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Best Tide Pools in Southern California to Explore

Best Tide Pools in Southern California to Explore

Think you’ve seen it all? Time to discover a whole world just below the water’s surface at the most fascinating SoCal tide pools now.


5 min read

June 10, 2021

Searching for a coastal paradise? Roam the beaches of Southern California to view emerald waters inviting you to swim and surf. From sandy stretches to shell-strewn strands, you’ll find the perfect beach to visit based on your zodiac sign. Unsurprisingly, this is also where you’ll find immaculate tide pools, shimmering under the SoCal sun. 

These incredible shallow pools of water are a world of their own. Each of them reveals rich and biodiverse collections of fascinating sea creatures. Sea anemones, mussels, and starfish dwell in these colorful ocean habitats, waiting to be discovered. Exploring the homes of these amazing creatures is entertaining and a nice bonding experience for the whole family. And it’s not just the kids who enjoy discovering tide pools in California—many adults get excited to see what new species they’ll be spotting. 

You’ll find the best tide pools in Southern California with stunningly strange biology that feels completely alien to us. Think you’ve seen it all? Time to learn and discover a whole world just below the water’s surface.

Best Tide Pools in Southern California 

The tide pools at Morro Bay are located at the base of a small bluff at the North Point Nature Area and are made up of several rock formations.

Morro Bay Tide Pools 

Once you’ve crossed off every activity from your Central Coast itinerary, there’s one more thing left to do on your majestic coastal getaway—tidepooling. Find the greatest California tidepools at the base of North Point Nature Area in Morro Bay. Several rock formations stretch all the way to the azure waters, resulting in incredible tide pools where the land greets the sea. Visit these rock pools to see gooseneck barnacles, sandcastle worms, and aggregations of anemones and limpets. Green algae covers the upper part of the tide pools, making it seem like a framed photograph. 

Before planning your next beach road trip, double-check the tide season. Come high tide and the area’s completely covered and difficult to access, so make sure to check the tide chart before visiting.

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Pismo Beach Tide Pools 

The tide pools at Pismo Beach may seem rather small, but they’re eternally fascinating. Visit Pismo Beach the next time you’re RV camping in SoCal and you’ll see what we mean. Once you’re there, head straight to the Dinosaur Caves Park, which is located atop oceanfront bluffs. From there, embark on a journey exploring the tiny rock pools sprinkled along the coastline. Marvel at sea anemones, snails, urchins, and limpets inhabiting the pools that are formed by an eroded rocky area. These tide pools may be a little difficult to access, but those up to the challenge will be rewarded with dazzling aquatic treasures.

Incredible Tide Pools in San Diego

The Point Loma tide pools are considered a national monument that are exposed at low tide below sandstone cliffs teeming with rich sea life.

Point Loma Tide Pools

Every year, over 350,000 people flock to Cabrillo National Monument to view one of the best protected intertidal areas in California—the tide pools at Point Loma. Look for sea anemones, keyhole limpets, black tegula snails, Kellet’s whelks, and sandcastle worms surrounded by surf grass. You’ll also come across plant types such as algae, sponge weed, kelps, and red algae.

Much like the beaches to visit when cold, these tide pools are best viewed during the fall and winter months. This is when the tides are especially low, ensuring that your marine viewing experience is as rich as possible.

La Jolla's myriad of rocky cliffs and sandy beaches have created an endless supply of nooks and crannies for marine life viewing.

La Jolla Tide Pools 

Opt for the gorgeous La Jolla next time you’re tidepooling. Not only is this gem featured in every San Diego itinerary, but it also boasts the best tide pools in all of California. Pay a visit anytime between December through March and explore a handful of rocky cliffs, sandy beaches, and the abundance of marine creatures.

Among La Jolla’s many nooks and crannies is Dike Rock, located just north of the Scripps Pier. Book a tour with Birch Aquarium and treat yourself to an unforgettable sight of aggregating and solitary sea anemones swimming together.

Any mention of tide pooling in La Jolla is incomplete without the breathtaking La Jolla Cove. While a popular destination for swimming, snorkeling, and seal-watching, a closer look at the area will reveal stunning—and hidden—tide pools. Start exploring at the northern end of the cove and look for a rocky area that slopes down towards the ocean, just past the small cave left of the stairs. Limpets, anemones, hermit crabs, mussels, and barnacles of different shapes and sizes create a microcosm of their own, with sprouting algae covering the rocks.

Curious explorers can discover a variety of fascinating tide pools in Carlsbad during low tide when seawater recedes.

Carlsbad Tide Pools

Want to splash around in San Diego? Tide pool exploration should be on your itinerary right after surfing, longboarding, and jet skiing. Located between the Power Plant and South Carlsbad are the Carlsbad Tide Pools. These hidden gems feature chameleon moss—moss that literally changes colors. Visit during low tide and look at marine life up-close, surrounded by the gorgeous backdrops of America’s Finest City. Sea stars, sea urchins, barnacles, mussels, snails, crabs, and Pacific octopi call these tide pools their home.

Beautiful Tide Pools in Orange County

The Dana Point tide pools are a vast stretch of large boulders and rocks that extend for several hundred yards, sitting at the foot of huge cliffs.

Dana Point Tide Pools

Stretching over large borders and rocks, the tide pools at Dana Point have been carrying marine life for several hundred yards. The area sits at the foot of huge cliffs and overlooks the roaring ocean—you can’t beat those views. And though the pools are small, they host a bustling ecosystem of crabs, snails, fish, anemones, mussels, barnacles, and a variety of algae. 

There’s a whole world just below the water’s surface at Thousand Steps Beach inhabited by anemones, hermit crabs, and sea stars.

Laguna Beach Tide Pools

The deep, secluded pools at Thousand Steps Beach are so breathtaking they’ll leave you tongue-tide—get it? With anemones, hermit crabs, and adorable sea stars, you won’t get enough of the world below the water’s surface. Visit the various pools at low tide and keep an eye on the swell—getting caught on the rocks while the waves crash can be quite dangerous. When you’re not tidepooling here, enjoy scuba diving, snorkeling, skimboarding, and sunbathing. 

Stunning Tide Pools in Los Angeles

Not only is El Matador Beach a wonderful place to go tidepooling, but it's also a fantastic destination to explore ocean caves and rock arches.

Malibu Tide Pools 

Next time you’re on a getaway to Malibu, don’t spend time sleeping on El Matador Beach—the best tide pools in Los Angeles are awaiting your discovery. A local photoshoot-favorite, this beach is a fantastic place to explore secluded caves and rock arches. During low tide, the pools fill with colorful sea creatures as the rocks become home to mussels, clams, and barnacles.

San Pedro Tide Pools 

San Pedro has long been a nature lover’s go-to, and its beautiful Southern California tide pools really put the cherry on top. The best ones are located in none other than Point Fermin Park Beach. While this beach isn’t exactly sandy, it’s certainly rocky enough for beachcombing and tidepooling. The low tide brings in green crabs, mussels, anemones, sea stars, and even the occasional sea slug—it’s basically your personal Golden State aquarium

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