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Best Tide Pools in San Diego County

Best Tide Pools in San Diego County

Get a unique perspective on the San Diego beach scene at these spots teeming with marine life

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.

Guide to Tide Pooling in 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 don’t feed any of the critters you spy in pools. Unfamiliar foods can hurt them, and touching marine life can damage a slimy coating that protects them from infection. (Besides, how much do you really want to touch that slimy coating?) That’s why it’s a great idea to bring 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 of 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 Del, as locals call it, stop in for lunch at its Beach & Taco Shack or get a 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 here, 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. Afterward, get dinner or drinks with a harbor view at nearby Ketch Grill & Taps, offering comfort food with locally sourced ingredients and a variety of San Diego craft beers.

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. Consider combining your trip with a visit to the flagship branch of the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, just a few blocks away.

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 the boutique shopping in the Cedros Avenue Design District to the original outpost of pizzeria and craft brewery, Pizza Port. And don’t you dare 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. If you’re there in the morning, start your day with a doughnut from nearby VG Donut & Bakery, a latte from Zumbar Coffee & Tea, or a breakfast burrito at Pipes Café. At sunset, you can’t beat the view (or fish tacos) from Las Olas, across the street from the beach.

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. Then, head back up the stairs and explore the fellowship’s gardens or find a quiet bench to meditate.

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. Surfers like this quiet beach, too, which is just a short drive from LEGOLAND California and the springtime Carlsbad Flower Fields.

Plan Your Visit: 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’s aquariums, zoos, and theme parks. Explore more hidden gems with this list of under-the-radar things to do in San Diego.

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