How do you explore the ocean without getting wet? Tide pools. On rocky beaches when the tide goes out, puddles of seawater remain, and sea creatures become visible from shore. Nick Fash, the education manager at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium and Heal the Bay, says these aquatic habitats are worth the drive out to Malibu or Palos Verdes, where the beaches are rockier. “Hiding in these little pools and pockets of water can be crabs, octopus, sometimes even things like moray eels and small fish that get trapped there as the tide recedes.”
Fash urges visitors to take their time exploring the tide pools. “If you sit and stare long enough, you’ll see all kinds of other animals that are often slower, things like snails, and a beautiful animal called the sea hare, which is related to a marine snail, but lacks a shell.” To protect the animals, always watch where you step, and leave everything where you find it. Important: Check the tide chart before you go. The best time is during a low tide with a negative number. Fash says any time of the year is good, as long as the tide is low enough, but in the winter months we tend to get lower low tides, and the beaches are less crowded.
Leo Carrillo State Park
35000 West Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA 90265
The rugged shoreline at Leo Carrillo is fun to explore, and not just for the sea stars, anemones, and other creatures you’ll spot in the rocky intertidal zone. Wet rocks are always slippery, but this area is relatively safe, and includes coastal caves and a sandy beach. The park is open from 8 AM to 10 PM. Parking is $3/hour or $12/day.
El Matador State Beach
32350 El Matador Beach Rd., Malibu, CA 90265
El Matador Beach is part of Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Park. A parking lot above the beach has picnic tables with a view of the ocean. To get down to the water, follow the steep dirt trail and descend the stairs. In addition to sparkling tide pools, this small beach features rock columns, arches, and sea caves. Open from 8 AM to sunset.
Point Dume State Beach
Cliffside Dr., Malibu, CA 90265
Point Dume stretches out into the ocean at the north end of Santa Monica Bay, so its hiking trails offer impressive panoramic views. From the parking lot by the sandy beach ($8/day), follow the trails up and over the bluffs, and go down the rusty metal stairs to get to the tide pools. In addition to marine life, you’ll see seabirds that roost in the volcanic rock cliffs. Open from sunrise to sunset.
Abalone Cove Shoreline Park
5970 Palos Verdes Dr. S, Rancho Palos Verdes, CA 90275
On the way to the tide pools in this ecological reserve, you’ll have a spectacular views of the ocean and Catalina Island. Take the Abalone Cove Trail from the southern end of the parking lot to get to the beach, and from there take the Sea Dahlia Trail to the tide pools. Note: Part of the tide pool area at Portuguese Point is currently closed because of falling rocks. Park is open from 9 AM to dusk. (Parking lot entry way closes at 4 PM.)
White Point / Royal Palms Beach
Kay Fiorentino Dr., San Pedro, CA 90732
The tide pools at White Point / Royal Palms beach are easily accessible and perfect for a family outing. This secluded beach area is located beneath the bluffs of White Point Park. In addition to plentiful marine life, including hermit crabs and sea urchins, expect to see a few cats—the area is home to a feral cat colony. Beach-adjacent parking is $8/day.
Pelican Point, Crystal Cove State Park
E. Pacific Coast Hwy and Newport Coast Drive, Newport Beach, CA 92657
Crystal Cove State Park includes several tide pool areas, and Pelican Point is a great place to start. Use the entrance across from where Newport Coast Drive hits the PCH, and park in one of the bluff top lots for easy access to the beach. Want help identifying the sea creatures you see? Check the park calendar for volunteer-led tide pool walks. Open from 6 AM to sunset. Parking is $15/day.
Fairview Street and Cliff Drive, Laguna Beach, CA 92651
This small, secluded beach is part of the Laguna Beach State Marine Reserve. When the tide is low, visitors will discover colorful plants and animals in the rocky areas on either end of the beach. Access is via a stairway located where Fairview Street hits Cliff Drive. This is a residential neighborhood, and offers limited street parking.