Hunt for Treasure

Grayland Beach
WHERE IT IS: South of Grays Harbor on the Olympic Peninsula 
DRIVE TIME FROM DOWNTOWN: 2½ hours
WHAT TO BRING: The wide, padded shoulder strap and open-entry design of Kavu’s “Climber” bag make it the perfect receptacle for new pet rocks and foraged treasures. $50 at Kavu, 5419 Ballard Ave NW, Ballard, 206-783-0060; kavu.com

Oh, the elusive glass fishing float. Like a shrunken, drunken sailor adrift on the open water and too in love with the sea—or inebriated—to come ashore, it’s a rare and exciting find on Pacific Northwest beaches. You can count yourself lucky these days if you ever spot one swaddled in kelp on a sandy shore (as opposed to on the shelves of a ramshackle beachside trinket shop or on eBay), but your best bet is at Grayland Beach. For whatever reason—the California Current, back swirls from Willapa Bay, top-secret experimental tractor beams installed underwater—the stormy spring season brings an impressive flotilla of flotsam that runs aground on the 13 miles of beach between the Grays Harbor County line and North Cove.

Schedule your walks along the soft, powdery sands at Grayland exclusively for the rainy months, though, and you’ll miss one of the best all-purpose beach experiences along Washington’s coast: Like at Ocean Shores, you’ll find an expansive, mostly flat shoreline that slips smoothly into the cold Pacific waters. But here, instead of the scrubby shrubs that dot the dunes on the other side of Grays Harbor, a line of stoic pine trees guards the beach and fends off the touristy trappings of lesser coastal communities. You can bring a kite, the blueprints for your latest sand-castle creation, or even just a towel for lazy weekend lounging; but if you’re lucky, you may go home with an extra treasure to say you’ve been there.

 

Explore Tide Pools

Birch Bay
WHERE IT IS: 20 miles north of Bellingham, west of I-5 
DRIVE TIME FROM DOWNTOWN: 2 hours 
WHAT TO BRING: Wood-framed screen for sorting shells from sand and mud, a camera for photographing your finds, and a bucket—because, let’s face it, you’re going to take a few home.

Let’s get this nonjudgmental, eco-friendly disclaimer out of the way up front: Even if shell-collecting isn’t outlawed at a given beach, Rule Number One in the Good Steward’s Manifesto (“take nothing and leave only footprints”) applies to sand scavengers just the same. Set your conservationist compass accordingly before you arrive in Birch Bay State Park, where the shells are bountiful and the official restrictions are few; once you step onto its organism-rich sands the temptation to stuff a bucket with the booty you’re likely to uncover could overwhelm your otherwise enviro-conscious code of ethics.

It’s not only the empty armor left by legions of critters that draws shell gatherers to this lip of land just south of the BC border; it’s the topography, too. At high tide the publicly accessible mile-and-a-half-long stretch of beach at Birch Bay is your average—if not scenic—mix of sand and gravel. At low tide the shallow, warm waters recede to expose hundreds of yards of tide pools, eelgrass, and sandbars, not to mention all the discarded artistic remains of cockles, moon snails, and mossy chitons you could fit in your pockets…if, that is, you weren’t worried about leaving the beach as you found it.