The Pacific Coast Highway that runs along much of California’s coastline is filled with one great attraction after another. With sights like Muir Woods, Half Moon Bay and Big Sur included in its route, it’s no wonder it’s regarded as one of the world’s most famous and gorgeous scenic routes. Heading even further north beyond its more well known world famous sites, the Pacific Coast Highway stretches through Mendocino county. It may be lessor known, but has attractions every bit as worthy of seeing—especially the unique Fort Bragg Glass Beach, a sea glass filled waterfront unlike any one you’ve ever seen before.
If it hasn’t yet made it onto your travel bucket list for epic road trips, let me convince you below just why it’s got to be added!
A Guide to the Fort Bragg Glass Beach in Northern California
About Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, California
The Fort Bragg Glass Beach is a a rare destination that you can find along the coast of northern California. It gained its name and attraction status from the small pieces of smoothed sea glass that the beach is covered with.
It is rumored that when a sailor is lost at sea, the mermaids cry brilliant sea glass tears that are washed ashore. In reality the sea glass is not the mermaids tears, but the aging effects from a local dump that was moved from the area in the mid 60s—a former dumping ground, turned sea glass mecca.
A few years ago, there was a plethora of glass showcased in all the possible colors, but as visitors have come and gone they have taken little pieces with them as souvenirs (please, don’t take the sea glass!). More and more these days you won’t see the colorful blanket of sea glass that once was, but more of a 60-40 pebble to glass mix. With that said, it is still uniquely beautiful and worth a visit!
But where the lack of color in the form of glasses may feel slightly disappointing, the beach makes up in awesome tiny tide pools in which you can discover just about anything from crabs to sea anemones.
Beyond the glass, the beach offers some awesome views of the ocean and has some awesome tiny tide pools in which you can discover just about anything from crabs to sea anemones. It can also turn out to be a rather sweet spot for an outing, whether by yourself or with your family.
History of the Beach
Originally this site used to be a trash dumpsite, until the mid-1900s. During this time period, the residents of Fort Bragg were in the habit of throwing their various household trash over the cliffs, so that the garbage would land on Fort Bragg Glass Beach. Not only was glass disposed of, but appliances and even vehicles. One suggested motive behind this was that parts of Fort Bragg were destroyed during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and there needed to be a place to dump the debris. It has also been said to be more of the norm back then to simply dump your trash into the sea, without giving it much thought beyond that.
Since then, the strong waves of the ocean cleaned the beach of a lot of its trash, along with the aid of extensive clean-up crews, leaving behind only glass, pottery and the equivalent, which it broke down, flattened and shaped into the pieces you’ll see if you visit there today.
Rules of the Beach
Rule #1, #2 & #3: don’t take the glass!
Although in the past a lot of the pieces of glass were taken by visitors to the site, today it is not acceptable to do so. Even if it wasn’t, it’s a sweet gesture to leave the glass be where you found it, so that visitors can continue to come and appreciate in the future as well.
When I was there there were several colors of glass, but the green was the scarcest. I’m sure much of it is sitting in pretty clear vases on mantles all over the world. It was easy to spot brown glass from the broken beer bottles, as well as white, but you really had to look for the green.
There’s another reason to leave the glass where you found it: there are minerals released from these glass pieces, resulting in some pretty unique marine life underwater. This in turn also makes it a great spot for snorkeling and scuba diving—that is, if you dare test the relatively cold waters.
Additionally, one of the ultimate goals that are hoped to be achieved through the minerals mixing with the ocean waters, is the formation of glass reefs. Through this, new food chains could be formed throughout the world, to replenish depleted ones
How to Get to Glass Beach
To get to the intersection for Glass Beach Road, turn onto Elm St. You can find Elm St by keeping your eyes open for the Denny’s at the northern side of Fort Bragg, which is right on the main street of Fort Bragg. Once you’ve reached the intersection, there will be signs pointing you right to the parking lot for Glass Beach.
Until 2017, there used to be stairs you could walk down to the beach, but sadly some heavy rain washed them away. Instead, you can now follow a simple dirt trail to get down there. It won’t be a long walk away from the parking lot.
*There are actually three beach sites where you will be able to view the glass pieces, all of which do require a short climb down as the beach is surrounded by cliffs. Of the three, site one may be the most intriguing one as it has only recently become an option to get to by foot; before you needed a canoe or a kayak to get there!
Don’t Miss These Nearby Stops
Besides this glass beach in California (and the Sea Glass Beach Museum just south of Fort Bragg), now that you’ve ventured out into the area, there are even more stops to visit to make your day truly spectacular.
Fort Ross Historic Park
Don’t miss making a stop to the California State Historic Park of Fort Ross, an old Russian settlement.
The Skunk Train
Located in Fort Bragg, the Skunk Train has been gaining worldwide recognition since 1885. Originally, the Fort Bragg Railroad was created in order to ease the transportation of lumber from one place to another. This quickly laid the foundations for the eventual formation of the Western California Railroad, also known as The Skunk. This railroad played an integral part in the lives of the families living in the area, transporting not only lumber from destination A to destination B, but the families and workers who had set up logging camps along the route.
Therefore, it became an entirely unique route and in doing so, majorly influenced the industrial, cultural and social lives of those living in the region and relying on the transfer of lumber. The Skunk is also recognized as the logging railroad in America that has left the deepest impression on its country and society, both in its function and the beauty of the route it follows.
The origins for the name “Skunk” trace back to 1925 and the period of time where motorcars for the route were introduced. Their fumes had such a strong smell that the nickname “Skunk” was created for them, still persisting today despite the smell has since been reduced by a lot.
By visiting the Skunk Train site, you get to experience a ride in one of the old trains through the classic route from a century back. Alternatively, you may opt to exploring the area on rail bikes. And during the winter holiday season, there’s a special Christmas train you can hop on!
Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens
Also located in Fort Bragg is the beautiful Mendocino Botanical Gardens. There are seven floral collections in there for you to explore, from begonias to rhododendrons, with different variations of blossoming flowers for you to enjoy depending on the season of your visit. There is also an education center as well as workshops for your pleasure; in addition to which you can join on a guided bird watching walk around the gardens.
We even stopped in the Redwoods, so I could “Hug a Redwood”, a goal that’s been on my bucket list for years.
How much did you know of Fort Bragg Glass Beach, and the other awesome attractions nearby, before? Do you find it a worthy addition on your journey to discover the various amazing stops on the Pacific Coast Highway? It may not be a beach made for getting tan, but you’ll certainly struggle to find a beach more unique than what is has to offer its visitors, no matter which part of the world you arrive to see it from. Even though it doesn’t look exactly like the saturated photos you see online it is definitely worth a visit. I’d recommend you go find it, explore it, and fall in love with it–just like I did!
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