North Carolina Sea Glass: Beachcombing in the Outer Banks

Brown sea glass found on a beach in North Carolina

My idea of a great beach vacation includes quiet beaches and a storm or two. North Carolina's Outer Banks in March? I'm in!

Actually, mid March turned out to be the perfect time to visit. The weather was mild and mostly dry, while restaurants and other attractions were starting to open up ready for the summer season.

Best of all, we were able to rent a beach house without paying summer prices!

North Carolina isn't really known for sea glass. Most of the beaches were sandy and had plenty of amazing sea shells, so that was pretty exciting! We did find some nice pieces of sea glass as well and I'm going to share the best beaches we found.

Seashells found while beachcombing on Outer Banks beaches

There are also some great lighthouses to visit, the 'Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum' and, of course, the Wright Brothers National Memorial at Kitty Hawk.

So let's get into it... where are the best beaches to find sea glass in North Carolina?


Pea Island

This was my favorite beach on the Outer Banks. There were only a couple of pieces of sea glass, but a lot of seashells.

It's been mentioned that Pea Island is a great beach to hunt for sharks teeth. We didn't find any but I can definitely see why It would be as the beach was covered in whole seashells.

I spotted brightly colored calico scallops, shark's eye, oysters, many pieces of wampum, a few giant cockles, skate egg cases (also known as 'Mermaids Purse') and a little calico crab with pretty spotted body.

Access was very easy, too. We parked at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and crossed the highway onto the beach. We had to be a bit careful when crossing as there were a number of vehicles that were not obeying the speed limit!

I imagine that parking is much more of a challenge during the summer months, but there were not too many people about in March. Beachcombing is much more fun when you have the beach to yourself, right?!

I'm pretty sure I looked a bit wild as I moved from the high to low tide line and every place in between. This was my first time traveling to a beach that had so many seashells (even though I mostly only found pieces) and I felt like a kid in a candy store!

Seashells on Pea Island Beach, Outer Banks, North Carolina

The beach at Pea Island was covered with seashells.

Close-up of seashells on Pea Island Beach, Outer Banks, North Carolina

Plenty of beach treasures!

Sea glass on Pea Island Beach, Outer Banks

We found this smooth, clear piece of sea glass.

Sea glass and seashells found at Pea Island, North Carolina

I found my happy place! Skate egg cases, shark's eye, oysters, calico scallops, wampum and... of course... sea glass.

Green and blue sea glass found at Pea Island, Outer Banks

I found a couple nice pieces of cobalt blue sea glass, a really nice piece of green sea glass and some other pieces.

Sign outside Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, Outer Banks, North Carolina

We parked at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, Outer Banks, North Carolina

We didn't have time to visit the refuge.... next time!

Crosswalk outside Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, Outer Banks, North Carolina

Be careful of the traffic when you cross Highway NC12!

View of Pea Island Beach, Outer Banks, North Carolina

Pea Island beach is right next to Highway NC12.


Avon (Beach Access Ramp 34)

My second favorite beach was at Avon, next to Ramp 34. It was the closest beach to the house we rented which I'd love to say was down to clever planning... but it was just good luck!

We visited this beach a number of times as it was so close to where we were staying.

There were a good number of seashells here, including plenty of wampum discs that come from quahog clam shells. We also found a few pieces of sea glass and partial sand dollars, but wampum were the big find.

It's a lovely walk from the parking lot to the beach. We even saw some deer just off the boardwalk which was majestic!

Seashells on Avon beach, Outer Banks, North Carolina

There were plenty of seashells on Avon beach

Shells along the waters' edge at Avon beach, Outer Banks, North Carolina

Avon beach is very wide and popular with fishermen.

Blue sea glass, calico scallops, oysters, whelks, wampum and other beachcombing finds.

Quite a haul! We found blue and aqua sea glass, calico scallops, oysters, whelks, wampum and more!

Sea glass found at Avon Beach (Ramp 34) Outer Banks, North Carolina

During one visit, we found 10 nice pieces of sea glass after only 30 minutes of beachcombing.

Blue sea glass formed from a lightbulb insulator

I love this blue lightbulb insulator sea glass nub!

Boardwalk to Avon beach, Outer Banks, North Carolina

From the small parking lot, walk down the boardwalk.

View of Avon beach, Outer Banks, North Carolina

You'll soon hit the sand!

Entrance to Beach Access Ramp 34), Avon, Outer Banks, North Carolina

Put "avon ramp 34" into GPS and you'll head to the right spot.

ORV Permit sign at Avon (Beach Access Ramp 34), Outer Banks, North Carolina

If you prefer to drive onto the beach itself, there are designated off-road vehicle (ORV) routes and Ramp 34 is one of them.

You have to buy, print and display a permit which was $50 for 10 days when we visited.

While a four-wheel drive vehicle is not a requirement, there are plenty of warnings that you're very much on your own if you get stuck. I doubt it's cheap to get towed!

You also need to carry some equipment:

  • Low-pressure tire gauge
  • Jack and jack support board
  • Shovel

Cape Hatteras National Seashore strongly recommends that tire pressure be lowered to at least 20 psi. The softer the sand, the lower the pressure needed.

They say to reinflate tires to normal pressure after returning to paved roads and that many local businesses have air pumps.


Hatteras Beach

This was the first beach we visited on our trip and I didn't want to leave it!

We started by visiting the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. There are plenty of interesting exhibits and we learned a lot about shipwrecks. Entry is by donation, there's plenty of free parking and clean bathrooms (always a good find!).

Across the street, we found the beach. I was amazed by the large, smooth, thick seashells. My other half kept reminding me that we had lots more beaches to visit, then pretty much dragged me back to the car!

View of Hatteras beach, North Carolina

Beginning my search for beach treasures.

Searching for sea glass on Hatteras beach, North Carolina

Sometimes, you gotta get down in the sand!

Seashells on Hatteras beach, North Carolina

Hatteras Beach is covered with fantastic seashells.

Calico scallop shells found at Hatteras Beach, Outer Banks

Some pretty calico scallop shells and one the tiniest quahog shells I've ever found.

Heart-shaped seashells found at Hatteras Beach, Outer Banks

I added plenty of heart-shaped pieces of seashells to my growing collection of beachcombed treasures.

Seashell art from seashells found at Hatteras Beach, Outer Banks

After I wash all the seashells and sea glass I 'LOVE' to make gifts for our friends and family.

Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, Hatteras, North Carolina

The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum is well worth a visit.

Boardwalk to Hatteras beach, North Carolina

Opposite the musem is a boardwalk that leads to the beach.


Buxton (Beach Access Ramp 43)

My standard question when out and about is, "do you know where I can find sea glass around here?"

The lady at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum gift shop suggested that we put "Cape Point Campground" into our GPS and go past the turning to Ramp 43.... so we did and it turned out to be a great tip!

We found some sea glass and very smooth wampum, perhaps jewelry quality if I can drill the seashells without them breaking. Fingers crossed for that!

There was also a very cool lighthouse, Cape Hatteras Light Station. Unfortunately, we couldn't climb to the top as it was undergoing important restoration work.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Outer Banks, North Carolina

According to the National Park Service, "The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse protects one of the most hazardous sections of the Atlantic Coast. Offshore of Cape Hatteras, the Gulf Stream collides with the Virginia Drift, a branch of the Labrador Current from Canada. This current forces southbound ships into a dangerous twelve-mile long sandbar called Diamond Shoals."

"Hundreds and possibly thousands of shipwrecks in this area have given it the reputation as the Graveyard of the Atlantic."

Shipwrecks? That means sea glass, right?!

Buxton Beach, Hatteras Island, North Carolina

There were plenty of seashells and gravel patches along the sandy beach.

Seashells washing up on Buxton Beach, Hatteras Island, North Carolina

Surely there will be some sea glass...

Sea glass on Buxton Beach, Hatteras Island

Yes! Found some!

Sea glass found at Buxton Beach, Hatteras Island

My imagination tells me that this piece came from a shipwreck...

Smoothed shells found at Buxton Beach (Ramp 43) Outer Banks

Whether the shells are simply broken and smoothed by the waves or etched by some sort of hungry snail, I find the shapes and patterns so interesting and beautiful. I think the shell in the middle says Cal for California, my home state!

Cape Hatteras National Seashore (Ramp 43) at Buxton, North Carolina

Ramp 43 is easy to find and there's plenty of parking.

On our way back to NC12, we spotted a sign pointing us towards the "WWII British Sailor Cemetery".

In April 1942, the British armed tanker San Delfino was sunk by a German U-boat off the coast of Pea Island. Two of the victims are buried here; Fourth Engineer Officer Michael Cairns of the Royal Merchant Navy (who was aged just 28 when he died) and an unknown soldier. There's an annual ceremony to honor their service.

The graveyard is leased in perpetuity to the British Commonwealth for as long as the WWII sailors are buried there.

WWII British Sailor Cemetary, Hatteras Island, North Carolina

WWII British Sailor Cemetery at Buxton, North Carolina


Frisco Beach

We spotted Frisco Beach while driving from our rental house at Avon to Hatteras.

There was a large parking lot and we sat in the car for 10 minutes while a rain shower passed overhead. Once we hit the beach, we found lots of great seashells and a few pieces of sea glass.

View of Frisco Beach, Cape Hatteras Island

Gravel patches! Near the top of a sea glass hunter's wish list!

Sea glass and seashells found at Frisco Beach, North Carolina

I was really hoping to find a whole Scotch bonnet (the official state shell of North Carolina) but I only found pieces of them as they are so delicate. I also found some partial lightning whelks and a few pieces of sea glass.

Seashell found on Frisco Beach, Cape Hatteras Island

We found some terrific seashells at Frisco Beach!


Salvo (Beach Access Ramp 23)

I like to stay positive whenever I can... but... don't bother with the beach at Ramp 23!

There was no boardwalk alongside the ramp, so we walked quite a distance on soft sand from the parking lot. It was tiring and, at the end of it all, we found a sandy beach with very few seashells and definitely no sea glass.

Of course, on a different day you may find lots of treasures. If you do, please let me know.

Salvo (Beach Access Ramp 23) Outer Banks, North Carolina

There's no boardwalk at Ramp 23 and a long(ish) walk on soft sand.

View of the Beach at Salvo, Outer Banks, North Carolina

A great looking beach, but no good for beachcombing.


Salvo (Beach Access Ramp 25)

Ramp 25 is a short drive away, with easy parking and (huzzah!) a boardwalk.

We didn't find much here either, so we didn't stay long. A quick photo and on to the next!

View of the Beach at Salvo, Outer Banks, North Carolina

The boardwalks make beach access much easier.


Salvo (Beach Access Ramp 27)

A little further south, we came across the beach at Ramp 27.

Again, there was a boardwalk that made beach access easy and we noticed more seashells. We even found a piece of sea glass! The tide had started to come in by this point, so perhaps that meant more beach treasure was on the way.

Salvo (Beach Access Ramp 27) Outer Banks, North Carolina

Easy access to the beach via the boardwalk.

View of the Beach at Salvo, Outer Banks, North Carolina

Quite a few seashells littered the sand.

Seashells washing up at Salvo Beach, Outer Banks, North Carolina

The tide was coming in and we watched more seashells wash up with each wave.

Seashells found at Salvo Beach (Ramp 27) Outer Banks

I love wampum! We also found some sea glass, tiny quahog clam shells, scallops, giant cockles, oysters and part of a whelk.


Salvo (Beach Access Ramp 30)

No boardwalk at this beach, but we were getting closer to (our favorite) Ramp 34 again. We were happy to walk through soft sand to the beach, ever hopeful of finding some treasure.

It turned out to be a fairly good beach for seashells (yay!) but we didn't find any sea glass (boo!).

Salvo (Beach Access Ramp 30) Outer Banks, North Carolina

There's no boardwalk at Ramp 30

View of the Beach at Salvo, Outer Banks, North Carolina

A really nice beach, but no sea glass on the day we visited.

A clam shell found at Salvo Beach (Ramp 30)

I think this is a piece of some kind of clam shell but I'm not sure what happened to it. Leave a comment if you know!


Coquina Beach, Nags Head

At the end of our Outer Banks adventure, we turned back north.

This is Ramp 2 so right at the start of Cape Hatteras National Seashore (we didn't find Ramp 1). It was a fairly quick stop as we were keen to reach Corolla and the northern end of the Outer Banks. We did find some seashells, but no sea glass.

National Park Service sign, Coquina Beach

There are lots of amenities at Coquina Beach.

Boardwalk leading to Coquina Beach, Nags Head

One boardwalk leads to the beach and the other to a lookout point.

View of Coquina Beach, Nags Head

Perhaps a bit too sandy for sea glass...

Before leaving Cape Hatteras, we checked out another lighthouse - Bodie Island Light Station - which was celebrating its 150th year!

Bodie Island Lighthouse, North Carolina

Bodie Island Light Station


Corolla Village

Our final stop on the Outer Banks was Corolla Village Beach at the northern tip.

On the way, we stopped at the Wright Brothers National Memorial at Kitty Hawk (surprisingly amazing) and then had lunch at Duck Deli. I'm now a huge fan of Carolina BBQ and you will be too when you visit. Dang!

The beach at Corolla Village was quite sandy so we were not expecting to find much, but we came away with some nice seashells and wampum. The beach was busier than the others we'd visited, so during the summer I can imagine it's packed!

Corolla is famous for wild horses and although we were in a four-wheel drive vehicle, we did not have the required ORV permit or equipment to go see them. Also, with a long drive ahead, who wants to fiddle about with tire pressure?!

Corolla Village Beach, Currituck, Outer Banks

Definitely a beach for sunbathers.

View of Corolla Village Beach, Currituck, Outer Banks

Very sandy, but we did find some nice seashells.

Oyster and cockle shells found at Corolla Village Beach, North Carolina

Here are a few small oyster and cockle shells found at Corolla Village Beach.

Crab on Corolla Village Beach, Currituck, Outer Banks

This little guy thanked us for visiting the Outer Banks and wished us a safe journey home (probably).

Have you been sea glass hunting in North Carolina?

Tell me all about it in the comments below!

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