Glass Beach

Glass Beach Fort Bragg California
inside one of the treasure coves at low tide

Glass Beach
Fort Bragg, California

Time will bring to light whatever is hidden;
it will cover up and conceal what is now shining in splendor.
- Quintus Horatius Flaccus

Glass Beach is situated along the rugged, rocky coast line of Fort Bragg in Mendocino County.  Hiding in plain sight Glass Beach may be very well be one of California's best kept secrets.  As the name implies, this most unusual beach is scattered with uncountable glistering glass pebbles of all sizes and colors.  

Unfathomable by today's standards, this magnificent coast line was at one time used as a municipal garbage dump.  Locals simply called it "The Dumps" in the most unflattering terms. Before the dawn of civilization (the days before 1967) it was custom to dump garbage in the ocean.  Oceanic garbage disposal was the perfect sanitary solution at the time.  Land fills brought out rats and diseases, so dumping waste in the ocean was considered perfectly normal.  Times changed of course.  By 1967 some wheatgrass juicing bohemians took over public office, the dump was closed and nature took over.

Iconic Glass Beach was actually created by the demise of not one but three massive municipal ocean dumps.  Just like a regular land fill, these 'ocean fills' were used for cars, appliances, toys and assorted garbage of all kinds.  The ocean became the final resting place for thousands of cars between 1906 and 1967.  The cars have rusted away but their spark plugs remain permanently embedded in the rocks along the shore (perhaps this can be attributed to the chemical compound of the spark plugs).  Besides the spark plugs; time, weather and the salt ocean water have dissolved (almost) everything that was dumped, leaving behind mostly the glass (from car windows, toys, appliances, bottles, etc).  We say almost since there is still some weird stuff to be found.  The Ocean, with its consistent churning waves, has acted like a massive rock tumbler.  Over time, all those sharp pieces of glass were turned into softly rounded pebbles.

 The best time to visit Glass Beach is at low tide, preferably after a big storm since this always brings new treasures to light.  On a recent trip to Glass Beach in April, we felt like veritable archeologists.  On a brisk Saturday morning, after the sun had burned off the early morning fog, we wondered along the windswept beach in search of early 20th century archeological treasure.  As we made our way along the winding path of the rocky cliffs, we caught our first glimpse of what would lay below.  Serious archeologists would undoubtedly frown upon the dubious notion of such a young discovery site but we felt stranded on treasure island.  The Spring storm, which had pounded California's Northern coast the day before, had resulted in a rock slide at the Southern tip of the beach.  A landslide, caused by the storm and its accompanying waves, had exposed century old pieces of China, marbles, hand blown bottles, car parts, electrical insulators and glass, lots of glass in all shapes and colors.  Looking for treasure, against the soothing backdrop of the sound of the curling waves, letting the round pebbles slide through your hands, is an addictive and utterly relaxing experience.  As the gently rolling waves were pushing in and pulling back,  the tiny glass beach pebbles created a transcending, almost meditative shimmering sound.  With millions of translucent glass pebbles glistering in the early morning sun, Glass Beach certainly was an extraordinary sight to behold.  

Visiting Glass Beach:
Glass Beach is within an easy 10-minute drive from picturesque Mendocino (the town made famous by the 'Murder She Wrote' series) and is close to a 3 hour drive from San Francisco.  There is a small parking lot at the end of West Elm Street.  Halfway down the path that leads to Glass Beach is a fork.  Most visitors will take the path to the right which leads to Glass Beach (Site 3).  Glass cannot be collected from this beach as it is a protected state park.  In fact, so much glass was collected over the years that this beach now resembles a regular sand beach.  Locals know better of course and take the left turn in the fork.  Following the path on the left, make sure to follow the fence line as you exit the park.  This will lead you to Site 2 which was used in the 1940s and 1950s.  The cliffs are pretty steep and slippery so descending them can be tricky (not recommended for children).  Make sure to wear good shoes (no flip flops).  If you do find yellow and red glass pebbles, hide them right away.  It appears these colors are most revered by local collectors.  Make sure to wash your hands after handling the glass pebbles.  Although the dumps were shut down close to half a century ago, there is still some chemical- and rust run off, especially along the cliffs.  Take your camera for some really beautiful kodak moments.  The best place to stay is the Brewery Gulch Inn located in nearby Mendocino.

Glass Beach Location
Corner of West Elm Street and Glass Beach Drive
Fort Bragg, California

Text and Image Credits: © Lucia Fontana for