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.
What you’ll find in this post is a mix of tide pooling topics: 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 tide pooling adventure tour with Birch Aquarium) and an interview with Danny Beckwith, an Education Specialist at Birch Aquarium when I first published this article.
See also: Best Tide Pools in San Diego
When Is the Best Time to Visit La Jolla Tide Pools?
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.
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.
Fun fact: California experiences two high tides and two low tides per day.
Where Are the Best La Jolla Tide Pools?
- Dike Rock
- La Jolla Shores Beach
- La Jolla Cove
- Shell Beach
- South Casa Beach
- Between Wipeout Beach and Hospital Point
- Windansea Beach
- False Point
- Birch Aquarium at Scripps
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, the best tide pools in La Jolla to check out for people unfamiliar with the area are listed below.
1. Dike Rock
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 draws juvenile fish, blind gobies, and different shrimp.
The kids loved carefully climbing over the rocks here during our tour. 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 are fun to explore the tide pool ecosystems with because they know exactly where to look. When 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 onto 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 cement stairway to the beach just 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.
2. La Jolla Shores Beach (South of The Marine Room Restaurant)
I’ve been told that high numbers of baby sea hares have recently been spotted here at low tides. This reef formation is also fun to explore for the usual marine life, like hermit crabs, tube snails, sea cucumbers, and more.
If the tides are low, exploring this area and Dike Rock on the same visit would be easy. It’s probably a 20-minute walk on the sand between these two best tide pools in La Jolla. And La Jolla Shores is one of my favorite sandy beaches in the entire San Diego area.
Directions: Park in the La Jolla Shores Beach parking lot and walk south on the sand past our two La Jolla beach hotels. You can also park on the surface streets near The Marine Room restaurant and use the public beach access on the south side of La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club to access the tide pools and gorgeous views at this very popular San Diego beach.
3. 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 might be able to walk out onto the big flat rocky area called Point La Jolla between Boomer’s Beach and La Jolla Cove, where they would normally hang out.
I say might because this point is slated for year-round closure starting in November 2023, so I’m not exactly sure what your ability to explore tide pools will be like when walking onto the rocks here is prohibited. The sea grass and rocks in view during low tides are stunning, and even if you’re on the boardwalk or at adjacent Ellen Browning Scripps Park, you might see some crabs and a few sea anemones but not much else.
Your best bet is to take the stairs down to the sand to explore the small cave and rocky areas accessible from La Jolla Cove beach. This little spot and the Point La Jolla area are usually what people refer 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 several of the other tide pooling spots listed below. This beach is a great place for swimming because waves typically don’t break here, and it’s an entry point to the underwater park where you’ll see even more sea life snorkeling or scuba diving.
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.
4. Shell Beach
Shell Beach is a great little place for tide pooling and one of my favorite hidden gems. The last time we visited, visible marine life included lots of hermit crabs, limpets, small fish, and a few sea anemones. The Shell Beach tide pools sometimes reveal themselves in the summer, which, as mentioned earlier, is not the normal tide pooling season.
The cement stairway to the sand can be blocked at the base by big rocks washed up by the ocean. You’ll need to tread carefully over them.
Directions: The stairway to Shell Beach is adjacent to Ellen Browning Scripps Park on the south side, so you’d park your car as if you were visiting La Jolla Cove.
5. 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 La Jolla 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.
6. 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. Over time, we’ve spotted crabs, limpets, sea anemones, fish, sea slugs, urchins, and more. 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. You’ll see a little grass strip called Coast Boulevard Park, and Hospital Point is right below it.
7. Windansea Beach
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 it’s mostly a sandstone landscape (that you’ll have to scramble down a little) versus actual sand. Sea anemones and various small crabs seem most commonly seen here.
Directions: Windansea Beach is roughly at the intersection of Nautilus Street and Neptune Place.
8. False Point
False Point is a good option for those living in or 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 keep an eye on small children here as the tide pools and rocks are particularly slippery.
The good news is that flipping them over (remembering to put them back) can reveal various sea creatures. (This is also where Birch Aquarium used to lead tours, but they have mostly been at Dike Rock recently.)
Directions: You’ll find these Bird Rock tide pools at Sea Ridge Drive and Linda Way, where there is residential parking. Take the stairs down to the beach from Sea Ridge Drive.
ANOTHER NEARBY SPOTIf you follow Sea Ridge Drive north, it turns into Calumet Avenue. You’ll see a small grassy park called Calumet Park. Below the park is a tide pool area. It’s a little small and I wouldn’t go out of my way to only visit it but it’s a 5-minute walk from False Point.
9. Birch Aquarium at Scripps
When you visit this San Diego aquarium, head out to Tide Pool Plaza for one of the best views in San Diego and 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 docents are 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 are interested in the environment.
Directions: The address is 2300 Expedition Way, La Jolla, CA 92037. They offer free three-hour parking in their main lot.
What Lives in La Jolla 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 tide pool habitats.
“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 and San Diego tide pools across the county.
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 creatures.
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 anemones most commonly seen are smaller, less colorful (or brown, really), and live in groups. Sea anemones can also slowly change location, too.
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 the size of their beak, a neat adaptation for living in tide pools.
Environmental changes impact 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 its color? 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.
Very Important 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.
Due to people spending more time in outdoor attractions, our tide pools are receiving more traffic than normal, and it’s actually worrying environmentalists and residents.
- 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, whether living or dead, from these areas. This includes the area roughly between La Jolla Cove beaches and La Jolla Shores beach.
- Watch out for algae-covered rocks as you explore the tide pools. 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. Please 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 the first interface between land and water so that any 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 the 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 Should I 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 because algae that cover rocks are very slippery when wet.
It is also wise to keep a change of shoes in the car if you’re headed elsewhere after a tide pooling adventure. 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, crabs, fish, clams, mussels, sea urchins, and other sea critters you might see in or near a tide pool area (sea slugs are oddly missing from it).
If there is seagrass in an area, 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 sea creatures.
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.
In light of increased traffic to our tide pools, please minimize or resist picking up marine life.
You may see little pieces of micro trash or trash as you comb through the rocky intertidal zone and enjoy the beach. 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 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 in San Diego
Visiting tide pools in San Diego is a hot topic lately to hit my inbox, as more people prefer outdoor activities. It is also one of the best free things to do in La Jolla and all of San Diego. Here are a few tips and some answers to FAQs. And don’t forget to supplement your day in my hometown with other ideas from my list of best things to do in La Jolla.
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 when the tide is low, mostly at night. You can check the tide charts 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 see nothing, it’s a beautiful walk. You’ll likely see our seals and sea lions along the way, 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 now allowed on San Diego beaches between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. from April 1 to 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.
However, it’s best practice to keep your dog away from any tide pool areas, as dogs and marine life typically don’t mix well.
Are the La Jolla tide pools open?
The beach here is always open, so 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 accurately tell you what the tides will be like.
If a tide hovers around zero or shows 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.
Can I Take Shells from Tide Pools in La Jolla?
It depends. If you visit tide pools in the Ecological Reserve, like at La Jolla Cove, you may not remove anything other than trash from the beaches. This includes shells, rocks, and even sticks or seaweed.
These items serve as homes or protection for wildlife in these tide pools or play an important role in the area’s ecosystem. Even with all of the pockets and small crevices in these tidal zones, animals still battle to find places to settle. The more we take, the fewer habitats they have. So, even at beaches where you can legally take shells, like Shell Beach, you may want to consider leaving them.
Do Periwinkles Live in La Jolla Tide Pools?
Yes! Periwinkles are small welks or sea snails that live in the supratidal zone, receive splashes from waves, and are rarely submerged. This means that you can actually see them more often than other animals. Their little turban shells often serve as homes for hermit crabs.
Can You Give Me Directions to the Best La Jolla Tide Pools?
It’s a little hard to guide you to exactly where the tide pools are at the beach. I would set your GPS for La Jolla Cove and park along Coast Blvd. If it’s low tide, you can not miss the tide pools (you’ll see lots of green sea grass) between the Cove and south of the Children’s Pool.
You can also set your GPS for La Jolla Shores Beach to view the tide pools south of The Marine Room restaurant or Dike Rock. Set your GPS for Caroline’s Seaside Cafe to get closer to Dike Rock and use street parking. Take the stairway down to the sandy beach and walk north.
Which La Jolla tide pools are your favorites? What have you seen?