Coastal California is amazing- you will be able to see some of the picturesque scenes, beautiful beaches, and a rugged hilly coastline. There are a lot of things to see, a lot of things to do. If you are driving Highway 1, you will never run out of visiting places. We were on a road trip in California where we were driving the whole California Coast. One of the amazing experiences was visiting Pfeiffer Beach. Besides Bixby Creek Bridge, this beach is one of the most photographed places in Big Sur. I have seen the picture of the arch and knew that the sun would set right in front of the arch window and the light of the setting sun will illuminate the keyhole of the arch. I wanted to see that. But that day so many things happened. First, it was hazy and gloomy because of the coastal fire haze in California. Then the sun came out for some time. One hour before the sunset, again cloud covered the sun and I thought I would not be able to see the amazing scene that I was longing to see. I felt kind of heartbroken. Then, there is always a ray of hope at the end of the tunnel. The cloud cleared out right before the sunset and we saw the most amazing sunset that we thought we would never get to see.
Pfeiffer Beach is located at the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, a couple of miles away from the main touristy area of Big Sur. The road to the beach is narrow and winding. So, trailers up to 27 feet and camper or motorhome up to 32 feet are only permitted. Any vehicle larger than this is not permitted. From the parking lot to the beach, the trail is a simple stroll. Once you reach the beach you will see how beautiful it is. One of the key features of this park is the purple sand, which is unique, and rare. The cliffs above the beach contain Manganese Garnet rocks. The sand of the beach and the eroded cliff remnants together create the lilac hues- the purple sandy beach which is gorgeous and soothing for the eyes. If you go to the beach after rain generally in winter or early spring, you will be able to see the streaks of purple. Other times, the purple color of the sand is less visible. You will see the famous beautiful Keyhole Rock and Arch to the west after entering the beach. The keyhole looks like a door that can be open with a key- the name is perfect. the sunlight and the waves protrude through the hole all the time. You can spend hours enjoying the waves gushing into the hole of the arch, and then within a moment swooshing out and spilling on the sand. If you come during the sunset at a certain time of the year, you will be able to see the sun dipping below the horizon through the keyhole. I bet this will be an amazing sight to see. In winter during the last few weeks around the winter solstice, the sun sets at such an angle that beautiful, brilliant light rays come right through the keyhole and create an out worldly scene. We wanted to see it. Though there was a little bit of cloud still there and we could not see the bright colorful sky, we still saw the light rays coming out of the keyhole. It was brilliant, it was dramatic, and it was spectacular though the show only lasted for a few minutes.
Not only the Keyhole Arch, but this beach also has a lot of things to do. The dramatic rock formations along the coastline are a wonderful sight to see and photograph. You can scramble up to some of the cliffs to get a top view of the beach and the Keyhole Rock. When we were there, the beach was fully crowded with people and photographers. So, we scrambled up to a cliff and enjoyed the sunset from there. Going up was not that bad. But you will need sturdy shoes with a good grip for that. From the top, the sunset looked really beautiful, especially when the last ray of the day coming out of the hole. We tried to come back down before the dark. Also, there are some small tidal pools created when Sycamore Canyon Creek meets the Pacific Ocean. You may want to check out those pools. One thing you must consider checking the tide chart. If you want to explore the beach and want to go near the arch, the tide is an important factor to consider.
There are 189 tent and RV sites in this park located on or near the Big Sur River and camping here is an extremely popular activity. If you want to stay here, please reserve in advance. You can also reserve online here: California State Parks - California State Parks Reservation System (reservecalifornia.com)
At a glance
- Activity: sightseeing, hiking, fly-fishing, boating, camping
- Address: 47199 Clear Ridge Rd, Big Sur, CA 93920
- Park Hours: 8 am to sunset
- Best time to visit: year-round
- Entrance fee: 12 USD per vehicle.
- Contact: 831-667-1112
- You can reserve group picnic sites with grills and tables which can accommodate around 100-125 people. There are three group sites that you can reserve by contacting the Special Events Coordinator at 831-667-0507 or email BigSurEvents@parks.ca.gov.
- Check the weather and tide chart. Dress according to the weather, bring snacks, water, sunscreen, hat.
- Please practice leave no trace. Let’s make this world a better place to live.
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