A Virtual Visit to the Tidepools

The ocean against sandstone cliffs

NPS Photo/A. Rosales

High tide at the intertidal area of Cabrillo National Monument. Lots of water, but no tidepools!

 
A rocky shoreline along sandstone cliffs

NPS Photo/A. Rosales

Now that's more like it! A good example of low tide - let's begin our exploration!

 
A dirt path with low lying shrubs on both sides. Wooden post and rope line the path. A kiosk is ahead on the left.

NPS Photo/P. Geisler

When you arrive at the tidepools, stop first at the kiosk at the trailhead and learn how to explore the tidepools. Here you can find the rules to protect the tidepools as well as have a safe enjoyable visit.

Visit the Education Table if volunteers are working.

 
A dirt path with low lying green scrubs on both sides

NPS Photo/J. Tam

Less than 150 yards, a short trail heads from the kiosk to a set of stairs leading to the tidepools.
 
A sign with a drawing of a crab along a dirt path leading to stairs. The ocean is in the distance.

NPS Photo/J. Tam

As you approach the first set of stairs, you will see our friend Crabrillo welcoming you to the tidepools.
 
A sign with a drawing of a crab. The sign reads “Please leave all shells in the tidepools. I need them for my home.”.

NPS Photo/J. Tam

Crabrillo reminds you that everything is protected in the park. That means nothing can be taken or disturbed in the park. This includes shells, rocks, flowers and everything else.

Please do not pick up tidepool animals, throw or stack rocks, carve graffiti into the rocks or pick the flowers. You want to leave the area in a natural state, the way you found it.

We thank you and Crabillo thanks you.
 
Stairs along a dirt path with low lying shrubs at the bottom of the stairs.

NPS Photo/J. Tam

Watch your footing as you descend the first set of stairs.
 
Stairs along a dirt path with low lying shrubs on both sides. The ocean is in the distance.

NPS Photo/J. Tam

You then go down a second set of stairs towards the ocean. Watch your footing as erosion can leave ruts in the path.
 
A dirt path with wooden posts and rope along the sides leads to the ocean and the tidepools. Three waysides are on the left side along the path.

NPS Photo/J. Tam

As you continue down the path you will see three waysides to the south and one to the north. Take a minute to look these over as they will help make your tidepool experience more enjoyable.
 
Large boulders, the size of small cars, at the edge of sandstone cliffs overlooking the ocean

NPS Photo/D. Wieder

The trail ends at a grouping of balanced rocks, deposited on their rocky perch by strong wave action. The entrance to the tidepools is to the left.
 
A narrow rocky and dirt path along rocky sandstone cliffs lead the way to the tidepools. Post and rope are along the cliff edge.

NPS Photo/J. Tam

The rocks you are walking on are soft sandstone and erode very easily. Watch your step as you walk past a narrow opening to the tidepools.

 
Cliff ledges formed by soft sandstone layers. Large boulders are at the top of the cliff.

NPS Photo/J. Tam

A short scramble down natural sandstone steps and you're standing in the tidepool's rocky cove. Remember to use caution when negotiating the steps, as they can be uneven and slippery.
 
A bathtub sized pool of water in sandstone.

NPS Photo/J. Tam

Once you work your way down the natural steps, if the tide is low enough, you will see a tidepool on your right that is unofficially called the bathtub.

Take some time to look in here because a variety of critters can be found here. You will find shore crabs and woolly sculpin fish among other things. In the past we have even seen sea stars in this pool, so you never know.
 
A river dollar sized oval hard shell is glued to the rocks. Smaller warts cover the shell.

NPS Photo/J. Tam

The area around the bathtub is an excellent place to see Owl Limpets. They look like oval fossils glued to the rock. They are in the snail family and are in fact alive.

It's very important that these, and everything else, should not be pried off the rocks. Their suction to the rocks is how they stay alive when the tide is out.

You can even see barnacles or other small animals attached to the Owl Limpet shell.
 
A rocky shoreline along sandstone cliffs. People are walking along the shoreline.

NPS Photo/J. Tam

Venture out and discover what waits in the pools between the rocks after the tide has receded.

 
A rocky shoreline along sandstone cliffs. People are climbing over the boulders looking for tidepool critters.

NPS Photo/J. Tam

An entire new world is revealed at low tide. Watch your footing as many parts are slippery, especially the tops of rocks.
 
A cluster of black shells and seaweed attached to a rock.

NPS Photo/J. Tam

Mussels robustly cling fast to their exposed rock...
 
An orange sea star with five arms.

NPS Photo/J. Tam

...while a bat star patiently waits for someone to discover its quiet beauty.
 
A group of people huddle around a pool of water in a depression in the sandstone. A ranger is pointing to something in the water.

NPS Photo/D. Wieder

Don't be afraid to crouch down low to get a close-up view. Look at the base of rocks, but don't turn any over.

 
An oval shaped tan with brown spots blob. A smaller oval shaped hard shell is at the top center of the blob. The hard shell is approximately 25% the size of the blob. A  hole in the center of the hard shell.

NPS Photo/J. Tam

Another common tidepool critter is the Giant Keyhole Limpet. You might find this out in the open or at the bottom of some rocks.
 
Long green blades of grass float in pools of water among large boulders.

NPS Photo/J. Tam

As you continue across the beach to what is referred to as Zone 2, you will see lots of surf grass in the water. Be careful where you step because some of these are in deeper pools of water than you might think.

Look closely where the surf grass is because various tidepool critters live here.
 
a hot pink thumb sized blob with pink antenna radiating in all directions, sits on green seaweed.

NPS Photo/J. Tam

Here is an example of one of the critters you might see in the surf grass. It is called a Hopkin's Rose Nudibranch or often referred to as a Rosy Nudibranch. They are about the size of a thumbnail, but their hot pink color stands out against the surf grass.
 
A purple blob the size of a foot with black spots and two antenna on the ocean bottom.

NPS Photo/J. Tam

Here is another tidepool critter that often can be found among the surf grass. This is a California Sea Hare, basically a sea slug. You can see them slowly moving around on the bottom eating algae.

Don't try to pick them up because they can ink you, like an octopus, if they get stressed. Just look with your eyes.
 
Two images, one showing a brown sign attached to rocks , and the other showing an orange reflective dot glued to the rock.

NPS Photo

As you continue your tidepool exploring to the South, you will reach an area that is closed to the public. A sign up on the rocks says: "Protected Intertidal Area - Closed for Recovery and Research. No Entry Beyond this Point." You will also see some orange reflective dots glued to the rocks indicating this boundary. We ask you not to venture past this area.
 
A rocky shoreline along sandstone cliffs.

NPS Photo/J. Tam

When you leave, be sure to discover the beauty of the high splash zone, located by the balanced rocks. Be careful, however, and watch your step: you are now back on top of the cliffs.

 
The sun sets into the ocean with a rocky beach in the foreground.

NPS Photo/J. Tam

The end of another picture-perfect day at the tidepools of Cabrillo National Monument. What did you discover?

Last updated: December 18, 2020

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1800 Cabrillo Memorial Drive
San Diego , CA 92106

Phone:

619 523-4285

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