Tidepooling Excursions and Further Reading
It takes a careful eye to see some tidepool inhabitants: This sea clown nudibranch is less than an inch long. According to Ed Ricketts's classic Between Pacific Tides, the sea clown sometimes travels upside down on the bottom of a tidepool's surface, held by the water's surface tension.
Photo by Tina Conway.
Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, the subject of our July 2006 issue’s On the Trail article, is home to some of the most diverse and accessible tidepools in the state, but there are many other good tidepooling destinations along California’s more than 1,000 miles of coastline. As a rule, tidepools are most exposed and best explored at low tide. Consult tide tables, such as those posted on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website, to determine the best time to visit.
When exploring tidepool areas, remember that their inhabitants can be damaged or destroyed by a simple act like turning over a rock and exposing the animals below to the sun. Also be mindful of your own safety—be careful of the slippery footing, watch for rogue waves, and don’t turn your back on the ocean.
General information on visiting California tidepools can be found on the California Department of Fish and Game website.
Here are a few good tidepools to visit in the Bay Area and beyond.
Laguna Point, MacKerricher State Park
MacKerricher State Park is three miles north of Fort Bragg on Highway 1, near the town of Cleone. Enter the park and drive west to the Seal Watching Station and tidepools at Laguna Point. There is a wheelchair accessible boardwalk at the point.
Salt Point State Park
Salt Point State Park is 18 miles north of Jenner on Highway 1. There are many tidepools along the park’s coastline, including Gerstle Cove Marine Reserve. The visitor center is open on weekends from April through October and offers interpretive tidepool walks.
Shell Beach, Sonoma Coast State Beach
Shell Beach is located on Highway 1 three miles south of Jenner. The tidepools are rich and easily accessible. During spring and summer low tides, volunteer naturalists are available to help interpret the tidepools for visitors.
Palomarin Beach, Point Reyes National Seashore
Palomarin Beach is at the south end of Point Reyes. On Highway 1, proceed 4.5 miles north of Stinson Beach, then take Olema-Bolinas Road west for 1.8 miles to Mesa Road. Turn right onto Mesa Road and follow it 4.5 miles to the parking lot. To reach the tidepools, hike the 1.5-mile Palomarin Beach Trail from the Mesa Road trailhead. The walk down the cliff is steep and strenuous. Tidepools at the rocky beach are best visited at minus tides, since very little beach remains at high tide.
Agate Beach and Duxbury Reef State Marine Sanctuary
Agate Beach is located in Bolinas. On Highway 1, proceed 4.5 miles north of Stinson Beach, then take Olema-Bolinas Road west to Bolinas. Turn left on Elm Road and follow until it to the end. Walk south along the shore at low tide to the adjacent Duxbury Reef. Extending 1,000 feet from shore to a depth of up to 13 feet, Duxbury Reef is the largest shale reef in North America.
SAN MATEO COUNTY
Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park
Pigeon Point Lighthouse is located on Highway 1, 20 miles south of Half Moon Bay. Due to a landslide, Highway 1 is currently closed north of the park between Pacifica and Montara. If you are traveling to Pigeon Point and approaching from the north, take Highway 280 south from San Francisco, then go west on Highway 92 to Highway 1, and take Highway 1 south to the Pigeon Point Lighthouse. The tidepools are located 100 yards north of the hostel building. The rocky ledges and tidepools are easily accessible but are exposed and visible only during low tides.
SANTA CRUZ COUNTY
Natural Bridges State Beach
Natural Bridges is located at the north end of the town of Santa Cruz. Take Swift Street west from Highway 1, then West Cliff Drive north until it ends at the state beach. The park has a visitor center and offers guided tidepool tours year-round at low tide. The Monarch Preserve within this park is a monarch butterfly over-wintering site.
Point Pinos and Asilomar State Beach
These two tidepool areas are located in Pacific Grove off Sunset Drive/Highway 68 and Asilomar Avenue. Point Pinos, also known as the Great Tide Pool, is one of the richest tidepool habitats in the world. At higher tides, some of the tidepools in this area remain exposed.
Point Lobos State Reserve
Point Lobos is located three miles south of Carmel on Highway 1. Weston Beach, west and a bit south of the park entrance, is good for tidepooling.
Compiled by Sue Rosenthal
Books about Pacific Coast Tidepools
The Beachcomber’s Guide to Seashore Life of California
by J. Duane Sept.
Full color photographs and detailed descriptions of the myriad of plant and animal life found in the California’s coastal zone. There are sections to help readers better understand what drives tides, tips on how to responsibly observe wildlife in the field, and descriptions of some of the best tidepooling and beachcombing spots in California.
Pacific Intertidal Life: A Guide to Organisms of Rocky Reefs and Tide Pools of the Pacific Coast
by Ron Russo and Pam Olhausen
Concise but comprehensive when it comes to breaking down species commonly found in the tidal zone along our Pacific coast. This small-format book has detailed black-and-white drawings for quick identification of critters and is easy to bring along to reference while in the field.
Between Pacific Tides
by Edward Flanders Ricketts, Jack Calvin, Joel Walker Hedgpeth
The definitive book on the intertidal and marine ecology along the California Coast written by Ed Ricketts, the real-life marine biologist depicted as “Doc” by John Steinbeck in his novel Cannery Row. Not necessarily a book to bring out into the field but a wonderfully thorough source of information about all things intertidal.
The Intertidal Wilderness: A Photographic Journey through Pacific Coast Tidepools, Revised
by Anne Rosenfeld
A visually stunning collection of photos of the weird, wild, colorful, and cryptic creatures inhabiting the tide pools of the Pacific Coast. The book’s promotional copy is right on: “This book vividly animates the surprisingly delicate beauty of the often violent intertidal zone, which daily withstands pounding waves at high tides as well as desiccation and exposure at low tides. With revealing photographs, engaging text, and a solid foundation in marine biology, this book will capture the imagination of the casual seashore visitor as well as the dedicated enthusiast.”