What Is Sea Glass and Where To Find It

Have you ever noticed tiny pieces of colorful ‘stones’ or ‘gems’ on the beach? This may have been sea glass! One of the most unique beach activities you can participate in is hunting for naturally occurring sea glass that makes for beautiful photo ops. In this guide, we’re going to answer all your questions about this beautiful treasure and tell you where you can find it for yourself.

What is Sea Glass (And Where to Find It)

So, what is sea glass (also called beach glass), and where did it come from? Where can we find it? Let’s get answers to these questions and more!

What is sea glass?

Sea glass is just that – glass found at sea due to man-made and natural occurrences.

Over the years, glass objects, including perfume bottles, car tail lights, medicine bottles, and more have been dumped out. Oceans have collected these, and sea glass has been formed over time.

A little history: Before the 1960s, much of the US coastland was still uninhabited or sparsely inhabited. Recycling and trash pickup were nonexistent in some places. Littering was also not frowned upon because most garbage wasn’t toxic, a lot of waste was biodegradable, and disposal was time-consuming and costly. That’s why it was so common to dump trash directly into around oceans.

As oceans have collected trash like ship lanterns, wine bottles, and other items have broken, waves have smoothed out sharp edges to create natural sea glass. Over some time, the broken glass was no longer an unwanted piece of litter. Instead, it has become a captivating piece of nature that’s been tumbled into a smooth, colorful, and perfectly-shaped gem.

Anything made of glass can become sea glass if the environment is right. The natural processes of the ocean result in various shapes, colors, and textures among finished pieces of glass.

While this is how true sea glass comes to be, some people create artificial sea glass from recycled glass bottles and other objects. Many sea glass lovers do this to sell it as jewelry or decorative pieces.

sea glass 6 1
Sea glass comes from old pieces of bottles, lights, etc. that have been shaped by natural effects. (Credit: Chris West Photography/Shutterstock)

Is it sea glass or beach glass?

While you will hear these terms used interchangeably, sea glass is what we find in saltwater (like the beach), and beach glass is what we find in freshwater (like the lake). Since the natural factors that create these glasses are somewhat different, they look similar but not the same.

The main rule of thumb: sea glass is usually has a more frosty appearance.

Different Shapes and Sizes

Glass from the sea has no uniform shape or size because the naturally occurring factors vary. The age of the glass and the waves, rocks, and currents all play a role in how a piece of glass is formed. This is why no two pieces of glass are the exact same.

With that said, there are some common formations:

  • Small & Rounded: glass that from marbles
  • Bigger & Rounded: the bottom section of a glass bottle.
  • Patterned: the glass had imprinting.
  • Bubbles: a bottle shatters into tiny pieces.

While these are some common pieces you’ll see, there are tons out there to go along with how many glass objects have been around over the years.

Genuine sea glass comes in many different shapes and sizes.
Genuine sea glass comes in many different shapes and sizes. (Credit: AllaLear/Shutterstock)

What color is sea glass?

Many colors! Again, this is because there are so many different colors of glass items. The variety of colors is why many people love these magical gems.

Most glass bottles today come in green, brown, and clear. Long ago, you could find cobalt blue, purple, even black glass. We still see some of this today, just not as much.

We can break down sea glass colors into a couple of categories: common and rare. Common colors you can find are sea foam green, white, brown, and blue. Rare colors include cobalt blue, cornflower blue, pink, black, and deep purple. Red glass is known to be the rarest of them all. The more unique colors can actually be worth some money, which we’ll get to in a moment!

Is sea glass limited?

Yes and no. Both sea and beach glass are very possible to find. There’s just not as much as there used to be. There are a few reasons for this:

  • There’s been a more considerable effort over recent years to reduce pollution.
  • People have collected pieces to take home.
  • Fewer glass products are being made.

While we’re grateful for waste reduction in nature, there are hopes that sea glass can be preserved. Many sea glass collectors enjoy finding and keeping these treasures, but some beaches prohibit this so that the glass doesn’t completely disappear.

A big change over the years has also been less glass production and more plastic production. Before the 1960s, glass was the material of choice for storing and transporting many items.

Glass was also greatly used in the kitchen to keep items fresh longer. There were glass milk bottles, food storage jars, makeup product containers, cookware, and soda bottles. Even early bleach bottles were made of glass.

Today, plastic is the material used for many of these products. The production is less expensive, it’s not breakable, and storage is easier.

As more and more plastic appeared, littering it became a much bigger issue than throwing out glass. As we see more and more plastic, we see less and less sea and beach glass.

Now, there’s manmade sea glass.

As we mentioned, some sea glass isn’t naturally occurring. We’re now seeing something more known as ‘art glass.’

Some people are doing this because they can’t find as much as many beaches don’t allow people to collect sea glass.

To make glass, people can use a rock tumbler, dyes, and associated chemicals to create the look of real sea glass. In most cases, artificial sea glass is attractive but distinguishable from the real thing.

While making this glass can be a fun hobby and even a source of income, the issue arises when people try to sell sea glass as the real thing.

Sea glass makes beautiful decorative pieces of jewelry.
Sea glass makes beautiful decorative pieces of jewelry. (Credit: Sharon Orchard/Shutterstock)

How to Tell if Sea Glass is Real

It’s actually pretty easy to tell if you’re looking at a piece of sea glass from the natural world. Most sellers should tell you whether it’s real or not. With that said, many counterfeiters sell on popular retail and auction sites. To shop for authentic sea glass, many coastal towns hold sea glass festivals.

So let’s check out some ways you can make sure most sea glass is real, but remember, there can always be an exception.

Frosted Appearance

Natural frost appearance is created by exposure to salt and water. It’s a chemical reaction that becomes a part of the beach glass. If you don’t see this frosted appearance, the piece is probably not real sea glass.

Thickness

While newer natural sea and beach glass pieces can be thin, it’s usually thicker. That’s because genuine pieces are from glass bottles, and other items from long ago were made thicker than products are today.

Shape and Size

Genuine sea glass is not uniform in any way. Even pieces found on top of each other will have noticeable differences regarding shape and size. Artificial sea glass is easily replicated.

Texture

If the texture is almost too smooth, it’s probably not original. You’ll often see this kind of stained glass and other pieces used for art. Keep in mind that environmental factors have created naturally occurring sea glass, so it probably won’t look perfect.

Note: If a piece of sea glass has been present on a beach for many years, it will become smoother over time. And, if the beach is extra rocky, it may smooth out so much that it almost looks fake.

Pores and Scratches

True sea glass pieces will have pores, and they are usually different sizes. It’ll probably also have “c-shaped” scratches on it that are caused by the process of being worn down by the water, salt, and sand. You may not notice these pores and scratches right away, but you can definitely see them under a microscope or powerful magnifying glass.

Think of it this way: If it looks ‘too good to be true’ it probably is, but in this case, the beauty comes from the imperfect pieces of sea glass.

sea glass collection
Check appearance to determine real or fake. (Credit: HarmonyAzul/Shutterstock)

What is sea glass worth?

Some pure sea glass is worth money, but the amount varies based on its color, size, age, and condition.

The rarer the piece is, the more it’s worth to a sea glass collector or jeweler. Unique colors like the ones mentioned above (purple, some blues, pink, black, red, and a few others) can cost over $1,000 per piece. Red sea glass is worth the most as it’s the rarest color.

Another component is how the piece is used. Sea glass jewelry can cost up to several hundred dollars. Other pieces made, including home decor and ornaments, can also be worth some money.

The condition of the piece of glass matters, too. If it’s chipped, scratched, or significantly discolored, it won’t be worth as much.

Where to Find Sea Glass

While you can’t find sea glass everywhere, there are many places you can. We often hear Fort Bragg, CA is the go-to spot, but here are even more of the best sea glass beaches:

  • Sea Glass Beach, California (US)
  • Mowry Beach, Maine (US)
  • Sea Glass Beach, Washington (US)
  • Sea Glass Beach, Hawaii (US)
  • The Outer Banks, North Carolina (US)
  • Steklyashka Beach, Vladivostok (Russia)
  • Black Bay Beach, Ireland Island (Bermuda)
  • Glass Beach, Seaham (Europe)
  • Abaco Islands (Bahamas)

While these are some of the ultimate seaside destinations with genuine sea glass gems, there are many others you can find it! Here’s a unique sea glass museum in Fort Bragg, too.

You can find these stunning gems at many beaches around the world.
You can find these stunning gems at many beaches around the world. (Credit: elinaxx1v/Shutterstock)

Tips for Finding Sea Glass

If you’re ready for your next adventure to find beautiful sea glass, here are some top tips to help you!

Talk to the locals.

If you’re exploring a new-to-you area, it’s almost always helpful to talk to the locals. Find out which spots are best for finding sea glass. Usually, the locals are going to know the hidden gem locations better than anyone.

Look at the right time.

The best times to look for sea glass are during spring tides when the current is strong and a low tide after a substantial storm. As sand is washed away during these events, it’s much easier to spot sea glass on the ocean floor.

Don’t rush.

Unless you’re at a beach that’s filled with sea glass, like the ones shared above, it’s not always easy to find right away. Make sure you give yourself up to a couple of hours.

Keep an eye out for deposits.

If you’re at a beach that’s known for sea glass and you’re unable to find it, find the areas where you see stones, shells, and other debris. This indicates a surge of waves and currents, and that’s where you’re likely going to find it.

Skip the sandy beaches.

Oftentimes, we enjoy sandy beaches most. But, when it comes to finding sea glass, pebbly beaches with a lot of rocks are the best!

Use the sun.

If possible, keep the sun behind you and look for sparkles when you’re searching for sea glass. This allows you to see glints as the sun catches a piece of sea glass. And, if you can avoid them, don’t wear sunglasses as wearing them can reduce the flash and glare of the sun, causing you to overlook sea glass.

Go early.

If you’re visiting a popular sea glass shore, arrive early. You know what they say – the early bird gets the worm.

Leave it at the beach.

While it’s tempting to take gorgeous sea glass home, many beaches aim to preserve this natural beauty. Many years ago, it wasn’t necessarily appreciated when these objects were essentially being littered in and around the ocean. However, it’s come to be a beautiful sight.

Many beaches actually have signs which prohibit you from taking it home. While many people want to take it home to collect, make sea glass jewelry, or sell, this is one of those treasures we should enjoy for exactly what it is. And, it never hurts to take a few cool photos of it for keepsake!

Final Thoughts

Sea glass (saltwater) and beach glass (freshwater) are unique objects. While it was once considered litter, it’s now become a beautiful part of nature. While many people enjoy looking for it and even collecting it, many beaches aim to preserve it. It’s important to be mindful of taking it, where others aren’t able to appreciate it.

We hope you enjoyed learning about sea glass – where it came from, what it looks like, and where to find it. It’s easily one of our favorite beach activities!

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