Pfeiffer Beach: Planning Your Trip

Pfeiffer beach in Big Sur

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre 

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Pfeiffer Beach

47199 Clear Ridge Rd, Big Sur, CA 93920, USA
Phone +1 805-434-1996

Most famous for its violet-hued sand, Pfeiffer Beach is a beautiful unspoiled destination that is popular with locals and relatively unknown among Big Sur's tourists. Well worth visiting, the beach has eye-popping offshore views of stunning sea stacks and rock formations and is occasionally good for surfing. Because it faces west, it's an exceptional place for sunset photography especially with the purple sand adding that extra oomph of dreamy saturation.

Best Time to Visit

The fall, from September to November, is typically considered the best time to visit Big Sur. By this time, summer crowds have fallen off and you can enjoy a less crowded experience on Pfeiffer Beach. 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.

Visit between November and January if you want to witness the sun shining through the keyhole arch at sunset. Bear in mind that it tends to rain more in the winter and spring, but if your main motivation for visiting the beach is to see the purple sand, the rain can work to your advantage.

The sand is typically the most purple right after the rains, so check the weather forecast in the preceding week before your visit and look for a sunny day that follows a rainy one. 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.

If you plan on walking along the beach, you'll want to familiarize yourself with the tides before you go. The north part of the beach past the rocks gets almost cut off from the rest of the beach at high tide, so check the tide predictions for the day to be sure you don't get stuck.

Things to Do

There are many interesting things to do around Big Sur and on Pfeiffer Beach, the purple sand offers ample opportunity for building unusually colored sandcastles or simply capturing beautiful photos of the waves and rocks. Swimming is allowed but no lifeguards are on duty. 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.

If it weren't for the spectacular scenery, the purple sand would be the beach's most significant feature. The purple hue is caused by manganese garnet, a mineral that washes down from the hillside above. You tend to see more of it if you go further north along the beach, but even more north than that the beach is known for attracting nude sunbathers.

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 see a swimsuit on a rock or log, you'll know you are approaching someone likely to be undressed. If you're a beach neophyte, please be respectful of others and brush up on your nude beach and topless beach etiquette before you go.


Facilities at the beach are basic and there is no food for sale within the park. There are restrooms in the parking lot, but the closest place to get food is in Big Sur Village. You will have to pay an entrance fee, which also covers your parking. Cell phone service can be very spotty in this area and Wi-Fi may not be available in local establishments.

Parking is limited, which controls the number of people on the beach at any given time. 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.

Getting There

Pfeiffer Beach is located 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 can easily take you to the wrong place. The beach is often confused with nearby Pfeiffer State Park or Julia Pfeiffer Burns Park.

If you are arriving 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 the beach and will need to turn around.

From the north, you will see the turn-off shortly after you pass the 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." After you get onto Sycamore Canyon Road, you'll see a sign that says Pfeiffer Beach. The beach is about two miles down the road.

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Pfeiffer Beach: Planning Your Trip