Jan 28, 2022

A Guide to Beachcombing on the Outer Banks

Souvenirs With Deep-Sea Secrets

WWII military helmet liner
Photos by courtesy of Lauren and Tom Pirozzi.

Imagine strolling along a beautiful Outer Banks beach when you stumble across a piece of history. That’s exactly what happened to a couple of our homeowners, Lauren and Tom Pirozzi, while walking near their vacation rental in Corolla. What resembled a horseshoe crab shell turned out to be an old WWII military helmet liner. This exciting find reminds us of why we love beachcombing on the Outer Banks, where so many treasures with incredible stories wash ashore! If you’re out to find your own souvenir with a deep-sea secret, you’ve come to the right place.

beachcombing on the outer banks

What is beachcombing?

It’s pretty simple! Beachcombing is the act of “combing” or searching for items on the beach. While some people choose to use metal detectors, others simply use a close eye. Regardless, beachcombing takes a lot of patience and a bit of insider knowledge.

tide chart
Use the Twiddy app to access current tide conditions right from your phone.

Where and when should I go out?

Any beach in OBX has the potential to hold treasures, but (between us) we often have the best luck in Corolla or the 4×4. However, we must admit, it’s more about the timing. We start searching a couple of hours before low tide and a couple of hours after the tide begins rising. Luckily, we have this handy tide chart to help you keep track! And while beachcombing is a perfect year-round activity, you will find that our winter and spring storms tend to wash more onto our shores.


What should I look out for?

The Outer Banks is known for intercepting all sorts of strange things on its beaches — thousands of bags of Doritos, the carcass of a gargoyle-looking creature, a haunted portrait of the late Theodosia Burr Alston. But, perhaps, what you will have more luck finding are sea stars, shells, sea glass, and fulgurite!

  • Sea Stars: Commonly called starfish, sea stars are not actually fish but are more closely related to sea urchins. Because these are living creatures, be sure never to take a sea star from the ocean. Likewise, if a beached sea star is still soft, give them a hand and place them back into the water. However, if you happen upon a fully dried up sea star, consider it a memento frozen in time. If you find one sea star, you’re more than likely to find more!
  • Shells: Knowing what kinds of shells you might find makes shelling all the more rewarding. Check out our Guide to Shelling on the Outer Banks for a quick catalog of common (and not-so-common) shells! Focus your efforts on shell beds, and just be sure to check for any little creatures still living in them.
obx seaglass
Photos by courtesy of Julie Santangelo.
  • Sea Glass: Sea glass is the beautiful intersection of history and nature. Formed over the course of 20+ years, sea glass is the result of discarded jars, bottles, and other glass objects ending up in the water and being tossed and tumbled through sand and whipping waves. A “completed” piece has gentle edges with a frosty, smooth exterior. Certain glass colors are rare and more difficult to find (e.g. orange and red) due to the history of their use and availability. More often, you will find sea glass in shades of blue, green, and brown. Like shells, sea glass tends to collect in shell beds, so look for a “dirty” beach to find these jewels of the sea. For a wonderfully comprehensive look at sea glass, head over to Island Bookstore to pick up a copy of “The Ultimate Guide to Sea Glass” by Mary Beth Beuke.
  • Fulgurite: Possibly the most difficult natural treasure to find is fulgurite due to its similar appearance to rock. However, these fantastic pieces of “fossilized lightning” are created when a strong electrical discharge strikes the sand. Keep a close eye on branching tubes in the sand that resembles the path a lightning bolt may take. Because there is no way to date fulgurites, for all us beachcombers know, million years old organic sculptures could be out there waiting for us.

Do’s and Don’ts

When it comes to beachcombing, we try to remember two important things:

  1. Leave the beach better than you found it! If you find trash, please help us preserve our beautiful natural resources by discarding anything that may be harmful to the environment.
  2. Have fun! Beachcombing should be an enjoyable, rewarding, and even relaxing activity. Try out these tips and tricks and see what treasures you can find! Make sure to tag us on our Facebook and Instagram.

Laurel Burgam

Laurel Burgam

Jan 28, 2022

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