Who doesn’t love tide pooling? There’s something exciting about finding a shallow pool of coastal water filled with an abundance of sea and plant life plus other hidden treasures, when the tide rolls out.
We’re so fortunate that San Diego tide pools are so plentiful and you can find them at many San Diego beaches. These intertidal zones are found in areas where the ocean meets the land, and of course, are best seen at low tide. When the ocean recedes, the rocky shore reveals an underwater world that’s absolutely fascinating. Be careful, as some of the recommended areas are completely submerged by the ocean during high tide. Always check the tide chart for the date and time you plan to visit.
What are some of the things you might find in San Diego tide pools? Sea anemones, sea urchins, sea stars, barnacles, limpets, chitons, starfish, octopus, and various crabs. Depending on how low the tide is when you visit, you could also see small fish and marine snails known as sea hares.
Let’s look at some of the best tide pools in San Diego where both adults and kids can explore and play in these picturesque shallow rocky zones. Plus we’ll provide some tips to make your tide pooling treasure hunt even better.
Best San Diego Tide Pools
Cabrillo National Monument Tide Pools
This Rocky Intertidal Zone in Point Loma is known as one of the best tide pool regions in San Diego. The Pacific waters here are home to an amazing ecosystem of unique plant and marine life. It’s also one of the best protected intertidal areas in California.
Visitors can access the Point Loma tide pools by going into Cabrillo National Monument, park in the parking lot then head to the sandstone cliffs at the southern end of Cabrillo.
This rocky shelf with innumerable depressions is filled with plants, fish, and invertebrates. Tide poolers have seen periwinkle stars, shore crabs, barnacles, chitons, limpets, mussels, anemones, and on a really good day, lobsters and even octopuses. Theres no doubt these are some of the best tide pools in San Diego!
Sunset Cliffs Tide Pools
Located at the north end of Point Loma at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, just south of Ocean Beach, this area is renowned for massive cliffs, fascinating sea caves, and magnificent tide pools.
Sunset Cliffs is best-known for surfing and being one of the best sunset spots in San Diego. But at low tide, some incredible tide pools await the explorer.
Look for limited street parking or a large dirt parking lot just up the street. Then head to the staircase leading down to a flat area where the tide pools reside. Here, you’ll likely find hundreds of sea anemones, crabs, and fish.
Dike Rock Tide Pools
La Jolla offers some of the most dramatic Pacific Ocean vistas with its coastal bluffs soaring hundreds of feet above the shoreline. It’s also an area that sports several excellent tide pool locations.
Dike Rock is a volcanic rock ledge jutting out from the shoreline. It’s located on the north end of La Jolla Shores Beach. This area is also home to Scripps Oceanographic Institute, one of the world’s foremost ocean research centers, and part of the La Jolla Underwater Park.
Though the tide pools aren’t extensive, treasure seekers are delighted to find starfish, limpets, mussels, anemones, and an occasional octopus.
Visitors can access paid parking at Scripps Institute on weekends and street parking is available throughout the week.
Birch Aquarium at Scripps
Speaking of La Jolla, when we took our grandchildren to the Birch Aquarium, they were totally fascinated with the aquarium’s interactive tide pool filled with sea stars, sea anemones, hermit crabs, sea cucumbers, lobsters, abalone, and more. That led to us later following up with an in-depth guided tide pool adventure on the beach with trained naturalists.
Guests will have to pay an entry fee to the aquarium to access the tide pool area, but the entire educational experience is well worth it.
La Jolla Cove Tide Pools
This was the first place our family tide pooled when we moved to San Diego several years ago. Located at the northern end of Ellen Browning Scripps Park near downtown La Jolla, these tide pools start at the northern end of the beach and extend for quite a distance.
The rocky area appears almost other-worldly and slopes down to the ocean. These innumerable nooks and crannies are filled with an abundance of sea life, including limpets, hermit crabs, mussels, barnacles, and small fish. This is definitely one of the best San Diego tide pool spots!
The rocks are covered with algae and can be very slippery. It’s important to have good shoes (not flip flops) when tide pooling this area. Free parking is located on nearby streets.
Shell Beach Tide Pools
Located at the southern end of the same park, tide poolers should look for a cement stairway leading down to Shell Beach.
As the name suggests, the beach contains lots of shells to collect and, of course, tide pools — though the area isn’t as extensive as the La Jolla Cove Tide Pools. During an extremely low tide, however, there’s plenty to discover.
Tourmaline Surfing Park
Renowned as a top San Diego surfing spot, this North Pacific Beach park also sports some amazing tide pools. Just north of the surfing area, the boulder-filled sand is host to tube snails, red thatched barnacles, anemones, hermit crabs, and limpets.
However, you may not find many sea urchins, mussels, or other type barnacles here, as these prefer faster water flows.
Just be aware that rocks here can be very slippery due to the algae. You’ll find the parking area off just off Tourmaline Street.
Ocean Beach Tide Pools
This spot is really good for kids or adults who prefer more stable footing, as the rocks here are relatively flat, and pools are shallow. Located near the Ocean Beach Pier at the end of Newport Avenue, you’ll find a small parking lot just north of the pier. If it’s full, look for metered street parking.
Not only do we love the picturesque pier but exploring the low-lying sandstone rocks can yield some interesting finds like sea anemones, limpets, barnacles, lovely sea grasses, hermit crabs, and sea snails. The Ocean Beach tide pools are some of the most unique in San Diego!
Be sure to also check out this list of the Best Beaches In San Diego!
Cardiff State Beach
The stretch of North County sand connecting Cardiff-by-the-Sea and Solana Beach has easily accessible tide pools just south of Lifeguard Tower #10. Part of Table Top Reef, rocks here are 45 million years old so chances are you’ll get to see some embedded clam fossils, something you won’t find at other tide pool locations.
Besides fossils, explorers should search for starfish and sea cucumbers in addition to hermit crabs, limpets, chiton, and other mollusks.
To get to this beach, drive along Pacific Coast Highway past Solana Beach and just north of Lomas Santa Fe Drive, you’ll see a sign for Cardiff Beach and parking.
Swami’s State Beach
This Encinitas beach just north of Cardiff has long been a favorite of surfers. The unique name was given to the seashore referencing the adjacent Self-Realization Fellowship center. Not only is this a cool place to watch the surf crowd catch a wave (we love doing that), but the tide pools here are fascinating.
Home to a substantial reef formation that’s unveiled at low tide, the area is known for finding starfish, brittle stars, crabs, octopuses, sea hares, and sea cucumbers.
Available parking is located on the left side of the Pacific Coast Highway just before reaching downtown Encinitas. If you see the white domes of the massive Fellowship, you’ll need to turn around and look for the carved wooden tiki head statue on the grass above the beach.
Tips for Tide Pooling
If you follow our insider tips, we guarantee it will help make your tide pooling in San Diego experience even more special.
Check the tide schedule. San Diego has two high and two low tides daily. You’ll need to check these, as low tide guarantees a lot more sea creatures and other fascinating finds.
Know the best time to visit. November through March is the optimal time of year for tide pooling. From late fall through early spring low tide occurs more frequently during the daylight hours. However, if you can catch an optimal low tide time during other months, we say go for it.
What to wear. It’s important to wear close-toed shoes with good grip. Moss and algae covered rocks can be very slick. You also don’t want to step on a sea urchin as this can truly ruin your tide pooling experience. Swim attire or something that can get wet is a good idea. The clear waters of some depressions can be deceptively deeper than you think.
Take your camera. Having your camera or cell phone with you will not only enable you to photograph these awe-inspiring finds, but capturing the look on the face of a child or adult when they spot that amazing treasure is priceless.
Do not remove items from the beach. Taking any natural items or living organisms is strictly forbidden at San Diego tide pools.
Bring a trash bag with you. We’re all stewards of the environment. A handy bag to pick up any wayward trash you might find is a nice way to thank Mother Nature for her bountiful gifts.
We are so lucky to have so many great places to tide pool in San Diego! Which will you explore first?
Last Updated on May 21, 2023 by Maria Haase