Thursday, December 27, 2018

Beaches along California's Big Sur Coast

Beaches along Big Sur are very different from the sandy, surfer-enticing waves found on southern California’s coast. For starters, some can be hard to find or access, but when you get there, you’ll realize—as we did during our April visit-- they are worth the effort.

Rather than a vision of fun in the sun and splashing among curling waves, early morning may see fog hugging the coastline. Big Sur beaches can be cool even in summer, so don’t forget a jacket. And bring sturdy shoes since reaching the beach might require a hike from the parking area.
Garrapata State Park in Big Sur
Garrapata Beach: Located in Garrapata State Park—the only free park along Highway 1—the beach in the southern part of this 3,000-acre park is reached from trails leading down to the coast. With no headquarters or parking lot, we parked our car beside the highway and walked along a path to the ocean. It was lined with compact white flowers and other colorful blossoms in April, and it’s not uncommon to see artists with their easels capturing this gorgeous sight on canvas. This beautiful combination of water, rocks, surf, and blue skies attracts people for beach activities, even though the water is not really swimming temperature.

SandDollar Beach: The largest unbroken stretch of sand in Big Sur, this crescent-shaped beach is protected from wind by large bluffs, so the weather is milder. One of the few accessible beaches in southern Big Sur, it is located 14 miles north of the San Luis Obispo County line. That means it was a fairly long drive from our hotel in Carmel.

An inclined path and 99 steps on a well-built stairway lead to down to the beach. A plethora of rocks at the southern end of the beach entice gem-hunters looking for jade and serpentine. Beachcombers scan the sand for washed-up sand dollars when the tide is out (we didn’t find any), and surfers often find this a good place to hang ten.
Stunning rock formations at Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur
PfeifferBeach:  Hard to find on first try, stunning scenery makes this Big Sur’s most popular coastal access point. To find this beach, managed by the U.S. Forest Service, we had to locate the unmarked Sycamore Canyon Road. Hint: It’s the only paved, ungated road west of Highway 1 between Big Sur post office and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. After we found it, we turn sharply and followed the narrow, winding road for two miles. At the end was a large parking area and a short path to the beach.

Feeling the wind at Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur
Cliffs tower above this breathtaking stretch of purple-tinted sand, and a large arch-shaped rock formation called Keyhole Rock just off shore makes for spectacular photo opportunities, especially at sunset. At low tide people can wade through the water to observe surrounding tide pools.  Covered by towering, vegetation-heavy bluffs and striking rock formations, the beach’s expansive shoreline feels secluded from  so many people streaming down Highway 1. Despite a cold, powerful wind blowing during our April visit, we spent an hour mesmerized by water crashing against the rocks.
Beach at Andrew Molera State Park is smooth in some sections
and rocky in others. At times the sand has a purple tint, too.
Andrew Molera Beach: Although we stopped at Andrew MoleraState Park, 23 miles south of Carmel, we did not walk the scenic, mile-long path to the sheltered beach. The path meanders through a meadow filled with wildflowers and sycamore trees and provides fine views of the coastal mountain range to the east. The path parallels Big Sur River, which enters the sea adjacent to Molera’s beach. A bridge covers the river in summer, but otherwise you’ll have to wade across the cold water. Take a picnic and enjoy watching surfers or horse-back riders in the park.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier and free sources


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