The Purple Sand Beach: Ultimate Guide to Pfeiffer Beach

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A purple sand beach and you don’t need a passport or an international flight to get there. Sign me up! When I first moved to California and heard that there was a purple sand beach only a couple of hours away, I immediately added Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur to my travel bucket list. And you should too!

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    Pfeiffer Beach is More Than Just The Purple Sand Beach

    Experiencing how magical this location is in person was not an easy feat. However, all good things are worth waiting for. Our patience and effort paid off. Pfeiffer Beach was more incredible than we could have ever imagined.

    Continuing reading and I will provide tips that worked for us in finally visiting the one-of-a-kind purple sand beach, when is the best time to go, and what else you can expect to find besides purple sand at Pfeiffer Beach.

    rock formations and purple sand at pfeiffer beach

    Visiting The Purple Sand Beach

    Pfeiffer Beach is open to visitors. However, you should always check their website before your visit. The park is open from 9 am to sunset. It is best to arrive early because the parking lots fill up typically before 11 am.

    Try to avoid the busiest time of day at Pfeiffer Beach, which is between 12 pm to 2:30 pm, when the parking lot is already full. The entrance fee into Pfeiffer Beach has gone up to $12. Dogs are welcome at Pfeiffer Beach on leash.

    🐾 Looking For Other Dog-Friendly Locations and Itineraries In California?
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    Pfeiffer Beach Accessibility: Accessible parking and restrooms are available. They also can provide a beach wheelchair if needed, ask one of the staff at the entrance kiosk for assistance.

    When to Visit Pfeiffer Beach, California

    The beautiful thing about California is you can make plans to visit any time of the year. We often take road trips during the winter and early spring because you have fewer crowds. It is also easier that time of year to get off a couple of days from work.

    Before you visit Big Sur or your road trip, always check for road closures. Fire season in California is from summer to mid-fall and often will cause road closures. Here you can find updated information on road closures for Highway 1 and Big Sur.  

    To avoid the big crowds, fire season, and cheaper lodging options, I would suggest visiting in November to December.

    Pfeiffer Beach Weather

    The weather in Pfeiffer Beach is pretty mild and predictable. Usually, you have foggy mornings, warm afternoons, and chilly nights.

    The warmest month of the year in Big Sur is in August with an average of 81 degrees Fahrenheit. While January is the coldest month, with an average of 52 degrees Fahrenheit.

    I always encourage people to pack layers when visiting the coast because of the drastic dip in temperature once the sun goes down.

    Discover The Beauty of Pfeiffer Beach

    The drive to Pfeiffer Beach is a winding road along the California coast mountainside. If you get car sick as I do, prepare yourself. Fortunately, it’s a scenic drive, and you will have plenty of ocean views to distract you.

    pfeiffer beach the purple sand beach

    I am still blown away each time we drive on Highway 1 and how beautiful the pacific coast is. With rugged mountains on one side and the sapphire blue water on the other. There are plenty of vistas and nearby towns along the highway for you to stretch your legs and take some epic photos. Such as:

    • Bixby Creek Bridge (popular vista point): 16 miles from Pfeiffer Beach, approximately 30-minute drive
    • Point Sur Lighthouse: A nice pit stop just off of Highway 1. 12 miles from Pfeiffer Beach, approximately a 25-minute drive.
    • Carmel by Sea: 31 miles from Pfeiffer Beach, approximately 1 hour drive
    • Monterey: 34 miles from Pfeiffer Beach, approximately 1 hour drive

    How to Get to The Purple Sand Beach

    Pfeiffer Beach is off the beaten path, nestled on the central coast of California. Once you arrive in Big Sur, Pfeiffer Beach is only about one mile away on Sycamore Canyon Road.

    It is unmarked, so have your eyes peeled for the entrance because it is not the easiest to spot. Look for the large yellow “Narrow Road” sign along Highway 1, the turn to Pfeiffer Beach’s entrance is just after that.

    Be aware it is a very sharp turn and a steep road into Pfeiffer Beach. After you make that turn, you still need to drive an additional two miles down a one-way narrow dirt road.

    Since the road is narrow and a one-way road, you may have difficulties driving a trailer or RV to the Pfeiffer Beach parking lot.

    Know Before You Go: There are other locations in Big Sur with Pfeiffer Beach in the name. Do not get confused with Julia Pfeiffer Burns Park or Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Pfeiffer Beach is not a state park, but it is located in Los Padres National Forest.

    The correct address to Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur is: 
    Sycamore Canyon Road, Big Sur, California 93920, US  

    Once you arrive at the parking lot, the beach is just a short walk along a scenic trail. The covered trail opens up to picturesque views of the wide expansive beach and waves crashing along the rugged rock formations. It is absolutely stunning.

    However, remember when I said all good things are worth waiting for? Well, there’s one more catch. I will explain more below.

    Important: Plan Accordingly Before Your Trip

    I’ve noticed that many people don’t talk about this, but I think it is important to know when planning your trip, especially if you are on a limited schedule.

    When you arrive at Pfeiffer Beach, getting into the park can be a little challenging. There is limited parking. Therefore, the park rangers only allow a certain amount of cars into the beach at a time. They are very strict about this. If the parking lot is full, the park ranger will force you to turn around and come back at a different time.

    You cannot stay and wait in line because you are also located in a residential area and will block traffic. Visitors are not allowed to walk into the park either. So what do you do?

    Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur

    The first time we attempted to visit Pfeiffer Beach during a summer road trip, we, unfortunately, could not get in. On this trip, we were determined to see Pfeiffer Beach. After we got turned away, we waited close by and noticed how many cars got rejected or what cars were leaving the beach.

    Sounds creepy, right, but hey it worked! We waited about 10 minutes before trying again. We got in! It helped that we went later in the day and in December, but I also like to think it was our top-notch detective skills.

    My advice to help you avoid what happened to us the first time around would be, to give yourself extra time to wait for available parking, do not give up after being turned away the first time, and try visiting in the off-season.

    Pfeiffer Beach Purple Sand

    Pfeiffer Beach is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful beaches in California. The gorgeous swirls of deep purple sand are so unique and make this beach a favorite among locals and visitors. Everyone’s burning question though, is what makes the sand purple?

    purple sand beach at pfeiffer beach

    What Causes the Sand on the Beach to Be Purple

    The purple hues are caused by manganese garnet that has trickled down from the nearby mountains after a rainfall. The entire beach does not have purple sand. You will find small patches of purple sand along the north side of Pfeiffer Beach and by the tide pools.

    It is important to know that the purple sand is not always there. It depends on the weather and you are more likely to see it after a recent rainstorm. However, even if the purple sand is not there when you visit, Pfeiffer Beach is still worth your while.

    purple sand beach

    Best Things to Do Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur

    You do not need to be a professional photographer to take gorgeous photos of Pfeiffer Beach. When you first walk onto the beach, you feel like you are entering an exclusive oasis. The stretch of sandy beach and jagged rock formations look straight out of a postcard!

    Admire The Keyhole Arch or Keyhole Rock Formation

    The Keyhole Rock formation is a natural spectacle that draws many photographers, amateur and professional.

    keyhole arch, pfeiffer beach

    The keyhole arch is the main attraction at Pfeiffer Beach. The waves crashing through this massive rock formation is mesmerizing. You will be in awe witnessing this unique and breathtaking moment.

    keyhole arch at purple sand beach

    On certain days of the year, you can catch the sun setting perfectly through the keyhole rock formation. This of course depends on the time of year and weather forecast. However, your best chances of seeing the sunset at Keyhole arch are from mid-December till mid-January.

    Take a Stroll Along the Beach

    Take your shoes off and take a peaceful walk along the beach and bring your dog with you! Dogs are allowed on leash at Pfeiffer Beach.

    The farther you walk down the beach, the fewer people around. We let our dog off-leash to run off some energy and play in the ocean. Needless to say, the pup was psyched.

    Pfeiffer Beach Dog friendly

    Pfeiffer Beach Sunset

    If your schedule allows it, Pfeiffer Beach is the ideal location for watching the sunset. Bring along a blanket and picnic to enjoy the sun slowly setting on the Pacific Ocean.

    Explore Tide Pools & Sea Caves at Pfeiffer Beach

    During low tide, explore the many tide pools along Pfeiffer Beach. You can find them near the rock formations.

    Pfeiffer beach rock formation
    sea caves pfeiffer beach
    rock formation at purple sand beach pfeiffer beacg

    Pfeiffer Beach Swimming

    Swimming at Pfeiffer Beach is not recommended and could be dangerous. First off, the water is freezing, even in the summer months. Also, there are jagged rocks and a strong current.

    Other Attractions Near Pfeiffer Beach

    Planning a road trip? Here are other awesome locations to add to your itinerary. Find the best price for a car rental in California here.

    • Big Sur Station: 2.8 miles from Pfeiffer Beach. Start your trip to Big Sur here at the visitor center for Los Padres National Forest
    • Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park: 2.5 miles from Pfeiffer Beach
    • Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park & McWay Falls: 10 miles south of Pfeiffer Beach
    • Garrapata State Park: 22 miles north of Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur.
    • Monterey: 34 miles south of Pfeiffer Beach. A popular destination along California’s rugged coast. Find out the Top 21 Romantic Things to do in Monterey before your visit.
    • Santa Cruz: 75 miles north of Pfeiffer Beach. A beach town is famously known for some of the world’s best off-shore breaks and surf culture. 15 Best Things To Do With Dogs Santa Cruz
    mcWay Falls at Julia Pfeiffer Beach

    Major Airports Near Big Sur

    A visit to Big Sur, California is a great option as a stop on a California road trip. Or it is a destination to visit in itself. Big Sur offers numerous hiking trails, camping, hotels, and restaurants.

    The closest airport to Big Sur is Monterey Regional Airport (MRY). It is a small airport 32 miles from Big Sur, however, it has limited flights and depending on where you are flying from, may not be the best option for you.

    The Closest Airports to Big Sur:

    • Monterey Regional Airport: 32 miles, approximately 45-minute drive to Big Sur, CA.
    • San Francisco International Airport: 128 miles, approximately 2.5-hour drive to Big Sur, CA.
    • Oakland International Airport: 133 miles, approximately 2.5-hour drive to Big Sur, CA.
    • Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport: 102 miles, approximately 2-hour drive to Big Sur, CA.
    • Los Angeles International Airport: 314 miles, approximately 6-hour drive to Big Sur, CA.

    ✈️ Use Skyscanner to search for the best prices for flights

    Renting a Car for Big Sur

    The most convenient way to travel to Big Sur is by car. The only other option would be to book a shuttle, but then you would have a difficult time getting around Big Sur. It is a remote area, and you will not find Uber or shared cars in Big Sur. If you are traveling from out of state, I highly recommend you rent a car for your visit.

    🚗 Regardless of which airport you chose to travel from, make sure to get the best deal on your rental car here.

    Road Trip Tips for Visiting Pfeiffer Beach:

    • There’s only one gas station in Big Sur, and it is very expensive! Try to get gas before visiting Big Sur because the next closest gas station is not for another 40 miles.
    • Located at the gas station, there is a café and minimart for car snacks and coffee.
    • You will not have service in Big Sur. I recommend having an idea of your direction to your next location and not relying on your GPS app.
    Big Sur cafe

    Where to Stay Near Pfeiffer Beach

    Alila Ventana Big Sur: I have been dreaming of staying here for years! A gorgeous 5-star hotel in Big Sur with fantastic views of the Pacific coast and so many amazing amenities. They also offer a luxury glamping experience! Ventana Big Sur is 4 miles from Pfeiffer Beach.

    Book your stay at Alila Ventana Big Sur

    Big Sur Lodge: 3-star hotel located in Big Sur, CA, and only 1.9 miles from Pfeiffer Beach. Big Sur Lodge is a great option for a family with amenities like an outdoor swimming pool, an onsite restaurant, and hiking trails.

    Book your stay at Big Sur Lodge

    Big Sur River Inn: Located in the heart of Big Sur, The Big Sur River Inn offers accommodations in their riverside suites and roadside motel.

    At Big Sur River Inn, you will also find a restaurant, pool, general store with a burrito and pizza bar, and the only gas station in town.

    Book your stay at Big Sur River Inn

    Big Sur Campgrounds & Cabins: If you are looking for a more rustic stay and an adventure in nature, Big Sur Campgrounds & Cabins may be the perfect option for you.

    Their options for stay are an RV site, glamping cabins, tent sites, and cabins. To stay here you will need to book your stay in advance. Campgrounds in California typically book up months and months in advance.

    Book your stay at Big Sur Campgrounds & Cabins

    In Conclusion: The Purple Sand Beach

    The purple sand beach is what we came for, but Pfeiffer Beach is so much more. We are so glad that we finally visited Pfeiffer Beach! We will absolutely be back in the future.

    If you are interested in more top California destinations or road trips and other hidden gems, check out my posts on California Travel for ideas and trip itineraries.