Sand Dollar Beach Picnic Area In The Los Padres National Forest

Sand Dollar Beach Picnic Area

Sand Dollar Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Big Sur, California! It is not only one of just a few sandy beaches, but the longest, continuous stretch of beach in Big Sur.

The California coastline in Big Sur is famous worldwide for its panoramic views of steep mountains, stunning rocky cliffs, and white capped, sparking blue waves of the Pacific crashing over rocks and spraying into the air. But for locals, one of the best places to relax along the Big Sur Coast is Sand Dollar Beach, a 3/4 mile long, crescent-shaped beach framed by the Pacific Valley cliffs.

Part of the Los Padres National Forest, the beach is a popular destination for surfing, tidepooling, kayaking, stand up paddleboarding (SUP), rock hunting, sun bathing, and picnicking. Named for the flat sea urchins sometimes found on the beach, Sand Dollar Beach begins as a long pile of cobblestones and rocks and slowly turns into sandy beach as it reaches the water… or at least it does sometimes.

  • At low tide, Sand Dollar Beach is a gorgeous sandy beach that stretches down the coastline and just begs to be walked on barefoot in the sun.
  • At high tide, because the beach disappears and only piled rocks and cobblestones are visible, so you’ll probably be scratching your head confused, wondering if you’re even in the right spot.

Sand Dollar Beach was a late-in-the-day stop on our Big Sur family road trip adventure, and it was high tide, which meant we didn’t get to enjoy the sandy beach. We hiked all the way down to the beach to find nothing but rocks, and like I said, at first I thought that maybe we followed the wrong trail. But no, we were in the right place, just at the wrong tide. That’s okay though because we made the best of it and instead of lounging on the beach, we climbed over the rocks hunting for treasures and shells.

Sand Dollar Beach Near Plaskett Creek Campground
The largest unbroken swathe of sand along the Big Sur coast, Sand Dollar Beach is perfect for a family beach day — but beware, at high tide the beach is gone and you’ll only find rocks.

Getting to Sand Dollar Beach

There is a large sign for the Sand Dollar Beach Day Use Picnic Area on the ocean side of Highway 1 at the entrance to the parking lot. Here you’ll find picnic tables and restrooms. The trail leaves from the northwest corner of the parking lot.

We first followed the trail to the right to the overlook, taking in gorgeous views of the beach. We then backtracked a bit to follow the trail left to the beach.

The hike down the cliffs to the beach is a bit treacherous. The trail at first is an uneven dirt trail with switchbacks that must be navigated with care, as it is riddled with large potholes, ditches from some serious erosion. It ends at a steep, wooden staircase (about 100 steps) that descend to the beach. This definitely isn’t a trail I’d want to be doing in my flip flops and there is no way I’d try lugging down our ice chest or folding chairs!

Know Before You Go

  • Sand Dollar Picnic Area is located alongside the Pacific Coast Highway in Big Sur, California 93920. It is 30 miles north of San Simeon, 33 miles south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, and 60 miles south of Carmel.
  • Sand Dollar Beach is 3/4 mile long, crescent-shaped beach that is sandy at low tide and rocky at high tide.
  • The Sand Dollar Beach Day Use fee is $10.00 per vehicle, or if you don’t mind walking, you can park on the side of the highway and walk in. Parking is free if you’re camping at Plaskett Creek Campground, Kirk Creek Campground, or other campgrounds in the Los Padres National Forest.
  • No overnight camping is allowed, it is not wheelchair accessible, and there are vault restrooms in the parking lot but not at the beach.
  • Dogs are welcome and permitted off-leash on the beach.
  • The best tidepooling is during low tide at the north and south ends of the beach.

Other Nearby Big Sur Attractions

At low tide, Sand Dollar Beach is one of the most stunning, stretches of beach on the California Ccoastline and a favorite for Big Sur locals. There are also beautiful beaches and/or coastal access at the Willow Creek Picnic Area, Limekiln State Park, Pfeiffer Beach, Andrew Molera State Park, and Garrapata State park, to name a few. There are are several amazing waterfalls, breathtaking scenic viewpoints, and hiking trails — all perfect for a family vacation to Big Sur or a family road trip along one of the most famous stretches of California’s Pacific Coast Highway.

When traveling south on Highway 1 from the Sand Dollar Beach Picnic Area, it is approximately:

When traveling north on Highway 1 from the Sand Dollar Beach Picnic Area, it is approximately:

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