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