High tide at the intertidal area of Cabrillo National Monument. Lots of water, but no tidepools!
Now that's more like it! A good example of low tide - let's begin our exploration!
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.
Less than 150 yards, a short trail heads from the kiosk to a set of stairs leading to the tidepools.
As you approach the first set of stairs, you will see our friend Crabrillo welcoming you to the tidepools.
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.
Watch your footing as you descend the first set of stairs.
You then go down a second set of stairs towards the ocean. Watch your footing as erosion can leave ruts in the path.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Venture out and discover what waits in the pools between the rocks after the tide has receded.
An entire new world is revealed at low tide. Watch your footing as many parts are slippery, especially the tops of rocks.
Mussels robustly cling fast to their exposed rock...
...while a bat star patiently waits for someone to discover its quiet beauty.
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.
Another common tidepool critter is the Giant Keyhole Limpet. You might find this out in the open or at the bottom of some rocks.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 end of another picture-perfect day at the tidepools of Cabrillo National Monument. What did you discover?
Last updated: December 18, 2020