Beachcombing is the seemingly involuntary searching of the beach for things of value or of interest, and is one of the top activities people enjoy on the Oregon Coast. While randomly wandering along the sand, some of the things you may look for are agates, fossils, jade, jasper, and endless supplies of interesting and sometimes exotic driftwood after the winter storms and king tides. If you’re really lucky, you’ll spy a rare Japanese glass float. Some seasoned beachcombers say there over a million of them still floating in the ocean currents today. In December, one lucky beachcomber found 3 of them near Newport. It takes a specific directional windstorm for them to show up on our coastline. Other interesting finds are natural beach balls (sometimes called “whale burps”) and petrified wood. You’re not likely to find intact shells on the Oregon Coast. The sea gulls and crashing waves tend to get them before we do. The sea gulls usually get the sand dollars first too, although sometimes you can still find them. The gray ones are alive, the white ones are not and are okay to take. Please remember to leave all live plants and animals in their habitat.
WHAT TO PACK
It’s a good idea to check the weather before you go so you are prepared. The Oregon Coast weather can change without much notice. If you come in the winter it can be very wet, windy, and cold. Wearing layers of clothing is a great idea. I would pack a heavy waterproof coat, gloves, and a warm hat that covers your ears, as the wind on the beach can be brutal. It’s always nice to have a bucket or a bag to put your collections in. If you bring a camera, be careful not to store it with things that could have salty sand on them, it can damage your valuables. Some people like to wear rubber boots to keep dry, hiking boots work great too. You will just want to wear something comfortable and waterproof. We actually had snow here on the coast a couple weeks ago, it’s unusual but it can happen.
If you come in the summer months you can skip the hat and gloves, although I would definitely recommend bringing a light jacket just in case. Summer days on the Oregon Coast can start out sunny and warm, but if it gets too hot inland it can fog up here and drastically cool off. It can be refreshing, but if you’re at the beach and not prepared, it can get pretty chilly. I usually just pack these things with us when we go to the beach and more times than not, we end up needing them. You may want to bring water and a small snack, like nuts. You can easily walk for a couple miles before you realize how far you’ve gone.
The best time to go beachcombing is after a winter storm (ideally after a king tide) at low tide. You can pick up a tide booklet at sporting goods stores, marinas, the chamber of commerce, and other local businesses. You can also use a tide app (I use the Tides Near Me app) or click here for a tide chart for the Siletz Bay in Lincoln City. The storm surges bring a lot of things in with the water and washes away the sand exposing the rocks. The same happens with the sea cliffs, as they erode away new agates, fossils, and other treasures are exposed.
SOME OF WHAT YOU CAN FIND
Agates are one of the most sought after treasures to Oregon beachcombers. They come from the erosion on cliffs along beaches and rivers where they wash out to the ocean and get polished in the surf through time. They can be a variation of colors. Translucent brown and white is mostly what you want to keep an eye out for. Although, you can find yellow, clear, tan, gray, black, orange, and reddish colored ones. There are also rare blue agates and very rare pink agates. Carnelian agates are bright orange or amber colored and are very sought after. Agates and fossils are mostly made of silica formed in volcanic rock. They can also be found in sedimentary rock and are secondary deposition themselves. When polished in a rock tumbler, agates and jasper can be made into beautiful gems for unique jewelry.
Where to Find Agates
Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint-North of Oceanside on the Three Capes Loop
Oceanside Beach-North of Netarts
Lincoln City Beaches
Tierra Del Mar to Depoe Bay
Otter Rock to Newport
Beverly Beach, North of Newport
Lost Creek beach-South of Newport
Cape Perpetua-South of Waldport
Neptune State Scenic Viewpoint-South of Yachats
Strawberry Hill-South of Yachats
Yachats to Florence
Whisky Creek Beach-South of Charleston
Gold Beach to Otter Point
Cape Blanco from Sixes River to Port Orford (said to have some of the largest and most plentiful agates).
The best places to look are on beaches near rocky headlands and cliffs, however it is against the law to dig in cliffs because it can cause further erosion. Look in gravel beds and creeks leading to the water. The areas around Newport are some of the finest agate hunting areas in the world.
Hint: Look for a rock that is translucent and glows a little in the light. You’ll know for sure when you hold it up in the sunlight or you can use a flashlight.
Also in the quartz family (both agates and jasper are cryptocrystalline quartz), jasper is just an agate with minerals that give them color and very intriguing patterns. Jasper is an opaque, impure variety of silica and can be varied arrays of reds, yellow, brown or green in color, and rarely blue. The typical red color is due to iron inclusions. Patterns arise during the consolidation process forming flow and depositional patterns in the original silica rich sediment or volcanic ash. Jasper and agates are very similar in the aspect that they are created by the same minerals and processes. They are different, however in their looks and some are sought after more than others due to their unique appearances.
Where to Find Jasper
Otter Rock to Newport (Beverly Beach and Moolack Beach)
Yachats to Florence
Seven Devils Wayside (Flower Jasper)
Jasper can also be found in all the locations agates can be found in.
Hint: Jasper usually stands out when you see it, it tends to be more colorful than surrounding rocks.
Fossils are typically formed when something that was alive was buried and decayed. The hardest parts decay slower and, over time, are replaced by minerals that take on the shape of the bones or plant remains. Fossils have been mineralized, but aren’t always silica. They can also be pyrite and concretions of harder stone due to the petrification process of the fossil. Beaches in Lincoln County have exposures of sandstones and mudstones of the Astoria Formation 15-20 million years old. The Oregon Coast is known for finding a wide variety of Miocene-era marine and mammal bone fossils. Shell, fish, clam, snail, and plant fossils can also be found. Oregon is the last state in the nation that allows people to collect fossils on beaches without a permit. They can be collected as souvenirs and traded, however, they cannot be sold. Fossils are most abundant where there is a lot of erosion. One place this can be found is along beaches located north of Bandon. The Lincoln County coastline has a lot of sandstone that is easily eroded away which reveals the fossils. Although rare, nautilus shells are one of the most coveted finds.
Where to Find Fossils
Arcadia Beach State Recreation Site-South of Cannon Beach
Barview Jetty County Park-North of Garibaldi
Fogarty Creek State Park-South of Lincoln City
Beverly Beach-North of Newport
Moolack Beach-North of Newport
Agate Beach-North of Newport
Jump-off Joe-Newport’s Nye Beach
Seal Rock-South of Newport
Beaches North of Bandon
Cape Blanco-North of Port Orford
Hint: Thin white lines in rounded sandstone are a clue of a hidden fossil.
This sought after stone usually only occurs in metamorphic regions. It is often used to make gemstones because of it’s beautiful green color. Jade can also be a wide variety of colors that include white, lavender, yellow, blue, black, red, orange, and gray. The earliest objects made from jade were tools. It is a very hard material and was used to make tools because it is extremely tough and the breaks form sharp edges. It was used to make axes, knives, projectile points, scrapers, and other sharp objects for cutting. Jade is composed under immense pressures. The strength is determined by how well the layers are melded together.
In the 1800’s, miners reportedly mined for jade (Nephrite), shipping it to China. Agate Beach Chinese Jade Mine was North of Agate Beach near the town of Gold Beach, although much of it was mined out of California.
Where to Find Real Jade (Serpentinite)
At the mouth of the Pistol River is said to be one of the only places in Oregon that you can find real jade.
North of Agate Beach near the town of Gold Beach is supposed to be another place worth searching for genuine jade.
You will see a lot more of “Oregon Jade” here, which is a term used to refer to green jasper or green garnet found in Oregon.
Where to Find “Oregon Jade”
Between Netarts and Oceanside
Hint: Real jade cannot be scratched with a knife point, it’s nonmagnetic, won’t glitter or fracture like glass, and will be heavy for it’s size.
Driftwood is wood that has been floating and carried to the shore or beach by water of an ocean, sea, lake or river by wind, waves or tides. Many times during storms and heavy rains wood from the forests will come down the rivers and make its way down the river and settle on the beaches. Driftwood may be a nuisance to some waterfront areas, however it provides an excellent habitat for birds, plants, and other wildlife.
Some use it to make unique furniture, standard scenery in a fish tank or terrarium, and many other art pieces.
The “Old Man of the Lake” in Crater Lake is a full-size tree that has been bobbing vertically in the lake for more than a century. The tree has been well preserved from the cold water of the lake.
Building a fort out of driftwood is a lot of fun and is a great way to get out of the wind for a bit. The trick is to build them beyond the high tide line so that when the tide comes up it doesn’t demolish all of your hard work. If it’s a really good fort, it may stay standing until someone takes it apart to make it better or uses logs to build another one.
Where to Find Driftwood
During the winter months, you can find driftwood at just about any beach access point. Just be cautious, in the winter months the beach can be a dangerous place especially near logs.
Hint: Near the mouths of the larger rivers are usually great spots to find driftwood.
JAPANESE GLASS FLOATS
Japanese glass floats are hollow glass balls used to float the nets of Japanese fishermen for many years can still be found on the beaches of the Oregon Coast and other coastlines. They are usually a shade of transparent blue or green. The glass was primarily green since they were usually made from recycled sake bottles. Many people like to collect them for nautical decorations. Some of the best storms to search for these are in February, March, and April when the winds are coming straight out of the west. The best beaches are those on the North Coast. You can find the smaller glass floats at the high tide mark. However, the larger glass floats can be as far as ten feet above the high tide mark. The best time to look is at night with a flashlight, the shiny floats will really stand out. They can be as small as a golf ball and as large as 54 inches!
For a little more on Japanese glass floats and a lot more on Finders Keepers (hidden handmade glass floats to find and keep) see my post “Why Lincoln City is Oregon’s Best Kept Secret”.
Where to Find Japanese Glass Floats
North Coast Beaches (this is supposed to be the best place to find them)
The beaches between Lincoln City and Gleneden Beach are particularly good places to find them because they are long stretches of mostly sandy beaches.
South Coast Beaches (glass floats can be found here, but it is said to not be as often as the Central and Northern Coasts)
Hint: Poke around in the tidewrack (seaweed, similar marine vegetation, and debris deposited along a shoreline by a receding tide) with a stick since many times they may not be out in the open. You never know what you may uncover!
NATURAL BEACH BALLS
Natural beach balls are prickly balls that look like balls of straw and are found on beaches. They are often sold in gift shops as “whale burps”. While they don’t actually have anything to do with whales, they are really interesting looking. Oregon Sea Grant says that although no formal research has been done on these aquatic oddities, theory suggests that as lost monofilament rolls around in the waves near the shore, it gradually collects seaweed, small feathers, dune grass, pine needles, shell fragments, and other debris, forming into a tight bristly ball. Scientists have found surf balls made of fine vegetative strands on Egyptian beaches and surf balls twice the size of a large orange on Australian shores. Many people poke around with a stick in the tidewrack to find these. Speculation points to the waves curling action rolling the debris into perfect tightly woven balls or ovals. People love to collect them for decoration.
Where to Find Natural Beach Balls
They are found throughout the world, on beaches both marine and freshwater. Look in tide lines of debris along any beach that has tidewrack.
Hint: Make sure to look in the kelp that washes up in the tidewrack, sometimes they can be hiding in all of the debris that washes up in the high tide line.
Petrified wood is a fossil and is literally, wood turned to stone. It is the result of a tree or tree-like plant having completely transitioned to stone by the process of permineralization. All the materials have been replaced with minerals (mostly a silicate, such as quartz), while retaining the original structure. Unlike other types of fossils which are typically compressions or impressions, petrified wood is a three-dimensional representation of its original form. When looking for petrified wood look closely at the rocks for rings and wood grains. You can also find agatized petrified wood, they are really beautiful. You will clearly recognize the wood structure and the bark when you see it. In some cases the petrified wood can be opalized.
Ring-banded rhyolite is often confused with petrified wood and dubbed false petrified wood. It’s a silica rich extruded lava which typically indicates silicates nearby and fools people almost every time.
Where to Find Petrified Wood
Otter Rock to Newport – Beverly Beach and Moolack Beach
Yachats to Florence
Coos Bay (is one of the best places to look for really nice pieces)
Hint: One way to find petrified wood is to look for a dull sheen on the wet rocks that have a wood-grain pattern.
ONE LAST STOP
If there is any question as to what you have found while beachcombing, you’ve got to check out Rock Your World rock shop in Lincoln City! If you want to talk to someone who knows their rocks, you’re in the right place. They will help you identify your treasure for no charge. If you don’t find what you’re looking for on the beach, you can find a treasure of your own to take home and show your friends and family. They have something for everyone. They have some of the most unique, gorgeous jewelry and gemstones that you’ve got to see!
UPCOMING EVENTS FOR ROCKHOUNDS
If you would like to learn all the tricks of the trade, come to one (or all) of the upcoming Beachcombing Clinics in Lincoln City. You will be guided by local expert and owner of Rock Your World rock shop, Laura Joki, who will help you identify coastal treasures on the beach for a day of fun in the sand!
Yachats does an annual Agate Festival in January, where you can find gems, fossils, agates, minerals, vendors, lectures, and lots of family fun! I’m just a little late on this one, it was the 14-15th.
Newport holds the Oregon Coast Agate Club’s annual gem and mineral show, “Rockin’ the Coast” in June.
Watch for my upcoming monthly posts including festivals and events happening on the Oregon Coast!
Although beachcombing is fun, it’s always a good idea to keep safety in mind when visiting the Oregon Coast. The Pacific Ocean is very different than other coastlines you may have visited, therefore you may not be aware of the hazards. Always know what the tide is doing when beachcombing or any other beach activity. It’s good to be a little more cautious with the incoming tides. Oregon’s beaches can be hazardous in the winter, especially because of the “sneaker waves“. There is no warning of a sneaker wave, you won’t see a large wave coming. I have noticed when a sneaker wave is coming, all of a sudden the wave rhythm goes silent and the water comes rushing up higher and higher, not following the normal pattern. It swiftly brings along with it any debris and logs in the way which can be very dangerous. It only takes an inch of water to move a very heavy log. These waves have enough impact to knock an adult off their feet and carry them out to sea (this, unfortunately is not an exaggeration). The danger is that the sand fills the clothing, weighing you down, making it difficult to swim.
Collection should be done during low tides and calm weather following storms. Without going into the sad stories I’ve read and heard since living on the coast, I just want to pass this information along to help any new visitors that may read this and not be aware of the dangers. So, just don’t turn your back on the ocean and have a good time! The Oregon Coast is a very breathtaking place and is definitely a place to add to your bucket list, just be aware of your surroundings and have fun!