With 4:00 pm tour reservations at B Bryan Preserve in Point Arena, we set out from Fort Bragg just after breakfast to explore the coast on our way to the Point Arena Pier and Point Arena Lighthouse before heading over to the preserve. After stopping at the Mendocino Bay Overlook and Russian Gulch State Park, we pulled into the tiny parking lot for Greenwood State Beach.
But where was the beach?
Because you can’t see the beach from the road, most people just drive right by it on their way north. But with a long stretch of pristine sand, the half-mile long Greenwood State Beach is one of the best beaches on the Mendocino coast.
Located in the tiny town of Elk, Greenwood State Beach includes a coastal headlands trail with cascading carpets of wildflowers, a shady picnic area, breathtaking views of the sparkling blue Pacific Ocean, and access to a long stretch of beach.
Across the street from the parking area is The Elk Store, a General Store and deli, with wine, beer, local products, and gifts. It’s perfect for grabbing a picnic lunch to enjoy at the Greenwood State Beach picnic area atop the bluffs or to take down to the beach. A half-mile dirt trail dotted with wildflowers leaves the picnic area, traveling down the cliffs to the beach that has driftwood strewn about. On the beach, Greenwood Creek pools at the base of Bonee Gulch and just offshore in Greenwood Cove, sea arches and sea stacks, with names like Wharf Rock, Gunderson Rock, and Casket Rock, rise from the surf.
The best part about visiting Greenwood State Beach, also called Elk Beach, is that you’re practically guaranteed to have the beach all to yourself. Because it is relatively unknown and requires a half mile hike to get there, few people are ever on the beach at the same time!
Elk Greenwood Museum and Visitor Center
The Elk Greenwood Museum and Visitor Center is located 100 yards north of the Greenwood State Beach trailhead and parking area in what was originally the town’s post office.
The museum tells stories about the history of the lumber town during the late 1800s and features photographs of the early town, the settlers, and local lumber operations, period furniture and appliances, and artifacts from the lumber industry. The visitor center offers information about local attractions and items like postcards, books, and souvenirs for sale, and volunteer docents are available to answer questions and relate historic events.
The History Of Elk
In the 1800s trappers and hunters came to the Northern California coast in search of game. Britton Bailey Greenwood was the first to establish a ranch in the area named Elk Ranch. A small community began to form as other ranches and dairy farms were established and small mills were built to process the old-growth redwood.
Elk is the town with two names because Elk wasn’t always called Elk. It was first named Greenwood after the Greenwood brothers who founded the community. But when they applied for a postal designation, they discovered there was already a Greenwood named after the rest of their family! They changed the name to Elk and for years referred to the town as Elk in the town of Greenwood.
In 1902, while staying in Elk at the White boarding house, today called the Hospital House, Jack London wrote his masterpiece, The Call of the Wild.
In 1883, Lorenzo White purchased most of the land around Elk. He founded the L.E. White Lumber Company in 1884, building wharf on the beach, a lumber mill, and railroad to support it. At the turn of the century, with a population of almost 1,000, Elk boasted hotels, dance halls, saloons, and general stores.
In 1916, the Goodyear Redwood Lumber Company purchased the land and operated the mill until 1930. The wharf burned down, along with the lumber mill in 1938.
The 47 acre Greenwood Creek State Beach was established in 1978 and named after named after Britton Bailey Greenwood, the son of Caleb Greenwood, a Western fur trapper and trail guide. In 1995 the park was renamed Greenwood State Beach.
Know Before You Go
- Greenwood State Beach, also called as Elk Beach, is located at 6100 S. Highway One, Elk, California 95432, just south of the town of Elk, 15 miles north of Point Arena in Mendocino County.
- The Visitor Center is the former Elk post office and has a museum that includes historic artifacts from the lumber camps, antique furniture, and household appliances.
- The Greenwood State Beach Visitor Center is open March through November, Wednesday through Sunday from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.
- A small parking lot for Greenwood State Beach sits across the street from the Elk Store on the headlands alongside CA HWY 1. Here you’ll find restrooms, picnic tables, and the trailhead for the 1.0 mile round trip beach trail.
- Greenwood State Beach features sea stacks, rock arches, and rock islands.
- There is no cell reception at the beach.