Exploring the Point Loma Tide Pools in San Diego

A person climbing up the rocks at the tide pools

TripSavvy / Sharyn Umaña-Angers

Tide pools are such a commodity that people spend hours scouring rocky coastlines to find them, but they're never hard to come across at San Diego's Cabrillo National Monument. On the western side of Point Loma, there's a rocky intertidal zone that, during low tide, offers a glimpse into the ocean ecosystem that thrives off the California coast.

Receding waves leave behind residual pools in the rocky depressions. Here, people are treated to natural exhibits of flowery sea anemones, elusive octopi, spongy dead man's fingers, starfish, sea cucumbers, crabs, sea urchins, and a myriad of other creatures. Because they're protected by the National Park Service (NPS), the tide pools at Point Loma offer a peek into delicate ecosystems that aren't easily seen anywhere else.

Where to Go

These tide pools are located within the Cabrillo National Monument at the southern tip of the Point Loma Peninsula. Parking (for a fee) is available at the lighthouse and visitor's center. Expect to pay a standard entry fee for admission to the park.

When to Visit

The best time to visit the tide pools, according to the National Park Service, is late fall or winter when low tide occurs during daylight hours. in the summer, low tide can happen in the middle of the night, when the park is closed. Be sure to check the tide charts before you go. The pools can be viewed up to two hours before and after the official time of low tide.

What to Bring

Exploring tide pools is rarely a dry activity, so wear clothes that you don't mind getting wet. It would be wise to bring shoes with good traction, too, as the rocks can be slippery.

Feel free to bring your kids along to explore one of San Diego's great natural wonders as well. Visiting the Point Loma tide pools is not only fun for young ages, but also a great way to see sea life in its natural habitat and to learn about how fragile this ecosystem can be.

How to View the Pools

Speaking of fragility, visitors are never permitted to bring any part of these pools—not even a single shell or stone—home. Because of this, buckets, cups, spatulas, trowels, and anything else that can be used to remove species from the park is prohibited. The National Park Service also forbids throwing rocks in the area as they "can do great damage when they land in the water, and continue to do damage as they are tossed by wave action."

Visitors should not approach or engage with marine mammals, but some of the other critters can be safely touched (only as gently as you would touch your eyeball, NPS says). It's best to ask a park ranger if you're uncertain or join one of the ranger walks that are available during most low tides. Additional educational programming can be found at the Cabrillo National Monument Visitor Center.