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Sunset at Keyhole Arch, Pfeiffer Beach in California

Winter in California can reveal some real magic of light

Sunset at Keyhole Arch, Pfeiffer Beach
Sunset at Keyhole Arch, Pfeiffer Beach

Every year during a small period of time a ray of mystical light appears in the Keyhole Arch at the Pfeiffer Beach, California. This natural phenomenon draws lots of visitors, as well as professional and amateur photographers from all over the world. Catching this rare light spectacle on your camera is one of the greatest rewards for nature photographers.

The spectacle can occur from November through January and even beyond. But the best chances are during the period around Winter Solstice, from mid-December till mid-January. However, due to crowds during the Christmas break, some prefer to come in early January. The angle of the rays changes from day to day. For several weeks the sun sets right behind the arch. The tide level is also important to create the most striking reflection. Clear skies are also necessary for a perfect picture.

Even though there are only a few minutes at sunset to enjoy this spectacular view, you have to come early, preferably a couple of hours in advance, as parking there is limited. Mind that the road down to Pfeiffer Beach is un-maintained and washes out after moderate rainfall. So the best way to get there is by a truck or an SUV. You should also be aware that the road was designed to not be so noticeable. At last, if you choose to capture the beach from above, be extremely careful and don't come close to the edge, as the coastline is rather unstable.

Practical info

When is the best time to see the Pfeiffer Beach Keyhole Arch light effect?

Visitors can see the mystical light at Keyhole Arch on Pfeiffer Beach from mid-December to mid-January while the sun sets right behind the arch. Although it can happen sooner, the best opportunity is around the winter solstice. The access road to the beach is narrow, and visitors should plan to arrive a few hours early. Moderate rain can damage the road. Show more

What is the recommended time of year to visit Big Sur and Monterey in California?

Big Sur and Monterey are magnificent all year round, with activities such as hiking that can be enjoyed between September and mid-October. It is the perfect time to visit as the weather is excellent, and summer crowds have reduced. Conversely, winter is also excellent for photographers, with fewer visitors and the magical Keyhole Arch light. The coastline's beauty is visible during this period. Show more

Which region is Pfeiffer Beach located in?

Pfeiffer Beach is situated in central California's Big Sur region and is about 75 miles south of San Jose. It is a part of the Los Padres National Forest and can be accessed by driving along a narrow road from Highway 1. The beach is not visible from the road and can be easily overlooked if visitors are not alert and looking for directions. Show more

Is the drive to Pfeiffer Beach risky?

The access road to Pfeiffer Beach can be challenging to navigate, and it is not well-maintained. The road leads off from Highway 1, and the beach is not visible from the road. Although people travel there without complications every year, visitors should be cautious while driving on such roads. Preferably, trucks or SUVs should be used. Visitors should consider this before embarking and be prepared for the drive before visiting. Show more

What is the duration of the Keyhole Arch light spectacle?

The lighting effect at Pfeiffer Beach's Keyhole Arch lasts a few minutes, but it is worth the visitors' effort to experience it. The tide level is necessary for a perfect reflection and changes daily, as does the angle of the rays. The spectacle happens between November and January and possibly beyond, but a clear sky is also necessary. Visitors should plan to explore the beach for a few hours before the show to find unique vantage points and prepare cameras. Show more

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Last updated: by Eleonora Provozin