Glass Beach is located in Northern California and while some might think its name is purely metaphorical, it's actually quite descriptive of the landscape of this shoreline. As a unique addition to California's coast, this beach isn't home to a few pieces of sea glass here and there - it's home to an entire beach full of polished, colorful shards.
While picking up sea glass from the beach is now illegal (not that it has stopped some beachgoers from tangling with the law in defiance), it's an incredible place to visit on principle, alone. There are few places in the world where man-made items, such as glass, are transformed into something altogether beautiful by Mother Nature, and a shore full of sea glass is the result. Here's what to know if you plan on visiting Glass Beach, and why it's worth taking the trip.
Updated by Lauren Feather, March 6, 2022: The California coast is always a hit destination for beach lovers. But it's not always sun, surf, sand, and sea that attracts visitors; it's also curiosity-inducing hidden gems with fascinating scientific phenomenon and intriguing history - and Glass Beach is one of them. With even more interesting facts recently made available from those who've visited this tucked-away Californian treasure, we've added even more info for folks intending to head out to see this much-loved west coast spot.
How Glass Beach Got Its Name
History holds an ancient myth that states that mermaids cry whenever a sailor is lost at sea - their tears washing onto the shores as sea glass. The tale began with a mermaid who fell in love with a sailor from afar, and who tamed the ferocious sea in order to save his life. However, the god of the ocean, Neptune, was displeased with her tampering with the sea, and banished her to the dark, cold depths. Ever since her unfortunate fate, evidence of her unrequited love wash up on the shores; her tears that wash up as sea glass.
In reality though, the origins of Fort Bragg sea glass aren't quite as poetic nor dramatic. are far more mundane. Rather, this beach gained its sprinklings of beautiful sea glass - and its name - through a decades-long process that forced polished pieces of glass and pottery ashore. It all started back in 1906 when the San Francisco earthquake tore apart Fort Bragg.
Prior to the natural disaster, residents stored their garbage on their properties, re-using and recycling as much as they could. During the quake however, much of their stored trash was strewn everywhere, and following this destructive natural disaster, the garbage that once awaited removal had to be cleared, along with buildings and structures which were destroyed in the aftermath.
Most of the trash was bulldozed toward the sea, thus forcing it out into the ocean. Among the garbage were shards of glass from mirrors, windows, and other things, as well as shards of pottery and china that have also been known to wash ashore. It's unclear why or how these pieces of tumbled glass and pottery wash up so often on Glass Beach, but the fact remains that it has become a haven for sea glass lovers.
Years Of Tourist Collecting Has Led To A Poaching Of Glass Beach
While there were once many multi-colored pieces of sea glass that washed ashore in this location, over-poaching in the form of collecting has led to a steady decline of these ocean treasures. Normally, the idea of something like glass being eradicated from beaches would be a great thing - however, in the case of Glass Beach, it has prevented future generations from seeing the beauty of what this beach once was when it was filled with colorful, harmless pieces of polished glass.
In the same way that shells and rocks are ground down into sand granules, sea glass was once one with this beach as the shells were to its sandy shores. To this day, visitors to the beach still walk away with pieces of sea glass despite the illegalities of it. While many of the more colorful pieces are gone, it is still possible to find unique pieces of sea glass on this beach:
- Visit the beach immediately after high tide.
- Visit during a full moon during the seasons of spring or fall.
- Check the shoreline after storms have come through and the water has receded.
- Check the coves around the beach.
Exploring The Coves Around Glass Beach
While the sea glass is what keeps many people coming here season after season, there's plenty more to love about Glass Beach. For one, its coves are nothing short of magical - these are often home to tide pools and rarer forms of glass and pottery that wash up, and may go unnoticed by those who don't know where to look. If nothing else, the coves make for a fun adventure to explore all on their own.
Throughout MacKerricher State Park, there are plenty of tidal pools to set your sights on. Aquatic marine life such as crustaceans, mollusks, and even marine plants make temporary homes in these shallow pools. While exploring these coves, visitors should be wary of the dune structure and the waves, because the weather can change very quickly and the ground - especially along the cliffs - can become unstable and collapse. If you happen to find a unique piece of sea glass, admire it, take a photo, and then put it back for the next visitor to find.
Getting to Glass Beach
- Head to Fort Bragg.
- Enter MacKerricher State Park.
- Parking is free; head down the main trail following Glass Beach Drive.
- Visitors will find Glass Beach off West Elm Street, just west of Highway 1.
Tip: Before heading to Glass Beach, visitors should make sure that they have the proper footwear to scramble between the rocks that sit in the path from the street to the beach. From the beach, several more trails can be found that lead to glassy beaches.
How About A Sea Glass Museum?
Captain Cass Forrington - a retired sea captain - opened the International Sea Glass Museum in 2009 and has since has been telling visitors all about Mendocino Coast sea glass. Set back from Highway 1 in between Mendocino and Fort Bragg, the small museum is full of gorgeous sea glass on display, boasting cases of unique samples arranged according to their history and color.
The museum draws in hundreds of thousands of travelers each year, who enjoy an enriching experience marvelling at man-made glass that nature then perfected. Entry is free of charge, and promises a fascinating day learning about the area's sea glass with bountiful exhibits all beautifully arranged, as well as historic stories and scientific explanations of sea glass..
Don't Forget About The Glass Festival
If a dedicated museum wasn't quite enough, visitors and resident of Fort Bragg even have an entire festival for appreciating sea glass. The Fort Bragg Sea Glass festival takes place every Memorial Day Weekend and features exhibits of art work from sea glass artists, along with stalls of talented jewelry makers who craft beautiful wearable creations out of the area's sea glass.