Greatest Show on the Lakes

colorful antique bottles

When the 2009 North American Sea Glass Festival was held in Erie, Pennsylvania, little did organizers know that it would draw the largest attendance ever for this annual festival. But it was no surprise to sisters Jennifer and Terri Reed of Relish Studio and Gallery, an Erie shop that features beach glass jewelry and handmade art. Erie sits in an enviable location halfway between the cities of Buffalo, New York, and Cleveland, Ohio, and just north of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

beach festival exhibitors

Krista Hammond, original organizer of the Santa Cruz Sea Glass festival in California, encouraged Jennifer and Terri to create a festival of their own. “We imagined a springtime East Coast sister festival to Krista’s West Coast autumn festival.” The result is the Great Lakes Beach Glass & Coastal Arts Festival, which is held in odd-numbered years in Erie. The show is organized by Jennifer, the Relish Studio staff, and volunteers. “My husband Russ Thompson helps as well by default; if he didn’t we’d have a problem,” she laughs. “I also have an outstanding group of volunteers.”

beach jewelry customer

90 vendors and exhibitors, a team of volunteers, and up to 5,000 visitors celebrate beach glass, beachcombing, and hand-crafted coastal arts at the Bayfront Convention Center. The festival features live music, wine tasting, a bottle/shard identification exhibit, collections, and a lecture series. 2019 speakers included Scott McKenzie, a professor of Geology at Mercyhurst University in Erie, and Pembroke Bryant, an accomplished silversmith from North Carolina. Scott is an expert in beach finds and fossils, and his engaging presentation style makes his talks extremely entertaining. Pembroke spoke about the process that forms beach glass. Antique Bottle Magazine attended, plus visitors had a chance to see the world’s largest piece of beach glass, found in Lake Erie.

antique bottles for sale

“Putting on this event is like throwing a party for 5,000 people,” Jennifer says. “All the hard work and anxiety pay off on show day when the crowds are lining up and thanking me for the event.”

sea glass festival

Face painters, coastal conservation groups, and local non-profits have booths and displays for families and kids. Attendees who want to have first choice at the newest items can buy a ticket for the special preview shopping hour on Saturday morning. Jennifer and her team have organized a festival package at the Bayfront Sheraton that is connected to the conference center with an enclosed sky bridge. “We have also arranged with L&L Tours for day bus trips from Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Port Clinton, so you can leave the driving and parking to someone else,” says Jennifer.

presque isle lighthouse erie pennsylvania

While there is plenty to do for two full days at the festival, you might want to add some time to enjoy the area around Erie. Presque Isle is a natural sand spit that creates a beautiful protected bay for the Erie waterfront. Visit any of the beaches in this beautiful state park and don’t miss the 1873 Presque Isle Lighthouse with its keeper’s house, tucked in a stand of trees just off the beach. Jennifer recommends that beachcombers check the shoreline east and west of the peninsula for the best finds. Lake Erie has and had its share of manufacturing, so there is some great glass to be found. Marbles, toys, and figurines are popular to hunt, along with otoliths, the calcareous, bone-like structure found in the inner ear of many fishes, called lucky stones. “Be considerate of public access versus private property,” advises Jennifer. “And, don’t miss the lake in the afternoon. We boast some of the best sunsets in our area.” 

lake erie beach

After your drive around Presque Isle, hit the Maritime Museum and the Tom Ridge Environmental Center, with fantastic displays relating to coastal conservation and the environment. The local food scene offers plenty of options, too. “Erie is really upping its game,” says Jennifer. “We have several local craft breweries, so try them all! We also have everything from fine dining to taverns, depending on what you’re hankering for.”

antique bottle identification

“What I love about organizing this event is that rising tides raise all ships. It is a great feeling to support, encourage, and promote so many in the beach and sea glass community,” says Jennifer.

For information about the festival visit

best beaches for beachcombers

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 Magazine March/April 2019 issue.


Hi, Norma! We would love to see a festival on Lake Michigan! If you know of anyone who could organize one, we’d be happy to support them however we can!

Kirsti Scott February 14, 2019

Any Beach Combing Festivals In the Great Lakes Of Michigan For 2019 ? Love Beach Combing 💙

Norma February 14, 2019

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