mattituck, Bailie Beach is one of the better-kept secrets for finding hidden treasure.
The Hamptons' East End is known for its celebrity residents, gourmet food and ritzy real estate, but as you may have guessed by now it also has fabulous sea glass beaches.
Across the East End are scores of seekers who know the hidden spots at Flying Point Beach and Bailie Beach to score a multitude of hues, from the ubiquitous browns and greens to the more coveted purples, oranges and reds.
Beach: Abaco Islands
Note: Watch out for the feisty Portuguese men-of-war on these beaches. The sea creature looks like a jellyfish but is actually a different species altogether.
Abacos Islands, a group of islands located in the Northern Bahamas, is rife with finds for those willing to search.
Over the centuries, numerous shipwrecks near surrounding reefs discarded heaps of glass and garbage into the sea. As a result, the Abacos' uninhabited cays are some of the world's best for sea glass hunting. Better yet, they remain a secret to most travelers.
Okinawa Island, Japan
Beach: Sea Glass Beach
Note: This beach is located smack dab in the middle of the island on its southeastern shore.