Visiting Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, California

Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. 

Thousands of tiny polished glass pieces glisten along the shoreline at Glass Beach, a part of MacKerricher State Park near Fort Bragg. Like rubies and emeralds, these treasures shine brightly among the beds of black and grey pebbles in which they lie. It’s a sight to behold – and one that’s been in the making for decades, albeit not always intentionally. Glass Beach, boasting the highest concentration of sea glass in the world, is a great example of nature overcoming man’s folly to create something wondrous and renown.

Beach of glass... on Glass Beach
Photo by John Krzesinski

Unlike the scenery, the history of Glass Beach is far from glorious. It started when the 1906 earthquake that destroyed San Francisco also destroyed Fort Bragg leaving massive amounts of waste to be disposed of. To rid the streets of this waste, locals turned to ocean dumping and unfortunately, continued doing so for decades. From the early 1900s until 1967, garbage consisting of everything from automobiles, batteries, appliances, and bottles and cans were thrust over the cliffs into the Pacific Ocean.

This wasn’t just a local practice, but was in fact done frequently in other sites along the coast – a scandalous activity that still takes place in less developed parts of the globe. Luckily, this dumping eventually became illegal and clean up programs were initiated to remedy all of the damage that had been done to the shore, but not before tons of glass tumbled into the ocean.

Glass Beach California
Photo by John Krzesinski

Thousands of pounds of glass deposited here on this once pristine beach were eventually broken down by the ocean and over time polished by waves resulting in the beautiful smooth pebble-like appearance that the pieces possess today. The glass can be found in all different shapes, sizes, and colors.

There’s an old myth that every time a sailor drowned at sea that a mermaid would cry with tear drops in the form of sea glass or (“mermaid tears”), which then washed up on these coastal shores. Whether or not you buy in to the poignant legend, you can’t deny the uniqueness of being able to wander through a beach covered in thousands of pieces of shiny greens, purples, and reds.

All visitors should know that removing any pieces of glass from any of the beaches is against the law. These beaches have been over-harvested by visitors and glass collectors over the years to the point that the resources have nearly been depleted in some parts. Add in the fact that erosion is steadily removing these pieces from the shore, and you can see how it would be necessary to prohibit visitors from taking these precious glass pieces away. Still, visitors are encouraged to “glass hunt” while they visit the beach and try to collect as many different colors as possible so long as they put the pieces back at the end of their visit.

For those who are truly fascinated by sea glass, they should check out the Sea Glass Museum, located just south of Fort Bragg. It’s free to enter and the museum has collections of all the different types of glass that can be found along the shores.

Tips

  • One of the most interesting times to visit is on Memorial weekend, when the annual Glass Festival is in town.
  • Glass Beach is also home to several endangered indigenous plants, such as the Menzies’ wallflower.

Getting There

From Highway 1, turn west on Elm Street (Denny’s is on the corner) and drive a few blocks to Glass Beach Drive. Park at the intersection and walk down to the beach. This beach is one of three glass beaches in the area, with one being found further north along the coast and one beach only being accessible via a boat or kayak.

Directions via fortbragg.com

Sign-up below to receive all my tricks like how to find the best credit card offers.

No more than once daily emails 

As Featured: