My husband, Todd, and I walked the beach on a calm fall afternoon in Lincoln City. The sky a pale blue, the shore wide—meeting a navy ocean on one side and pastel-colored homes on the other. On this seven-mile stretch of Oregon Coast, between mid-October and Memorial Day, you encounter the expected (crisp winds, strolling families, colorful kites, etc.)—but, if you look a little closer, you might uncover a secret.
Looking around, I noticed beachgoers peering into crevices behind driftwood, scanning the sand systematically and poking around in clumps of beach grass. The reason was Finders Keepers, a treasure hunt to find a piece of local, handmade art.
Every year, a handful of clandestine Lincoln City residents called Float Fairies distribute almost 3,000 hand-blown glass floats on the city’s beaches, leaving them behind to be found by a lucky discoverer who gets to keep the prize. Floats are comparable to oversized, hollow marbles—colorful globes with swirling patterns that range in size from baseball to basketball.
The Finders Keepers program is a nostalgic nod to the erstwhile pastime of searching for Japanese net floats—blown glass balls occasionally transported to the Oregon Coast by tides. I grew up on the Oregon Coast, and recall searching for these clear or light blue glass treasures decades ago. The floats were rare, and finding one was a major thrill. The two my family possessed were displayed with reverence in our home. Searching here, today, brought back the thrill of the hunt.
Find a glass float, keep a glass float.
“The reason was Finders Keepers, a treasure hunt to find a piece of local, handmade art.”
Today, net floats are made from plastic. But Lincoln City recreates the old-time experience by having regional artists fashion beautiful new glass floats in a rainbow of colors, for Float Fairies to tuck away between the high tide line and below the beach embankment, between Roads End and Siletz Bay. Besides those parameters, it was anyone’s guess where the floats might be placed on any given day. Where should we begin?
We decided to shoot for the center of town, right by the D River, and set out, walking south on our quest. Todd and I scoured the beach in search of a float—the mystery was half of the fun. Motivation was also high—we knew that if we should be lucky enough to find a float, the magic of the discovery would be ours forever.
We spent a couple of hours walking the stretch of sand. Searching for a float turned out to be addictive—we were reluctant to give up, pushing on just a little bit farther in case a float was just ahead. We carefully searched through waist-high, reedy beach grasses at the top of the sand, circled obstacles like driftwood to inspect all of the hidden angles and kept our eye on other people in case they knew something we didn’t. That was part of the fun, too—laughing with other beach-goers as we scrambled around hoping to reach the treasure before anyone else did.
About half of each year’s annual fleet of floats is made at the Jennifer Sears Glass Art Studio in the Taft District of Lincoln City. The space is half art studio, half art gallery. Inside, see a vast array of glass floats made in an unlimited variety of colors and designs. Swirled orbs that look like Jupiter, like a ball of fire and like the great blue swirling sea itself.
“We spent a couple of hours walking the stretch of sand. Searching for a float turned out to be addictive...”
Glass floats come in a range of sizes and beautiful colors.
Adjacent to the gallery is the studio, where visitors can watch glass blowing in progress, or give it a try themselves. Artists dip molten glass from a row of large furnaces firing away at 2,000 degrees, turning and sculpting the glass into floats and other pieces of art, such as vases, bowls and paperweights.
A stretch of land with no stone unturned lay behind us, the rest of the shore and its hidden treasures tempting us forward. Nearly 3,000 floats were created for this year’s event—we had to come across one.
I look to the sea again, inching closer to where we are with each wave. I look back to the homes, up on sandy hills that progressively get greener with each blade of grass.
With each step, I feel that Todd and I are getting closer to finding a float. It’s the thrill of the hunt that keeps us moving forward, each uncovered section of the beach a new discovery for us—whether or not a float is revealed there.
Look for floats on seven miles of Lincoln City beaches, between mid-October and Memorial Day. Book your getaway today!!
Nothing beats the victorious feeling of finding a one-of-a-kind treasure.