Best Things to Do in Big Sur Pfeiffer Beach, California: Purple Sand, Camping and Campgrounds

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Nestled along California’s breathtaking coastline, Big Sur’s Pfeiffer Beach beckons adventurers with its unique purple sand and stunning natural beauty. This hidden gem offers a haven for nature enthusiasts, photographers, and those seeking a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Best Things to Do in Pfeiffer Beach
Best Things to Do in Pfeiffer Beach

From camping under starlit skies to exploring tide pools teeming with marine life, Pfeiffer Beach promises an unforgettable experience. In this article, we’ll dive into the best activities to enjoy at this coastal paradise, including the top campgrounds nearby, the mesmerizing purple sand phenomenon, and insider tips to make the most of your visit.

See also: Best Things to Do in Laguna Beach, California

Getting to Pfeiffer Beach

Getting to Pfeiffer Beach can be a bit of an adventure, but it’s well worth the effort. From San Francisco, take US-101 South to CA-156 West towards Monterey Peninsula. Merge onto CA-1 South and continue along the scenic Pacific Coast Highway for about 30 miles past Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Look for the unmarked Sycamore Canyon Road on your right, indicated only by a small yellow “Narrow Road” sign at mile marker 45.64. The road is narrow and winding, so drive carefully. From Los Angeles, take US-101 North to CA-1 North and follow the same instructions once you reach the Big Sur area​.

Parking and Fees

Parking at Pfeiffer Beach is limited and fills up quickly, especially on weekends. The beach is open from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., and it is recommended to arrive early to secure a spot. The parking fee is $12, and there are no additional permits required.

The road to the beach, Sycamore Canyon Road, is unpaved and narrow, so be prepared for a slow and cautious drive. Despite the challenging access, the limited parking helps maintain the beach’s serene and uncrowded atmosphere​.

Travel Tip: Plan your visit on a weekday if possible to avoid the crowds, and always check current conditions and closures before heading out. Bringing your own supplies is essential, as the nearest amenities are about five miles away in the Big Sur Valley Area.

Camping at Pfeiffer Beach

Pfeiffer Beach itself doesn’t offer camping, but there are some fantastic nearby options that make it easy to enjoy the beach and the surrounding Big Sur area.

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park: This popular campground is just a short drive from Pfeiffer Beach and offers 189 campsites, nestled among redwoods along the Big Sur River. The sites accommodate tents, RVs, and there’s even a cabin for rent. Each campsite includes a parking area, a fire pit, and a picnic table. The park is equipped with hot showers, restrooms, and running water​.

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park Pfeiffer Beach - Best Things to Do in Pfeiffer Beach
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park Pfeiffer Beach

Fernwood Campground and Resort: Located just north of Pfeiffer Beach, Fernwood offers a variety of accommodations including tent and RV sites, forest cabins, and glamping tents. The resort features a general store, a restaurant, and laundry facilities, making it a convenient and comfortable option for campers​.

Fernwood Campground and Resort Pfeiffer Beach - Best Things to Do in Pfeiffer Beach
Fernwood Campground and Resort Pfeiffer Beach

Riverside Campground & Cabins: Situated along the Big Sur River, this campground provides tent sites, RV spots, and cozy cabins. The setting is beautiful, with redwood trees providing ample shade and the sound of the river adding a soothing backdrop. Amenities include hot showers and flushing toilets​.

Riverside Campground & Cabins Pfeiffer Beach - Best Things to Do in Pfeiffer Beach
Riverside Campground & Cabins Pfeiffer Beach

Plaskett Creek Campground: A bit further south, this campground is ideal for those looking to camp near the ocean. It’s close to Sand Dollar Beach, a favorite spot for surfing, swimming, and fishing. Plaskett Creek offers 44 campsites, mainly suited for tent camping​.

Plaskett Creek Campground Pfeiffer Beach - Best Things to Do in Pfeiffer Beach
Plaskett Creek Campground Pfeiffer Beach

Booking and Regulations

Booking: Reservations for Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park can be made through ReserveCalifornia, and it’s highly recommended to book well in advance, as sites fill up quickly, especially during peak season. Walk-up sites are occasionally available but can be hard to come by​.

Regulations: There are a few key rules to keep in mind when camping near Pfeiffer Beach. For starters, the maximum stay at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park during peak season is seven consecutive nights, and you must vacate for 48 hours before returning. Campfires are only allowed in designated fire rings, and it’s essential to check current fire regulations before your trip due to California’s wildfire risks​.

Travel Tips: Arrive early to secure a good spot and check-in by 2 pm. The check-out time is noon. Don’t forget to bring your own firewood or purchase it locally, as gathering wood is prohibited. Also, make sure to bring layers of clothing, as temperatures can drop significantly in the evening.

Camping near Pfeiffer Beach offers a wonderful way to fully immerse yourself in the natural beauty of Big Sur. Whether you choose the bustling Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park or a quieter spot like Riverside Campground, you’ll be well-positioned to explore the beach and its stunning surroundings.

See also: Best Things to Do at Crystal Cove State Park: Camping and Hiking Trails

Hiking Trails around Pfeiffer Beach

Pfeiffer Falls Trail: This trail is a favorite among visitors to Big Sur. The Pfeiffer Falls Trail is a 1.3-mile out-and-back hike that takes you through a stunning redwood grove. Starting at the trailhead near the Big Sur Lodge, you’ll wind your way through a picturesque forest, crossing footbridges and climbing gently up the hillside. The trail features a steady elevation gain of about 400 feet, making it moderately challenging but accessible for most hikers.

Pfeiffer Falls Trail Pfeiffer Beach - Best Things to Do in Pfeiffer Beach
Pfeiffer Falls Trail Pfeiffer Beach

The highlight is the 60-foot waterfall that cascades down into a serene pool, surrounded by lush foliage. Remember to stay on the designated paths to protect the delicate ecosystem​.

Valley View Trail: If you’re looking for breathtaking vistas, the Valley View Trail is a must-do. This trail branches off from the Pfeiffer Falls Trail and extends the hike to a total of 3 miles round trip. It involves a steeper climb, with an additional 300 feet of elevation gain, bringing the total to about 700 feet.

Valley View Trail Big Sur Pfeiffer Beach - Best Things to Do in Pfeiffer Beach
Valley View Trail Big Sur Pfeiffer Beach

The payoff is worth it – from the top, you can enjoy panoramic views of the Big Sur Valley and the Pacific Ocean. The trail winds through redwoods and offers several great spots for photos and rest breaks. This part of the hike can be a bit strenuous, but the stunning views make it a rewarding adventure​.

Hiking Tips

What to Bring:

  • Water: Always carry plenty of water, especially on warm days.
  • Sunscreen: Even in the shade of the redwoods, the sun can be strong.
  • Proper Footwear: Good hiking shoes are essential as the trails can be uneven and slippery, especially after rain.
  • Snacks: Pack light snacks to keep your energy up, especially if you plan to do both trails.

Safety Tips:

  • Check Weather Conditions: The trails can be muddy and slippery after rain. Always check the weather forecast before you go.
  • Wildlife: Keep an eye out for wildlife, including deer and various bird species. Do not feed the animals and keep a safe distance.
  • Stay on the Trails: To protect the environment and ensure your safety, always stay on the marked trails.

Popular Activities at Pfeiffer Beach

Beachcombing and Sand Collecting

One of the most unique features of Pfeiffer Beach is its stunning purple sand. The purple hue comes from manganese garnet particles that erode from the surrounding hills and mix with the beach’s golden sands. The best spots to find this colorful sand are near the north end of the beach and around the base of the cliffs. However, remember that taking sand from the beach is prohibited, so be sure to enjoy it in its natural setting and leave it for others to admire​.


Pfeiffer Beach is a photographer’s paradise, with its dramatic landscapes and unique natural features. The best time for photography is during the golden hours of sunrise and sunset. Sunset, in particular, is magical as the light passes through Keyhole Rock, a natural arch formation. This creates a spectacular light show that is a favorite among photographers. Arrive early to secure a good spot, especially during peak seasons​.


Picnicking at Pfeiffer Beach is a delightful way to enjoy the area’s natural beauty. There are several picnic tables available near the parking lot, offering convenient spots to set up your meal. For the best experience, pack a picnic with easy-to-eat foods, plenty of water, and don’t forget to bring a blanket or portable chairs. Since there are no food vendors at the beach, it’s essential to bring everything you need, and always remember to pack out all your trash to keep the beach pristine​.

Travel Tip: Visit during weekdays or non-peak hours to avoid crowds and ensure you find parking easily. The beach is open from 9 AM to 8 PM daily, and the parking fee is $10​.

These activities make Pfeiffer Beach a perfect destination for a serene and picturesque getaway, capturing the essence of Big Sur’s rugged coastline. Enjoy your visit, and remember to respect the natural beauty of this incredible location!

Tips for Visiting Pfeiffer Beach

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Pfeiffer Beach is during the fall, from September to November. During these months, the summer crowds have diminished, making for a more serene experience. The weather is generally mild, with temperatures ranging from the mid-50s to mid-70s. This period also offers the best chance to see the vivid purple sand, especially after rains have washed more manganese garnet particles down to the beach​.

For those interested in photography, particularly capturing the famous Keyhole Rock at sunset, the winter months from December to January are ideal. During these months, the sun aligns perfectly with the rock’s arch, creating a stunning light show.

Weather Considerations

Pfeiffer Beach’s weather can be quite variable, so it’s essential to come prepared. Summers can bring a phenomenon known as “June Gloom,” where the beach remains foggy and cool. Fall offers more stable weather, with fewer chances of rain and fog. Winter, while less crowded, can be rainy and windy, so bringing waterproof clothing and layers is advisable​.

Always check the weather forecast before your trip. It can get chilly, especially in the mornings and evenings, so dressing in layers is a smart choice. Also, be prepared for windy conditions by bringing windbreakers or scarves​.


Pfeiffer Beach is somewhat challenging to access, particularly for those with mobility issues. The beach is reached via Sycamore Canyon Road, a narrow, winding road without signage, marked only by a small yellow “Narrow Road” sign. Once at the beach, the parking lot is close to the sand, but there is a short walk through a sandy path to reach the shore​.

There are basic amenities such as vault toilets, which are accessible, but the beach itself may present difficulties for those requiring mobility aids. It’s advisable to bring any necessary equipment and prepare for the sandy terrain​.

Nearby Attractions

Big Sur

Highlights of Other Attractions in Big Sur

Big Sur is a treasure trove of natural beauty and adventure. Here are some must-visit spots near Pfeiffer Beach:

  • Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park: Home to the iconic McWay Falls, a waterfall that plunges 80 feet into the Pacific Ocean. This park offers spectacular views and several hiking trails that showcase the rugged coastline and dense redwood forests​.
  • Point Sur Lighthouse: Perched atop a volcanic rock, this historic lighthouse offers guided tours that delve into its fascinating history. The tours provide stunning ocean views and a glimpse into the life of the lighthouse keepers from the late 19th century​.
  • Sand Dollar Beach: About 30 miles south of Big Sur Station, this crescent-shaped beach is perfect for a leisurely stroll, picnicking, and even jade hunting among the rocks. It’s the longest stretch of beach in Big Sur and is dog-friendly​.
  • Andrew Molera State Park: The largest state park on the Big Sur coast, Andrew Molera offers miles of hiking trails through diverse landscapes, from coastal bluffs to sandy beaches. It’s a great spot to escape the crowds and immerse yourself in nature​.
  • Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery: Located in San Simeon, this site is home to thousands of northern elephant seals. It’s a unique opportunity to observe these massive creatures up close as they lounge and interact on the beach​.

Dining and Lodging

Recommendations for Local Dining Options

Big Sur offers some fantastic dining options that cater to various tastes:

  • Nepenthe: A legendary spot known for its breathtaking views and delicious food. Whether you’re enjoying a casual lunch or a romantic dinner, the ambiance and scenery are unparalleled​.
  • Big Sur Bakery: This cozy bakery offers a delightful selection of pastries, pizzas, and hearty meals. It’s a great place to grab breakfast or lunch before heading out for a day of exploring​.
  • Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn Restaurant: Known for its charming, rustic setting and gourmet cuisine, Deetjen’s is a perfect spot for a romantic dinner or a special occasion. The menu features locally-sourced ingredients and an impressive wine list​.

Nearby Accommodations for Extended Stays

For those looking to extend their stay, Big Sur has a range of accommodations:

  • Big Sur Lodge: Located within Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, this lodge offers comfortable rooms and easy access to the park’s hiking trails and natural beauty. It’s a great base for exploring the area​.
  • Ventana Big Sur: An upscale resort that offers luxury accommodations, including glamping tents for those wanting a unique experience. The resort features an on-site restaurant, spa services, and stunning views of the Pacific Ocean​.
  • Ragged Point Inn and Resort: Situated on a cliff with panoramic ocean views, this inn offers cozy rooms, a gourmet restaurant, and beautiful gardens. It’s a serene spot to relax and enjoy the natural beauty of Big Sur​.

Final Thoughts on Things to Do in Big Sur Pfeiffer Beach

As we wrap up our journey through the enchanting Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur, it’s clear that this destination offers more than just picturesque views—it’s a haven for both relaxation and adventure.

Whether you’ve come to marvel at the unique purple sands, explore the serene campgrounds, or hike along the captivating coastal trails, Pfeiffer Beach promises an unforgettable experience.

See also: Best Things to Do at Huntington Beach, CA

FAQS on Things to Do in Big Sur Pfeiffer Beach

Where is Pfeiffer Beach, California?

Pfeiffer Beach is located in the Big Sur region of California. It is one of the most popular beaches on the Central Coast and is well-known for its unique Keyhole Rock. Due to the steep terrain along the Big Sur coast, Pfeiffer Beach is one of the few ocean access points in this area.

Where is there purple sand?

Purple sand can be found at several beaches, including:

  • Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur, California, USA
  • Plum Island, Massachusetts, USA
  • Purple Sand Beach, Candle Lake Provincial Park, Saskatchewan, Canada
  • Clearwater Lake, Clearwater Lake Provincial Park, Manitoba, Canada
  • Good Spirit Lake, Good Spirit Provincial Park, Saskatchewan, Canada

Why is it called Pfeiffer Big Sur?

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is named after John Pfeiffer and his wife Florence, who lived in a cabin along the north bank of the Big Sur River beginning in 1884. John Pfeiffer was the son of Michael Pfeiffer and Barbara Laquet, immigrants from France who were among the first European settlers in the area.

What is so special about Big Sur?

Big Sur is renowned for its breathtaking views, majestic redwood forests, and abundant hiking and recreational opportunities. These features make it a popular destination for visitors from around the world.

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