The 8 Best California Tide Pools

California tide pools are some of the best in the country. A low tide is sure expose your family a magical little world no matter the season. Sea urchins, anemones, sea stars, and even octopus are especially visible during these times when the moon’s pull is especially strong. Where are the best tide pools in California? Here are some of my personal favorites, starting south and working north up that magnificent California coast.

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The Best Tide Pools in Southern California

1. Cabrillo National Monument

best tide pools in Southern California Cabrillio National Monument
Cabrillo National Monument | Photo by Flickr/AmytheNurse

One of the California tide pools is also part of  the National Park system. Come to Cabrillo National Monument for some tide pooling and stay for the amazing “ends of the earth” views. Cabrillo NM sits on Point Loma, a peninsula with the wild and rugged Pacific Ocean on one side, and the metropolitan beauty of the San Diego Harbor on the other.

National Park Rangers lead guided tours of the tide pools, pointing out the wide variety of sea life living in these little ecosystems. Be sure to make time to visit the Old Point Loma Lighthouse and the visitor center where kids can try on reproductions of 16th century armor.

2. La Jolla Cove

southern california tide pools la jolla
La Jolla Cove | Photo by Flickr/RoozbehRokni

Located just north of San Diego, La Jolla is a picture-perfect community with one of the most family-friendly beaches in all of California. There is sparkling blue water to play in, seals to admire, and, of course, tide pools full of life just waiting to be explored. La Jolla Cove’s sandy beach can be quite crowded on summer weekends, and the parking lot can fill up quickly. But in the off season, finding a spot quickly is much more realistic.

Read our guide to the 8 best tide pools in San Diego

3. Crystal Cove State Beach

Tide Pools in Southern California Crytsal Cove
Crystal Cove Tide Pools | Photo by: Flickr/Bedfri2012

A day at Crystal Cove State Beach is like stepping back in Southern California history. Classic 1940’s cottages line the historic district, dramatic cliffs block the hillside filled with multi-million dollar homes from view, and rocky outcrops make for some terrific tide pooling. Keep your eyes out for marine life like hermit crabs, seas anemones, sea urchins, and limpets. Docent lead tide pool expeditions make for wonderfully educational family outings.

Trekaroo tip: Stop by the Shake Shack at the top of the hill above the beach for fantastic shakes and snacks. 

4. Little Corona del Mar Beach

Best Tide Pools in California
Sea Star, Purple Sea Urchins, and Sea Snails | Photo by Flickr/DawnEndico

Little Corona Del Mar Beach is my favorite place to go tide pooling in all of Orange County. Large tide pools filled with anemones, urchins, crabs, and star fish line this small stretch of beach tucked away off a residential street in uber-exclusive Corona Del Mar. As your kids walk further down the beach and climb up and over the rocks, they will be delighted to find a sea cave or two to play pirates in.

Trekaroo Tip: There is a sea cave south of the tide pools. Reaching it requires a bit of a rock scramble but adventurous kids will be rewarded with the perfect spot to play pirate. Check the tide tables before venturing towards the cave.

5. Leo Carrillo State Park

Best tide Pools in California
Leo Carrilllo State Park | Photo by Flickr/Tsoleau

Growing up north of Los Angeles, Leo Carrillo State Park is where we went in search of sea stars, crabs, and urchins. This beautiful park with a funny name is located in world-famous Malibu, home to the rich and famous. Luckily, the glitz and glamour of Hollywood is nowhere to be found, and the only drama is created by the scenery with its crashing waves and rocky sea caves. The tide pools here are easily accessible, making them great for kids of all ages.

The Best Tide Pools in Northern California 

6. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park Beach

best tide pools in California Julia pfieffer burns State park
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park | Photo by: Flickr/www78

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park Beach, an absolutely stunning state park, is located along Central California’s dramatic Big Sur coastline. In addition to some amazing views, the beach also offers some great tide pools. The only way to access the beach is on foot, so get ready for a bit of hike to reach this picturesque gem.

7. Fitzgerald Marine Reserve

best tide pools in California
Fitzgerald Marine Reserve | Photo by Flickr/ElainewithGrayCats

South of San Francisco in the small town of Half Moon Bay, Fitzgerald Marine Reserve is an incredible stretch of protected coastline. Dress warmly because unlike the beaches in the southern half of the state, it can be quite chilly up north. These tide pools are teeming with marine life and docent led tours  of the intertidal zone are available.

8. Muir Beach

best tide pools in California Muir Beach
Muir Beach Tide Pools | Photo by: Flickr/FrancoFolinii

Come for the redwoods, but stay for the tide pools. Muir Woods is a popular tourist destination. Thankfully far fewer make it just a little bit further down the coast to Muir Beach. Most of the beach is a lovely stretch of sand but there are also some nice tide pools on the northern end of the beach as well. If you want to stay late, fire rings are available and the perfect spot for some marshmallow roasting.

Heading out to the tide pools and need tips on how to have a fun and safe time? Then check out 10 Tips for Exploring Tide Pools.

Don’t miss Road School: Exploring the Science of Tide Pools with Kids

Lead image by: Bigstock/SCPhotog

 

About the author

Sharlene Earnshaw is Trekaroo’s Editor in Chief. She lives in sunny Orange County, CA, with her husband and 10-year-old son and daughter (twins!). She is a self-proclaimed National Park junkie and has the goal of visiting each and every one with her kids. When she isn't traveling to places like Norway, Peru, Disney World, and Hawaii with her family, she enjoys hiking, beach days, obsessively rooting for the San Francisco 49ers, and planning her brood's next trip.
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