Hanging Out at San Diego’s Tide Pools

Swami's Tidepools - Encinitas

Mild ocean breezes and rolling waves are always in season at San Diego beaches.  In the fall, the weather is still warm enough to hit the surf, and even better, a great time to discover the secret world of tide pools. There’s no telling what tiny creatures you’ll encounter in these incredible little ecosystems teeming with life along San Diego’s shoreline. It all happens when the tide rolls out – shallow pools form around the rocks and become a home to tiny octopuses, colorful sea stars, hardy Hermit crabs and other remarkable critters. And that’s just what’s visible to the naked eye.

When my own kids were very young, exploring the tide pools was one of our favorite weekend adventures. Their favorite discoveries: The slimy looking sea cucumbers and prickly sea urchins. Now teenagers, they still love to go, so this activity is good for nature-lovers of all ages.

Fall kicks-off the best viewing season and runs through winter. Before you visit, check the surf report to make sure it’s low or minus tide, so the tide pools are out in the open. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

Cabrillo National Monument

Tidepools of Cabrillo National Monument

The Intertidal Area – Cabrillo National Monument

Walk down the scenic path where land and sea meet to a large rocky area. These tide pools offers some of San Diego’s best protected examples of periwinkle snails, tiny crabs and other unique organisms.

Shell Beach, La Jolla

Minus tide is the best time to see the tide pool here.  It is at the south end of Ellen Browning Scripps Park in La Jolla at the bottom of the small cement stairway.  This beach is also home to Seal Rock Reserve, where you can watch seals and sea lions playing and sunning themselves.

Tourmaline Surfing Park, Pacific Beach

This is a surfing-only beach that’s also popular with biology students. To get to the tide pools walk north along the beach from the parking area west of La Jolla Boulevard at the north end of Pacific Beach.

Swami’s, Encinitas

Swami's Tidepools - Encinitas

Swami’s Tidepools – Encinitas

North on Pacific Coast Highway from Cardiff State Beach is Swami’s. Once you’re on the beach, walk north to the rocky areas. Hidden in the hard sedimentary rock are old fossils shells, and during low tide, you have a good chance of seeing sea hares, brittle stars and octopuses.

Birch Aquarium at Scripps

She sees Sea Hares down by the sea shore!

For something more organized, Birch Aquarium offers guided visits to La Jolla tide pool to learn how these amazing habitats and their inhabitants truly survive “between a rock and a hard place.”


Go Tide Pooling With Experts From the Birch Aquarium

She sees Sea Hares down by the sea shore!

The San Diego coastline is dotted with incredible tide pools from Point Loma to Ocean Beach, La Jolla and beyond.

And, according to the scientists at the Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, fall and winter are great times for checking out area tide pools because lower tides expose wider sections of the beach and the “pools are teeming with native marine life, like hermit crabs, sea hares and sea anemones.”

Sea hares? Oh, yeah, of course. Sea hares. (Yikes!)

Luckily for you and me, we don’t have to know what sea hares are in order to explore the beauty and mystery of life along the San Diego coast. Because, starting Saturday, expert naturalists from the Birch Aquarium will be leading regular excursions to area tide pools. 

Here’s a list of the outings planned for now through February:

  • Nov. 20, 1:30-3:30 p.m. at Dike Rock in La Jolla
  • Dec. 5, 1:30-2:30 p.m. at False Point in La Jolla
  • Dec. 19, 1-3 p.m. at Dike Rock in La Jolla
  • Jan. 16, 12:30-2:30 p.m. at Hospital Point in La Jolla
  • Jan. 29, 12-2 p.m. at False Point in La Jolla
  • Feb. 13, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. at Dike Rock in La Jolla
  • Feb. 27, 12-2 p.m. at Hospital Point in La Jolla

The cost is $12 per person, ages 2 and older. Just RSVP by calling 858-534-7336 or online at the Birch Aquarium’s website. Directions to the meeting places for each excursion will be provided at time of RSVP.

If you can’t make one of these scheduled excursions, don’t fret.  You can get in on the tide pool action anytime you visit the Birch Aquarium. 

They have a fantastic living Tide Pool Display where you can touch and learn about tide-pool animals under the guidance of their friendly docents. Windows in the habitats provide up-close views of brilliant sea stars, hermit crabs, sea cucumbers, lobsters, and other unique animals local to San Diego’s tide pools.

Would you like to visit the Birch Aquarium to check out the tide pool display and all their amazing exhibits?

Comment below by Monday, November 22 at 10 a.m. PST and two lucky winners will each win a family four-pack of tickets for use any time before June 30, 2011. 

Happy tide pooling!