Fort Bragg: A Glass Act

Most coastal towns try to keep glass OFF their beaches.

But not Fort Bragg.

They’re fighting to keep theirs full of the stuff.

In the morning I visited one the famed beaches (there are three) — the one that Nancy at the Glass Beach Inn told me had the most sea glass left.

When I arrived, I saw grandmas, kids, and people of all ages in between were doubled over the shoreline, scouring the beach. I have to admit that I was underwhelmed. I had expected to find large glittering, colorful gems, but instead found only tiny shards. I decided to head over to the Sea Glass Museum to learn more about this curious place.

Captain Cass with sea-glass jewelry for sale behind him.

That’s where I met Captain Cass Forrington, creator and owner of the museum. The sign above him read “The world’s first and only sea glass museum — over 3,000 artifacts on display!”

And how. The colorful chunks of glass were dazzling: turquoise, dark lavender, cornflower blue, honey amber, forest green, and root beer brown.

“Our beaches here are a case of turning trash into treasure — by accident,” Cass said as he handed me a pamphlet.

As I read, I learned that the city opened the first of three dump sites for trash in 1906. Rather than wash away to sea, as the town had hoped, the dumped trash continued coming ashore because of the unique rock formations in Fort Bragg. Many years later the sea glass phenomenon was born.

The beach I had just visited was one of the former dump sites (it closed in 1967) and now falls within the boundaries of MacKerricher State Park.

“There’s this big controversy about people taking the glass,” Captain Cass said. “Most people think it’s illegal to take, because the state park tells them som but it’s not. Their jurisdiction ends at the mean tide line. Any sea glass found below that is fair game.”

The few little morsels I found.

I told him I’d been a little disappointed in what I saw there that morning.

“Some days you’ll see a lot of [sea glass]. Some days hardly any at all,” he said. “It changes depending on what the tide has brought in.”

But Cass admitted that there’s not as much as there used to be. He doesn’t want people to stop taking it (as the park advocates), but he does think that the city should be replenishing it.

“They ‘re already using glass to stabilize beaches in Florida and New Zealand,” he said. “Sand and glass are made of the same thing — silica. It’s the ultimate in recycling.”

That’s when he asked if I’d like to sign the petition to replenish Fort Bragg’s beaches. I wasn’t entirely convinced, but how could I turn down Captain Cass?

Follow Shannon’s adventures on Twitter @CuriousTraveler and on Instagram @ShannonSwitzer

Shannon is photographing with an Olympus PEN E-PM1 and an Olympus Tough TG-820.


  1. Sea Glass Jewelry
    April 2, 2014, 8:47 pm

    I would love to pay this beach a visit. It is amazing just how the sea can turn garbage into jewels. Wonderful!

  2. Tim Noel
    Oceanside CA
    December 11, 2012, 11:55 am

    Love the glass. Is there surf?

    • Shannon Switzer
      December 12, 2012, 1:04 am

      Wasn’t any when I was there, Tim…but seemed like it could get fun with the right swell! Coooooldddd though :)

  3. Karen
    Fort Bragg, CA
    September 19, 2012, 1:50 am

    Please, Shannon, tell me you didn’t sign the petition! Note the above post says she’s been residing here for 11 years and sells the sea glass and makes jewelry and also advocates for “replenishing” the sea glass. Isn’t that interesting? Color me shocked.

    Here’s the deal: Don’t litter.

    There, wasn’t that easy? We already threw trash in the ocean. Stop it.

  4. Tammy Davis
    Fort Bragg
    July 18, 2012, 4:35 am

    I have lived in Fort Bragg for 11 years, and selling sea glass to jewelers as well as making and selling sea glass jewelry myself, is an important supplement to my income. For roughly 5 years it was my only income. There are many people that live in the Fort Bragg area that have been collecting sea glass here and using it for decorative purposes. The same is true for people living near coastal dump sites all over the world. One might say that it’s a cultural tradition.

    I have spent a great deal of time educating myself on the history of Fort Bragg’s Glass Beach, reports and surveys related to Glass Beach and applicable regulations. One thing I have learned is that not only is it possible to replenish the beach, but it is being done in other places and is actually beneficial to some marine life.

    It is truly unfortunate that the public, particularly the Fort Bragg community, has been so misinformed instead of being educated on this issue. The decision on whether or not to replenish Glass Beach will have a significant impact on the economic health of Fort Bragg. Therefore it is the people of Fort Bragg who should make this decision.

    To afford the people of Fort Bragg the ability to make an informed decision, there are a number of pertinent facts that need to be considered. I am preparing a document for the Coastal Commission that will include all of the information that Cass has gathered as well as my own findings. I will be asking them to assess the situation, prepare and deliver the data to the people of Fort Bragg, and offer suggestions as to the available options.

  5. Shannon Switzer
    June 22, 2012, 12:19 am

    Glad you enjoyed it Tessa! You probably would have had a much better appreciation for it than myself.

    Marie- Thank you for your comment. I appreciate hearing the other side of the story. I am curious how you feel about the idea of replenishing the glass?

  6. Tessa
    Carlsbad, Ca
    June 21, 2012, 2:50 pm

    YES! This is the blog I have been waiting for! I LOVE LOVE LOVE sea glass, sea glass jewelry, and sea glass mosaics. I would have loved to see the purple, turquoise and blue pieces because those are very rare. The only sea glass I find here in San Diego is green, clear, and brown.