By Linda Cosio
I grew up in a quiet neighborhood in the San Francisco Bay area, the youngest of five daughters. My first memories of beachcombing are from a stressful time in my life when my mother decided to whisk me and one of my sisters off to the Balboa Peninsula in Southern California. My mother visited her close friend who was renting a tiny cottage at the beach near the Balboa Fun Zone. I was nine years old and felt the tension from troubles our family was experiencing. It was the middle of the summer, filled with hot days and warm nights.
While our mother spent time with her friend, my sister and I spent the days exploring the area. If we weren’t playing Skee-Ball, we were out by the water searching for seashells. Being at the beach was both comforting and fun, and I felt as if I belonged there. Each day was full of adventure! I watched hermit crabs as they went house hunting for new shells, careful to select the right fit.
One evening, while watching a boat parade, I absentmindedly started to dig in the sand and was surprised to find a snail shell about four inches long. When our mother was ready to return home, we had our treasure to take back with us. As our family changed and we moved to a new house, the shells were packed away and eventually disappeared. It was not until years later that my sister discovered the lost treasure and sent it to me. It was fun to go through all our finds and remember the special place the beach held in our childhood memories.
In my late twenties, when living in the Livermore Valley, I felt the need to escape for a few days to somewhere new. I wanted to go somewhere on the coast, but where? I looked at a map and randomly selected Cambria as my destination. How I had missed the ocean! It was perfect for what I needed during this transitional time in my life.
There were walking paths on the bluffs above the beach, bunnies hopping around, driftwood, and different areas of beach to explore. There were pebbles, smooth and colorful, with a few opalescent stones scattered about. The mornings were foggy, but my mind felt clear as I was enjoying the ocean breeze and the sound of the waves. Cambria instantly became a favorite place of mine. It is close to Hearst Castle and the protected areas in San Simeon for elephant seals. I have returned several times since then with my family, each visit a new discovery and adventure.
I finally moved closer to the ocean and was grateful to be within a reasonable distance to some great beaches along the Central Coast. I had children of my own, and we went out to the beach many times during the year. Sometimes, one of us would pick up a shell or rock to add to our small collection, but I was focused on other things besides beachcombing.
As I started to walk the beach more often with my husband for exercise, my husband started to notice pieces of sea glass. I had to train myself to focus my eyes to look for treasures if I were to find any on my own. We took more notice of how the beaches changed with the tides, the force of the waves and the winds, and learned the best times to look while walking. To my husband’s dismay, I soon became more interested in beachcombing than in the actual walk! I had to curb my enthusiasm a bit to balance out our beachcombing with needed exercise.
I shared pictures of our finds with another sister who lives near Sacramento, and she was hooked. She surprised me with a gift subscription to Beachcombing. I had never seen it before and I was thrilled! When she came for a visit, the two of us spent the days exploring the local shops and beaches, and during a beach outing she finally found her first piece of sea glass.
About a year ago I experienced health issues, mainly due to stress from my work environment. Inspired by the energy of the stories and images on those magazine pages, I started to embrace the sense of calm that I have always found at the beach. I began to go by myself more often, and during these outings the sound of the waves and the water rushing over the rocks provided me with a sense of renewal. I changed my job and built in some time for beachcombing.
I do get wet more often than I would like, trying to get that piece glinting in the sunlight before the next quick wave comes to snatch it from my grasp. I have learned the hard way that the waves can be tricky, one time underestimating my agility to navigate away from sneaker waves, causing me to slip on the rocks and fall. Now I am more careful and respectful of the force of the ocean. I have left the beach empty-handed on many occasions, but after the king tides one morning before going to work I decided to take a quick detour to the beach. I found glass, shells, and even had a marble wash up right by my feet—all without getting my work clothes wet!
The damage from storms in early 2023 was devastating to beloved areas and caused us to try different beaches. We found that at Sunset Beach at low tide there is space to walk without disturbing shore birds like my favorite, the snowy plover. There is even a protected habitat for them nestled in the dunes. I started looking for shells again, along with whatever else caught my eye. We have found many large and sharp pieces of broken glass to throw away, but we have had the good fortune to find a few sand dollars that are in great condition.
When I think back on my times in Balboa, Cambria, and other California beaches, it is no surprise that the beauty and wonder of the beach have helped me to navigate through challenging times, restoring a sense of balance in my life. I have a renewed interest in trying to learn how to use my camera properly to take better pictures, and in learning more about new areas to explore. I look forward to each new volume of Beachcombing to read the stories, learn interesting facts, collect ideas for displaying my finds, and planning new adventures!
Learn more about the best beaches and destinations for sea and beach glass, seashells, fossils, rocks, and more beach finds around the world. Articles ›
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Volume 37 July/August 2023.
All photos courtesy of Linda Cosio