By Megan Lierman
Ten years ago, my love affair with the ocean began. My sister got married in Scotland, and along with friends and family, I flew to Edinburgh with my then two-year-old son and my husband. I was in a high-risk pregnancy and was unable to hike the Scottish Highlands with the rest of the group, so my mom and I took my son to throw rocks in the loch near my rental cottage. It was there that we found our first pieces of vintage pottery and glass shards, and I found my first bottle. I grew up spending time near Kachemak Bay and on the shores of Lake Iliamna in Alaska, but it never dawned on me to look for things other than shells and driftwood. Now when I travel, I set aside time or make short detours to explore new coastal areas to experience the thrill of the hunt!
Glass Beach on the island of Kauai has been a favorite spot of mine for the last ten years. When my youngest son was two months old, we flew to Hawaii to spend the last month of my maternity leave on the island, and I took him to this beach with me. The first time we went to Glass Beach, the sand was covered in tiny, worn down glass pieces; all I collected at the time was a small jar of sand. Since we travel to Kauai every other year, I have made many trips to the beach with my son. Once, after a large storm, we made the trip from our rental condo and found quarter-sized, jewelry-quality pieces of glass all over the shore; I had never seen the beach covered in that many large pieces of glass. Another time I went, I saw locals snorkeling for glass, and they had a large plastic bag full of amazing pieces, but the beach had been picked clean of larger pieces by the time we showed up. With this beach, the tides really do change the landscape of the beach with every tide cycle. Sometimes there is glass and sometimes there isn’t, it is a gamble.
Glass Beach is located in Port Allen, on the south side of Kauai. Head south on the Kaumualii Highway. Take a left on Waialo Road just before McDonald’s, then take another left on Aka Ula Street. You’ll be in a very industrial area and you’ll think you’re in the wrong spot…keep going past the giant tanks on the right, and the road will veer right. If it has been rainy and stormy, the road from this point may be washed out and very rutted (be careful with your rental cars!). Park at the end of the road where you see the beach. Caution: I never go to this beach alone due to the industrial, fairly secluded area.
A little farther down the Kaumualii Hawaii, you’ll see signs for the Salt Pond Park, which is a public beach with facilities and great snorkeling. My son took his snorkel gear out and found a handful of larger, less-worn glass, which he proudly brought back to me.
Moving to the east of the island, I got lost once and stumbled upon the Hanamaulu Beach Park on the back side of the airport. At this beach, I found some coral and older, but mostly unfrosted glass and pottery pieces.
Another beach I went to on the south shore didn’t have any glass, but after the storms, I found four large urchins that were absolutely stunning. As we walked down this same undisclosed beach a few years later, I saw something reflecting the sun. When I got closer, I saw a glint of gold and after a little digging in the compacted sand, I uncovered a wedding band. I translated the engraving with my limited Spanish and with a little online research, I was able to find the couple that lost this band. The couple lives in Santiago, Chile, and the husband lost his wedding band while swimming on their honeymoon a year earlier. The wedding band has since been reunited with its owner!
Sidney, British Columbia, Canada
A few years ago, my son had a hockey tournament in British Columbia. Per hockey coach rules, he had to be at the rink an hour before the first game of the day for warmups. I looked at a map of the nearby area and saw that there was a little beach and boardwalk in downtown Sidney, so I grabbed a cup of coffee and decided that I’d start my morning with a walk near the ocean at sunrise. The sunrise was breathtaking and once the sun was up, I was able to see glass on this little patch of sand to the right of the pier, which I later learned was called Glass Beach by locals. I climbed down the bank and saw mostly browns and whites of varying frost levels. I didn’t take more than a few pieces from this beach as I’ve started to be fairly selective with what I take home, but I enjoyed looking for treasures instead of sitting in a cold rink for an extra hour.
To visit, head into downtown Sidney on Beacon Avenue. There’s a roundabout with a few parking spots (that are usually full later in the day). The beach is to the right of the pier. You’ll see a pier to the left, a boardwalk pier and a scuba diver statue to the right; the beach is nestled in the middle.
In 2018, my sister and I went to hike the Cornwall Trail from St. Ives to Penzance. I only agreed to hike 7-11 miles a day if she allowed me to beachcomb along the way, which meant that our hiking start times were based on the tides so that we could hit certain beaches near low tide. While relatively close together, the beaches in the nooks and crannies of the coastal trail provided vastly different treasures. One beach was filled with nothing but cuttlebone which was bizarre, and others were just pristine sand.
We approached Sennen Cove from the north and hit Gwynver Beach first. There, I found a few pieces of glass and some fun shells. At the end of that beach, we had to climb back up and over the rocks to hit Sennen Beach. The beach had a few more fun snail shells, scallop shells and limpets, along with a few pieces of glass. But if you really want to find glass, walk through town to the harbor and find the boat launch—to the left of the launch, there is a rocky, mini jackpot of glass and pottery. (While in this area, take time to walk the grounds at The Land’s End Hotel—if you’re hiking the coastal trail, you have to take this route).
Sennen Cove was the last area with glass until we got to Penzance the following day. We’d heard that St. Michael’s Mount near the town of Marazion was a must-see. tourist destination as well as a place where we could find sea glass. And I’m not going to lie here—by this point I was so over walking everywhere that I suggested we take a cab to St. Michael’s Mount. My sister agreed that our feet had had enough, and we didn’t need to add another eight miles. The Mount is accessed by a causeway, or a stone footpath that is exposed only at low tide; at high tide, St. Michael’s Mount appears as an island and is accessible by boat. We hit the tides right, and when we arrived, we walked the causeway and then started our search for glass. There was lots of glass to the left of the causeway path, but the glass was small and mostly a variety of green, brown and white. In other words, I wouldn’t walk ten miles to get there again, but I’d stop by if I were in the area.
If heading to Penzance, we highly recommend The Artist Residence for accommodations, and make sure to eat at The Cornish Barn restaurant in the hotel. For assistance planning your walking adventure on the Cornwall Trail, contact Encounter Walking at encounterwalkingholidays.com/cornwall-walking-holidays-coast-path.
Glass Beach, Fort Bragg, California
For my birthday a few years ago, my husband got tickets to Napa for me and my friend. We decided that since we were flying that far (from Alaska), we might as well extend our trip for a few extra days so that we could go to Fort Bragg in Mendocino County, California. Flying into San Francisco on an overnight flight, and after waiting an hour for misplaced bags and getting a free rental car upgrade, we hit the Pacific Coast Highway, heading north.
After doing some research, we had planned to stop at Bowling Ball Beach on the way, but for the life of us, we couldn’t find the beach access parking. Frustrated that we couldn’t find the entrance to Bowling Ball Beach, we ended up turning into a place called Moat Creek, and while we didn’t see the bowling ball-shaped rocks, we found lots of pieces of abalone strewn along the beach. After picking up some of the shimmery rainbow shell bits, we hit the road. By the time we pulled into our accommodations (The Redwood Coast Inn), it was after dark, so we shared a bottle of wine, some cheese, fruit, and meats we’d purchased at a nearby market and prepared to hit the beach the following morning.
The beach is walking distance from the inn, so we decided that we’d run to the beach to get a little exercise, which would allow us to scope out the beach situation. Leaving the inn early, shrouded in morning fog, we headed toward the beach. Once at the beach, we stopped to look around. Seeing tons of smaller, tumbled pieces of glass, but knowing that taking glass from the beach is discouraged by some locals, we left empty handed. Instead, we decided to continue our run on the coastal path along the cliffs. Since the tide was going out, we decided that we’d climb down the rocky cliffs to see what sort of treasures they held; we were rewarded with lots of well tumbled glass of all colors, and mussel shells galore. We had no agenda for this trip other than to see a spot on Earth that I had only seen in photos. As we were leaving the cove to climb back to the coastal path, I found a heart-shaped, tumbled white piece of glass and I slipped that in my pocket as a memento.
Prince William Sound, Alaska
As an Alaskan, many of my friends have boats and/or planes, which allow for us to explore areas not reachable by car. While exploring the Prince William Sound in Southcentral Alaska, we’ve found pristine black sand beaches that rival anything Hawaii has to offer, beaches filled with dried starfish and shells, and a secret Glass Beach.
My friend and I stumbled upon Glass Beach one day when we decided to explore an island we’d seen many times from the boat. Her husband drove close to the beach and dropped us off, with orders to return after he had caught some fish or shrimp for dinner, so we knew that we had a few hours to see what the island held.
Our starting point had thousands and thousands of shells littering the beach, and as we rounded the bend, we saw that the beach was stacked with sand dollars in all stages of their life cycle. Rounding the far corner or the island, we came to two rocky beaches that we felt were ripe for glass…and our intuition didn’t fail us! This beach has given us glass in all shades of green, teal and blue, some large egg shapes, and a green glass “gumdrop.”
Other great places in Prince William Sound to look for sea glass treasures are areas used to have bustling towns, but that are now abandoned. We’d heard of such a place, and even heard that there used to be a pub next to the creek you can see from the shore, and that you can dig bottles from the creek bed. Armed with rakes and shovels, we found the spot described to us, and we began digging in the creek bed. We have found a variety of bottles dating from the mid 1800s to the 1920, which are now proudly displayed in our window sills.
On the beach where the creek discharges, we’ve found broken pottery, more bottles and jars, pieces of painted china dishes, perfume bottles, bottle stoppers, and even a marble! While these treasures aren’t as frosted as we like for sea glass, they’re still fun treasures to have.
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine September/October 2020 issue.