Elk is a tiny hamlet situated on the very edge of a high bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The community is located on Highway One between Manchester and Albion. The highway runs right through it. Farm and dairy ranch land surround Elk to the north, east, and south. There are a few small inns, a couple of eateries, a country store, a fine community art gallery, and some small shops offering a melange of gifts, crafts, and antiques. There is no gasoline in Elk but there is an excellent AAA affiliated towing service that operates along much of the North Coast.
A small public parking lot is located just south of the Elk Museum and a trail accessible from the parking lot winds along part of the bluff and down to a beautiful beach with a huge accumulation of driftwood. A selection of excellent picnic sites exist on the bluff and on the beach.
Like so much of the rest of the Northern California coastline, the earliest European settlers in the area were primarily interested in hunting and fishing and, a little later, in harvesting forest products. The very first permanent European settlement was known as Cuffy's Cove and was located just a mile or so north of today's Elk. Early visitors in the vicinity of today's Elk included William Richardson and Britton Greenwood. Richardson was the first Harbor Master of San Francisco and was interested in claiming land in the area. Greenwood was the son of one of the earliest guides for emigrants crossing the Sierra Mountain Range - Caleb Greenwood. Both Caleb and Britton had participated in the rescue of the Donner Party and were local celebrities. Britton and one of his brothers homesteaded the area just south of Cuffy's Cove in the early 1850s and the small community that grew up around them became known as Greenwood.
The economy quickly became dominated by lumbering and for a long time all lumber was shipped out of the area through ship loading facilities in Cuffy's Cove, but in the late 1860s Lorenzo White built a sawmill on Greenwood Creek and a lumber chute on land that he owned in Greenwood. Within a short period of time the Greenwood operation became dominant and Cuffy's Cove withered away. A prominent cemetery is all that remains of Cuffy's Cove today.
When the government established a post office in Greenwood in 1887 it was decided to call the post office Elk in order to distinguish it from another Greenwood settled by John Greenwood in the Sierra Mountains. Eventually the community took on the name of the post office, but even today you will find locals referring to it as Greenwood. In its heyday, Elk had a population of about 1,000 people, with 10 hotels, 14 saloons, several dance halls, three general stores, a butcher, creamery, jewelry store, candy store, barber shops, blacksmith shop and a livery stable.