The Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, located in Moss Beach, some 20 miles south of San Francisco, is one of the most bio-diverse inter-tidal regions in the state, and as a result has some of the best tide pooling in California. At low tide, look down and scan the natural rocky reefs just offshore to discover a vibrant world of crabs, sea stars, swaying anemones, and bat stars. In shallow pools, look for bright-yellow sea lemons, algae-hoovering chitons, turban snails, and the darting movements of tiny camouflaged fish called a sculpin. Then there are the birds that see it all as an endless smorgasbord, like the strikingly red-billed black oyster-catcher. And you can’t miss the resident population of hundreds of harbor seals that haul up on the rocks or bob in the waves.
Friends of Fitzgerald Marine Reserve offers docent-led tours, or wander on your own—green-jacketed docents are happy to answer questions even if you’re not part of a guided group, and the reserve’s site offers a self-guided tour map. Time your visit when the tide is out (zero or negative tides are best). If the tide is up, take a walk through the nearby grove of wind-carved Monterey cypress. Get great sunset views from surrounding ocean bluffs; December through March, scan the horizon for the spouts of migrating gray whales. At the end of the day, enjoy fresh-off-the-boat seafood at nearby Moss Beach Distillery, or head just down the road to kick back by the outdoor fire pits at Half Moon Bay Brewing Company. For a splurge, spend the night at Moss Beach’s garden-wrapped Seal Cove Inn.
Know before you go: As a marine protected area (MPA), visitors to Fitzgerald Marine Reserve can look, but not touch. Picking up things and turning over rocks are not allowed.