Go to a beach in San Diego and look out over the water – on any given day you can see surfers, dolphins, or, at day’s end, a gorgeous sunset. At some beaches, however, one of the best views comes from looking down, where a wonderland of marine life thrives in tide pools at your feet. Along the 70 miles of San Diego County coastline, several beaches feature rocky stretches and unique terrain that, during low tide, reveal tide pools rich with marine plants and critters such as crabs, sea anemones, mussels, and sea snails known as whelks and limpets.
An outing for tide pooling offers a unique way to experience San Diego’s best beaches, as well as a nice opportunity to explore coastal towns such as Coronado, Point Loma, La Jolla, and Encinitas. For families, it’s an easy activity to add when visiting San Diego.
The best time of year to go tide pooling in San Diego is between November and March, when the low tides are more likely to occur during daylight hours, rather than early morning or at night. For precise schedules, check out the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Tide Predictions table or use the apps Tides Near Me or My Tide Times. Pinpoint the low tides for the day you’re visiting, then keep in mind that your best viewing will happen in the two hours before and after low tide.
Before you get to the beach, keep a few guidelines in mind: Look but don’t touch, and definitely do not feed any of the critters you see in the pools. Unfamiliar foods can hurt them, and touching marine life can damage a slimy coating that protects them from infection. That’s why it’s a great idea to take binoculars or a zoom-equipped camera so you can see details but also keep your distance.
Here are nine prime spots for tide pooling in San Diego County, listed south to north, along with tips on what else to see, eat, or drink nearby:
Coronado Beach, Coronado Island
Just steps from the landmark Hotel del Coronado, this beach offers a hub of tide pool activity. Look for the jetty and rocks, just south of the hotel, where you’ll find sea anemones, barnacles, crabs, little fish, and starfish. Even if you’re not staying at the hotel, stop in for lunch at its Beach & Taco Shack or enjoy gelato at Sundaes.
Cabrillo National Monument, Point Loma
See the spot where European explorers, led by Spain’s Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, first encountered San Diego Bay and the whole West Coast. Then, walk along the sand and surf grass beneath the national monument’s sandstone cliffs to discover a wide assortment of tide pool creatures: California mussels, keyhole limpets, periwinkle snails, Kellet’s whelks, and sandcastle worms. While you’re there, don’t miss the area’s still-operating Point Loma Lighthouse—there’s a “new” model that replaced the original lighthouse in 1891.
Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, Ocean Beach
Fish, sea anemones, and tiny crabs thrive in the little pools at this park between Point Loma and Ocean Beach, which is otherwise known for its jaw-dropping sunset views. During winter, you might also see migrating whales in the distance. To see the tide pools, take the stairs near the corner of Ladera Street and Sunset Cliffs Boulevard to the beach below.
Marine Street Beach, La Jolla
The rocky area on the north end of this La Jolla beach is known to locals simply as the La Jolla Tide Pools, a hotbed of hermit crabs, mussels, and limpets. Your best bet for parking near the beach is along Marine Street.
Dike Rock Tide Pools, La Jolla
Just north of the Scripps Pier and La Jolla Shores beach, this stretch of volcanic rock is part of the La Jolla Underwater Park. Check out starfish, sea anemones, and sometimes even a tiny Pacific octopus. Nearby, the Birch Aquarium offers the Preuss Tide Pool Plaza, a hands-on pool with sea stars, sea cucumbers, and lobsters. Book the aquarium’s guided Tidepooling Adventure to go exploring on the beach with a staff naturalist.
Tide Beach Park, Solana Beach
Laid-back Solana Beach offers a full day’s worth of fun, from boutique shopping in the Cedros Avenue Design District to the original outpost of pizzeria and craft brewery, Pizza Port. And don’t miss the beach! Start at the town’s main beachy hub, Fletcher Cove, then walk a half-mile north to this rocky table-top reef that is buzzing with mussels, sea urchins, and starfish.
Cardiff State Beach, Cardiff-by-the-Sea
Head south of lifeguard tower No. 10 on this North County Beach in Cardiff-by-the-Sea. The 45-million-year-old flat rocks create pools for tiny fish and sea anemones but also feature fascinating clam fossils.
Swami’s Beach, Encinitas
This beloved surf break below the bluffs in Encinitas gets its spiritual name from the landmark Self-Realization Fellowship next door. Take the stairs down the beach during low tide and look for sea hares and brittle stars.
Terramar Beach, Carlsbad
Watch chameleon moss change colors at this stretch of Carlsbad beach with a wide reef that’s also home to sea stars, sea urchins, and Pacific octopi. Park near Shore Drive, south of Cannon Road, for the easiest access.
Source: Visit California
Lead – La Jolla – California Beaches.com
Sea Creatures – Pixnio