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.
The Best California Tide Pools for Families
1. Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego
One of the best California tide pools is also part of the National Park Service. Come to Cabrillo National Monument for some tide pooling and stay for the amazing “ends of the earth” views.
Cabrillo National Monument 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.
Here are the best national parks in California.
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.
Explore more of San Diego. Here are our favorite things to do in San Diego with kids.
2. La Jolla Cove in San Diego
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.
At this California tide pools there is also sparkling blue water to play in and seals to admire. 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
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-led tide pool expeditions make for wonderfully educational family outings.
If you are looking to have lunch on the sand, The Beachcomber Cafe is located in the historic district and a nice option for families. Just put your name in when you arrive at the beach, explore the tide pools, and then wait to be buzzed when your table is ready.
Trekaroo tip: Stop by the Shake Shack at the top of the hill above the beach for fantastic shakes and snacks.
See more of the state. Here are the best things to do in California with kids.
4. Little Corona del Mar Beach
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.
Here are more fun things to do in Orange County with kids.
5.Leo Carrillo State Park
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 Southern California tide pools here are easily accessible, making them great for kids of all ages.
LA is just down the road. Here are best things to do in Los Angeles with kids.
6. Montaña de Oro State Park
Montaña de Oro State Park is named for its “mountains of gold”, referring to the coastal bluffs that are covered in wildflowers, like the California poppy, during the spring. It is a great place to see gray whales migrating in the winter and sea otters bobbing around in the kelp off shore. The park is located just south of Morro Bay and west of San Louis Obispo.
Montaña de Oro is also a great place to witness the geologic ramifications of geotectonic action (aka: earthquakes), with tilted and exposed million-year-old rock formations and sea beds that make for some fabulous tide pools.
If you can time a spring visit with low tide at sunset, I can’t imagine a more beautiful spot along the coast.
Montaña de Oro is a stop on our ultimate Central Coast road trip itinerary.
7. Fitzgerald Marine Reserve
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. Clams, starfish, crabs, and other small creatures are just a short, simple hike from the parking area.
Here are more things to do in charming Half Moon Bay.
8. Muir Beach
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.
Check more items off your Norcal bucket list. Here are 25 Awesome Things to do in Northern California with kids.
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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