Starling Travel

May 3, 2006

How-To Guide For Tide Pools

Filed under: Travel — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

Tide pools are areas where you can see sea life at low tide. Depending on the area, you can see a wide variety of wildlife in the water that you wouldn’t be able to see normally. Because the sea life is trapped when the tide is low, they are very shy. It takes some patience to spot them, but once you do, you feel like the world has opened up its diary and showed you its secrets.

Here is a how-to guide for people who have never been tide pooling:

  • Find a location: Some areas are better than others. In order to find the good places, I used Google. I typed “tide pool San Diego” and found directions to a beach within walking distance of my hotel. If I hadn’t looked it up, however, I would have been looking in the completely wrong place and wouldn’t have found anything interesting at the same beach. Fortunately, there are so many people interested in this that they have posted tide pool locations all around the world. If you are near the ocean, someone has logged the local tide pools. All you need to do is find the directions to the right location.

  • Find the time for low tide: If you show up at the beach at the wrong time, you won’t be able to see anything. You need to know when low tide is in order to see the tide pools. This was more information I found using Google, using the search, “low tide tables.” Salt Water Tides has a comprehensive list for the United States. Low tide happens twice a day, so choose a time that works with your schedule. It’s also better when the low tide is lower—tide tables list the lowest the water gets, negative numbers are the best.

  • Teva - Womens - Hurricane IIPrepare for tide pooling: You’ll want to bring a camera, sunscreen and a hat. You should wear shoes with a good tread because the area is slippery. If you are willing to get a little wet, then surf shoes are the best. Otherwise, hiking sandals or tennis shoes are good.

  • Arrive one hour before low tide: All the coolest spots will still be under water at that time, but arriving one hour before the “big show” gives you enough time to find good spots. Remember, the tide tables are just estimates, so giving yourself plenty of time just ensures that you’ll be able to enjoy yourself.

  • Look for areas that are still under water: This is the hardest part of tide pooling is finding the spots where the wildlife is hiding. Look for “holes” under the water that will still have water even when the tide finishes going all the way out. That’s what the starfish, octopii and sea slugs are looking for: a place that will still be wet, even when the ocean is low. Here is a picture of one of the tide pools Mike and I found on our tide pool expedition:

Tide Pool at Swami\'s Beach San Diego, CA 04-24-06

  • Be patient and watch for movement: These animals are trying to survive during the two hours of the day that they are most vulnerable, so they are VERY difficult to see. You need to sit still and watch everything under the water. What you will see will vary depending on the part of the world where you’re watching, but there is always something there, hiding. You just need to sit around long enough to notice it.

  • Soft Touch: If you disturb the tide pool, every living thing in there is going to hide and stay as still as possible so you don’t notice them. Poking around in the water is just going to ruin your experience, so leave the animals alone. Additionally, prying the animals off the rocks can kill them. If you do want to touch, a soft, one-finger touch is the most you should do. You’re here to enjoy nature, not destroy it.

  • Walk carefully: It’s best for the animals to stay in the areas that are not underwater. That way you don’t scare or hurt them. Additionally, remember that you are walking on a part of the ocean that’s usually underwater, so there may be unlucky wildlife that didn’t make it to the tide pool under your feet. Step carefully.

  • Keep your eye on the ocean: The tide goes out and the tide comes in. You only have a couple hours to watch the wildlife before the tide pools go back under water. Don’t let it surprise you. You are walking on a slippery area and it only takes a small wave to knock you over. Don’t lose your expensive camera to the salty water just because you didn’t pay attention to the ocean.

Watching wildlife in the ocean’s tide pools is a relaxing way to spend a couple of hours. More importantly, it’s a free activity that will provide you with an opportunity to see nature in all its glory.

The following websites have some tips and information about tide pools:

Click here to see what Mike and I saw at Swami’s Beach in San Diego, California on our tide pool expedition:


  1. Thank you for this awesome vacation blog. Im taking my kids to the tide pools at Swami’s this afternoon and was browsing the internet for information. I stumble upon your site and am very impressed. I love it!! Thank you for all the great info not just for tide pools but other vacation memories.

    Comment by Sylvia — March 7, 2009 @ 10:25 am

  2. Thanks for all the amazing info on this page! I’m doing a biome report on Tide pools for my environmental science class and this was one of many helpful sites 🙂

    Comment by Adrian — February 17, 2010 @ 9:18 am

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