Pfeiffer Beach is a beautiful, unspoiled beach that's popular with locals. It's somewhat unknown among tourists and well worth your time. You'll get eye-popping offshore views of rocks and sea stacks — and occasional good surf. This beach also has unusual purple sand.
The beach faces west, with dramatic offshore rocks. On a good day, it's an excellent place for sunset photographs.
Things to Do at Pfeiffer Beach
Most people play on the sand at Pfeiffer Beach. Photographers can also spend hours capturing the ocean, rocks, and waves.
The purple sand is especially fun for making a sand castle. You can also swim, but there's no lifeguard on duty.
While you are in the area, you can find more things to do in Big Sur with our guide.
What You Need to Know Before You Go to Pfeiffer Beach
These tips will help you get prepared and know what you need to take with you:
If it's windy, you may want to go somewhere else. Blowing sand turns this normally wonderful place into an unpleasant one, and you'll end up with sand grains in places you don't want to think about.
You will have to pay an entrance fee, which also covers parking. However, parking is limited. That fact controls the number of people who can be there at once. That's good news if you like your beaches uncrowded, but bad news if you get there too late. By noon on busy weekends, you'll find the parking lot almost full. With no other parking nearby, parking attendants will turn latecomers away or make them wait until someone else leaves.
Pfeiffer is a day use beach only. You can't camp or stay after dark. No fires are allowed on the beach, but dogs are permitted if they're on a leash.
Restrooms are near the parking lot. The nearest place to get food is in Big Sur Village.
The north part of the beach past the rocks gets almost cut off from the rest of the beach at high tide. If you settle down there, check the tide predictions to be sure you don't stuck.
This part of the coast is often foggy (and cold) all day, especially during conditions called June Gloom which can happen anytime between May and August.
Unexpected Purple Sand on the Beach
If it weren't for the spectacular scenery, this would be the beach's most significant feature. No one spilled anything purple on the sand, even though it does look like grape-flavored drink mix.
Manganese garnet washes down from the hillside above, giving Pfeiffer Beach its distinctive purple sand. The further north you go, the more you'll see.
How to Get to Pfeiffer Beach
Pfeiffer Beach is off CA Highway 1 in Big Sur on Sycamore Canyon Road. With several Big Sur parks all having the name Pfeiffer in them, a careless GPS setting will take you to the wrong place. Don't confuse the beach with nearby Pfeiffer State Park or Julia Pfeiffer Burns Park. The beach doesn't have a street address, so your best bet is to use the directions below.
If you are coming from the north, you will see the turn off shortly after you pass Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park entrance.
The very sharp turn for the entrance to Sycamore Canyon Road is on the right. The easiest way to locate it is to look for mile marker 45.64, which is at the turn, just across from a sign that says "Narrow Road." Find out how to interpret a California milepost marker.
Coming from the south, you'll pass Big Sur village and cross a bridge. When you see a sign that shows a road entering from the left, get ready. Shortly after that, there's a small, dirt turnoff on the right, but don't stop there. Continue until you see a road going left and downhill. That's Sycamore Canyon. If you see a sign that says Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, you passed it. Turn around and use the instructions above.
After you get onto Sycamore Canyon Road, you'll see a sign that says Pfeiffer Beach. The beach is about 2 miles down the road.
The US Forest Service administers Pfeiffer Beach. Find more information about it on their website.
Clothing Optional Recreation at Pfeiffer Beach
Pfeiffer is mostly a clothed beach, but a few people go to the extreme north end of the beach past the rocks for nude sunbathing. If you see a swimsuit on a rock or log, you'll know you are approaching someone who is likely to be undressed.
Pfeiffer Beach is on Federal Land, which means nudity is legal and state nudity laws and state park nudity policies don't apply.
If you're a beach neophytes, please be respectful of others and read the nude beach and topless beach etiquette guidelines before you go.