I really enjoy finding unique beaches. A prime example is sea glass beach in Fort Bragg. I managed to stumble across another one this weekend when I traveled to Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur California.
I actually have been to Pfeiffer Beach before (with direction on how to get there), but didn’t realize that it had a little secret — it’s one of the few purple sand beaches in the world. I missed this because the main part of beach doesn’t have much purple sand (if you look closely, you can see little bits here and there, but if you weren’t specifically looking for it, you wouldn’t notice it — at least I didn’t on my first visit).
To really see the purple sand, you need to walk beyond the main beach area toward the north. The father up the beach you head in this direction, the more purple sand that can be seen. The easiest place to spy the purple sand is at the base of the hills, but there will be certain areas of the beach that also have purple sand patterns woven into the mix. For those who go to the beach expecting that the entire beach will be purple, they will be disappointed. The vast majority of the beach is white sand like any other beach. There are, however, areas where purple sand mixes with the white sand (usually with black sand as well) to make some wonderful patterns:
What is amazing is that each time a wave comes up the beach and washes over the purple sand, the pattern changes making it like a constantly changing giant sand painting:
The purple sand is the result of manganese garnet deposits which are found in the hills surrounding the beach. For anyone that enjoys seeing the unexpected and interesting phenomenon at the beach, scheduling a day to explore the purple sands at Pfeiffer Beach is definitely worth taking the time to do.
Pfeiffer Beach (run by the National Forest Service) is a hidden gem where you may be able to escape the crowds clogging up all the other beaches and state parks along highway 1 in the Big Sur area of California. There are a couple of reasons for this.
First, the Pfeiffer Beach isn’t marked with a sign along highway 1 so you would drive right on by it unless you knew exactly where to turn. Coming south on highway 1, it is 0.5 miles past the US Forest Service Ranger Station. You make a tight right turn when you see the yellow “Narrow Road” sign (which you need to be looking for because it’s hidden a bit too — there is no sign for “Pfeiffer Beach”). About 100 yards down the road you will get confirmation that you are one the correct road when you see this sign:
The second reason that less people go to this beach is that the next two miles of road down to the beach are mostly one lane so that campers and RVs can’t make it down it. Combine the lack of marking and the no RVs and you have a beach that, although beautiful, gets a lot less traffic than the other beaches in the Big Sur area.
The beach has plenty of sand with a number of rocky outcrops just offshore, many with arches and tunnels within them:
There is a small creek that runs down the beach and empties into the ocean. Sea lions playing in the waves just offshore when I was there and the many rocks outcroppings (which also make Pfeiffer beach part of the California Coastal National Monument) were the home of sea birds and resting sea lions. There is a $5 fee to enter. If interested, here are more photos of Pfeiffer Beach. It’s definitely a beach to visit, especially when the crowds at the other main stops are beginning to get to you.
While not technically a National Park (there are a lot of rock outcroppings along the shoreline which are all part of the California Coastal National Monument), Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, CA is definitely worth a visit. It’s not often that you see a beach that is almost entirely made of sea glass (also called beach glass, mermaids tears, lucky glass, ocean glass and sea gems) that is several inches thick in some places:
Most people assume that sea glass comes from glass garbage dumped out at sea that eventually makes its way to the shore. In many cases, this is how sea glass arrives on the beach, but not in the case of Glass Beach in Fort Bragg. Instead, the glass has been there for up to 100 years getting churned by ocean waves and sand.
Towns along the sea coast used to dump all their garbage into the oceans. In most areas, the tide would come in and sweep all the garbage out to sea, but the rock formations at Fort Bragg create a unique wave pattern that kept everything on the beach. Basically, all the glass garbage that was dumped in the Fort Bragg dumps from 1906 – 1967 remains where it was dumped and over the years the sand and tides have smoothed the sharp glass into smooth, rounded sea glass pebbles of many different colors making the entire beach a “glass beach.” It also has resulted in Fort Bragg having the highest concentration of sea glass in the world.
It’s a pretty incredible sight with the sea glass several inches thick in some areas. It also makes for excellent foreground photographs of the California Coastal National Monument outcroppings just off the coast:
Here is a short video I took at Glass Beach:
There are actually 3 Glass Beaches in Fort Bragg. The one that is most famous is part of MacKerricher State Park (CA) and was the Fort Bragg dump from 1949 – 1967. I took these photos and video at the 1943 – 1949 dump site which is just south of MacKerricher State Park. There is another dump site that ran from 1906 – 1943, but it’s only accessible by sea kayak.
For those interested in directions how to get to 1943 – 1949 dump site, there is a Glass Beach Museum on highway 1 toward the south end of Fort Bragg where you can get a map of all the glass beaches in Fort Bragg (and see an amazing display of sea glass).
If you are looking for a beach that has more than just sand, Natural Bridges State Beach (CA) is an excellent choice. In addition to Sandy Beach and the Natural Bridge, the beach also has wonderful tide-pools to explore during low tide and is home to one of the largest monarch butterfly over-wintering sites in the Western United States. The beach was named after three natural bridges that extended out into the ocean — now only one remains:
In the early 1900s, three arches carved by nature out of a mudstone cliff inspired the naming of Natural Bridges.
The arches were formed millions of years ago when water, silt and clay sediment combined with one-cell marine plants called diatoms. Heat and pressure solidified the mixture into a soft stone that formed the three arches.
Wave action against the soft rock formed the bridges and also undercut them, eventually wearing them away and leaving only islands. The outermost arch fell in the early part of the 20th century and the inner arch broke during a storm in 1980. Only the middle arch remains, but it is being slowly eroded by the waves.
I arrived at high tide, so I was not able to explore the tide-pools. I have on other occasions in the past and they are quite interesting and an excellent place to take kids with quite a bit of tide-pool life to see.
The park rangers offer year round guided nature walks on such topics as wildflowers, birds and wetland explorations.
The monarch butterfly natural preserve walkway is currently being worked on, but should be ready when the monarch butterflies return in winter. Monarch butterfly tours are offered at 11:00 am and 2:00 pm on weekends in the fall and winter. The park also offers two special events related to the monarch butterflies: Welcome Back Monarch Day is on the second Sunday in October from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm and The Monarch Migration Festival is the second Saturday in February from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.
While Trinidad state beach is a bit difficult to find (once you exit and head into the town of Trinidad, the main road will first curve 90 degrees right and then a little later 90 degrees left — toward the coastline. Instead of following the main road and turning left, you want to make another right down a one lane road to find the entrance to Trinidad state beach). Once you reach the parking area, there are a lot of picnic tables and a wonderful view of the beach below. The many rock outcroppings in the ocean making them part of the California Coast National Monument:
It is a about a quarter mile hike down to Trinidad state beach along a narrow dirt path.
It was extremely windy while I was there making the view and picnic are much more comfortable than the beach (there were trees that blocked the wind up there), but I don’t know if that is a regular occurrence or not. It was a fun beach to explore with all the different rock outcroppings.
I’ve looked at one of our National Monuments hundreds of times and never even realised it. If you have ever been along the California coast, there is a good chance that you have seen this national monument as well. The California Coastal National Monument, as it name implies, spans the entire coast of California and was established on January 11, 2000. It compromises more than 20,000 small islands, rocks, exposed reefs and pinnacles located off the 1,100 miles of the California coastline.
I would not have even realised I was enjoying the scenery that this National Monument provided except for an informational sign I happened across:
Where Land Meets The Sea
A National Monument here on the North Coast?
Scan the coastal landscape spreading out before you. This area is rich in geological history and biological resources. The rocks dotting Trinidad Bay are now part of California Coastal National Monument (CCNM).
The Bureau of Land Management manages the CCNM, a network of over 20,000 small islands, exposed reefs, rocks and pinnacles spanning California’s entire 1100 mile coastline.
Landslides melting into the sea
Large masses of land are continually slumping into the ocean. The slow moving landslides, or earth flows, are a mixture of sediments from soft clay to hard rock. Like Rocky Road ice cream left in the hot sun, wave energy melts the softer sediments away, leaving behind large, chunky rocks. Many of the rocks you see close to shore were deposited from earth flows.
Ses Stacks: Hard rocks of the old coast
Some of the rocks that you see were once part of the ancient coastline. These resistant formations, or sea stacks, were isolated by rising seas, you erosive surf and geological uplift. Pilot rock is one example.
So now you know. If you happen to be along the California coastline and see rock formations off the coast, you are looking at one of our newer National Monuments.