If you are looking for a nice weekend outing, a nice drive down Highway 1 along the Big Sur coastline is always a nice choice. Depending on the season you will encounter different conditions. Spring brings you colorful wildflowers, fall has amazing sunsets and summer gives you warm sand beaches. In the winter, one of the stops I recommend along Highway 1 is Pfeiffer Beach. Also known as the “purple sand beach”. It is a beautiful beach that has highlights of purple sand that originate from the Manganese Garnet deposits that are in the hillside above the beach.
Pfeiffer Beach- Keyhole Arch
The purple hue can be very subtle but as you walk up to the beach the purple sand becomes a bit more noticeable especially if it is damp. Also, if you go to the north end of the beach, you can view tide pools during a low tide.
This is a beautiful beach any time of year, but the sun shining through the keyhole only happens in the winter. For a few weeks a year, from about mid-December to mid-January the sun lines up with the keyhole at sunset and provides a unique experience and some very good photo opportunities (if you are quick). The light shining through the keyhole only happens for a few minutes as the sun gets close to the horizon. If there are clouds blocking the sun it will not happen and you will have to head back another day.
There are several vantage points to view the keyhole experience. You can go to the top of the hill behind the beach to get an overview of the scene or you can be down on the beach where it is more up close and personal and feel the vibe of nature at its finest. It is exciting to be down on the beach where you can see and hear the waves crashing against the back of the sea stack and then the waves ricocheting against the wall of the keyhole with the spray lit up by the setting sun. There is also an excitement that is generated by the people that are there all sharing the same experience. On one of my trips there, a guy who was in the middle of a bunch of photographers stepped out into the ray of light, got down on one knee, and proposed to his girlfriend. It was very cool, and he got a brief round of applause from the photographers that were there until he was asked to move.
Heading down Highway 1, the turn off to Pfeiffer Beach is Sycamore Canyon Road. It is about 27 miles south of Carmel between the Big Sur Ranger Station and the Post Office. After you turn off Highway 1 there is about a ten-minute drive down a narrow two-lane road to get to the beach.
The entry fee of $12 to access the area but so worth it. This is U.S. Forest service property that is managed by The Parks Management Company. The hours are from 9:00am to sunset. There is a small parking lot that is close to the beach. If the parking lot is full, they will turn people away so plan accordingly. There are some picnic tables and restrooms near the parking lot. From the parking lot it is a short walk to the beach and the sea stacks. Dogs are allowed but must be on a leash. If you go in the winter bring some warm clothes and some water. You will have a good time.