Sand Dollar Beach Los Padres National Forest Big Sur Beach hiking Sand Dollar Beach Trail California

Big Sur has a dramatic rocky coastline that’s stunning to look at, but can be challenging to access. Where do you go when you want to take a good walk on the beach? To dip your toes in Big Sur’s sand, there may be nowhere better to visit than Sand Dollar Beach. This half-mile long beach (or longer if the tide is out) is a crescent-shaped arc of pale sand between the blue water of the Pacific Ocean and the orange rock of tall sea cliffs. To reach the beach and take in two panoramic vista points along the way, hike 0.5 miles round trip, descending 125 feet on Sand Dollar Beach Trail.

The hike begins from Sand Dollar Beach Day Use Area, located along Highway One near Plaskett Creek Campground. This Los Padres National Forest day use area has a parking lot, picnic tables, and vault toilets, as well as the trail to Sand Dollar Beach. Take the path from the parking area through a row of Monterey pines to a trail running along the top of a grassy bluff. Bear right and you will come to a split just past a large wooden trail sign. The trail to Sand Dollar Beach descends to the left, dropping 120 feet to the beach. Before heading this way, stay to the right on a level trail to an overlook above Sand Dollar Beach.

Sand Dollar Beach Overlook Big Sur
Plaskett Rock Point from the overlook above Sand Dollar Beach

Walk out along the dirt trail for less than a tenth of a mile to a wooden railing just behind the cliff’s edge. Be mindful of the surrounding poison oak as you take in a grand view over Sand Dollar Beach. Below you to your left is the south end of Sand Dollar Beach where the trail terminates. A few rocky islands break up the surf off the south end of the cove. The most notable of which is Plaskett Rock, a large white sea stack off the end of Plaskett Rock Point, the headland between Sand Dollar Beach and Jade Cove. Below the overlook lies Sand Dollar Beach, a long run of uninterrupted sand (no rocks). Looking up the beach to the right, the sand extends for a greater distance before it is cut off by the tall cliffs that run along the back of the beach. You can look west over the expanse of the Pacific Ocean, or turn your eyes north to see Cone Peak and the green ridges of the Santa Lucia Mountains. This lovely coastal range rises to the east as well, on the other side of Highway One.

Sand Dollar Beach Overlook Big Sur
Looking north up Sand Dollar Beach from the overlook

Backtrack from the overlook to the junction near the trailhead and take the other trail now, which descends toward a gap in the cliffs. Hike 0.05 miles toward the ocean along the side of the ravine to come to another junction. A short spur to the right leads to a second overlook. This lower overlook is located along the edge of the cliff below the first overlook and presents more views over Sand Dollar Beach.

Head to the left at the second junction to continue toward the beach. The trail descends a zig-zag of short switchbacks into a depression in the coastal bluffs. The dirt trail can only take you so far through, leading to a long wooden staircase that descends the final 40 feet to the beach. Walk down the stairs to reach Sand Dollar Beach.

Sand Dollar Beach Big Sur
The staircase down to Sand Dollar Beach

This is the end of the trail (but could be the beginning of a long beach walk). You’ve hiked 0.35 miles down to the beach and it is a 0.15-mile hike back (if you don’t revisit the overlooks). Now that you’re at the beach, there’s no reason to turn around immediately. To the left, the beach extends a tenth of a mile or more to the south end of the cove near the interesting dark rock islands off the shore of Plaskett Rock Point. To the right, the beach rolls out for half a mile, offering a longer stroll in the sand. Behind the beach stand the Pacific Valley Bluffs (home of Pacific Valley Bluff Trail) and beyond those rise the Santa Lucia Mountains. When you’ve had you fill of fun on Sand Dollar Beach, walk back up the stairs and hike up the trail to Sand Dollar Beach Day Use Area.

Sand Dollar Beach Big Sur
Sand Dollar Beach

Dogs are welcome on Sand Dollar Beach. They are expected to be on leashes on the trail, but you’ll see some dogs off leashes once they reach the beach, running free across the sand to chase sea gulls or tennis balls. The beach and parking area are closed at night. There is a $10 day use fee to park a vehicle at the trailhead. A National Forest Adventure Pass or an America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass are accepted in place of the fee. Additionally, if you are camping at a nearby campground in Los Padres National Forest (Kirk Creek Campground or Plaskett Creek Campground), you can use the Sand Dollar Beach Day Use Area without paying the entry fee. There is no need to pay the additional $10 entrance fee if you have already paid for a camping permit (all prices as of July, 2014). The same rule applies for another amazing Big Sur beach, Pfeiffer Beach. Aside from the use fee, no permit is required to hike to Sand Dollar Beach, so get out and enjoy!

To get to the trailhead: From the south, drive up Highway One to Sand Dollar Beach Day Use Area, located on the west side of the road, 15.3 miles north of Ragged Point Inn (or 38.5 miles north of Cambria). From the north, drive 21.5 miles south from Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (home of McWay Falls). The Sand Dollar Beach Day Use Area is just north of Plaskett Creek Campground (which is on the east side of Highway One).

Trailhead address: Highway One, Los Padres National Forest, Big Sur, CA 93920
Trailhead coordinates: 35.921639, -121.466913 (35° 55′ 17.90″N 121° 28′ 00.88″W)

Trail Map
View Sand Dollar Beach in a larger map
Elevation Profile
Click or hover over any spot on this elevation profile to see the distance from the start and elevation above sea level at that location, which will be highlighted on the map.

You may also view a regional map of surrounding Central Coast trails and campgrounds.

Photos

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These photos were taken in May of 2014. Click to enlarge.
Nearby Trails
Jade Cove Big Sur HikeJade Cove and Plaskett Rock Point
This 1.5-mile hike along an ocean bluff visits a prominent peninsula and a small cove.
Pacific Valley Big Sur hikePacific Valley Bluff Trail
This short out and back hike extends from Highway One to an ocean bluff with fantastic views of the Big Sur Coast.
waterfall hikeMcWay Falls
This 0.6-mile hike looks out on a stunning Big Sur waterfall that pours 80 feet right on to the beach.
Canyon Trail Big SurCanyon Falls
This 0.9-mile hike heads inland up McWay Creek past a picnic area in a redwood grove to a lovely little waterfall.
Partridge Cove Big Sur HikePartington Cove
This 1.5 mile hike visits a cove and a secluded beach along the scenic Big Sur coast. The cove is accessed through a tunnel.
Salmon Creek Falls Big Sur HikeSalmon Creek Falls
This short hike visits a fine 120-foot waterfall near the start of Salmon Creek Trail.
Buckeye Trail hikeBuckeye Trail
This hike of 6.5 miles or more reaches incredibly ocean vistas and trail camps in the Silver Peak Wilderness. Connect Cruickshank Trail and Buckeye Trail for an excellent shuttle hike of 8.25 miles or more.
Cruickshank Trail hikeCruickshank Trail
This hike into Silver Peak Wilderness starts with bold ocean views and crosses redwood groves to reach Upper Cruickshank Camp at a junction with Buckeye Trail, 5 miles round trip from Highway One.
Limekiln Trail Limekiln Falls Hare Creek hikeHare Creek Trail, Limekiln Trail, and Falls Trail
This 2.65-mile hike in Limekiln State Park explores a trio of trails along lovely streams in redwood-lined canyons, reaching Limekiln Falls and historic lime kilns.
Pfeiffer BeachPfeiffer Beach
This short walk reaches an absolutely stunning beach that’s a classic feature of the Big Sur landscape.
Big Sur River GorgeBig Sur River Gorge
This half-mile off-trail hike ventures up the Big Sur River on a water-wading boulder-hopping adventure to a crystal clear pool that’s a gorgeous Big Sur swimming hole.
Pfeiffer Falls Valley ViewPfeiffer Falls and Valley View
This 2.4-mile hike is like two hikes in one, reaching a waterfall in a canyon of redwoods and a vista point overlooking the Big Sur River Valley.
Pfeiffer Big Sur Nature Trail LoopNature Trail – River Path Loop
This easy 0.55-mile loop explores woodlands along the Big Sur River and a redwood grove that includes the unique and impressive Proboscis Tree. The loop can be combined with the trail to Pfeiffer Falls and Valley View for a 3-mile trek.
Andrew Molera SP Loop HikeRidge Trail – Panorama Trail – Bluff Trail Loop
This 8.7-mile loop in Andrew Molera State Park crosses a coastal ridge, bluff, and beach that are packed with amazing Big Sur views.
Big Sur HikeMore Central Coast Hikes
Explore other destinations along the California coast between Ventura and Monterey, including trails in Los Padres National Forest.
Nearby Campgrounds
Plaskett Creek CampgroundPlaskett Creek Campground
This 45-site campground in Los Padres National Forest is positioned across Highway One from Sand Dollar Beach and Plaskett Rock Point on the coast of Big Sur.
Kirk Creek CampgroundKirk Creek Campground
This outstanding 33-site campground in Los Padres National Forest has enormous ocean views from a bluff along the Big Sur coast.
Limekiln State Park CampgroundLimekiln State Park Campground
This small Big Sur campground at the bottom of Limekiln Canyon has sites along a creek through a redwood grove and near the ocean, with access to trails up Limekiln Canyon.
Andrew Molera State Park CampgroundAndrew Molera State Park Trail Camp
This trail camp is easy to reach (just a short walk in) with campsites in a meadow along the Big Sur River near Molera Beach.
Pfieffer Big Sur State Park CampgroundPfieffer Big Sur State Park Campground
This large campground in the heart of Big Sur is spread out through oak and redwood groves along the Big Sur River.
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Tagged with · Beaches · Big Sur · Los Padres National Forest · Ocean Views
Distance: 0.5 miles · Elevation change: 125 feet

2 Comments on Sand Dollar Beach in Los Padres National Forest (Big Sur)

  1. Marla says:

    Hi Seth,
    I had read in other places (Trip Advisor for one) that the American the Beautiful pass was accepted at Pfeiffer Beach, so when we visited earlier this year we tried to use ours at the entry gate, where we were told that they do not accept any passes. When I got home, I checked the National Parks website, and saw the Pfieffer Beach is not on the list where the pass may be used. It didn’t occur to me to try to use the Adventure Pass, but from what they said about not accepting any passes, I would guess that they wouldn’t have taken that one either. It might have just been the people who were on duty that day, but thought I’d let you know our experience.
    Thanks for putting so much effort into this site – I love it! When I’m bored at work, I come here to day dream about being out on a trail somewhere :-)

    • hikespeak says:

      Maria,
      That is disturbing to hear. The “America the Beautiful” National Parks and Public Lands Pass should work for all national forest day use fees. This site is operated by a concession with Parks Management Company, and their employees seem to ignore these policies in favor of their own company’s bottom line. I had a similar experience at Limekiln State Park, also operated by Parks Management Company, where they did not want to honor an entrance fee paid to another state park on the same day (as all others do). It may be time for California State Parks and the U.S. Forest Service to revisit their affiliation with this other company.

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