BIG SUR BEACHES
Big Sur's beaches show off the California coastline at its rugged, unspoiled best. Due to their similar names, two beaches - Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park's beach and Pfeiffer Beach - are often conflated, but each is separate and has its own unique charms. While some of Big Sur's wild beaches are accessible by car, visitors should expect to hike to reach most of them.
Garrapata State Park Beach
Many consider Garrapata State Park's secluded beach to be the best in Big Sur. While there are no facilities, this sandy, unspoiled beach has stunning views and is easy to get to. You're also likely to spot sea otters, sea lions, seals and even the occasional migrating whale. Nearly invisible from the road, Garrapata State Park's beach can be reached from the trailheads at points 18 and 19. For detailed directions on getting to this hidden park, see our Garrapata State Park page.
Andrew Molera State Park Beach
Andrew Molera State Park's beach can be reached via the aptly named Beach Trail, which is an easy, almost flat hike along the banks of the Big Sur River. Andrew Molera State Park's beach is considered Big Sur's most reliable surfing destination, and is also a prime surf fishing spot. State park admission fees include parking; there are no facilities at the beach, but restrooms are available at the parking lot.
Don't confuse this beach with the one at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, which lies a few miles south. Many locals name Pfeiffer Beach their favorite because of its wide sandy beaches and the arch rock that lies just offshore. Pfeiffer Beach is very hard to find for the uninitiated. It is located at the end of unmarked Sycamore Canyon Road, which is the only paved, ungated road on the west side of Highway One between the Big Sur Post Office and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.
For more information about this Big Sur beach visit "Tales from the Trail: Pfeiffer Beach, Home of the Purple Sand."
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park Beach
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park's beach is only accessible on foot, but it's worth the trip. Popular with divers, this beach has excellent views and great tide pools. You'll also see equipment and artifacts left over from Big Sur's period as a center of the logging industry. To access the beach at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, take the Partington Canyon Trail, located west of Highway One behind a gate about two miles north of the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park entrance. The trail runs through a rock tunnel on its way to Partington Cove.
Sand Dollar Beach
The biggest unbroken stretch of beach in Big Sur, Sand Dollar Beach is popular with rockhounds for its jade and hikers and photographers for its breathtaking bluffs. (Planning to collect some jade? See our tips below under Jade Cove.) A steep staircase leads down to the beach. Sand Dollar Beach is 25 miles south of the main settlement in Big Sur on Highway One. It is well-signed.
Named after the smooth, waxy stone frequently found on its rocky beaches after a storm, Jade Cove lies 27 miles south of the main settlement in Big Sur, two miles south of Sand Dollar Beach, and just over three miles north of Gorda. Keep a sharp eye out for the trailhead sign by the side of Highway One, and park at the pullout.
If you plan to seek jade there, you should know that serpentine, a common stone that looks identical to jade, is also often found there. How to tell the difference? Serpentine can be scratched with a steel knife; jade can't, and you may see bits of metal left on the jade. Please see the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary's regulations on collecting jade from beaches.