Exploring San Diego’s Tide Pools

There are countless reasons to visit San Diego — year-round perfect weather, one of the country’s best restaurant scenes, and beautiful beaches are all chief among them.  

But one of the more interesting features of the area is our abundance of tide pools — small elevated reservoirs of inland ocean water that retain their depth even after the tide goes out. These little environmental curiosities dot the beaches in and around the San Diego area and always draw curious folks to their shimmering splendor. The best times to visit are during the fall and winter months, but the breathtaking beauty of these formations can be enjoyed any time. 

Want to visit these tiny tidal features for yourself? Here’s an overview of some of the best nearby. 

Cabrillo National Monument Tide Pools 

The Spanish Explorer Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo is said to have been one of the first non-native people to happen upon the West Coast, and this stunning natural park was his landing place. Here, the tide pools rest below the park’s picturesque sandstone cliffs, inviting explorers with their unique beauty. If you visit, watch your step — countless species of sea life make these pools their home.

1800 Cabrillo Memorial Dr, San Diego, CA 92106

Tourmaline Surfing Park

Long revered as one of Southern California’s hottest surfing spots, Tourmaline is also home to many small tide pools. Just a short walk from the primary surfing area, visitors will find many pools hidden in the sandstone formations. The wildlife here is also quite abundant. If you visit, bring sturdy hiking shoes — the area is quite rocky, and some of the terrain can be a bit slippery if you’re not prepared. 

601 Tourmaline St, San Diego, CA 92109

False Point

La Jolla’s False Point isn’t just one of the best tide pool spots in the San Diego area, it’s one of the best in the world. The rippling terrain here has created countless pools, most of which are ideal for checking out the local fauna. False point is known for spectacular sunsets, amazing photo opportunities, and for being largely uncrowded. Evening is usually the peak time to go.

Ridge Drive, La Jolla, CA 92037

Cardiff State Beach 

Cardiff-by-the-Sea’s tide pools are perhaps the easiest to get to on this list, and also some of the most fascinating. No hiking necessary — the best pools here are just a short walk from a convenient parking lot. And they’re also historically fascinating, as many contain 45-million-year-old fossils of clams, shrimp, and other sea creatures. 

Cardiff State Beach Encinitas, CA 92007

Swami’s State Beach

Swami’s is home to more than just postcard-perfect tide pools. A prominent reef formation becomes visible during low tide, and the sunsets here are some of the most spectacular in all of Southern California. The sea life in the pools here is also varied — nature-lovers will find starfish, sea hares, crabs, octopus, and more. 

1298 S Coast Hwy 101, Encinitas, CA 92024

Dike Rock

A truly spectacular example absolutely teeming with a variety of marine life, Dike Rock is named for a volcanic rock formation that has pushed through the usual sedimentary formations usually found near beaches. These pools are so rich with sea creatures, University of California San Diego students frequent this area for marine biology expeditions. 

303 Coast Blvd, La Jolla, CA 92037

One final note on San Diego’s tide pools: These oceanside marvels are often self-contained ecosystems. And disturbing the wildlife and terrain in these areas isn’t just frowned-upon — it’s often against the law due to their protected nature. So enjoy the beauty, but please do not touch. Even taking home a souvenir seashell or rock isn’t permitted.