Pfeiffer Beach, with its occasional purple sand, is among a number of places on the Big Sur coast bearing the name of one of the area’s pioneering families. For that reason it can get a bit confusing. We’ll show you how to find this beautiful and secluded beach and what you’ll find once you get there.
How to find Pfeiffer Beach and the purple sand
Clicking on any of the photos on this page will open a gallery of larger sized images.
Let’s sort it out:
Pfeiffer was one of the pioneering Big Sur families and there are several places along the coast here that bears their name:
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park – This is where you’ll find the Big Sur Lodge. The entrance is at mile marker Mon 46.9. The beach you want is not here.
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park – This is home to Mc Way Falls. The entrance to this state park is at mile marker Mon 35.9. The beach you want is not here either.
Pfeiffer Beach, with its purple sand, IS down Sycamore Canyon Road at mile marker Mon 45.64. It is not a state park, but on Los Padres National Forest land.
If you are heading north – the mile markers count UP.
The turnoff will be on your left past the post office about 0.6 miles.
If you are heading south – the mile markers count DOWN.
The turnoff will be on your right 0.66 miles past the Ranger station.
The turnoff is somewhat hidden and not signed or marked on Highway 1. GPS coordinates at the turnoff are: 36.24023 / -121.77706.
It is somewhat complicated, but worth the effort and the view above is what’s waiting for you…(see my page on the Pfeiffer Keyhole rock for more photos).
RV’s or trailers are not recommended down the single lane road. It is two miles to the parking area and then a short walk down to the beach. Parking is $5.
Pfeiffer Ridge Fire and the beach
In December 2013 a large fire broke out on Pfeiffer Ridge, just to the north of Sycamore Canyon. When it was finally extinguished, over 900 acres burned and more than 20 homes were destroyed.
The continuing drought has extended the fire season well into the winter with this tragic fire being a prime example.
As unfortunate as this fire was for residents, it has not effected current access to the beach or its facilities.
No camp or beach fires are allowed.
Pfeiffer Beach Quick Facts:
- Address: Highway 1, Big Sur area (see directions above)
- GPS Coordinates: (at the beach) 36.2383, -121.8150
- Park Office telephone: (831) 385-5434 (Monterey Ranger District office)
- Parking: $5 (annual pass – $35; see campone.com)
- Hours: 10am – 9pm, Day-use only
- Swimming: Not recommended due to rocks and strong currents. Call park office for information.
- Picnicking: 4 tables are available
- Dogs: Dogs on leash are allowed on the beach.
- Accessibility: There is accessible parking and an accessible restroom at Pfeiffer Beach. Additionally, there is a beach wheelchair available at the entrance kiosk. (nice!) See here for more information. (new tab or window)
The sign tells you that you’ve finally made it.
If you are touring the Big Sur coast during the summer, it is best to plan a visit to this beach early in the day. The parking lot (as well as the beach) is small and sometimes fills up. Nothing else to do than be disappointed and turn back.
The beach can also be windy since the rocks seem to funnel the gusts. Nothing to do about that either, but the beauty of this place is worth it.
The Purple Sand
Realize that not ALL the sand on the beach at Pfeiffer is purple. There are patches generally along the northern part of the beach.
It comes from manganese garnet in the hills being eroded and washed down the creek to the beach. You are more likely to see the purple sand after winter storms. Sometimes the color appears more pinkish and others report some green color at times.
It’s a beach that rewards a bit of work. And at how many other places will you find sand of this color?
Restaurants nearby Pfeiffer
If you get hungry before or after your visit to Pfeiffer (or want a take-along picnic lunch, you could try either of these places, less than a mile south of the turnoff for the beach: