La Jolla tide pools are among the best in town, as we have multiple spots to visit along our 7-mile coastline. One of the many great things about them is that they never look the same. Tides change, and sea life moves from one habitat to the next. I’m a huge advocate of going to the beach when they are visible, whether you’re a resident or a tourist.
While tide pooling is a popular thing to do in winter, I’m getting tons of questions about it year-round due to an increased interest in ways to get outside in San Diego.
See also: Best Tide Pools in San Diego
What you’ll find in this post is a mix of tide pooling topics that include where to go tide pooling in La Jolla, a preview of sea life typically seen, tips for best tide pooling practices, and other helpful advice you will want to read before heading out yourself.
My sources include information gathered from my own experiences (including a recent tide pooling adventure tour with Birch Aquarium) and an interview with Danny Beckwith, an Education Specialist at Birch Aquarium at the time that I first published this article.
When to Go Tide Pooling
Danny says, “Typically, we start seeing good times [for tide pooling] starting in late October, going all the way to March.” The moon’s gravitational pull (the sun has a smaller tidal effect, too) on the Earth as it rotates causes lower tides to fall during daylight throughout this season.
California experiences two high tides and two low tides per day, unlike the Gulf Coast and other parts of the Earth that experience one low tide and one high tide per day.
It’s easy to check the San Diego tide charts to note when minus tides are happening. I do this and plan our visits accordingly.
Where to Go Tide Pooling in La Jolla
Most access points to La Jolla beaches will have tide pools if there is a minus tide. Some access points are tucked away in residential neighborhoods while others are easily accessible from Coast Blvd. or La Jolla Shores beach. However, these are the best tide pools in La Jolla to check out for people who aren’t familiar with the area.
Dike Rock is located just to the north of Scripps Pier. This is where Birch Aquarium hosts tide pooling tours because it’s one of the best tide pools in La Jolla.
Danny says, “Dike Rock is interesting because it’s more of a sandy habitat interspersed with big rock formations.” The sand tends to draw juvenile fish, blind gobies, and different shrimp.
During our tour, the kids loved climbing over the rocks here as every little pool was home to a different plant or animal. The benefit to tide pooling in a group is that there are more eyeballs to spy different animals—I can’t recommend it enough.
And, of course, the Birch Aquarium guides know exactly where to look. At the time we visited, huge sea hares were out in abundance laying eggs.
Directions: It’s easiest to park in the La Jolla Shores Beach parking lot. You’ll walk on to the sand and head north toward Scripps Pier. Pass the pier, walk a few hundred yards, and you’ll see the rocky area at low tide.
You can also find closer Dike Rock parking along El Paseo Grande Street and use the stairs to the beach just to the south of Caroline’s Seaside Cafe. You’ll see Scripps Pier to the right and will keep walking to Dike Rock. You will see some parking lots in this area but note that they are UC San Diego parking lots, and permits may be required.
La Jolla Shores Beach (South of The Marine Room Restaurant)
Park at La Jolla Shores beach or near The Marine Room restaurant and use the beach access to access the tide pools and gorgeous views. I’ve been told that high numbers of baby sea hares have recently been spotted here.
La Jolla Cove
If it’s low tide at La Jolla Cove, many of the La Jolla sea lions and seals will head out to little rock islands in the ocean. This means you’ll be able to walk out onto the big flat rocky area called Point La Jolla that is between Boomer’s Beach and La Jolla Cove, where they would normally hang out.
On Point La Jolla, which is accessible from the boardwalk and on the end of Ellen Browning Scripps Park, you might see a variety of crabs and a few sea anemones but not too much else.
Your best bet is to take the stairs down to the sand to explore the little cave and rocky area accessible from the La Jolla Cove beach. This and the Point La Jolla area are usually what people are referring to when they mention La Jolla Cove tide pools.
The other good news is that you can start here and walk south down the boardwalk to most of the tide pooling spots listed below.
Directions: Find La Jolla Cove tide pools parking along Coast Blvd or nearby residential streets. During peak busy days (weekends during tide pooling season), you may want to consider a paid lot along Prospect Street. The closest is in the La Jolla Financial Building. I have written in detail about La Jolla Cove parking.
The stairs to Shell Beach can be blocked at the base by big rocks washed up by the ocean. You’ll need to tread carefully over them.
However, this is a great little place for tide pooling. Last time, we saw lots of hermit crabs, limpets, and a few sea anemones. The Shell Beach tide pools reveal themselves sometimes in the summer, which, as mentioned earlier, is not the normal tide pooling season.
Directions: The stairway to Shell Beach is adjacent to Ellen Browning Scripps Park so you’d park as if you were visiting La Jolla Cove.
South Casa Beach
Keep walking south from Shell Beach toward Children’s Pool Beach. South Casa Beach is behind the Children’s Pool sea wall and lifeguard station (Children’s Pool is where the harbor seals hang out). This is another tide pooling gem with easy access via a stairway. This tends to be an easy spot for kids to explore as there is sand to walk on in addition to rocks.
Directions: You can park at La Jolla Cove. Alternatively, there is street parking on Coast Blvd or nearby residential streets.
Between Wipeout Beach and Hospital Point
Walk a few minutes further south from South Casa Beach to Wipeout Beach. From here to Hospitals, passing Whale View Point, is one of our favorite tide pooling spots.
If you’re a photography buff, Hospitals is where these little round and curved pools reveal themselves (they are incredibly popular on Instagram and Pinterest) during low tides.
Here, you’ll find mostly rocky bluffs with little pockets of sand. We’ve spotted crabs, limpets, sea anemones, fish, sea slugs, urchins, and more time. Stay for the sunset.
Directions: Wipeout Beach is roughly where Coast Blvd and Coast Blvd South temporarily merge into Coast Blvd South before splitting again. You can find street parking on any of these streets.
The waves surfers rave about here are due to underwater reefs. Some reveal themselves during low tide.
It tends to be a little less crowded here, though mostly a sandstone landscape (that you’ll have to scramble down) versus actual sand. Sea anemones and various crabs are most commonly seen here, it seems.
Directions: Windansea Beach is roughly at the intersection of Nautilus Street and Neptune Place.
False Point is a good option for those who live in or are staying in the Bird Rock neighborhood. Its draw is that there are lots of rocks to navigate, many of which are loose. This also means that you need to be very careful when walking on the rocks and make sure to keep an eye on small children here as they are slippery.
The good news is that flipping them over (remembering to put them back) can reveal various creatures. (This is also where Birch Aquarium occasionally leads tours, but they have mostly been at Dike Rock recently.)
Directions: You’ll find this spot at Sea Ridge Drive and Linda Way where there is residential parking. Take the stairs down to the beach from Sea Ridge Drive.
Birch Aquarium at Scripps
When you visit this San Diego aquarium, head out to Tide Pool Plaza not only for one of the best views in San Diego but to see the tide pools. No, this isn’t the beach, but they have built a rocky intertidal zone filled with sea life that you would see in La Jolla tide pools.
What is also neat about Tide Pool Plaza is that there are docents present to answer questions and help people touch where appropriate. You can check the schedule also to see when tide pool feedings are happening during your visits.
This is where I send people to see tide pools when no daylight low tides are happening during their visit. Birch Aquarium should be on the San Diego itinerary of anyone with kids who are aspiring marine biologists or have an interest in the environment.
Directions: The address is 2300 Expedition Way, La Jolla, CA 92037. They offer free three-hour parking in their main lot.
Common Marine Life Spotted in San Diego Tide Pools
It’s incredible to think that an animal must be able to tolerate currents, sun, and sometimes hours in the air to survive life in a tide pool.
“A lot of animals can feel you are walking on the rocks or sense chemicals in the water, and they’ll hide for a little bit,” Danny adds. “If you’re just quiet and watching the tide pool for a moment, those animals will start revealing themselves. It really is a type of magic.”
This is by no means a complete list of animals, but these are the most commonly seen in La Jolla tide pools.
Did you know that sea anemones can live 50 years or longer and that there are over 1000 varieties found at different depths worldwide? Sea anemones are my favorite tide pool creature.
We have mostly two types here in San Diego. The first is the solitary sea anemone, which I’ve always been particularly fond of. Their tentacles range from a pale green to a blueish-green color. To survive in the air or when disturbed, they curl their tentacles inward to reveal a soft brown exterior dotted with broken shells. When submerged in water, their tentacles are typically open.
The other type of sea anemone most commonly seen are smaller, less colorful (or brown really) and live in groups. Sea anemones can also slowly change location.
Our little tide pool crabs are small and fast, scurrying sideways over tide pools with their little pinchers. Fun to watch; they’re able to hide in little crevices and pretty much eat whatever they can grab. They can split time above and below the water.
Limpets and Chitons
While they don’t move around as you’re watching, I personally love finding chiton and limpets stuck to rocks. They’re quite common in all of our tide pools.
Always a source of entertainment, hermit crabs can be found in abundance. I’ve seen them scurrying around in various sizes and underneath a variety of shells every single time I’ve been tide pooling in La Jolla.
(To help kids fight the temptation to take shells from the beach, tell them that the hermit crabs need them for housing.)
While I have yet to see an octopus in a San Diego tide pool, Danny vividly remembers his first sighting.
“I got really lucky when I pulled up this turban snail shell,” he says. Turban snail shells are commonly found around La Jolla tide pools and are about the size of your fist. He saw a little arm and tentacles scrunched up inside and realized it was an octopus using the shell as a hiding spot. He put it in one of their bins, and out came a 2-foot long octopus.
“It just blows your mind because this animal is just scrunched up in there like a cool neat little hiding place,” Danny says. Octopuses have no bones so they can fit into any space that is the size of their beak, a neat adaptation for living in tide pools.
Environmental changes are impacting the number of sea stars seen in local tide pools. We were lucky to see two during our Birch Aquarium tide pooling tour at Dike Rock.
One of our Birch Aquarium guides spotted a brittle star and scooped it up with water into a bin for us to see (in addition to this little sea slug).
The kids loved watching our guides and volunteers try to identify what kind of starfish the one pictured below was.
It was neat to see the starfish move around this pool!
Tide poolers in La Jolla can usually spot two types of sea slugs. This first is a Spanish Shawl. It’s only 2-3 inches long, but its neon purple and orange gills are quite striking against the tide pool landscape.
On the other side of the sea slug spectrum, sea hares grow to about a foot long. Sensors that look like rabbit ears on their head sense chemicals in the water.
Did you know that you can tell what a sea hare has been eating by what color it is? If they’re eating red algae they turn red. If they’re eating dark green algae they turn black or green. Sea hares will also emit a dark purple ink if stressed.
If there are tide pools, there will most likely be a variety of barnacles. You’ll see the regular variety that grows in clusters on rocks and piers in addition to larger gooseneck barnacles.
Tide Pool Etiquette
Good tide pooling etiquette is necessary to protect these gems. Take only pictures, leave only footprints is a good mantra to keep in mind when you go.
- Much of La Jolla’s coastline is in the La Jolla Underwater Park Ecological Reserve. This means that you may not remove any marine objects from these areas, whether living or dead. This includes La Jolla Cove beaches to La Jolla Shores beach.
- Watch out for algae-covered rocks. If it’s green, brown, or black, avoid stepping on it or tread lightly.
- Whatever you bring in, take back out. If you move anything like a rock, put it back. An animal might be using it for a habitat.
- Never turn your back on the ocean. It’s easy to get excited and not see a wave coming.
- If you’re going to touch something, exercise caution. Be aware of what might be on your hands, like hand sanitizers or other chemicals that may be harmful to animals. If you’re unsure of what something is, the best practice is not to touch it. Always rinse your hands off first and only touch for only a few seconds.
This graphic is fantastic to discuss with kids and whomever you’re going tide pooling with. Save it to Pinterest or print out a PDF here: Birch Aquarium Tide Pooling Tips.
Good tide pool etiquette can also be practiced at home. Danny points out that the tide pools are first interface between land and water so any sort of runoff will hit them first.
This means anything entering our storm drains—litter, chemical fertilizers, oil, grease, and more—can impact our tide pools. Did you know that one of many jobs our tide pools perform to protect us includes slowing down water before it erodes our cliffs?
They’re important. Let’s protect them.
What to Bring Tide Pooling
The following advice is what I have found handy while tide pooling with kids in tow.
Footwear is incredibly important. Shoes or boots with a good grip that can get wet are ideal. Flip flops are not advised. It is also wise to keep a change of shoes in the car if you’re headed elsewhere after a tide pooling adventure as your shoes will get sandy, wet, and dirty.
(As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.) If not on a tour where you have people helping you identify sea life, we like the California Seashore Life Pocket Guide, which identifies local birds, crab, fish, clams, mussels, and other sea life you might see in or near a tide pool area (sea slugs are oddly missing from it).
If in an area where there is seagrass, it is helpful to bring a light stick to gently brush it away as it floats over water. However, skip the stick if you or the kids can’t resist the temptation to poke animals or hidden areas where there might be an animal.
A clear container helps kids see small animals like hermit crabs if you happen to catch one. The naturalists at Birch Aquarium place water in a container and drop small animals into it for quick viewing before gently releasing them back into the same pool they were found in.
As you’re combing through the rocky intertidal zone and enjoying the beach, you may see little pieces of micro trash or trash. If you have a small bag with you, it’s good tide pooling or beach etiquette to pick it up. We personally participate in beach clean-ups, and you’d be surprised by what washes up on to shore that threatens the animals in our tide pools and can even be hazardous to beachgoers.
See also: Best Things to Do in San Diego with Kids
Enjoy our tide pools throughout the season and, as Danny says, “Pass along the word of what’s the best way to interact with this habitat.”
Be sure to check out Birch Aquarium’s tide pooling tours and other outdoor adventures. You can also read my other list of best tide pools in San Diego, which includes other popular spots like Cabrillo National Monument, Swamis in Encinitas, and Tourmaline Beach in Pacific Beach.
Frequently Asked Questions About La Jolla Tide Pools
Visiting tide pools in San Diego is a hot topic lately to hit my inbox. Here are some answers to FAQs.
Can I see La Jolla tide pools in the summer?
It takes a little bit of effort and luck to see La Jolla tide pools in the summer. You can check the tide calendars and go during the lowest possible time. You might see an occasional hermit crab, mussels, barnacles, or a sea anemone or two, but it wouldn’t nearly be in the type of volume we’re used to in the winter.
You could start at the La Jolla Cove tide pools and wander down to South Casa Beach to take a peek in these rocky zones. Even if you saw nothing, it’s a beautiful walk. You’re very likely to see our seals and sea lions along the way, which are another must-see for marine life enthusiasts and families.
There are still minus tides, but they’re happening at night. Occasionally, they happen in the early morning hours before sunrise so it’s possible, if you’re an early bird, that you could catch some tide pools in view at the crack of dawn.
Or, better yet, head to Birch Aquarium to see their human-made tide pools.
Are dogs allowed at La Jolla tide pools?
Dogs are not allowed on San Diego beaches, boardwalks, and adjacent parks from November 1 – March 31 between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. They are also now allowed on San Diego beaches between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. from April 1 – October 31.
La Jolla is a part of the City of San Diego, so we adhere to these same laws. So, what this means is that you can bring your dog to La Jolla beaches outside of these banned hours.
It’s best practice to keep your dog away from any tide pool areas, however, as dogs and marine life typically don’t mix well.
When are La Jolla tide pools open?
The beach here is always open, which means that our tide pools are always open. We have three permanent lifeguard stations in La Jolla at La Jolla Cove, La Jolla Shores Beach, and Children’s Pool Beach. Lifeguard hours are usually from 9 a.m. to dusk.
What time is low tide at La Jolla tide pools?
Check an online tide calendar to see when the best time to go tide pooling is. Even if your San Diego vacation is planned months ahead, these calendars will tell you with accuracy what the tides will be like.
If a tide is hovering around zero or showing a minus, that’s your cue to go to the beach. If you see a negative one or lower tide during daylight, you really need to go. It’s just a beautiful sight, even if you have no intention of searching for creatures.
Which La Jolla tide pools are your favorites? What have you seen?
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