Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur, CA - 5 Things We Loved & 5 Things We Wish We Knew - AZstills.com
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Summer Dream Come True

It was towards the end of Summer last year when I became a member of Five Four Club (Click here to get a discount on your membership) and they just so happen to be near my neck of the woods at the time. They were shooting their "Look Book" at various locations in Big Sur California. I've heard of Big Sur, but I didn't know exactly where it was. Sort of like one of the Santas; Santa Rosa, Santa Clara, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Santa Clarita, Santa Monica, I knew it was somewhere near the ocean, but I didn't know it was only a few hours away from where I reside in Sacramento. I instantly wanted to experience Big Sur. Before I knew it, Summer was over and we never made it. Fast forward less than a year later and our sights were set on Big Sur. With very little planning, we loaded up the car and headed southwest. We loved some things, we also learned a few things we wish we knew a head of time. This is that list for you right now to help better prepare yourself if you decide to hit the Pacific Ocean any time soon. Before we get started, we need some Starbeez!  

Quick Tip

Before we get started on our list, I wanted to point out Hotel Accommodations. To be quick, I'll just say, find a place in Marina. It is honestly not that far from all of Big Sur or the Monterey Aquarium, has it's own beaches if you want to relax near by, it's much more affordable than staying in Big Sur, and the best part, eating at one of my favorite Mexican restaurants in all of California, Sarita's Mexican Restaurant! Be advised the weather can easily change from Marina to Big Sur so do not be discouraged if you wake up and all you see is grey skies. Similar thing happened to us, but by time we hit Big Sur, it was clear skies and lots of sunshine. Onto our list!

5 Things We Loved About Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur, CA

1. The Cove

As if a child playing in the sand, Pfeiffer Beach is perfectly carved out of the earth and forms the most beautiful cove surrounded by incredible rocks and of course the famous Pfeiffer Beach Cave (more on that later). There is not one bad view, not one bad angle, not one ugly spot in the entire beach. You can still see the endless Pacific Ocean in the distance, but be immediately surrounded by the beautiful beach. My favorite part about the rocks and how they seam to be strategically placed as they make perfect posing chairs as you can see here. Stephanie looks simply stunning in her new Gym Shark outfit that we were impatiently waiting for to arrive the day we were leaving. Funny story behind this, we actually waited for her shipment to arrive before we left. Her outfit was still in plastic wrap in our luggage =) 

2. Extremely Easy to Reach the Beach

We had made a wrong turn prior to visiting Pfeiffer Beach (more on that later) and when asking for directions, I specifically asked for something beach related. The response I received was extremely discouraging! The Park Ranger I spoke to had given me directions and advice on where to go, but explained that all of the locations would require a moderate difficult to difficult 3+ mile hike! For Stephanie and I, that wouldn't be a problem, however we were accompanied by Jazmin (eight years old) and Jazmin's grand parents. After getting much better advice from a local shop owner, we discovered Pfeiffer Beach and found it extremely easy to hit the sand. After a drive down to the parking lot, the beach is a super short walk away. We went from wheels to waves in less than five minutes. With a group of varying physical abilities, we really appreciated how easy it was to find the sand. No hike required, anyone of any age can easily make it to the beach. 

3. Purple Sand

My girlfriend Stephanie's favorite color is purple. I'm a HUGE Sacramento Kings fan, therefore I am very fond of the color as well. Before we set sail to Big Sur, I highlighted Pfeiffer Beach due to the purple sand. Since summer time brings a lot of tourists to Pfeiffer Beach, the purple sand gets buried under footprints and regular sand. However, we were able to find a nice corner full of this beautiful purple sand. I didn't even notice until I was stepping all over it. From what I heard at the beach, during the winter months when there are less people visiting the beach, the purple sand is much thicker and more vibrant. I will absolutely make the trip back here during the winter months!

4. Hard Cap on Occupancy

Similar to Pools, Arcades, Movie Theaters, and In-N-Out, when beaches are over crowded, it's just kind of a bummer. Don't get me wrong, hanging out and meeting new people is awesome, but when there is just too many bodies to have your own space, or you have to be watching over your shoulder in case theres one bad apple in the bunch waiting to steal your beach bag, you just can't enjoy yourself. Not Pfeiffer Beach! They have two small parking lots that are monitored by Park Rangers and when they reach capacity, they do not let any more people in. More on this later, but looking at the photo above, you can see how nice it really was. We could sit down, enjoy the day and have our own corner on the beach. Keep in mind, the beach is at full capacity during this photo. I really appreciated the hard cap on how many cars they allowed in, it made the day that much better. 

5. Incredibly Beautiful & Peaceful

You can look at these photos or any other photo online and know that Pfeiffer Beach is visually pleasing. It's not one of the top beaches in California for no reason. It's amazing. I understood this before going in, but you really just can't put it into perspective until you physically have sand on your feet, sun on your skin and ocean in your view. I think the hard cap I explained just before this helps keep this beach beautiful. The ocean is not quiet and being able to hear nothing but waves crashing and the ocean sounds is so peaceful. No cell phones buzzing, no car horns, nothing distracting, just the beautiful Pacific Ocean. Put all this together and you understand it is more than just a physical beauty. One can relax and let all the stress go. I will return to this beach because I haven't felt this worry free in a long time. It will be even better now that we've experienced it once and we know what to expect. Next are the 5 things we learned and what we'll prepare for on our next visit. 

Quick Tip

Pfeiffer Beach is a short drive from any type of restaurant or supply store. The best bet would be the River Inn which is about 10mins from Pfeiffer Beach. There is a small convenience store and bathroom right next door. This is the last stop before hitting the beach so if a bathroom or food break is needed, I suggest this be the place. Plus, you can sit down and enjoy your snacks while sitting in the river!

Click Photo for bigger view

5 Things We Wish We Knew Before Visiting Pfeiffer Beach

We learned a few lessons the hard way. We unfortunately got to experience these lessons, but the good news is you don't have to go through them after reading this. As beautiful as Pfeiffer Beach was, it was almost equally brutal on us. These lessons will not be followed by beautiful imagery since they are not the pretty side of the beach. I didn't know Pfeiffer Beach was teaching us lessons until we were in the middle of them, thus missing all photo opportunities. Photo or not, these are very important facts about Pfeiffer Beach you should know and I cap it all off with a video that better describes one thing we wish we knew before. Here are the five things we dearly wished we knew before going to Pfeiffer Beach and what you can do to prepare yourselves better. 

1. Peak Time to Visit

Earlier I talked about how much I loved the hard cap on occupancy at the beach. Well, I still wish I knew this prior to visiting Pfeiffer Beach. I was ecstatic when I turned into the road that leads to the park. Spoke to a ranger at the top of the road, she explained I there was a $10 parking fee at the bottom of the road. Cool, let's do this! After a bumpy ride, I could see the beach entrance. "There it is" we shouted in excitement. Roughly 10 cars were ahead of us, so surely we'd be on the beach in no time. "What the heck could they be talking about? Why is this taking so long?!" Every car took at least 10 to 20mins to actually pay, then enter the beach parking lot. Turns out the beach was full at that point and they could only let one car in as one car left. Looking back and typing this now, I can see how this isn't really a big issue, but imagine this, a car full of excited individuals, including an eager eight year old, all having to wait over an hour in line while the beach entrance was only a few feet away. After the third car that left, we figured out what was going on. Again, not the biggest issue ever considering I adore the cap on cars allowed in, but if I knew this before hand, I would have made plans to arrive much earlier. You'll read a little later why arriving early is important, but just make plans to get there EARLY.

2. Cash or Check ONLY

Huh??!!? About that small $10 parking fee, yeah, they don't accept any type of plastic what so ever. Another issue that is easily avoided by having cash on hand, and I understand most people are smart enough to carry cash when traveling, but not knowing this and having to frantically look for cash to pay the fee was an uncomfortable few seconds. I could only imagine how frustrating it would be if you waited all this time, traveled all this way, be right at the entrance only to not be let in because you've moved passed the early 90's. I really wanted to write this one for people who never carry cash, like me. This one is for you bro. Keep a $20 bill handy, just to get into the park. When you are done, you can lose that $10 where ever you like. Yes, I often lose cash and it's the biggest reason why I don't like carrying it. Most people will pass over this lesson learned, but for me it is one of the most important ones out of the bunch especially if you don't have $10 cash or those IOU's called checks, you will not get to play in the sand. Period. 

3. Pfeiffer State Park is NOT Pfeiffer Beach

Remember that park Ranger that told us we'd have to hike at least three miles to reach the ocean? She was at Pfeiffer State Park. Up in those mountains, GPS signals are few and far in between. I pretty much had zero signal on my phone. Maybe that should have been a quick tip, but just know going in, you will not have reception up there. Driving in a foreign place, I quickly turned into the first sign that made some sense to me. "Pfeiffer! This is it" I thought to myself. As soon as I turned in, I felt this wasn't what I wanted. Once I spoke to the Ranger, I knew for a fact this wasn't what I wanted. After being discouraged and getting turned back around, we found ourselves back at The River Inn stopping for another bathroom break. Talking to a local souvenir shop owner is how we found exact directions to Pfeiffer Beach. This is easily avoidable if you don't jump into the first "Pfeiffer" you see, especially if it's a human. Using printed maps and directions is a good idea up here. My phone didn't know if we were in Monterey, Big Sur, or the middle of the Pacific, it was not helpful at all. At least screen shot the directions before you lose signal to ensure you have a backup plan.  

4. The Entrance

When driving south on Highway 1, you will first see "Pfeiffer State Park", you don't want that one. If you drive a little further, you won't see "Pfeiffer Beach" any where. Instead you'll see a small yellow sign that reads, "Narrow Road". That is it. The awesome shop owner, who's Dad bought 50 acres of land in Big Sur for only $2 Million years before anyone cared for it, gave us directions to Pfeiffer Beach and said, "watch for the yellow sign. When you see it, immediately turn on that road and it will take you to the beach". He was spot on, however, the sign was fairly small, fairly low, and behind the road we needed to turn on. It was the traffic surrounding the turn that tipped me off more than the sign. Once I started turning, I noticed the sign, then noticed I could no longer see the road. The hairpin turn was tight and very steep. I had no clue if I was going to cut the turn too short, or hit an oncoming traveller. My co-pilot assured me I was clear, but that was sketchy. Leaving was not any better. That same sharp and steep turn made for a blind exit. The roads were clear, but it left me very un-easy. I did not capture a photo of this sign, but you can view it on this PAGE HERE if you want to see what to look out for. Once you pass Pfeiffer State Park, this small yellow sign will be on your right hand side a few miles down the highway. Drive cautiously, but don't be afraid as hundreds of people make this turn successfully every day. Just don't get stuck looking for "Pfeiffer Beach" because you will be driving for a long time. 

5. Wind

In the first lesson we learned, I wrote about the peak times to visit Pfeiffer Beach. That goes hand in hand with avoiding this one. The wind nearly ended our beach trip before it started and is the number one reason why I was unable to capture the famous Pfeiffer Beach Cave. I understand sometimes you have to be a little uncomfortable to get the shot, "no pain, no gain". This was too much and I was not about to put my gear at risk for a photo that has already been captured thousands of times before. When I was speaking to the Ranger working the gate entrance to the Pfeiffer Beach, he told me it is best to get to the beach early to avoid long lines, but also to avoid the gusts of wind. He said afternoons were the worst for both. When the wind would meet the sand and that sand would meet your body, it would feel like you just got the best exfoliation ever. Sand blasted is the only way to describe it. Very painful scratches across my legs as the wind nearly carried me away. I've added a video captured on Stephanie's cell phone that displays a little of what we experienced. It was cold, it was painful and the worst part of it all was I could not capture photos near the cave. I still managed to capture some once in a lifetime photos of my family and those will mean more to me than any cave photo, but I still wish I knew more about the best times to visit so I could have captured it all. If you show up late like we did, know that it's not the end of the world. If you find yourself near the cave entrance and realize it is too windy, just follow the beach to the other side where I took all my photos. On that side, the wind is much less aggressive and very tolerable making it so you can really enjoy the day. The video below only captures a fraction of what we experience when we first arrived at Pfeiffer Beach, but it gives you a small sample of the wind. 

Will We Go Back?

Is it all worth it? 100% YES! Now that we have our list of things we loved and things we learned, we can't wait to go back! We get to take this experience and build on it to make the next one even better. We know what to expect, we know where to go and we know how to prepare for the hard lessons that Pfeiffer Beach taught us. I would love to visit again during the cooler months to see more of the purple sand, but I also wouldn't be surprised if we make the trip again this year before summer is over. I really hope you enjoyed these lists and I hope you found some valuable information here as well. Take these lists into consideration when planning your trip to Pfeiffer Beach and I can guarantee you will have a fantastic time. I've added more photos below from our day at the beach. Please enjoy those and I will see you in the next post. 


Thank you,

Andrew

Click on photo for better view

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