Although the color may vary depending on the location, sand is definitely one of the first elements that come to mind when people think about beaches. But is sand really necessary to call a place a beach? What if instead of sand, a beach was covered in tiny seashells no bigger than your fingernail? How about pebbles so smooth you could triple-skip them across the water’s surface? From the multi-hued Glass Beach in California to the salt-rimmed coastlines of Israel’s Dead Sea, there is living proof that sand definitely doesn’t make or break a beach.
Where: Glass Beach, California
What You’ll Find: Smooth, colorful glass pieces
Who would have thought that a dumping ground would become a thing of beauty? At California’s Glass Beach in MacKerricher State Park, that’s exactly what happened. In the early 1900s, residents from the Fort Bragg area used the beach as a landfill. Glass from “The Dumps” didn’t break down and dissolve in the waters like the other trash; instead it somersaulted in the waves and became the small, smooth pieces that you can find here today.
ShutterstockWhere: Mineral Beach, Dead Sea, Israel
What You’ll Find: Salt and mud
Ever heard of Dead Sea salt? Travel to Mineral Beach in Israel and you will see where skincare companies are scooping up the crystals and mud that sells for big bucks in the U.S. The beach is crusted with salt and smooth mud that swimmers cake on their bodies before taking a very buoyant swim in the sea’s saline waters.
Where: Trá an Dóilín, County Galway, Ireland
What You’ll Find: Tiny coral fragments
You don’t have to snorkel to see coral. At Trá an Dóilín, you can walk a beach not made of sand, but of very small coral-like fragments known as maerl (coralline red algea). Maerl is often taken from the ocean and processed into a fine powder that is used as organic garden fertilizer.
ShutterstockWhere: Shell Beach, Western Australia
What You’ll Find: Oodles of seashells
Shell Beach in Western Australia is every beachcomber’s dream come true. At this Shark Bay spot, beachgoers can walk along an entire coastline covered in cockle shells, reaching up to depths of 30 feet! Shell Beach is one of only two beaches in the world that are completely made of seashells.
Where: Lake Superior, Minnesota
What You’ll Find: Smooth, colorful pebbles – and maybe an agate or two
Along Lake Superior’s shoreline in Minnesota, you have a better chance of finding rocks, not sand. The North Shore is known for its pebble beaches formed by the constant lake waves tumbling rocks like a polishing machine. Smooth stones no larger than your palm scatter the beaches and offer a very photogenic palette of reds, greys and earth tones. Rock-pickers love to troll these grounds for agates, too.
ShutterstockWhere: Salton Sea, California
What You’ll Find: Fish bones
Have you ever seen a massive amount of spiny fish bones? If you ever want to, head to the strange Salton Sea coastline. Over the years, the rising salt levels in this California desert lake has made it impossible for many types of fish to survive. The result? A beach full of pale, fragile fish bones and remains.
Where: Bowling Ball Beach, California
What You’ll Find: Smooth, round rocks that look like bowling balls
Although this beach is technically made of sand, you’ll be hard-pressed to find another beach that is adorned with rocks like the ones at California’s Bowling Ball Beach. Close to Schooner Gulf State Beach, this unique coastline boasts round boulders that were created by erosion of the surrounding mudstone over several years. You can get the best shots of this beach at low tide.
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