Willow Creek Picnic Ground, Beach, and Vista Point is the last beach along the Big Sur coastline when driving from south from Monterey toward San Louis Obispo, and the first beach you encounter driving north on the Pacific Coast Highway.
A part of the Los Padres National Forest, the Willow Creek Vista Point is located immediately south of the bridge over Willow Creek on the west side of Highway 1. With a majestic view of the rocky, sparkling, Big Sur pacific coast, the small parking area is the perfect spot to pull over, take a break, and enjoy the view — Cape San Martin and the San Martin Rock is visible to the south.
Hidden from view at the vista point is the Willow Creek Picnic Ground. The day use area is accessed using a narrow road at the north end of the parking lot that leads down to the creek, some picnic tables, and Willow Creek Beach. There is parking for about more ten cars and some vault toilets (that smelled awful).
Willow Creek flows under the Highway 1 concrete bridge and plunges over a tall cliff into a pool that empties down a gravel bar into the Pacific Ocean.
We visited the Willow Creek Picnic Ground at the end of the day, after visiting Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, and Sand Dollar Beach. That meant that we reached this stop on our Big Sur Day Trip at high tide and the beach was inaccessible. Bummer!
By the picnic ground, the “beach” area is covered in rocks and boulders — and if you’re lucky, you might find small pieces of jade stone. The sandy beach is to the right around the cliffside wall. To reach the Willow Creek Beach, you must cross the Willow Creek outlet over the gravel and boulders.
At high tide the beach is inaccessible, which also means that if you’re on the beach at high tide, you’re going to find it very difficult to get back to the parking area.
Not only was it high tide when we visited the Willow Creek Picnic Ground, but there was a huge storm in Big Sur the week before our vacation, so the Creek outlet was deeper than usual and the water was moving faster. To reach the beach, we would have had to wade through freezing water and with the kids, we chose to skip that wet adventure and play on the rocks for a while.
My son Carter was thrilled with the new plan, because that meant he could jump along the rocks and find the perfect stones for stacking, and Natalie and I searched for shells, while Brian explored the area.
We also met a really nice older, retired couple. He was fishing and she was collecting pretty rocks for her garden. We got to talking and she told me that she has collected a few select stones on every vacation and day trip the couple has taken over the years to add to their home garden, so that it now holds memories of their history — seriously, how cute is that!
Willow Creek beach isn’t as famous as Pfeiffer Big Sur Beach and Sand Dollar Beach, but the lesser known stretch of hidden sandy beach with a couple huge boulders, is a popular spot for locals and and a secret spot for surfers and climbers. If you time your visit just right, you could have the beast almost all to yourself.
Know Before You Go
We had a blast playing along the Willow Creek outlet on our Big Sur family vacation!
- The Willow Creek Picnic Grounds, beach, and vista point are located in Big Sur, California on Highway 1, 28 miles north San Simeon State Park and 61 miles south of Carmel, between Gorda and Lucia.
- Vista Point parking is free, but to park at the picnic ground and beach, there is a $10/day per vehicle fee — but we didn’t see anywhere to actually pay.
- No overnight camping is allowed.
- Don’t be dissuaded by a full vista point parking lot. There is often parking down below by the restrooms.
- The beach can only be accessed during low tide, and may also be inaccessible after heavy rains.
Other Nearby Big Sur Attractions
If you’re driving through California’s world famous Big Sur region along the Pacific Coast Highway, there are a bevy of fun, family-friendly hotels, campgrounds, restaurants, and picnic grounds to stop at. There are also miles and miles of hiking trails that lead to stunning viewpoints of the rugged Big Sur coastline, gorgeous waterfalls, and majestic redwood groves. Big Sur has been one of our favorite family road trip adventures in California.
When traveling south on Highway 1 from the Willow Creek Vista Point And Picnic Grounds, it is:
- 9 miles to the Salmon Creek Falls Trailhead
- 13 miles to Ragged Point Inn & Resort
- 30 miles to the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery
- 30 miles to Hearst Castle
When traveling north on Highway 1 from the Willow Creek Vista Point And Picnic Grounds, it is:
- 2 miles to Sand Dollar Beach
- 3 mile to Jade Cove
- 10 miles to Limekiln State Park
- 24 miles to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
- 33 miles to the Pfeiffer Beach turnouff (Sycamore Canyon Road)
- 34 miles to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
- 37 miles to the Big Sur River Inn
- 39 miles to Andrew Molera State Park
- 43 miles to Point Sur State Historic Park
- 51 miles to Garrapata State Park
- 58 miles to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
- 66 miles to Fisherman’s Wharf and Cannery Row in Monterey, California
- 68 miles to Lovers Point Park in Pacific Grove
- 68 miles to the Point Pinos Lighthouse