The Golden State is famous for sandy beaches and glorious sunshine. But, If you only visit the beach to surf or check out the waves, you’re missing out on a fascinating world of ocean creatures living in California’s tide pools.
How Tide Pools Form
Tides move at the rhythm of the the sun and moon’s gravitational pull. At high tide, water washes over holes and crevices in shoreline rocks, filling them with ocean water containing live organisms. As the water recedes at low tide, some of these living organisms get left behind in the holes. These holes, or “pools” of water allow us to view ocean life up close.
Tide pools are divided into 3 zones.
- High Tidal Zone: receives only spray and splashes of water
- Littoral or Middle Tidal Zone: fluctuates between being covered by water and being dry
- Subtidal or Low Tidal Zone: usually covered by water
Although the habitants continually change, here are some of the living organisms you may find once you peek inside a California tide pool:
Animals you may spot living in a California tide pool:
- Mussels (high zone)
- Barnacles (high zone)
- Chiton (high zone)
- Hermit crab (high zone)
- Limpet (high and middle zone)
- Anemone (middle zone)
- Sandcastle worms (middle zone)
- Rockweed (middle zone)
- Sea lettuce (middle zone)
- Brittle star (low zone)
- Sea stars (low zone)
- Bat star (low zone)
- Sea urchin (low zone)
You must be tough to survive in this community. Flucuations in tides create harsh conditions. Shallow pools of water become heated with the steady glare of the hot sun. Sometimes, the entire pool of water evaporates, leaving the animals without water. Without fresh seawater, little oxygen is available. Creatures adapt by taking in water when available and closing off to save it for later. Plus, there is no way to escape when predators come to hunt. To adapt, some animals learn to hide in seaweed or between crevices.
BEFORE YOU GO
- Check the local tide pool charts for the desired location. Go at low tide and leave before high tide comes in.
- Check the terrain to make sure that it fits your ability.
- Wear comfortable clothing and shoes with grip made for slippery rocks. Sandals or flip flops are NOT recommended!
- Check to make sure the location is open and accepting visitors
The Best California Tide Pools
1. Point Loma Tide Pools at Cabrillo National Monument San Diego, California
Every year, 350,000 happy guests visit the tide pools at Cabrillo National Monument. The rocky coastline is a protected area with thriving sea life. Since 1990, the area has been monitored by the National Park Service.
Parking available in lots 1 and 2.
2. Dike Rock, LaJolla, California
One of the best tide pool locations in California lies just north of Scripps Pier in La Jolla. Dike Rock is so good that Birch Aquarium offers tide pool tours. Visiting in a group adds the extra benefit of more eyes on the pools, increasing the amount of organisms everyone can see and enjoy. Additionally, expert guides can show where the animals can be found.
Park in the La Jolla Shores Beach parking lot.
3. Crescent Bay Tide Pools, Laguna, California
Visit Crescent Bay in Laguna for tide pooling with easy access and fewer people. Look for the rock shelf on the south side. To Be Safe: Only visit this tide pool area at low tide and leave before the waves begin to crash on the rocks.
4. Tide Pools at Rockpile, Laguna, California
Rockpile is a small stretch of rocky seashore on the south sideof Heisler Park in Laguna. The shoreline features a world class (and dangerous) surf break. Only experienced surfers are welcome, and NO SWIMMING is allowed. But, at low tide, the boulder clusters trap water and organisms, making it a great place to visit the tide pools. Wear water shoes.
Park on Cliff Drive. Please be courteous to the neighborhood residents!
5. Thousand Steps, Laguna, California
If you don’t mind a few steps, 218 to be exact, Thousand Steps is worth the effort. Down the steps, walk north to the small rock ledge. Across the ledge, you’ll see 2 benches with many with ocean creatures like sea stars, limpets and mussels. Smaller tide pools in the area hold sea urchins and more sea stars. More fun lies beyond the cave, but again, take caution and keep an eye on the waves.
6. Crystal Cove, Newport Beach, California
One reason I love hiking the Crystal Cove trails in Newport is the fantastic tide pools I can visit afterward. There are four tide pool viewing areas in Crystal Cove State Park: Reef Point, Rocky Bight, Pelican Point, and Treasure Cove. They’re all teeming with sea life amongst the rugged rocks. Look out over the ocean and try to spot a dolphin or two!
Parking available at Los Trancos and Reef Point entrances. Parking fee is $15.
7. Royal Palms State Beach Tide Pools, San Pedro, California
Royal Palms State Beach is located in San Pedro close to the White Point Nature Reserve. This tide pooling spot features sea urchins, starfish and sea cucumbers.
Parking available in a paid lot by the beach.
8. White Point Beach, San Pedro, California
White Point, a tiny beach in San Pedro, is designated for scuba diving and tide pool viewing. A good variety of animal life can be seen here, perhaps due to the secluded location. Check the big rocks near the sand for sea critters.
9. Abalone Cove/Sacred Cove Tide Pools, Rancho Palos Verde, California
Abalone Cove and Sacred Cove are two tide pooling areas to visit if you like to hike. The hiking trails lead down to rocky beaches with black sand, marine life like sea urchins and anemones and caves to explore.
Paid parking available.
10. Leo Carrillo State Park Tide Pools, Malibu, California
At Leo Carrillo State Park in Malibu, check out Sequit Point, the rocky space between North Beach and South Beach. Then, head to South Beach’s rocky shore filled with small tide pools. Look for small fish, anemones and hermit crabs.
11. Hazard Reef Tide Pools at Montana de Oro State Park, Los Osos, California
Hazard Reef, located on the rocky shoreline of Montana de Oro State Park, features mollusks, colorful sea stars and sea snails. To get to the pools, park and take the one mile trail down to the beach.
12. Tide Pools at William Randolph Hearst Memorial Beach, San Luis Obispo, California
Explore tide pools at the North end of W. R. Hearst Memorial Beach. Located in San Simeon, across from William Randolph Hearst Castle. Look out for sea stars, urchins and anemones. While you are there, visit the Costal Discovery Center. Admission to the center is free!
Park in the lot by the beach.
13. Moonstone Beach/Leffingwell Landing Tide Pools, Cambria, California
The rocky shore of Moonstone Beach, just 2 miles outside Cambria, is a great place to tide pool. Mussels, barnacles, rock crabs and chitons make their home here in the high tidal zone. Sea stars, sponges and sea cucumbers live here in the low tidal zone.
Visit Leffingwell Landing, at the north of the beach to see limpets, snails and crabs. During winter you may spot an elephant seal or otter.
14. North Point Beach Tide Pools, Morro Bay, California
At the north of Morro Bay, North Point Beach features some of the best tide pools in the area. North Point sits between Morro Strand Beach and Toro Creek beach. Various species of barnacles make their home in the high zone on the water-soaked rocks. Sand castle worms, anemones and limpets live in the low zone. Don’t forget to look out at Morro Rock!
Park in the beach lot and walk over the bluff.
15. Spyglass Beach Tide Pools, Pismo Beach, California
Visit Spyglass Beach, located by the Park at Dinosaur Caves for spectacular views of Shell Beach. The tide pools are small, but try to find limpets, sea snails and anemones.
Parking available at the park at Dinosaur Caves.
16. Natural Bridges State Beach Tide Pools, Santa Cruz, California
Natural Bridges State Beach sits at the northern end of Santa Cruz. Not only is this the home of the stone bridge; it is a great place to tide pool. Look for crabs, sea anemones and starfish making their homes in the rocky shore. Tide pool tours are offered year-round.
17. Asilomar State Beach/Point Pinos Tide Pools, Pacific Grove, California
The tide pools at Asilomar State Beach and Point Pinos, known as California tide pool gold, sit along Sunset Drive. Among the thriving sea community, visitors may spot sand dollars, starfish, sea anemones and sea urchins.
Park along Sunset Drive.
18. Westpoint Beach Tide Pools at Point Lobos State Reserve, California
Weston Beach at Point Lobos State Reserve is a treasure of marine life. Hermit crabs, sea snails, limpets, abalone, sea stars, kelp, sea sponges and more await visitors in the plentiful tide pools. Be aware of your surroundings, not only to catch a sea otter or two, but to check the rising swell.
A small parking lot is available in the park. If it is full, visitors may park along the highway and walk in.
19. Tide Pools at Pigeon Point Light Station
Visit Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park to see starfish, abalone and an occasional octopus. This historic park is located about 50 miles from San Francisco.
20. Fitzgerald Marine Reserve Tide Pools
The tide pools at Half Moon Bay include Pillar Point, Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, Seal Cove, Pillar Point, Redondo Beach and Cowell Ranch. Below is some information on Fitzgerald Marine Reserve.
Fitzgerald Marine Reserve
The tide pools at Moss Beach, 30 miles south of San Francisco, stretch for 1.5 miles of plentiful ocean life. The Friends of the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve provide guests with tours and information about the area. At low tide, algae, hermit crabs and starfish may be seen, as well as a few harbor seals, ready to hunt. Lucky visitors may spot gray whales in springtime or pelicans in summer and fall.
Parking is available, but scarce. Carpools recommended.
21. Palomarin Beach, Point Reyes National Seashore
Palomarin Beach, located in Point Reyes National Seashore, is a thin shoreline featuring sea cucumbers, sponges, kelp, mussels and thriving plant life.
22. Crab Cove, Alameda
Visit the Crab Cove rocky shoreline for crabs, snails and various other marine life. Located in Alameda. Tours available.
Paid parking available.
23. Duxbury Reef at Agate County Park, Bolinas, California
Pink Algae covers this large shale reef located at Agate County Park in Bolinas. Snails, chitons and anemones make their home in this colorful marine protected area.
Parking lot at Agate Beach.
24. Salt Point State Park
Salt Point State Park‘s 6000 acres features hiking, camping, diving and protected marine life along the rocky tide pools. Sea stars, crabs, chitons and more make this area their home. Learn more about sea life at the Gerstle Cove Marine Visitor’s Center.
25. Trinidad State Beach Tide Pools, Trinidad, California
Visit Trinidad State Beach, located in Humbolt County to view sea stars, anemones and sea urchins. Enjoy the beautiful view and easy access.
26. Patricks Point State Park Headlands
Patrick’s Point, located in 30 miles from Eureka, sits on a lush Redwood forest. This site is not only known for great tide pools, but for mammals as well. Look for whales and sea lions.
Paid Parking available.
Make Plans to Visit a Golden State Tide Pool
That covers most of California! The thriving marine life available to view in California tide pools is one of the state’s most precious resources.
Did we skip one that you like? Send us a photo!