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Exploring San Diego's Tide Pools

Growing up on the east coast, tide pools meant warm, shallow lounging pools with a rippled sandy floor and a crab or two. Here in California on the rocky pacific coast, tide pools can look much different, and hold a whole host of creatures!

The west coast of the southern United States is extremely diverse and dynamic, changing quickly from tall sandstone cliffs to flat sandy beaches with large rock formations sprinkled about. So far we've explored tide pools in 3 different spots in San Diego: Sunset Cliffs, Ocean Beach Tide Pools, and Scripp's Coastal Reserve. The photos featured in this post were taken north of La Jolla cove, just beyond the Scripps pier in whats classified as the Scripp's Coastal Reserve. After stumbling across all these different species we were thrilled to find this helpful resource provided by the Cabrillo National Monument's website:

Did you know:

Gooseneck Barnacles can live more than 20 years!?

These filter-feeding crustaceans (Pollicipes polymerus) develop plates as they age. In their larvae form they are mobile and crawl around to find other adults to join; this is why finding a solitary Gooseneck Barnacle is extremely rare. Once attached to a solid substrate, these babies never move again and are known to live more than 20 years!

There's no denying that these beauties were the star of the show during our visit. Anthopluera sola, commonly called "Sunburst Anemones," are the largest anemones found in Southern California reaching diameters of up to 10 inches. Most we encountered were about 2-4 inches wide. They proved harder to spot where the tide had already receded as they shrivel up and disguise themselves when the ocean water leaves them.

Hermit crabs (Pagurus sp.) were also masters of disguise, until you spotted one. After catching a glimpse, we noticed our eyes start to adjust... and just like that we realized there were dozens right at our feet. There are many different kinds of hermit crabs native to the San Diego coast, but a beautiful feature to note about this species is the turquoise bands on the legs. Shells of the common "Black Turban Snail" (Tegula funebralis) are popular homes for these crabs (as seen photo above).


If you plan to visit the tide pools here's what you'll need:

  • ** First and foremost: Timing is everything!** Be sure to check the tide schedule and plan to go out so that you can catch peak low tide!

  • I highly recommend shoes. Though lots of people brave it barefoot, some barnacles & shells can be very sharp. The best shoes to wear would be water sandals with a tough, thick sole (think tevas or keens vs crocs... as the spongey material becomes slick and may not fair well with the sharp surfaces.)

  • Water + sun protection. You'd be surprised how dehydrated you can get with all sea mist and hot sun, but trust me... Once you start tasting your own salty lips and realize there's no shade or escape from the sun you'll be happy you came prepared. Plus time is of the essence here; try to maximize your time in the tide pools by coming prepared and on time with low tide.

  • If you're like me you'll also want to bring your camera (+ macro lenses!) or a magnifying glass to really capture and appreciate the intricacies of the wildlife.

  • Now, where to first? San Diego Tide Pooling Adventures is a useful guide in deciding which tide pools to explore!



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