Tucked away in the heart of Big Sur is Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. The park is about an hour south of Carmel on the beautiful and curvy Highway 1 with campsites and hiking trails along the Big Sur River Gorge. We knew that Big Sur was gorgeous from previous times driving through but were so excited to experience this amazing area for the day and get to camp in the forest with the mountains sheltering us from the winter weather.
We woke up early Christmas morning and quietly got into the already packed up truck and headed south along the coast for a Christmas day adventure! Winter along the northern California coast is stunning! It is usually fog-free which allows you to see for days down the coast and out to sea. The 3+ hour drive from Santa Rosa to Big Sur was filled with gorgeous views and a ton of anticipation for all the amazing things we were about to experience!
After stopping at one of the most photographed bridges, Bixby Bridge (built in 1932 with beautiful architecture), along with the hundreds of other tourists we reached our second destination for the day, McWay Falls. The park was closed! The entire park! Researching prior to the trip we knew part of the Overlook Trail was closed to due hazardous conditions but didn’t expect the entire park to be closed.
Several people were parked alongside the road and walking along. We stopped to see what we would be able to see, it was all blocked off so we walked up Highway 1 a little and could sneak a peek of the falls from the road. Careful, this was not the safest thing to do but it was one of the items on our list to visit while we were there. Most people were respectful of the park being closed and did not cross the barriers.
After this slight disappointment, we headed to our next destination…Pfeiffer Beach!
Pfeiffer Beach is about 1 mile south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. There is no sign that says where to turn and cell service in the area is spotty. Sycamore Canyon Road is a sharp right-hand turn just before the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge. If you cross the bridge, go to the next road and make a U-Turn and go back. It’s totally worth seeking it out! The narrow road wound down through a wooded canyon with houses dotting the drive. At the bottom there’s an entrance kiosk, parking is $10 and crowded on a holiday! We were able to get a spot and opted to eat our lunch in the truck since it was windy and cold at the beach. It was Christmas day, what else should we have expected?
People watching here is great! So many families and dogs walking back and forth. Some were bundled up and some were completely unprepared. Thankfully we had half of our jackets with us for this trip to choose from since we were going to be in so many various climates!
All bundled up, we strolled down to the beach cameras in hand and hoods up! We had read on California Through My Lens’ blog that we might be able to see purple sand after a rain. Well, it rained the day before we were there so our hopes were high! The majority of the people stayed in the cove where it was a little more protected from the wind. We looked around and saw the famous PURPLE SAND! PURPLE SAND!! Not dyed, not hallucinating, not losing our minds…we were really seeing purple sand!! Apparently the purple hue is from minerals in the sand, this beach tends to have more garnet. So crazy! Love mother nature!
We passed by people playing with their kids, dogs chasing balls, and others lounging and turned the corner to brave the wind and see the arched rock that the Local Adventurers had posted. The tide was a bit high so it was mostly waves attacking us at the shore as we watched the waves shoot through the arched rock just a few hundred feet away. It was so gorgeous with the sandstone rock, white bubbly water shooting through the arch, purple sand at our feet, and blue skies above. So amazing!!! Had it not been so windy we would have stayed longer!
We had quite the list of places to see in Big Sur we headed back to the truck to find our next adventure in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
When we reached the park there was a line 20 cars deep waiting to go in for day use. Thankfully they had a line just for campers that was empty so we passed the cars and signed in for the reserved campsite. It was great seeing so many families out exploring on Christmas day instead of staying home playing with their latest video games from Santa! There’s a lodge just before the entrance kiosk that has a great shop, cafe, and restaurant. We stopped after our hike to pick up last-minute snacks and buy a couple of souvenirs. No judging, we were on vacation playing the tourists that we were! 😉
Driving through the park all the way to the back where our campsite was our anticipation for the adventures that lay ahead were getting to us! We found our campsite and noted the layout for later when we would come back and set up camp. Purchase a park map for $2 when at check-in, it will come in handy! We hung out at the campsite studying the map to figure out which hike we wanted to do. We had a list of options and chose to do the 4-mile loop hike up to Buzzards Roost with an elevation gain of about 900 ft. Don’t forget to check the park websites before you go to know which trails might be closed or partially closed! Unfortunately, a couple on our list became closed.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is very well maintained and the signage is great! It’s a big park so getting lost would have been easy if trails weren’t marked as well as they are!
Buzzards Roost Hike
We parked in Day Use Lot #2 and walked along the trail to cross Big Sur River to the Buzzards Roost trailhead. The river was gently flowing, fall leaves covered our path, and the tall young redwoods sheltered us from the wind. It was a beautiful stroll along the river!
Once we started climbing up the switchbacks we were in the redwoods. The fire had torn through here but the redwoods stood strong and are continuing their long lives they have ahead of them! The trail steadily climbed along the hillside and we started reaching the tops of the redwoods. It was so peaceful and quiet even with all of the people on the trail. It was as if we were all there to experience the quiet beauty the redwoods create.
Stopping frequently to enjoy the views of the gorge below and the beautifully colored mountains across from us. We met a small group of hikers that were sitting and enjoying the view. We had a feeling there would be even more views when we got to the top so we encouraged them to continue up the hill!
The trees began to thin out and the wind picked up. We knew we were almost to the top! It was more brush and fewer trees at the top along with some sort of communication tower. Yay for cell service! We took in the views that went straight out to the ocean as if we hadn’t spent the entire day along the coast. It was so incredibly clear that day! 360-degree views from the top of Buzzards Roost! The gorge below, the ocean in the near distance, and rolling hills everywhere. So spectacular! Apparently this isn’t the only place in Big Sur with amazing views…must go back and explore more!
After enjoying the views, a snack, and catching up on our social media we headed back down. The 4-mile trail is a balloon hike with a short loop that goes around the top. We went back down the other side and, as always, breathed a little deeper when we reached the redwoods again. Some people were struggling on the way up and we promised them the views were totally worth it! Hope they took our advice and made it!
Since we were traveling in our truck for the full trip we slept in the back of the truck with just our tailgate tent and air mattress in the back instead of hauling the tent. The campsite was large! We would have had plenty of space to spread out if needed. All we needed was the campfire ring, the picnic table, and the bathroom/showers not too far away. Christmas dinner consisted of boxed soup, gluten-free bread, and some amazing Pinot Noir!
The campfire was lit, the soup was bubbling and the bread was toasted…perfect dinner. The wind was flowing through the treetops and would whip through our campsite on occasion dropping seeds and little branches on us. We kept a close eye on the fire while we played Uno. The hubs one this round of Uno! It was his turn to win! 😉 After all the wood we brought was burned we hopped in our cozy truck with what felt like a ton of blankets and slept peacefully all night…except when the wind picked up and more seeds dropped on the roof of the truck!
After breakfast, we packed up the truck and headed south on Highway 1 with our final destination being Ventura, CA (the hubs’ hometown). Knowing we would be stopping often to take in the views we left plenty of time to drive down the coast and stop wherever looked good. Highly recommend not having a time limit on your drive down Highway 1!! Take your time and enjoy every curve and vista point!
We stopped several times to enjoy the unbelievably clear views of the ocean and rocky coastline! It was so amazing!! Small waterfalls were flowing in the canyons and the waves were crashing on the shores as we drove down the coast. We saw a lighthouse that was closed and then all of a sudden a huge parking lot and a ton of people just before San Simeon. Curious we pulled over and parked at the boardwalk of Piedras Blancas.
So worth it! Everyone stopped to see Elephant Seals!!! There were so many of them! Most were sleeping and a few of the big guys were sort of challenging each other. The burping noises that came out of them was crazy to hear! According to the Friends of the Elephant Seals site, the Northern Elephant Seal is the largest seal in the northern hemisphere and the males can be 14-16 feet in length and weigh 4-5,000 pounds! We just so happened to be there during their mating season when more are on the shore. Definitely stop here and check out these amazing mammals!
Carmel was our next stop for a late lunch as we continued south. Once we hopped on the 101 the views did not stop! We passed by Morro Bay (our stop on the way home!) and then headed inland where the oak trees dotted the rolling hills. California is a wonderful state to live in. Yes, there are a lot of us but there is also a lot of beautiful open land to see. We are California natives and still haven’t explored all of it!
Do you have a favorite California spot?? Leave a comment below and let us know what we are missing out on!
Things We Love
Camping!!! We have a great little set up with the Tacoma. An air mattress that fits around the wheel wells and a tailgate tent that gives us a little extra room to put our shoes and jackets. While we love camping in a roomy tent, this set up works great for us to set up and take down easily for those 1 or 2 night stays in the campground. The air mattress pump connects to the truck outlet and pumps up this 12″ thick mattress in just a couple of minutes. Total game changer for truck camping!
The tailgate tent was another great find! It can be set up in just a couple of minutes and by 1 person. It creates a tent at the end of the truck with the tailgate down and the shell window up. Two sets of zippers, one for the shell and one for screens on a hot summer night, keep you tucked away from the wind and dry from the rain. It was such a great addition to our truck camping! Our shoes, jackets, and water bottles can sit here ready for us if we need them in the middle of the night.
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