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Tide Pools in Northern California You Need to See

Tide Pools in Northern California You Need to See

Offering a sanctuary to unique marine life along the untamed coast, these isolated pockets of seawater are a world of their own.


5 min read

June 13, 2021

The wild waters of the Pacific Ocean and rocky shorelines of Northern California are where tide pools call home. Offering a sanctuary to unique marine life along the untamed coast, these isolated pockets of seawater are a world of their own. Rock-strewn beaches allow you to view crabs mingling with sea urchins and starfish with anemones. Experience nature’s littlest wonders and critters by exploring tide pools in Northern California. If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a rare octopus. 

Tide pools form in small and large spaces between rocks that have no gaps to let the water out, changing every time the tide rises.

What to Know About Tide Pools in Northern California

To have the ultimate experience and ensure the safety of the tide pools, there are several tips and tricks to keep in mind before visiting.

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  • Go tide pooling at low tide. The lower the tide is, the more creatures you’ll get to see under the shallow waters.
  • Wear sturdy shoes. The rocks you’ll be stepping on to get closer to the tide pools are often very slippery due to the incoming waves. Wearing the wrong shoes could cause an accidental slip and fall.
  • Be careful where you step. The little creatures at the tide pools are extremely sensitive. The slightest pressure or accidental step could entirely ruin their ecosystem.
  • Admire the tide pools from afar. Lifting the creatures causes them extreme stress, which can even lead to death on occasion. If you’d like to take home souvenirs, stick to taking pictures.

Monterey Tide Pools

Some animals that live in tide pools have hard shells for protection. They can close them to avoid drying out when exposed to the air.

Point Pinos and Asilomar State Beach Tide Pools

Sitting pretty right next to each other, these two areas arguably offer the best tide pools in California. The rocky shores of Point Pinos and Asilomar are one of the richest tide pool habitats in the entire world, thriving with sea life year-round so much so that the tiny creatures are sometimes even visible at high tide. But, of course, it goes without saying that visiting during low tide is more recommended. 

Add tide pooling to your list of activities to enjoy in Monterey and find a flourishing ecosystem of California tide pools featuring anemones, sand dollars, and sea urchins at Point Pinos and Asilomar State Beach. Look beneath the surface to discover a whole new world. 

Bay Area Tide Pools

Tide pools play a key role in feeding a lot of the ocean life. It gives a large food chain to many organisms that are herbivores.

Moss Beach Tide Pools

The best area to find tide pools in Moss Beach is at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve located just north of Pillar Point Harbor and Mavericks. Approximately 20 miles south of San Francisco, this reserve protects and preserves the complex yet fragile community of sea animals along the Moss Beach coast and beyond. The Fitzgerald Marine Reserve consists of a three-mile stretch of beach, tide pool habitat, marsh, erosive bluffs, clifftop trails, as well as cypress and eucalyptus forests. 

Look for sea urchins, anemones, hermit crabs, and numerous other sea critters at this coveted Northern California tide pool hot spot. And if you think this beautiful beach looks familiar but can’t put your finger on it, you might recognize it from the opening scene of Memoirs of a Geisha—several scenes were filmed at the bluffs, directly overlooking the beautiful reserve.

Pacifica Tide Pools

Also known as Linda Mar State Beach, this beautiful coastal destination is a top kid-friendly California tide pooling spot with a rich habitat. Head to the southernmost part of the beach to encounter isolated rock pools home to different kinds of crabs and sea anemones. 

Besides awesome tide pooling, Pacifica State Beach is also a favorite destination among surfers, especially those who are just starting out. Chase NorCal swells, hone your surf skills, and go tide pooling all in one day at this top San Francisco Bay Area beach. If you visit during the warmer months, watch out for the pesky migrating jellyfish—they sting.

Mendocino Tide Pools

Only few animals and living organisms can survive when tide pools form. They are exposed to extreme levels of cold and heat.

MacKerricher State Park 

You’ll find beaches, bluffs, headland, dunes, forests, and wetlands at MacKerricher State Park in Mendocino. And naturally, the beach here has no shortage of tide pools. Follow the boardwalk out to Laguna Point until you reach the stairs leading down to the bluff. There, you’ll find rich marine life tucked away in little pockets of water. 

Perhaps the best tide pools in Northern California are located at MacKerricher State Park. The variety of sea creatures found here is arguably the most abundant along the Mendocino Coast. The underrated state park features dozens of spots that are easily accessible for kids of all ages.

Are you done exploring the tide pools but can’t get enough of the Pacific Coast vistas? The two-mile trail extending from Mill Creek to Ward Avenue is a coastal run you definitely won’t want to miss.

Glass Beach Tide Pools

Glass Beach in Fort Bragg is one of the better-known beaches in California due to its mesmerizing shores speckled with glass pebbles instead of traditional sand. But don’t let the colorful glass pieces distract you too much—you have wildlife exploring to do at this California tide pool spot.

Plan to visit this unique California beach at minus tide for the best chances of viewing minuscule wildlife. You’ll be amazed by the spectacular creatures that inhabit the rich NorCal coast.

Tide Pools in Humboldt County

The high tide zone is occupied by the invertebrates like starfish, sea anemones, crabs, mussels, green algae, chitons, and seaweed.

Trinidad State Beach Tide Pools

Trinidad State Beach is a long sandy stretch located north of the Trinidad Harbor and Pier. While different aquatic activities can be enjoyed along the coast, tide pooling is one of the things to do when you’re not too keen on splashing around. For the ideal tide pool exploration, head over to College Cove in the northernmost section of the beach.

Getting to this California tide pool destination requires a short hike that’s as scenic as it gets. You’ll walk through the woods, across open bluffs, and past seasonal wildflowers, and down to the beach. You’ll immediately know you arrived once you see the natural arch near the north end of Trinidad State Beach.

Patrick’s Point State Park Headlands

30 miles north of Eureka is Patrick’s Point State Park—a foggy, meadow-covered headland that’s home to the best tide pools in Northern California. Since this NorCal beach is known for its big and gnarly waves, the species living in the tide pools here are different from others in the area. The marine life in these tide pools has adapted to one of the harshest environments on earth, enduring pounding waves and howling winds. And guess what? They’re a treat to explore.

To get a two-in-one wildlife viewing experience, visit this California tide pool during spring or fall and you’ll see migrating gray whales from different viewpoints such as Wedding Rock, Patrick’s Point, and Palmer’s Point.

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