Discover the Best Tide Pools near San Diego

best tide pools to explore with kids in San Diego D. Zeller/NPS

If you are looking for a new (and free!) adventure, take your kids to explore our local tide pools—it’s a fantastic way to get outdoors and learn about sea life at low tide. Grab your ground-gripping shoes and head out to nimbly navigate our rocky shores to get close looks at crabs, sea stars and other ocean dwellers. Parenting Pro Tip: Check the tide charts before you visit so you can time your adventure (nothing worse than a tide pool day ruined by high tide). PS: The next California King Tides (the highest and lowest tides of the year) will be December 23-24, 2022 and January 21-22, 2023. Mark your calendars to explore the coastline during the lowest tide of the year—exposing sea life that is normally hidden.


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1. Cabrillo National Monument

Come for the tide pools, stay for the photo-ops. The Point Loma tide pools at Cabrillo National Monument surround you with breathtaking views. Located on the windy ocean-side of the point, little adventurers will spot a large and diverse amount of sea critters in this multi-leveled tidal zone area. Bonus: Sometimes docents are available to answer questions.

Good to Know: To reach the tide pools you must travel 1/4 to 1/2 miles down a dirt path with approximately 100 feet of elevation change.

Cost: $10/per vehicle

1800 Cabrillo Memorial Dr.
San Diego
Online: nps.gov

2. Shell Beach

Grab the crew and head down to Shell Beach during the low or minus tides and you’re ‘shore’ to find giant sea anemones and skittering crabs. Even more, you’ll see plenty of seals here too. Also, good to know that if low tide occurs near sunset, this is the spot to be to catch a magnificent view!

1000 Coast Blvd.
La Jolla
Online: californiabeaches.com

3. Swami’s State Beach

You’ll need to hike down a long set of stairs to access this beautiful beach––before finding tons of sea critters at low tides. Look for the 45 million year-old oyster fossils in the rocks (which is called tabletop by the locals). You’ll spot starfish and hermit crabs, sea hares and cucumbers. Head down at minus tide to explore! Note: there’s a small parking lot that’s free and also street parking.

1298 S. Coast Hwy.
Encinitas
Online: parks.ca.gov

4. Scripps Beach Dike Rock

New to tide pooling? This winter, connect with the Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institute to search for sea life at Dike Rock, or if you can’t wait, you can explore on your own. Crouch down and be still to see scampering hermit crabs and gently touch a sticky sea anemone. If your timing’s right and you hit the extreme low tides, you may get a glimpse of sea stars and sea hares ensconced in the rocks. To access this spot, park near El Paseo Grand St., then start walking north on the beach (just past the pier).

Good to Know: The closest bathrooms are at La Jolla Shores Beach parking lot.

El Paseo Grande St. & La Jolla Shores Dr.
La Jolla
Online: californiabeaches.com

 

5. Carlsbad Tide Pools

Park along Pacific Coast Highway (just South of Cannon Rd.) and go down the stairs, located at the last house. Once on the beach, head one block and you’ll find this hidden gem of a tide pool (only viewable at extreme low tides). Free to park, no restrooms, but worth the trip to find loads of hermit crabs, sea anemones and other critters skittering around in the water.

Pacific Coast Hwy. & Shore Dr.
South Carlsbad
Online: californiabeaches.com

6. False Point La Jolla

A quiet little gem in La Jolla to find sea anemones and other little creatures. To get to the rocks at low tide you’ll need to go down a steep staircase. You’ll see hermit crabs and sea anemones, sea urchins and lobsters (if lucky!). The best time to go is during a minus tide. The rocks are slippery, so remember to put the crew in the right shoes to navigate this terrain.

Sea Ridge Dr. & Linda Way
La Jolla
Online: govisitsandiego.com

7. Tourmaline Surf Park

You’ll love the fact that this small surf beach is easy to get to and has a laid back vibe. Your little sea stars can spy cute critters from snails and star fish to barnacles and limpets. The parking lot is a breeze to find, and there are basic beach bathrooms. Head north of the surfing area to find the tide pools, then, stay and watch the surfers and the sunset.

600 Tourmaline St.
La Jolla
Online: sandiego.gov/northpb

8. Cardiff State Beach

Although it’s a pay parking lot, it’s just a few steps to this sandy shore that’s full of treasures. Seaside Beach (the South end of Cardiff State Beach) is a sweet tide pool spot at low tides. So grab the stroller, pack a lunch, leash up the dog and soak up the sunshine while exploring the creatures this coast reveals. This tide pool has quick and easy access, with restrooms in the parking lot. Bring cash for the parking fee.

South Parking Lot
Pacific Coast Hwy.
Cardiff-by-the-Sea
Online: parks.ca.gov

 

What You Need to Know about San Diego Tide Pools Before Going

According to the National Park Service, “Late fall and winter are the optimum times for a visit to the tide pools. Unlike the summer months, when low tides occur in the middle of the night, the good low tides—including the outstanding negative low tides—in fall and winter occur during daylight hours. A general rule of thumb is that the tide pools can be visited approximately two hours before low tide time (when the tide is receding) and two hours after (when the tide is coming back in).” This doesn’t mean that tide pooling during the summer is for naught—you will still be able to explore the wonderful coastline and its creatures—you may just have to adjust your expectations.

RELATED STORIES
Take a Hike! The Best Nature Trails for Kids
Insider’s Guide to Birch Aquarium
San Diego’s Best Family Beaches

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