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Key Info


Beaches, Natural Wonders Type


  • 4.0Value
  • 2.5Facilities
  • 5.0Atmosphere

If you're on a tight itinerary and don't have time to traverse any state park trails, head to Pfeiffer Beach. Located about 7 miles south of Andrew Molera State Park next to Los Padres National Forest, Pfeiffer Beach is secluded in feel, offering expansive shorelines covered by towering, vegetation-heavy bluffs and striking rock formations. The beach's most famous rock formation, however, is located a few feet out into the ocean. The Pfeiffer Keyhole Rock is hard to miss thanks to its distinguishable arch. It's also considered the most-photographed attraction in Big Sur after Bixby Bridge. At low tide, visitors are able to wade through the water and take a Pfeiffer Keyhole Rock look at the surrounding tide pools. But the best time to see the rock is at sunset when the sun shines brightly through the keyhole, creating a spectacular photo op.

Although it's secluded, Pfeiffer Beach can get crowded; some recent visitors reported having to wait in line just to secure a parking spot. But despite the inconvenience, travelers said a visit to the beach to see the unique keyhole rock was worth the hassle. Many strongly suggested bringing a jacket, as the area can get windy and also said that even if you're not a photographer, you should bring a camera or make sure your phone is charged to capture the impressive scenery.

The beach is located off of Highway 1, but there are no entrance signs, and the road to get to Pfeiffer Beach is also unmarked. Sycamore Canyon Road is only distinguishable by its conditions (it's the only paved, ungated road west of Highway 1 between the Big Sur Post Office and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park). When driving south, keep your eyes out for a yellow Narrow Road sign and make the turn. Entrance to Pfeiffer Beach costs $10 per vehicle. There is no camping allowed and due to the geography of the beach, swimming is considered dangerous. Although they share the same name, Pfeiffer Beach is not located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park or Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. The beach is open daily from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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#1 Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Named after one of Big Sur's most beloved pioneers, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is a favorite among both locals and tourists. A feast for the eyes, the park features seven marked trails that take travelers to tucked away coves, up to waterfalls, along miles-long creeks, through redwood-clad forests and more. Not to mention, it is one of the few areas in Big Sur where scuba diving is allowed. 

The shortest and most traveled path is Waterfall Overlook Trail. Less than a mile long, the trail takes visitors to one of the most popular attractions in Big Sur: McWay Falls. The site is lauded for its beauty, and is a culmination of all geological features typical to Big Sur: The secluded beach is flanked by jagged bluffs covered in shrubs, wildflowers and cypress trees. The falls, flowing from atop one of the cove's granite cliffs, tumble 80 feet down into the cove and get swept up by the ocean. The cove is also a prime place to spot migrating gray whales that pass through Big Sur from December to February, as well as March to May. In the past, some have even come into the mouth of the cove.

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