The Ultimate Guide: 13 Best Tide Pools in California

Last week I drove to Point Reyes National Seashore to show my cousin the Duxbury Reef, one of the beautiful Northern California tide pools. Now, you know, I’m not a native Californian but have spent half of my life living with my grandma. I can also tell you the pros and cons of living in CA.

So, I know tide pooling is such a unique way to explore and enjoy beaches. These little puddles of seawater are full of rocks and are home to various sea life. Exploring the tide pools is one of the most entertaining things to do in California with your family and friends. Do you know what makes CA unique from other places?

Best Tide Pools in California

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Okay, let me just give you a sneak peek – Imagine yourself standing and watching out the waves crashing against the rugged rocks and the sunlight dancing upon the surface of the tide pool, creating a dazzling display of shimmering reflection.

I’m sure your imagination has already beckoned you and wants you to explore the tide pools in California. So, here I’m listing all the access-friendly tide pools in California that you can travel to without worrying much.

Best Tide Pools in California

1. Aliso Beach

I was standing on the south of downtown on the shores of Laguna Beach, California, a small town where nature herself bestowed her blessing. As far as the eye sees, I can only see and hear a rhythmic symphony of crashing waves and seagull cries. 

This coastal haven is blessed with 27 beaches. Aliso Beach is a unique tide pool in Southern California sitting along the California State Route One, the most breathtaking place you’ve ever witnessed.  

Things to do in Aliso Beach

  • Aliso Beach is famous for surfing. You’ll find swimmers, skimmers, surfers, and bodyboarders early in the morning
  • With picnic tables, a playground for kids, fire pits, and a fine dining experience Aliso Beach is the favorite family-friendly tide pool in Southern California

Tips:

  • The fee is $1 per hour
  • From 15th June to 10th September dogs are not permitted on the beach. If you’re bringing your dog he must be on a leash

You’ll also love to explore the unique places of South California…

2. Little Corona Tide Pool in Corona Del Mar

From Pacific Coast Highway, I reached a cliff above the ocean – towering cliffs, rugged majesty contrasting with the gently lapping waves. Corona Del Mar Beach is one of the great Southern California tide pool beaches home to various sea animals and sea caves. 

I never thought I’ll get a chance to bring my mother to this pretty family-friendly Orange County tide pool to see hermit crabs, ocean critters, regular crabs small fish, sea anemones, starfish, sea slugs, shells, and numerous small fishes. 

Things to do in Little Corona Tide Pool

  • The waves are small and you can let your kid play by himself without worrying or keeping an eye all the time
  • Climb up the big boulder to watch the sea urchins. Rock climbing is one of the fun things to do here
  • Little Corona Tide Pool is one of the best pools in Los Angeles that is famous for its geographical structures. Hence, hike as much as you want to bask in moments of solitude, away from the bustling Hollywood world

Tip: In search of an excellent snorkeling spot in California’s tide pools, come to the water edge, among eel grass

Note: South of the tide pool is a sea cave, come here to let your kid play his real pirate game

Discover other amazing caves in northern California.

Little Corona Tide Pool in Corona Del Mar, Best Tide Pools in California
Little Corona Tide Pool

Know where in South California you can have fun…

3. Leo Carrillo State Park Tide Pool, Malibu

I never thought Malibu has stored such a big surprise up its sleeves for all tide pooling lovers. Leo Carrillo is ranked as the number 1 explored tide pool with kids in California as the place is blended with the symphony of nature, white sandcastles, and children’s laughter.

When the first time I was here, I was amazed by its idyllic coastline, the golden glow around me. The view of the Pacific from Sequit Point is mesmerizing. Thankfully, Leo Carrillo has a dog-friendly beach to take a break from the noise and enjoy the peace.

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Things to do in Leo Carrillo State Park

  • Take a good picture – the sunset just right above the Channel islands, creating a silhouette against the canvas of the vibrant sky
  • When water is shallow watch out for sea hares, muscles, anemones, hermit crabs, limpets, millennia oals, snails, urchins, sea stars, and so more
  • For more adventure, walk north and traverse Boulder to see many sea caves. The movie – The Usual Suspect was shot here

Tips:

  • Park your car under PCH to reach directly to the sand
  • Leo Carrillo Tide Pool is rocky that is covered with algae making it very slippery, so do not forget to choose anti-slippery footwear 

Read some beautiful romantic sunset and sunrise blogs…

4. Cabrillo Tide Pool

I never knew across San Diego there sits one of the best tide pools in southern California, Cabrillo National Monument. Point Loma Tide Pool attracts 3,000 visitors during king tide to see marine flora and fauna. 

In search of guided tours of tide pools in California, Cabrillo is the best place. National Park Rangers lead these tours guiding you about the ecosystem and enlighting you about each species.

Things to do in Cabrillo Tide Pool

  • Bring your kid to Old Point Loma Lighthouse and the visitor center to learn about the reproduction of 16th-century armor
  • Sea life like periwinkle snails, shire crabs, troglodyte chitons, acorn barnacles, anemones, lobsters, mussels, octopus, red algae, kelps, and seagrasses can be spotted. So, get your GoPro to get good pictures

Tips: 

  • Mobile connectivity is not good in this area
  • Cabrillo Tide Pool is termed an “intertidal zones” of SoCal
  • During high tide, the middle intertidal zone is submerged and exposed during low tide
  • Come here during negative tides – the best is .7 low tide or lower. It happens from October to April
  • National Park Service’s Every Kid Outdoor initiated a service ensuring that every kid gets free entry 
Cabrillo Tide Pool
Cabrillo Tide Pool

Know more about San Diego:

5. Sunset Cliffs Tide Pools

My favorite place to go tide pooling in Orange County has to be Sunset Cliffs in San Diego, particularly in the Point Loma neighborhood. During my visit, when the sun was sinking low, we drove to Ocean Beach Pier Café at Ocean Beach for dinner and had an amazing evening.

You’ve to take the stairs down the cliffs to reach the pool, moreover, remember to be careful as the steps are slippery on the rocks. You will love to see shells and sea anemones in the hidden treasure cracks. 

Things to do in Sunset Cliffs Tide Pools

  • You’ll witness mesmerizing dance between light and shadow, when the sun goes down, bidding farewell to one day. Do not forget to click a beautiful picture
  • Check out the algae-covered rocky pools spotting smaller limpers, crabs, lobsters, snails, barnacles, anemones, and so more

Tips: 

  • Garbage Beach is famous for snorkeling and surfing Tide Pool in San Diego
  • Come to the northern area because the rock formations make it ideal for pooling

You’ll love to read more on…

6. Montana De Oro State Park

Just south of Morro Bay and west of San Louis Obispo sits a breathtaking spot, where you cannot help but only be captivated by the majestic cliffs that stand tall, overlooking the cobalt-blue Pacific Ocean. By the pool, there is a cute bridge giving you a chance to enjoy some “me-time”.

Montana De Oro State Park is a gem along California’s central coast where during the spring you’ll find California wildflower poppies. During winter, you’ll spot rare marine life in this beautiful California tide pools – sea otters, and gay whales.

Things to do in Montana De Oro State Park

  • Witness the profound effect of geotectonic forces like earthquakes – the million years old tilted and exposed rock formations giving birth to the magnificent pool
  • During low tide at Hazard Reef, you’ll spot sea snails, mollusks, colorful sea stars
  • Hike through Bluff Trail to capture jaw-dropping photos

Tips:

  • Right off the beach sits the main tide pool
  • Hike through a narrow passageway to reach the north part of the second area to explore
  • Also the southern area of Montana de Oro tide pool there are many rock beaches to explore
Montana de Oro State Park
Montana de Oro State Park

Enjoy some good blogs…

7. Pacifica Tide Pools

Have you heard of Pacifica State Beach in the south of San Francisco? The place is truly stunning! I want you to imagine – a wide, crescent-shaped beach to explore on the isolated rock pools where you’ll be welcomed by sea anemones and crabs.

Pacifica Tide Pools is also called Linda Mar State Beach where you’ll have the golden chance to spot fascinating marine wildlife. This tide pool by Bay Area is famous among surfers during low tide.

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Things to do in Pacifica State Beach

  • Come to Taco Bell, it’s right on the beach
  • Tan yourself and soak the freshness in the air
  • Linda Mar State Beach is one of the best dog-friendly tide pools in California. However, remember to keep him on-a-leash always

Note: Weather can be fickle and windy. So, check the weather and wear appropriate clothes accordingly

Read More:

8. Pillar Point

Pillar Point is an awesome place to discover Half Moon Bay’s tide pool. It is one of the best places to see tide pools in California with gorgeous mountain views. During low tide, you can walk hundreds of feet in all directions. Oh yes, its location is perfect, it sits right by Mavericks Beach. 

If anyone is in search of bird-watching opportunities at California tide pools, then no place is better than Pillar Pool. You’ll find rare species of birds and in total 650 species of animals. During the mating season, the place is crowded with sea hares, sea urchins, and starfish.

Things to do in Pillar Point

  • Try to get the tide permits to spot giant green anemones, nudibranchs, and barnacles
  • The place is perfect for families to enjoy sweeping views of the harbor with no strong waves and bad winds
  • You can walk down the right side of the beach to reach the stone labyrinth and picnic bench to have a great family time

Note: Dogs are not allowed. 

The Ultimate Guide: 13 Best Tide Pools in California
Pillar Point

You’ll love to read more on…

9. Sculptured Beach and Palomarin Beach 

Have you thought to explore the intertidal zones of Sculptured Beach and Palomarin Beach at Point Reyes National Seashore Park? It is one of the best tide pools to explore in North California to observe the fascinating creatures that thrive in the eternal ebb. 

The good part is both the beach is considered the remote beach near San Francisco. You can walk south of Santa Maria Beach to reach Palomarin Beach during low tide. 

Things to do in Sculptured Beach

  • Enjoy the easy hike along the Woodward Valley Trail. You can also reach Sky Camp to stay for the night at their campground
  • Capture pictures of sand crabs, black turban snails, purple sea urchins, and more 

Note: It offers free parking at the coastal trails

What more can you do in Point Reyes…

10. Duxbury Reef at Agate County Park

Did you explore the offbeat beaches of Santa Cruz? If not, you’re missing out! If you’re residing in any Northern California coastal towns then I’m sure you’re well aware of Duxbury Reef, the best tide pools in Northern California. Luckily, the reef is exposed at low tide and you have the golden opportunity to see marine sediment, and Santa Cruz mudstone deposited million years ago.

I came here a year back after reading the book An Ocean Garden: The Secret Life of Seaweed. At first glance, you might not be happy looking at the pool, it’s not colorful as others but it is home to bull kelp, pink upright coralline algae, Turkish washcloth, surf grass, boa kelp and so more.

Things to do in Duxbury Reef

  • Try to spot animals on the rocks. You’ll find sea sponges which are 500 million years old. During my visit, I spotted pink Haliclona and a beautiful Chitons
  • Your dream of snorkeling and scuba diving in tide pools in California is possible here at Duxbury Reef. Do not forget to get a good pair of binoculars

Note: Duxbury Reef is a fascinating geographical structure found in the Southern region of the Point Reyes Peninsula in Marin County. It is the largest shale reef in North America

Duxbury Reef at Agate County Park
Duxbury Reef at Agate County Park

Learn more…

11. Pleasure Point Tide Pools

“If you’re lucky you might spot an ancient sea monster at Pleasure Point” – my mother said to me when I decided to come here. In Santa Cruz, adjacent to Monterey Bay sits this pretty spot called Pleasure Point which is also known as Point Soquel.  

Back in the 1920s, the place was home to lakes and lagoons and men used to fish, and hunt the waterfowl. Currently, it is the most famous tide pool in Santa Cruz where tourists come to enjoy and spot sea anemones, starfish, and kelp crabs. 

Things to do in Pleasure Point

  • Pleasure Point is the only spot in CA where you’ll get the chance to spot an elusive nudibranch, a sea slug without a shell that looks like a sea dragon
  • The terrain is almost flat and protected from significant drop-offs once you’re at the spot so you can bring your kid for fun tide pooling. Let your kid spot whales, dolphins, and migratory birds here
  • If you’re in diving and surfing, Pleasure Point is an ideal destination for you

Note: You can bring your dog to Pleasure Point

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Read more to enlighten your knowledge on…

12. False Point

At Linda Way and Sea Ridge Drive sits one of my favorite tide pools in La Jolla – False Point. You’ve to hike down the staircase to reach north of Tourmaline to reach the spot. The area is mostly on the rockier side, hence you’ll find very less people.

The tranquil environment makes the place ideal to sit with your partner and watch the sun setting down. The sky pops up in different colors making the setting so romantic. So, if you’re residing near the Bird Rock neighborhood you know where to spend your winter afternoons! 

Things to do in False Point

  • Take the guided lead tours at Bird Aquarium 
  • Try to flip the loose rocks to see the hidden sea lives

 Note: If you’re bringing your kid, make sure he is always holding your hands because the rocks are super slippery

False Point  in La Jolla
False Point in La Jolla

Read More on…

13. Coal Point Tide Pool 

East of Devereux Beach sits Coal Point Tide Pool, one of the most beautiful tide pools that expose its reef and point break, creating reliable waves for surfing. It is rated as one of the best tide pools in Santa Barbara.

Speaking about the animals, you’ll find the place covered with algae, sand crabs, snowy plovers, octopus, mussels, and so more. Most students of UCSB in Isla Vista come here to chill in the evening. 

Things to do in Coal Point Tide pool

  • With its handful of sandbars, Coal Point Tide pool is a paradise for bird watchers. Don’t forget to bring travel binoculars. The dunes act as the nestling ground for endangered snowy plovers, so remember to respect the fences and boundaries
  • Click the picture flaunting the stunning backdrop of Santa Barbara’s coastline 

Note: Coal Point Tide pool is part of El Captain State Beach where once a lot of oil got deposited

You should explore…

Other Best Tide Pools in California For You to Explore

  • Dana Point Tide Pool, Orange County
  • Asilomar and Point Pinos State Beach Pacific Grove, Pacific Grove
  • Fitzgerald Marine Reserve Tide Pools, Moss Beach, San Mateo
  • Natural Bridges State Beach Tide Pools, Santa Cruz

Tide Pool Safety Guidelines in California

  • As the tide starts to come in – LEAVE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Always make sure to know the low tide schedule for the California tide pool you’re visiting. For example, if the low tide is at 2.30 pm, I’ll start my trip around 1.45 pm. And, by 3.15 pm, I’ll begin to retreat back
  • The best time of year to visit tide pools in California is during the fall and winter (October through March). You’ll come here during low tides when the water is at its lowest point and there are no harsh waves. In simple terms, once you see the rocky shoreline you’re good to go
  • The most important tip for tide pool photography in California is always to wear waterproof hiking shoes rather than flip-flops. If you wear sandals are sure to fall down and break your bones. Also, carry your light jacket because the temperature might fall
  • I haven’t done it yet, but it’s on my bucket list – explore some of the CA tide pools at night. It’s very adventurous and exciting. But, remember to bring the flashlight
  • Before choosing a tide pooling location, make sure to know the location and your capabilities and abilities to explore
  • When you’re exploring tide pools, it’s crucial to remember that you might feel tempted to reach out and touch the fascinating marine creatures but it is best to resist the urge. Touching them can disrupt their natural habitat and can have serious consequences
  • All of the accessible tide pools in California have great hiking trails, which give you the opportunity to hike and enjoy the tide pools

FAQ: Tide Pools in California

1. What animals live in the tide pools in California?

A. Every tide pool in California is unique and you’ll find different sea life everywhere. Starting from barnacles, sea anemones, snails, crabs, mussels, and hermits to lobsters, and brittle stars you’ll spot all of these. During my visit to Pleasure Point in Santa Cruz I found periwinkle snails, unicorn whelk, oysters, and shells of different colors and shapes. 

2. Can you go to the tide pools in California during winter?

A. Yes, winter is the perfect time to enjoy tide-pooling in California. Cool Dizzily Day is the right time for tide pooling. I recommend checking the tide chart and coming here in the early afternoon.

3. What plants live in California tide pools?

A. You’ll see varieties of seagrass, seaweed, algae, and aquatic plants like anubias, aponogetons, water lilies, cryptocoryne, reeds, frogbit, kelps, and various marine plants found in these CA tide pools.

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