Planning a Central California getaway? Save time in your itinerary to visit all of the best beaches in Big Sur. One of California’s coolest seaside destinations, Big Sur offers pristine coastal scenery and beautiful stretches of white sand that make for the trip of a lifetime.
Don’t let the cool water temperatures keep you away: Big Sur is home to some of California’s most beautiful beaches. Along Highway 1, you’ll find countless stretches of pristine coastline and epic rock formations emerging from the Pacific Ocean. Enjoy sunbathing on the soft white sand, hike the coastal trails, or simply pack a picnic and take in the stunning ocean views.
On any road trip to Big Sur, you’re in for an enchanting experience. With countless hidden gems like secret beaches, rocky coves, and tidal pools, there’s so much to explore.
Ready for the ultimate California Central Coast adventure? Pack your bags and enjoy these top-rated Big Sur beaches!
Looking for more vacation ideas? Check out all our other beach guides and our California Travel Guide for more ideas on where to go, when to visit & what to do!
Top-rated Big Sur beaches
Located just south of Big Sur, Pfeiffer Beach is a secretive spot that’s well worth searching out. From Highway 1 you’ll come to an unmarked narrow road called Sycamore Canyon Road, winding itself down to Pfeiffer Beach.
During low tide, a lagoon forms at Pfeiffer Beach, offering an opportunity to explore its tide pools. There are two huge rocks that the waves crash against. One of them features a cool arch formation that’s perfect for photography. Another point of interest at the north end of Pfeiffer Beach is the unique purple sand, formed from manganese garnet rocks washing off the cliffside.
For even more fun, visit the nearby Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park where you can hike through the redwoods and along the river. The parking fee is $12.
Andrew Molera State Park
The largest state park in Big Sur, Andrew Molera State Park is home to the gorgeous Molera Beach. The huge stretch of coastline is covered in driftwood and rocks. It’s a wonderful place to enjoy a day of walking the coast and taking in the epic natural beauty of Big Sur.
At Andrew Molera State Park, there are plenty of secluded spots to enjoy a slice of the magical beach all to yourself. You might spot surfers near the river mouth. It’s one of the only spots in Big Sur with good surfing conditions.
Be prepared for a semi-lengthy walk from the parking area to the actual beach. A good hike is the Beach Trail. It loops from the parking lot down to the coast and returns via the Creamery Meadow Trail.
There’s a campground located within Andrew Molera State Park near the sand beach, but sites are limited and book up fast. If you want to camp, make sure you book well in advance.
A rocky stretch of coastline in Big Sur, Jade Cove is named for the valuable jade stones that have been found in the waters for ages. The jade comes in all colors, the most desirable reflecting a gorgeous emerald green. If you’re lucky enough to spot one, make sure to leave it as very little jade remains in the area due to over-collection.
Once you arrive at Jade Cove, be prepared for rocky terrain and a steep hike down to the beach. For parking, just pull off on either side of Highway 1. Follow the posted signage for the trails down the ocean.
Garrapata State Park
Head to Garrapata State Park for some of Big Sur’s most beautiful beaches. Garrapata Beach is a half-mile stretch of gorgeous sandy coast. It’s replete with plenty of secluded beach for you to carve out a spot to lay down some beach blankets and soak up the California sun.
Garrapata State Park teems with tons of hiking trails with epic views and bluffs to spend hours exploring. To access Garrapata Beach, park in the lots located off to either side of Highway 1 and follow the well-worn paths down the beautiful beach.
Located just below Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park you’ll find the remote Partington Cove. It isn‘t a sandy beach, but rather more of a rocky cove nestled between epic cliffs. The panoramic views are incredible, and it’s super private as it’s hard to find and access. If you’re lucky you might even have it all to yourself!
There are tons of hiking trails surrounding Partington Cove, including a small waterfall where Partington Creek makes its way toward the ocean. There’s also a cool and rather creepy stone tunnel from a shipping operation in the 1900s.
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To access Partington Cove, park on the shoulder of Highway 1 and go through the gate down the dirt path leading to the ocean.
Sand Dollar Beach
Pack a picnic and enjoy the entire day of sand, sea, and sun at Sand Dollar Beach. Located just north of Jade Cove, it’s an extremely popular beach, especially during peak summer months. If you visit during this time you’ll likely be one of many visitors enjoying the beautiful spot.
Sand Dollar Beach is one of the few surf spots in Big Sur, and surfers flock here when the waves are good. The popular Plaskett Creek Campground lies across the street, so the area gets plenty of traffic. Nonetheless, the beach is large and sandy and there’s plenty of room to spread out.
If you visit during low tide, you might spot some of the sand dollars that have swept up on the beach, or even find some pretty jade stones scattered along the shore.
There’s a parking lot at the picnic area with a long wooden stairway descending to the beach. If you’re looking to camp at Plaskett Creek, be sure to book well in advance!
Located within Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, McWay Cove is one of the most stunning spots in Big Sur. The cove is nestled between rugged cliffs with a small sandy beach surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and huge jagged rocks with crashing waves.
The most amazing feature of McWay Cove is McWay Falls which cascades from the cliffside into the ocean below during high tide. During low tide, the 80-foot waterfall falls directly on the sand. There’s no legal access down to the actual cove, but it’s worth the trip to take in the view from the cliffs.
The combination of the bright blue ocean, the crashing falls, and the pristine sandy cove makes this one of the most magical spots in all of Big Sur.
Park on the side of Highway 1 and hike the McWay Falls Overlook Trail. It’s an easy walk and provides a gorgeous view of the falls and cove from above. Don’t forget your camera!
Willow Creek Beach
One of the most beautiful beaches in Big Sur, Willow Creek Beach features a picnic area with stunning views of the coast.
Willow Creek flows into the ocean at this spot and pulls up near the cliffs. If the tide is right you can hike past the bolder-covered beach to a beautiful sandy spot that’s often deserted. Offshore you can view cool rock formations, including a huge cone-shaped rock and the giant San Martin Rock to the south.
There’s a parking area towards the top, off of Highway 1. But, if you want beach access, you’ll turn off onto the narrow road that descends to the beach itself. There’s limited parking and only room for a few cars here. During busy months, you might have to walk down from the main parking lot.
Little Sur River Beach
It doesn’t get more picturesque than Little Sur River Beach. Located in between Big Sur and Carmel-by-the-Sea, this gorgeous spot features a sandy beach scattered with driftwood and dunes, surrounded by rugged cliffs.
The Little Sur River forms a lagoon near the ocean, which is a sanctuary for wildlife like birds. The land around the river is privately owned. You can’t access it but you can take photographs. It’s certainly beautiful enough to warrant a visit.
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Other features at Little Sur River Beach include a cool rock arch just offshore.
Mill Creek Beach
Located within Los Padres National Forest, Mill Creek Beach is one of the most beautiful stretches of sand around Big Sur.
Mill Creek Beach is open to the public during the day. In the day-use area, there’s a pristine grassy area with picnic tables and incredible views. If you’re driving along Highway 1, it’s a great place to stop for a picnic lunch.
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Below the picnic area, you’ll find a bolder-covered beach, offering possibilities to explore the beautiful coastline in either direction.
If you head north, you’ll find a small sandy area. It’s important to keep in mind, though, that this section might not be accessible during high tides or rough surf. To the south, you can explore the river mouth of Mill Creek.
If you’re looking for an awesome place to camp in Big Sur, Kirk Creek Campground is located half a mile north of the entrance to Mill Creek. Make sure to call ahead for reservations.