Seeing the tide pools in San Diego is a great family-friendly activity for spring! They’re totally free, and are a terrific way to learn about the marine life that inhabits our oceans and rocky reefs. On any given day you may stumble upon octopus, tube snails, hermit crabs, water slugs, sea hares, sea cucumbers, sea anemone and numerous types of vegetation. Some of the animals attach themselves to the rocks, and others just swim or float – which provides a great vantage point for viewing! Here are a few tips to get you started.
Like all adventures, be prepared!
Wear shoes and clothing that can get wet, because chances are you’ll be getting wet. Your shoes should be sturdy enough to withstand the sharp edges of the rocks and shells; it’s also a good idea to bring along a towel and a change of dry clothes just in case.
The best times to explore the tide pools are from late fall to early spring. There are basically two high and low tides a day. Check the weather page of the local paper, look online or obtain a tide table from a bait and tackle shop, dive shop or lifeguard station to determine the best time to go. Surf shops, such as Mitch’s Surf Shop in La Jolla, are also great spots to find tide information.
If this is your first tide pooling adventure, you might want to bring along a guide book to help in your quest. It is fascinating to observe the marine life, but even more satisfying to learn exactly what the plants and animals are and how they got there. Don’t forget to bring a camera, either – tide pools and their inhabitants are very unique and colorful and don’t mind posing for photos.
Be aware of the incoming tide at all times, especially in the company of children. Standing still and maintaining your footing until the wave passes and then walking slowly toward shore will ensure a safe trip back to dry land.
Rules of Conservation
1. Avoid stepping on any animals.
2. Return all animals to the tide pools exactly as you found them.
3. Do not remove any attached life forms such as sea anemones and barnacles.
4. If you examine any rocks, remember to carefully return them as you found them.
5. Do not take any sea life or artifacts from the tide pools.
What To Look For
At first, staring into a tide pool may seem futile, but soon shapes and colors will begin to shift. Hermit crabs can be spotted fighting over an old snail shell. Sea anemones will look like colorful flowers swaying in the current. An octopus might spot you first and change colors to blend in with its surroundings. Spiny purple sea urchins look like discarded Christmas tree ornaments or pin cushions. Chitons and limpets make grooves in the rocks and often appear embedded in the rocky surfaces. On a really good day you might be lucky enough to spot a lobster, sea hare or sea slug.
Local San Diego Tide Pools
Shell Beach – Shell Beach is located behind the Marine Room Restaurant in La Jolla Shores at the end of Ellen Browning Scripps Park, between Girard and Jenner Streets, at the bottom of a small cement stairway in La Jolla. Shell Beach’s tide pool is best viewed at low tide, preferably a minus tide. Star fish and octopus are frequent visitors to this spot.
Dike Rock – Dike Rock is located at the base of Scripps Pier in La Jolla. It is located on UCSD property and is a part of the La Jolla Underwater Park marine reserve. The name, Dike Rock, refers to a volcanic bench of rock that has extruded through a large gap in the sedimentary rocks and runs perpendicular to the beach. The best tide pools are over the dike to the north side. You may see star fish or an octopus at a minus tide.
Tourmaline Surfing Park, Pacific Beach – You can reach Tourmaline Surfing Park by walking north along the beach from the parking area west of La Jolla Blvd. at the north end of Pacific Beach. Tourmaline Surfing Park is a favorite tide pool among biology students -there are numerous tide pools, and hermit crabs and sea snails are among the animals commonly visible.
Cabrillo National Monument, Point Loma – located at the tip of Point Loma, south of Sunset Cliffs and west of the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, this rocky shore has an abundance of hermit crabs and lots to see at a minus tide. Park rangers frequent this area and are always happy to explain the marine life and help visitors observe the animals.
Ocean Beach – there is a small tide pool area under the Ocean Beach Pier at the foot of Newport Avenue. During an average low tide there can be little to see, but a careful observer may spot shore crabs, hermit crabs, sea anemones, and lots of small Chiton depressions
Swami’s Beach, Encinitas – Swami’s Beach is located a bit farther north at 1240 South Coast Hwy, and the tide pools are just north of the stairway. They become visible as the tide recedes. It is an extensive reef formation and a popular spot for children’s field trips. During a low tide, the tide pools are visible on a large flat area, and you have a good chance of seeing a good variety of marine life: sea hares, brittle stars, hermit crabs, shellfish and octopi.
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