Hunting unicorns at the purple sand beach

El pais grande del sur is known for breathtaking coastlines and scenic views but its hidden beaches are quite the treasured gem; they all involve a hike of sorts. Private property, dangerous cliffs and steep terrain make most of Big Sur’s coastline inaccessible to the general public.

Several park systems throughout this 90-mile stretch do offer at least a glimpse at a few shores. With only a full day to explore this magical land, I picked the purple sand as my main beach trek.

Part of the mystery in Big Sur is that there is no cell service, abundance of modern amenities or really any large directional markers throughout Route 1. Pick up a printed copy of the Big Sur Chamber of Commerce’s guide or download it below.

It’s really helpful to have a printed map and some contact info. Be sure to download any maps and tell a buddy if you’re travelin’ solo.

What makes the sand that purple or pink color?

Most sand pulls the yellow present in quartz. Composed of silicon and oxygen atoms, quartz is the second most abundant mineral on Earth.

Yes, there is a large presence of quartz - it’s not like the black sand beach in Iceland. BUT garnet - a red group of minerals - is present in heavy concentrations throughout Pfeiffer Beach. This is what creates the purple and pink-like concentrations in the sand as water from so many sources migrate down to their final destination.

A tremendous amount of fresh water collides here and accounts for this larger-than-normal deposits of garnet. You can find it everywhere in little pockets, especially in direct sunlight.

How, what, who to bring:

  • This spot is not easy to locate. It’s a sharp turn down a small road directly adjacent to a yellow sign. The unmarked Sycamore Canyon Road is the only paved, open-to-the-public road in Big Sur.

  • This road is tight and narrow and windy. Don’t bring RVs, trailers, motorhomes or large vehicles you don’t know how to drive. Also, when coming around tight corners, give a light tap of the horn to let others know you’re coming around. Practice SAFE driving in Big Sur.

  • It coasts $10 bucks in CASH only - other rules from the Forest Service.

  • You may have to drive through water. I did and now my horn is a little squeakier. Many places in Big Sur are at the basin of large amounts of water, they’re all headed to the Pacific Ocean, obviously. Be prepared and use extreme caution when crossing water.

  • It gets crazy windy there and the water is NOT SAFE. This is a magical, mystical space of heaven, don’t be dumb. I almost lost my hat, seriously.

  • There are parking lots but they can fill up quickly and it’s a short walk to the beach from there.

  • It’s Big Sur; not known for sunny warm beaches. Dress accordingly and bring an extra layer in the summer.

  • Basic hiking and walking items.

It’s not a destination, it’s a state of mind.
— Unknown

Charlie has over 10 years experience in social media, creative copy and multimedia, including a 4-year stint in the government, making science cool and accessible to the general public. She is now the main lady behind Checkmark Creative, a marketing boutique for the small biz and freelancer, based in Long Beach, CA.