San Carpoforo Creek – The southern end of the Big Sur coast

A beach in San Carpoforo with a cliff and a cloudy sky.
Photo by Jasmine Halki, CC by 2.0

San Carpoforo Creek and Beach

San Carpoforo Creek and Beach is generally regarded as the southern end of the Big Sur coast. Accessible after a short quarter mile walk along the creek, the beach is wide and sandy with a rocky section at its northern end. A lagoon is present most of the year as the creek’s flow is blocked by a sand bar. Passed by daily by thousands of drivers from all over the world, we take you on a journey of discovery to another of Central California’s “hidden treasures”.

San Carpoforo Beach with Ragged Point in the background

San Carpoforo Creek originates at 2200 feet in the Los Padres National Forest near Three Peaks. It then meanders 11 miles down the mountain until it crosses under Highway 1.

Most of the year the flow is meager; this is California after all. Then the  fresh water stalls out and forms a small lagoon behind the sand bank at the back of San Carpoforo Beach just a few hundred yards from Ragged Point.

Where to find San Carpoforo Creek:

Highway 1 Bridge over San Carpoforo Creek

San Carpoforo is found 21 miles north of Cambria and 13 miles north of Hearst Castle on Highway 1 (aka Cabrillo Highway and Pacific Coast Highway).

All the land between Hearst Castle and the creek here is part of the Hearst Corporation’s Piedra Blanca Ranch. The cattle there have the best views while grazing!

Street view of the parking for San Carpoforo Creek

Where to park:

There are no signs but you can park on either side of the road as long as you’re out of traffic. Try not to block the gate that’s on the west side. And be sure to read the Monterey County Sheriff’s warnings about leaving valuables in your car on the Big Sur Beaches page.

There is a locked gate just to the left of that little silver car in the photo. Don’t be put off by that; you can just walk around the side of it and you’re on the trail to the beach.

Snowy Plover sign

I was here last at the beginning of September, and while I kept a close watch for them, didn’t see any of the snowy plovers.

What you do have to watch out for, especially at the beginning of the trail, is poison oak. “Leaves of three, let it be”.

San Carpoforo Creek and Beach Quick Facts:

  • Location: northern San Luis Obispo County on Highway 1.
  • GPS Coordinates: 35.765133, -121.320129 (parking area)
  • Administration: Forestry Service, USDA
  • Accessibility: A moderate walk of about 1/3 mile to the beach. The first half of the walk is on a packed dirt path. The rest is on very fine grained sand which makes walking a bit difficult, but doable for anyone in reasonable shape. There are no accommodations for wheelchairs and given the sand, I would be doubtful even of “beach” wheelchairs being able to traverse here.
  • Who was “San Carpoforo”? The early Spanish explorers named many geographic features for religious holidays and for saints. This creek was named for Saint Carpophorus, a Roman soldier who was martyred for his faith around 295 AD during the reign of Emperor Maximian in the town of Como, northern Italy.
  • Aliases (aka): San Carpojo, sankypoky
  • Nearby services: Ragged Point Inn, 1 mile north on Highway 1

What you’ll see at San Carpoforo Creek and Beach:

View of the path leading to San Carpoforo Beach

The creek flows just a bit to the left of the pathway shown above. That cypress in the middle is about 40′ in diameter. The creek is then turned to the right by the rocky headland of Ragged Point.

The lagoon at San Carpoforo Beach

As you get closer to the beach itself, the walking becomes a bit more laborious. The creek peters out and forms a lagoon. It’s not deep and you can wade through or work your way around to the north. The sand here is of a finer grain than anywhere else I’ve been. Dry sand is always a bit hard to walk on, but here even the wet sand doesn’t pack tightly like on most other beaches. But with views like this, that’s definitely not a problem.

The north end of San Carpoforo Beach

The drama of Big Sur begins here at San Carpoforo Creek with the mountains dropping right down to the ocean. There are a few other sandy beaches like this along Big Sur, like Pfeiffer Beach or Garrapata Beach, but they are rare.

The Ragged Point Inn sits on this outcrop

That’s the Ragged Point Inn on that peninsula jutting out from the coast, sitting 300+ feet up from the water. A great place to stay, have a meal or just a rest stop and view the beauty.

Scenic view of San Carpoforo Beach and Ragged Point

This photo of Ragged Point and San Carpoforo Beach, was taken from the same vantage point as the 1949 movie that is near the bottom of my homepage. If you watch that video, this view is found at 2:25 in. It looks today the same as it did 65 years ago. That’s why we love Central California…

Inland view from San Carpoforo Creek

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