Within the United States, the Golden State is known for having some of the best beaches to find sea glass due to its extensive coastline. From the rocky Mendocino coast to the protected waters of La Jolla, there are numerous sea glass beaches in California to discover rare finds as well as more common shades.
Where does sea glass come from?
These beautiful stones are created from the trash that was left on the beach and smoothed over by the ocean for many years. Some of the most abundant sea glass beaches were previous trash dumping sites (before recycling was popular) and contained a lot of glass pieces from discarded soda bottles and beer bottles. In the past, glass was the most common way to package things, instead of plastic (an example is Coca-Cola’s glass bottles). A single piece of sea glass can take 50-100 years to form.
These translucent colorful shards are one of Mother Nature’s impressive works of art, truly turning trash into treasure.
How do I find sea glass?
Double-check before you go that collecting sea glass is not prohibited on the specific beach you are heading to. The best time to search for sea glass is during low tide when there is more land to scour and you do not have to worry about a dangerous high tide. Make sure to check out the tide tables beforehand here. Some of the best places are pebble beaches, where you can find pieces of sea glass in between the stones.
Rare colors like purples, aquas, and reds are highly sought out. The more common ones are browns, greens, whites, and clear glass. Here’s a helpful chart to determine the rarity of a certain shade of sea glass, as well as a grading guide.
What do people do with sea glass?
There is a sizable community of people who go beachcombing for sea glass to either add to their growing collections or create jewelry with it (or both). For jewelry, the grading of the glass’ surface matters (fewer markings/chipping is better), as well as the opaqueness, though there are some debates about the criteria within the community.
Fort Bragg Glass Beach
Location: Mendocino County
Located just south of MacKerricher State Park is the famous Glass Beach, with the highest concentration of sea glass in the state. Please note: it is forbidden to remove anything from the beach. Explore the surrounding tide pools that are teeming with life. Head back into town to view over 3,000 pieces at the International Sea Glass Museum which is located in a former home. There are many artifacts from Glass Beach itself in this small museum and you can pick up unique jewelry at the gift shop as well.
To find the trailhead, head out of downtown Fort Bragg for a few minutes on West Elm Street until you reach Glass Beach Drive, where you will see the Glass Beach parking lot. The trailhead begins from the lot.
Location: Marin County
Three miles west of Muir Woods National Monument is this quiet beach frequented by locals and is a great spot to search and collect sea glass. The adjacent Redwood Creek Lagoon is a thriving habitat that is home to red-legged frogs and coho salmon. Nearby Muir Beach Overlook provides stunning views of the beach and surrounding area including Point Reyes, but be warned it is not for those who are afraid of heights and is often quite windy. It is a great vantage point to watch the whale migration during the wintertime.
Parking is available free of charge in the Muir Beach parking lot and the Pacific Way Bridge connects the lot to the beach. There are no lifeguards on duty. Be aware that the northernmost end is often frequented by nude sunbathers.
Coyote Point Beach
Location: San Mateo County
This San Francisco Bay Area beach is located in the region’s South Bay and is just a bit south of San Francisco International Airport. Sea glass collectors rave about this spot as having a wide selection, especially the small beach next to the marina (park in the marina parking lot for easy access). Before you head to the beach grab lobster rolls from nearby New England Lobster Market & Eatery and eat them on one of the picnic benches as you watch the planes take off and land.
Parking is $6/per day. There are numerous restrooms within Coyote Point, including one next to the beach.
Location: Santa Cruz County
The small town of Davenport, a bit north of Santa Cruz is known for its extensive sea glass finds. This is because during a strong storm, many of the discarded pieces from the local Lundberg Art Studio, that manufactures homemade glass, blew into the ocean. The smaller stones are affectionately referred to as “nuggets” and the larger pieces as “boulders,” by the locals. Retrieving the glass is not your usual stroll on the beach since most of them require a wetsuit as they are found in between the crashing waves in an area nicknamed “the pit.”
It is a bit of a hike to get down to the beach from the parking lot. Once you get down there is plenty of space for a picnic or a turn on the sea swing.
Sand City Beach
Location: Monterrey County
This beach is located below the former site of a dumping ground by local businesses including the Hotel Del Monte (sometimes you can still find the hotel logo on a piece of glass). The dunes above the beach are the best place to find sea glass of all shapes and sizes and this abundance will eventually erode down into the shoreline. Afterward, head to nearby Monterrey, walk around the old wharves and canneries and stop by the impressive Monterrey Aquarium.
There is free parking at the beach. Head under the bridge to find the beach from the lot.
Del Monte Beach
Location: Monterrey County
Tucked away from Monterrey’s main streets, this pristine beach is a favorite of locals. Search for sea glass along the expansive, sandy shoreline. Head up to the boardwalk for panoramic views of the beach and stay awhile on the benches or have lunch on a picnic table as you take in the scenery. Downtown Monterrey is under a ten-minute drive, where you can pick up sandwiches at Compagno’s Market & Deli to eat on the beach.
A parking lot is available free of charge, but spots are limited. Dog-friendly. Porta-potties are available.
Location: San Diego County
Located in scenic La Jolla, this cliffside beach is an ideal place to pick up a lot of treasures, including sea glass and sea shells as its name suggests. Walk along the numerous tide pools during low tide, where there is plenty of sealife to view. This beach is often less crowded than its other neighbors, including La Jolla Cove and Children’s Pool. Sometimes if you are lucky you can spot a sea lion or two that swam over from the cove nearby.
Shell Beach is located at the south end of Ellen Browning Scripps Park and can be easily reached via a staircase from the street. There is limited street parking along Coast Boulevard.
Location: Los Angeles County
Nicknamed “Billionaire’s Beach” due to the lavish homes along the shore, this beach feels like one of Malibu’s exclusive beaches, but it is in fact a public one. Located in Eastern Malibu, the long stretch of sand and surf is the perfect place to find a lot of sea glass. There is a well-defined walking path and the beach often feels less crowded in contrast with the more famous nearby beaches.
There is free parking along the Pacific Coast Highway, which depending on the day can be difficult to come by. Make sure to not block any driveways or garages, since towing is common in this area. Eastern access to the beach is through the David Geffen Access (located right next to the film studio executive’s home).
Location: Los Angeles County (Malibu)
One of the area’s most popular beaches, Zuma is known for clean waters, top-notch conditions for surfing, and an expansive swath of sand to sunbathe on. Strong rip tides are known to occur, so be careful when collecting sea glass if you are wading through the water and keep away from the area between Towers 8 and 9, where especially strong ones are prevalent. Keep your eyes out for dolphins that are often spotted off the coast.
There is a giant parking lot, which is run by LA county and charges a fee. If you want to look for free parking, the Pacific Coast Highway is the best place. There are lifeguards on duty as well as public restrooms, showers, and a snack bar. Bring layers since it can get windy along the coast.
Crystal Cove State Beach
Location: Orange County
Located on the border of Laguna and Newport, this beach is part of the Crystal Cove State Park, which boasts a wide variety of hiking trails and the Crystal Cove Historic District with cottages from the 1930s and 1940s that visitors can stay in overnight. Beach glass is abundant on these shores due to the glass remains from residents of the historic district. Sea glass wrapping is very popular and there is a large community who go to this beach to collect colorful pieces for their jewelry.
Parking is $15 in the Los Trancos Parking Lot. Walk down along the path from the lot and it will take you to the beach via a tunnel.