California’s Glass Beach isn’t your typical sandy seaside
Where trash turned into beautiful treasure. No, really...keep reading.
Beach in Fort Bragg, California, has an abundance of glass washed over by the ocean into smooth, gemlike pieces
The seaglass is the result of the site once being a dump
Though it’s hard to get to, it’s worth the extra trip
California has no shortage of natural wonders to explore, especially beautiful beaches. But, lovers of sea glass should be sure to check out the Golden State’s Glass Beach.
This Northern California beach, in the city of Fort Bragg, isn’t comprised of your average sand or pebbles. Instead, the shore is full of layers of gem-like sea glass.
What was formed from an old trash dumping site is now a tourist attraction for those looking for an out-of-the-ordinary excursion.
Collectors of sea glass should be forewarned that taking the glass is not allowed because the beach is part of MacKerricher State Park, and the state wants to preserve it for future visitors.
But it’s still a beautiful beach to spend some time at, sifting through sea glass and seeing what you can find, even if you can’t take a souvenir with you.
How all the sea glass got to Glass Beach
From 1906 to 1967, the site that is now Glass Beach used to be a trash dump. Dumping garbage over the cliffs into the water below was a common practice in coastal communities like Fort Bragg, according to Mendocino County, where the beach is located.
Even cars and appliances were dumped there. But the glass from the objects thrown in the water—car headlights, soda bottles, food jars and more—eventually got weathered down by the ocean and broke up by hitting rocks on the shore.
Due to a process called hydration, saltwater took the lime and soda content out of the glass, which results in a pitted, or frosted appearance. Over time, the result was the frosted, smooth pieces of sea glass covering the shore of the beach.
The most common colors of sea glass are white, brown or emerald green. These are pieces formed from common glass objects like food jars or beer bottles. Different shades of greens and blues, like seafoam or aqua, are rarer and usually come from old medicine or cosmetic bottles.
Generally, the rarer the color, the rarer the glass object it came from. Lavender, pink, turquoise, and teal, which likely come from objects like perfume bottles, are very rare.
Because of the wide array of trash that got dumped in the water at Glass Beach, visitors may be able to find unique colors of sea glass. Elusive ruby red pieces likely came from the headlights of old cars. Sapphire pieces were likely formed from old medicine bottles.
Getting to Glass Beach
Fort Bragg is about 170 miles north of San Francisco and about 190 miles northwest of Sacramento, about a three-and-a-half-hour drive from either city. Glass Beach is located at the end of Fort Bragg’s Elm Street, where there is also parking.
There, you’ll find a path, Glass Beach Trail, that leads to the beach. Then, you’ll be able to take in the beauty of the beach, snap some Instagram-worthy photos and search for unique pieces of sea glass. For a beautiful view and picnic spot, situate yourself on the cliffs and rocks overlooking the beach.
There are technically three glass beaches, and Glass Beach #3 is the only one that is technically in MacKerricher State Park, at its southernmost end. The park is open from sunrise until 10 pm.
To get to Glass Beach #1 and #2, visitors can follow trails south from Glass Beach #3.
Keep in mind that the weather in Fort Bragg can vary. The state park recommends wearing layers to keep yourself comfortable. The weather is generally mild, from mid-50-to-60 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, all year long.
Sights to check out near Glass Beach
Once you’ve explored Glass Beach and snapped some photos of the unique sea glass you found (and then put back) there’s more to explore in MacKerricher State Park and the surrounding area.
From Glass Beach, visitors can follow another trail north, crossing over a train trestle to Pudding Creek Beach. This beach has walking paths with beautiful views and tiny coves and tidal pools to explore.
The rest of MacKerricher State Park offers various activities for visitors. It has diverse ecosystems, from dunes to forests and beaches to wetlands. The park stretches along nearly 9 miles of the coast. There are trails for hiking, jogging, bicycling and even horseback riding, and campgrounds for people to spend the night.
It is also a popular site for whale watching during the winter and spring, and visitors can spot seals along the coast. Dogs are also welcome, but they must be on a leash.
If you haven’t got your fill of sea glass by the time you leave Glass Beach, The International Sea Glass Museum, located on Highway 1 south of downtown Fort Bragg, promotes itself as the largest sea glass museum in the world, with more than 3,000 pieces of sea glass and jewelry created from sea glass, as well as some other pieces recovered from the sea.
It was founded by retired sea Capt. Cass Forrington. Visitors can learn more about the history of the sea glass and admire the collection.
The city of Fort Bragg, which has a population of about 7,300 people, has various dining and lodging options, from larger chains like Denny’s and Starbucks to mom and pop restaurants and cafes. Other attractions in the area include Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, Russian Gulch State Park, and Noyo Harbor, which can be a great base for doing water-based activities like kayaking or whale watching.
A deeper dive — related reading from around the 101
- 15 mystifying structures around the globe | History 101
For some other fun places with interesting backgrounds.
- The 30 most dangerous tourist beaches in the world | Science 101
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