Southern California Tidepools

Southern California tidepools offer some of the most fascinating viewing of sea life on the west coast of the United States.

Tidepool, Bird Rock, La Jolla, California


On the Pacific Ocean coastline, Southern California tidepools offer a peak into sea life that we normally do not see. During low tide, the ocean recedes and exposes reefs, sea weed, and tidepool animals, such as crabs, chitons, and sea hares.

Striped-Shore-Crab, Bird Rock Tidepool, La Jolla


Seashore birds often visit these tidepools as they look for easy pickings.

Egret, La Jolla Shores Beach and Tidepool


When tidepooling, be mindful where you walk and place your feet. Remember that just a few hours before the low tide, the reef was covered with water and is home to many sea creatures. These plants and animals can tolerate exposure to wind and air, or live in small pools and crevices in the reefs, for short periods of time. When we visit the tidepools, we are guests and need to be careful. For a thorough description of tidepool etiquette, visit the Cabrillo National Monument Rules to Protect the Tidepools.

Another key to a good tidepool session is timing your entry and exit. The best viewing is during negatives tides which happen during the day of winter months. Try to arrive at the tidepool at least an hour before the tide reaches its lowest point. Then you will be sure to catch the lowest tide. In addition, keep on eye on waves as the tide is coming up.

Tidepool, Gelidium, Seaweed


Ocean tidepools are great settings for photography, especially macro-photography. Try to get close-up photos of individual creatures and plants. Then, get full frame photos of the tidepools in the foreground with the ocean waves in the background. When I take photos in tidepool zones, I always wear the strap around my neck. Just in case!

Do you have a point-and-shoot waterproof digital camera? If yes, you can use it to to take photos in calm, exposed tidepools. Just make sure your camera is waterproof! Check the manufacturer's user guide if you are not sure.

When I use my waterproof digital camera while tidepooling, I often submerge my camera in the water. While the waterproof camera is underwater, I tilt it up and check to make sure that no air bubbles got trapped around the rim of the lens. These air bubbles will show up on the photos. If I find an air bubble, I gently wipe it away with my finger before I take a photo.

If are new to your waterproof camera, these underwater photography tips and techniques are a good place to start.

Tidepools are a great place to teach kids about the ocean. At first, the animals draw our attention, but other lessons can be learned too. As a teacher, I really like showing kids how the ocean's seaweed is an important source of oxygen for our planet. At low tide, look for seaweed that is in small, still puddles or pools. Often times, you will find bubbles coming off of the plants.

Colpomenia peregrina, aka Puff-Ball Algae, Bird Rock, La Jolla


At each of these tide pools, take time to look at the seaweed. Scientists have organized seaweed into three major groups based on their colors: Brown Algae or Phaeophyta; Red Algae or Rhodophyta; and Green Algae or Chlorophyta.

Colpomenia peregrina is commonly known as Puff-Ball Algae. It is in the Brown Algae category.

What category do you think Gelidium belongs to?

That's right! The red color of Gelidium places it in the Rhodophyta group.

Southern California tidepools are some of the best on the west coast. My favorite ocean tidepools in San Diego are at Bird Rock, La Jolla Shores, and Point Loma. Other favorite Southern California tidepools can be found at aquariums such as San Diego Birch Aquarium and Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific.

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