Want to give your kids a hands-on nature experience with a dash of beach day thrown in for good measure? SoCal tide pools are teeming with colorful, interesting, fun-to-touch creatures that your kids will delight in discovering. Sea stars, sea urchins, crabs and anemones are just some of the tiny residents tucked-away in the shallow pools up and down our beaches and coastlines and they can’t wait to show off their fun features to curious toddlers and big kids.
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The Best Tide Pools to Explore around LA
Laguna Beach: Crystal Cove State Park and Beach
For those who don’t mind a road trip to Laguna (um, yes please?), consider a tide pool trip to one of the best (and most breathtaking) places for spotting sea life in Orange County. There are a variety of tide pool options here with Pelican Point and Little Treasure Cove being two of the most popular (and gorgeous) places to check out.
Good to Know: It cost $15 to park in one of the lots for the day but from here you can walk down beautifully scenic paths to the water’s edge where marine animals are plentiful here, but dolphin pods and the occasional whale spout are often observed just past the pools.
8471 Pacific Coast Hwy.
San Pedro: White Point Beach
The rocky shores and off-the-beaten-path feel make this beach ideal for traversing tide pools. Once a spot for natural sulfur hot springs, this space now gives life to vibrant sea stars, urchins, sea cucumbers and a large variety of marine life that show themselves when the tide is low. You'll see so many crabs skittering across the rocks, it'll feel at times like the floor is moving (don't worry—they're harmless!).
Good to Know: With a (paid) parking lot on site as well as clean public restrooms, picnic tables, a playground, and the stroller-friendly White Point Nature Preserve right across the street, this beach makes aquatic exploring a conveniently fun experience for the whole family.
1799 Paseo del Mar
Malibu: El Matador Beach
Another Malibu gem (this one is part of the trio of Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Beaches) is a local favorite for photo shoots (you really can't beat the scenery) but it's also a fantastic place to explore ocean caves, pools and rock arches. During low tide, the pools fill with colorful sea creatures and the rocks are blanketed in mussels, clams and barnacles.
Good to Know: Plan to park either along PCH or in the small metered lot at the top of the stairs (the lot fills up fast so best to arrive early). The stairs down to the beach are a bit steep, so it's good idea to hold onto little hands.
32200 Pacific Coast Hwy.
Malibu: Leo Carrillo State Beach
Adored by families near and far, this Malibu beach at low tide really shows off its rocky underworld where sea stars, anemones, sea urchins and crabs delight sea-life seekers of all ages. Your small scallywags can really tap into their inner pirate while they climb under rock arches, through tunnels and inside small coves.
Good to Know: Park along PCH for free or pay $3 per hour (or $12 per day) to use the day-use parking lot.
35000 Pacific Coast Hwy.
San Pedro: Cabrillo Beach
The best part about visiting this rocky shoreline is that if you do end up coming at the wrong time (i.e. high tide), you can still see everything SoCal tide pools have to offer next door at the Cabrillo Aquarium—a free aquarium showcasing all that swims, crawls, floats and sticks in the area's waters, guaranteeing you'll see sea stars and moon jellies by the dozen.
How to Find the Tide Pools near Cabrillo Beach: Park at the aquarium and walk north through the grassy field (past the sandy beach) until you see a wooden walking path. This will take you right to the tide pools, which (as long as you go at low tide) are an easy, walkable collection of flat rocks with tons of watery crevices to explore. The total walking time is just about 5 minutes each way.
Good to Know: Parking is $1 per hour.
3720 Stephen M White Dr. (This is the address for the Cabrillo Aquarium, where you'll park)
San Pedro: Point Fermin Park Beach
Your nature lovers will be in sea creature heaven during low tide on this beach! It’s certainly rocky, but pretty flat for the most part, making it easy to check out the treasures revealed when the tide is out. Beautiful green crabs, mussels, anemones, sea stars and even the occasional sea slug come out in full splendor in and around these tide pools.
807 Paseo Del Mar
Rancho Palos Verdes: Abalone Cove Shoreline Park
Access this beautiful beach via a scenic walk from the parking lot (the first 30 minutes are free, max $12 for the day). The payoff is a gorgeous strip of coastline with views for miles (look for Catalina Island in the distance) and tide pools crawling with ocean animals.
While the tide is out, your adventurers will feast their eyes on scurrying crabs, fish, colorful anemones and (luckily) get a glimpse or two of the abalone that gives the cove its name.
Good to Know: Getting to these tide pools involves a 10-minute hike with hills both there and back—and the tide pools are quite rocky so grippy water shoes are a must. This outing might be better suited for the slightly older set and may not be as toddler-friendly as some...but the bonus is this beach tends to be less crowded than others which is certainly a peaceful plus!
5970 Palos Verdes Dr. South
Rancho Palos Verdes
When to Go Tide Pooling around LA
The first thing you should know about seeing tide pools? You can't always see them! This is because they're formed only when the tide is low enough to leave pools of water inside rock crevices and shallow areas near the shore. Go at the right time, and you'll be able to spot legions of hermit crabs nestled on sandy floors, blankets of mussels stuck to rocky undersides and sticky sea anemones stuck to surfaces everywhere—all without getting your feet wet. Go at the wrong time? Not only will you miss out on your seaside safari, but it can also be dangerous, since rogue waves can easily knock little explorers off their feet.
To make tide pool exploration a success, you need to schedule your visit for when the tide is as low as possible (aim for a tide level less than 1 foot high). To find the latest tide times, check out this chart from Tideforecast.com.
What to Bring on Your Tide Pool Adventure:
- A good pair of shoes—sneakers you don't mind getting wet or sturdy water shoes (no flip flops!).
- A hat
- A bucket for (temporarily) collecting your finds for observation. Everything you find must be returned to the tide pools before you leave
- A picture chart of what to look for—and makes a great scavenger hunt, too!
Tips for Upgrading Your Tide Pool Adventure
If your budding marine biologist wants to take their discoveries to the next level, download the iNaturalist App, and bring your phone or tablet down to the tide pools and join a community science effort. Using the app, you can explore the tide pools and discover what various animals and sea life are called and you can snap and share photos of all marine life you find—the data you contribute will help give a “snapshot” of species populations in Marine Protected Areas (MPA).
Good to Know: The app isn’t just for marine areas—you can also search “Nearby” and find groups to join—from nature centers to wildlife hunts at museums like the Natural History Museum, there’s a whole community of wildlife observers waiting to welcome you.