8 Exceptional Beaches for Seaside Treasure Hunting

A sandy beach meets the Pacific Ocean on a hilly coastline under blue skies

Fred von Lohmann / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Beachcombing, the act of scanning a beach for objects of interest, like seashells, glass, and other attractive items, requires little effort and can be incredibly rewarding. While one can search for interesting objects on almost any beach, the most exceptional locations for seaside treasure hunting are fairly remote, provide a distinctive atmosphere, and contain unique and alluring finds. From the Outer Banks of North Carolina to the white sands of Florida’s Gulf Coast, these beachcombing hotspots each offer an unforgettable treasure hunting experience. And, before taking to the sand, it is important to be aware of any regulations that might restrict which items can be collected from the area.

Here are eight exceptional beaches for seaside treasure hunting that will delight discoverers of all ages.

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Calvert Cliffs State Park

A sandy beach on a partially cloudy day at Calvert Cliffs State Park in Maryland

Kyle Hartshorn / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The beaches of Calvert Cliffs State Park in Lusby, Maryland, are located in the Chesapeake Bay — a region well-known to treasure hunters for its fossilized megalodon teeth. Other treasures from the Miocene era that can be found on the beaches include the fossilized teeth of dolphins, whales, and crocodiles. Collecting fossils from the cliffs themselves should be avoided, as there is a danger of cliff collapse.

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Dead Horse Bay

A glass-covered beach at Dead Horse Bay at sunset

edwardhblake / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Dead Horse Bay in Brooklyn, New York was once home to a smattering of 19th century glue factories, fertilizer plants (hence the delightful name), and other unsavory industrial enterprises. Since the 1950s, the gigantic decommissioned landfill under the bay's marshes has been steadily leaking its contents. For years, treasure hunters have enjoyed combing through the artifacts that have bubbled up to the surface: apothecary bottles, creepy porcelain dolls, machinery, shoes, rotary telephones, and other relics of a time gone by. For a day of beachcombing with a distinctly post-apocalyptic vibe, you can’t beat Dead Horse Bay.

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Glass Beach

A closeup of small, smooth rocks and glass on Glass Beach in California

NWY69 / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Part of MacKerricher State Park in beautiful Mendocino County, California, Glass Beach is a well-trafficked destination for travelers who venture off of Highway 1 for some fun in the sand. The smoothed glass that covers the beach is the byproduct of decades of unchecked garbage dumping in the area. While extensive cleanup efforts have erased much of the man-made damage inflicted on the beach, the glass, broken down over the years into sand-polished iridescent shards, remains. And although removal of glass from the beach is not permitted, the extraordinary views make for a beautiful backdrop for a day of treasure hunting.

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Lincoln City, Oregon

The setting sun reflects onto the thin layer of water covering the sand on a beach in Lincoln City, Oregon

brx0 / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Lincoln City, located on Oregon’s central coast, is a town that truly celebrates maritime treasure hunting. Every day of the year, visitors to the city can partake in a treasure-hunting event called Finders Keepers. It's like a daily Easter egg hunt, but rather than eggs, participants search the sand for colorful, hand-blown glass fishing floats, each signed and numbered by a local artist — and, yep, you find it, you keep it.

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Outer Banks

Small waves crash into the beach on Ocracoke Island on the Outerbanks in North Carolina

Amy Meredith / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Shelling is serious business on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The collection of barrier islands offer many worthwhile spots, like Ocracoke Island, to root in the sand for regional specialties like whelks, scallops, coquina clams, and, North Carolina’s state shell, the elusive Scotch bonnet. And if you want to blend in with the locals, be aware that this is a two-bucket kind of place — one bucket for treasures and another for trash that you may find along the way.

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Padre Island National Seashore

A head-on view of the sandy beach and choppy water at Padre Island National Seashore

Ted Gresham / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

With more than 70 miles of undeveloped beaches along the Gulf of Mexico, Padre Island National Seashore in Texas offers ample room for retrieving sea shell treasures from the surf. You’re free to keep up to five gallons of items found within the seashore, provided that you avoid scooping up shells with animals living in them,

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Sanibel Island

A beach at Sanibel Island during sunset

Jeremy T. Hetzel / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Folks from all over flock to Sanibel Island to survey the island’s white sand beaches for a variety of seashell types, like junonia and coquina. First-time visitors might be struck by the poor posture that afflicts many of those on the shrimp-shaped island. This, of course, is what’s called the “Sanibel Stoop” — the official stance of the island’s beachcombing conchologists. And even if you’d rather not join in the shell-scavenging melee, Sanibel’s Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum, home to over 150,000 specimens, is still very much worth a visit.

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Shipwreck Beach

The rocky, reddish sand of Shipwreck Beach meets the ocean waters on a partly cloudy day

James Abbott / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The Hawaiian Islands are full of treasure-strewn expanses of sand, providing hunters with the usual finds of sea glass, sea beans, and driftwood. But for those looking to avoid the puka shell-collecting masses, the best hunting grounds can be found off the beaten path. The journey required to reach Kaiolohia, or Shipwreck Beach, from Lanai’s resorts may be daunting, but the payoff is well worth it. With six miles of wild and windswept coastline, Shipwreck Beach offers beachcombing booty like intricate seashells and Japanese glass floats, and, perhaps best of all, reprieve from the crowds.