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Mendocino: Hike to the max, relax to the core

Exploring tide pools at Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, CA
Exploring tide pools at Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, CA
Susan Alcorn

It’s only a three to four hours drive to get to Mendocino from the San Francisco Bay Area, but it’s a world apart. The parks and hiking, weather and scenery, offer visitors an opportunity for invigorating hikes and a refreshing renewal. Here is the first of three hikes in the area that will handsomely reward your efforts:

Low tide at Glass Beach, Ft. Bragg
Low tide at Glass Beach, Ft. Bragg
Susan Alcorn

Glass Beach in Fort Bragg: From the dirt parking area at the end of West Elm Street at Old Haul Road to the beach is less than a quarter mile. After a walk along a dirt path through an open field, you’ll have to make your way down one of the cliffs to reach the beach itself. Easy, but not recommended for strollers or wheelchairs.

This Glass Beach (there are actually three; this is the northernmost and the most accessible) had its beginning as a dump. From 1906 to 1967, residents threw household refuge over the cliffs and onto the beaches below. In 1967, it was officially closed to public use and nature took over. Old appliances, cars and furniture were eaten away by the pounding waves, but glass bottles were tumbled year after year until they formed what visitors can now admire -- smooth colorful glass pebbles. You’ll see bits of clear glass now turned to frosted, amber, green, blue—and occasionally red from former cars’ taillights. You may discover an old rusty sparkplug or two—part of a midden dating from the mid-20th century.

To the dismay of many, the pieces of glass that can be found nowadays are tiny compared to what they were only a few years previously; collectors, ignoring the posted signs reminding that such collecting is illegal in MacKerricher State Park, have brought in large bags and boxes over the years and carted away the larger pieces. Even so exploring the beaches, the bluffs and tidepools as well as watching the wave action is fun for all ages. If you check the tide tables, you can find out when tidepools are most visible.

You can reach Glass Beach from End of West Elm Street at Old Haul Road; park at end of Elm and walk to beach. For a map of MacKerricher State Park, click here.

Instead of collecting at Glass Beach, drop by the Sea Glass Museum at 17801 North Highway 1, Fort Bragg. This shop and museum is open daily 10 AM to 5 PM with free admission.

After your exploration of Glass Beach, you may want to stroll through Mendocino Botanical Gardens, which are south of the beach at 18220 California 1, Fort Bragg. There, you'll find colorful flowers and shrubs year round and can follow the paths through the more formal gardens and then all the way out to bluffs overlooking the ocean. Once again you can enjoy the waves crashing on nearby rocks—and you may well see fisherman perched on those steep and slippery rocks.

Next up: more hiking in Mendocino County, exploring Pt. Arena Lighthouse, and a luxurious stay at the newly reopened Heritage House Resort—the romantic setting of the film “Same Time, Next Year.”